Say It Ain’t So, Joe

Another example of why museum docents and tour guides aren't necessarily sources of accurate information.

Earlier this year we penned an essay on the topic of why museum docents, tour guides, and company historians aren’t necessarily reliable providers of accurate information (short answer: they’re all just as susceptible to spreading entertaining misinformation and folklore as fact as most of us are). That piece detailed a real-life example of a docent’s offering us what was clearly egregiously bad information during a tour of a local historical site and museum.

Today we’ll skip reiterating all the preliminary exposition of that previous piece (you can read it here) and just launch into another example of museum misinformation.

Several years ago I finally undertook a long-awaited pilgrimage to that mecca of sportsdom, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum founded in Cooperstown, N.Y., by Stephen Carlton Clark. Like so many fans before me, I spent a couple of days scrutinizing every exhibit, photograph, document, and other pieces of memorabilia on display at the museum, and then … wondered what the heck else there was to do in Cooperstown. And again like so many fans before me, I ended up at the second-best-known attraction in town, the nearby Farmers’ Museum.

The Farmers’ Museum was also established by the Clark family foundation and is home to the infamous Cardiff Giant “petrified man,” a 19th century Historic Village, and the Lippitt Farmstead. The historic village features actors who present short plays and vignettes about historical events, characters, and folklore, and as toured the village’s early 19th century general store building, I heard the actor/proprietor regale everyone who entered with the same tale.


The proprietor’s spiel was to recount a brief history of Stephen Carlton Clark’s role in the establishment of the Hall of Fame and the Farmers’ Museum, and to note that after founding the former, Clark lived in New York City and didn’t return to Cooperstown for the yearly induction ceremonies — save for one exception. That exception was the year Joe Dimaggio was inducted to the Hall, an occasion for which, the proprietor declared, Clark returned to Cooperstown “in order to meet Dimaggio’s wife, Marilyn Monroe.”

I immediately recognized a chronological problem with that account: Joe Dimaggio was inducted into the Hall of Fame on 22 July 1955, but he and Marilyn Monroe had separated, with the former filing for divorce, in October 1954. Although the pair remained on relatively friendly terms afterwards, Monroe wasn’t present at the July 1955 induction that welcomed the Yankee Clipper into baseball’s hallowed halls. On that day Joltin’ Joe was accompanied not by a glamorous starlet, but by a Yankees official:

Joe Dimaggio, 40, befitting the superstar that he was, arrived at the ceremony with Yankees general manager George Weiss. They landed on Lake Otsego in owner Dan Topping’s amphibious plane.

Finally, the crowd’s patient was rewarded when the dapper Dimaggio walked to the podium, dressed in a black alpaca suit with a breast pocket handkerchief.

He paid tribute to his longtime manager with the Yankees, Joe McCarthy, and closed by referring to his induction, saying, “The last chapter has been written and now I can close the book.” As he left the podium to go back to his seat, baseball commissioner Ford Frick, who had introduced him, went back to the podium. He said, “No, this is the last chapter of today’s book, and this is the first chapter of the new edition.”

Photographs and newsreel footage of the event also reveal no evidence of the Blonde Bombshell’s presence in Cooperstown that day:

For the record, no contemporaneous accounts of the ceremonies mentioned the presence of Clark in Cooperstown that day, either.
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