Tag Archives: Sarah Wunsch

From Polo Grounds To Cooperstown — Via Westport

Westporters flocking to “42” are inspired by the story of the man who broke baseball’s color barrier.

But 3 years after Jackie Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the sport still grappled with integration — not on the field, but in the stands. An intriguing incident involved 1 Westporter — and 2 others, 60 years later.

The  Saturday Evening Post cover of April 22, 1950 shows fans in the Polo Grounds — the New York Giants’ fabled home. Their hands stretch skyward, reaching for a foul ball.

It’s an iconic scene — a classic, feel-good, All-American illustration.

Saturday Evening Post better

But — according to a letter written in 2000 by illustrator Austin Briggs’ son — there’s a bit of back story.

The son — who shares his father’s name — says that his father’s painting showed Fannie Drain, a black woman who worked for his family and was loved by all.

“When the Giants were playing, she and my father — whose studio was at home –would follow the radio broadcasts avidly and vocally; her pride and pleasure in being included in the cover painting were deep,” Briggs wrote.

The Post editors told Briggs he would have to paint her out of the picture.

“He broke the painting, on a gesso panel, over his knee and walked out,” the son said. “The financial sacrifice was great, but he never regretted his act or repented his fury.”

Stevan Dohanos

Stevan Dohanos

The illustration was redone by Stevan Dohanos, a noted Westport illustrator and frequent Saturday Evening Post contributor. He used many of the same models, but replaced Fannie Drain (near the bottom left) with a large white man wearing a handkerchief.

Dohanos’ original hung in the Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, New York. And that was that — until last year.

Sarah Wunsch — a 1965 Staples High School grad, now a staff attorney for the ACLU of Massachusetts — chatted about the story with classmate Tom Allen, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame President’s Advisory Board.

She wrote the Hall, in Cooperstown. She soon received a reply from Erik Strohl, director of exhibitions and collections in Cooperstown.

“I was unaware of the details behind this painting and I find the story very fascinating,” he said.

The details truly provide a picture of life in the 1950s, which may seem foreign to us now. I tell our visitors all the time that we can learn much about ourselves as Americans through the lens of baseball, and this painting surely fits that bill.

He promised to find a way to add the information to the exhibit. He said it would “provide a much wider context on the full story of the painting, including what it teaches us about race relations, both in baseball and in popular magazines.”