Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2013, 6:00 am
Help record Wharton history for the ages
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By Roger Ruthhart
We are fortunate in this area to have a deep-rooted history. We are also fortunate that a lot of it has been written down for posterity. Yet, it seems, there are always more tidbits of information to be ferreted out; more stories to be told.
There is an exciting project under way in Moline and you can help provide information for it.
Curtis Roseman, a former guest sports columnist for us and professor emeritus of geography from the University of Southern California, and Diann Moore are working on a book about the history of Wharton Field House and Browning Field.
The project is well under way, but is at the point where they would like to hear stories from you about special experiences at Wharton or Browning. They are also looking for any photos you might be willing to let them reproduce for the book, especially photos of people and events held there.
The working title is "Wharton Field House: Sportplace, Showplace in Moline, Illinois."
It has hosted major sporting, entertainment, and other events since 1928. Plans call for it to be published this year.
"In the mid-1920s, a movement was afoot for a large arena in Moline. The Maroon and White Association, an independent group headed by T. F. Wharton, was created to carry out the project. To gather ideas for funding and designing the arena, Wharton and others visited several towns in Indiana, where large basketball and multi-purpose arenas were being built," Mr. Roseman said.
In 1928 the association sold $50 and $100 bonds to raise $175,000.
According to Mr. Wharton, their purpose was to sell the bonds to as many Moline residents as possible rather than have a few men purchase large amounts. Volunteers, including dozens of school children, sold bonds to 1,200 people.
Wharton Field House was, and remains, a true community facility.
The building was designed by William Schultzke. It is well-known for its rich history as a basketball venue and its basketball seating capacity of nearly 5,000 makes it one of the largest high school arenas in the United States. It hosted major league professional basketball when the Tri Cities Blackhawks, original members of the National Basketball Association, played there for five seasons.
Its historical importance goes well beyond basketball. It has hosted thousands of events. Scores of famous entertainers performed there, including Gene Autry, Jack Benny, Victor Borge, Johnny Cash, Bill Haley and the Comets, The Kingston Trio, Martin and Lewis, and Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra.
Political rallies, including one in 1964 for Barry Goldwater that attracted 7,000 people, and one in 1968 for George Wallace that attracted protesters, have been held there. It has hosted trade shows and exhibitions included a state poultry show, boat shows, science fairs, and the 1959 Miss Illinois Pageant. Musical and religious events were common.
Professional wrestling was very popular at Wharton from the late 1940s to the early 1990s, Mr. Roseman said. An early highlight was a 1950 ring performance in which Gorgeous George grappled with Shirley Temple's brother. Three famous boxers put on exhibition matches: Max Schmeling and Jack Dempsey in 1931 and Joe Lewis in 1950.
It is all of these events and more -- not just sporting events -- that Curt and Diann are hoping you can help with.
Part of the book will feature Browning Field. In addition to high school football, baseball, and track, it has hosted professional football and baseball. The Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, and Babe Ruth each made appearances there, hosted by the Moline Plow Boys minor league baseball team.
The book will have 10 chapters with historic photos and other images. Much of the basic research for the book is complete and more than three-fourths of it written. Now you can help fill in what is missing.
If you think you have information that might be useful, please contact Mr. Roseman at (309) 764-6122 or Ms. Moore at (309) 762-3058. They will appreciate your help in making their book about this community showplace truly a community undertaking.
Roger Ruthhart is managing editor of The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.