Sunday, September 1, 2013

Zane Grey in East Orange

Pearl Zane Gray grew up in Ohio and as a teenager he played baseball and assisted in his father's dental practice. Despite having been a poor student and leaving grammar school at 16, Gray left Ohio in 1893 at age 21 to attend the University of Pennsylvania on a baseball scholarship and to major in dentistry. While at Penn he changed the spelling of his last name to Grey and graduated in 1896. 

Immediately after his 1896 graduation he signed to play baseball with the Orange Athletic Club whose home field was The Oval in East Orange, and he reportedly was making more money with baseball than with dentistry. A biography says he may have practiced dentistry for a short time in Newark, but then began working at a dental practice in East Orange under Dr. Roderick McLean Sanger.* During that time Grey rented a room in Orange** and in 1897 began dating the landlord's daughter, Doris, a relationship that lasted eight years.***

Above: Grey is on the far right

Grey never really wanted to be a dentist. His main ambition for many years had been to become a writer, and getting to New York City, the center of publishing, was the driving force in his coming to the East. In the fall, 1897 he was finally able to move to NYC and open a dental practice there, but he continued commuting from NYC to The Oval in East Orange to play on the Orange Athletic Club baseball team until July 13, 1901.

The layout of The Oval baseball field from 1890 to 1905 can be understood by the photo above and the position of the grandstand in the lower right corner (SE) of this 1895 map.  It appears that the grandstand was along the 1st base line and that the pitcher faced south. The houses in the background fronted on Greenwood Avenue.

Until 1901 the Grove Street Lackawanna station was at the intersection of Grove Street and the railroad. In 1901 a new station was built several hundred feet farther east , closer to Greenwood Avenue.

*Below: from The New York Daily Tribune, Thursday, July 30, 1896

***Four letters from Doris (she signed her letters as Diosus) were auctioned in 2007 and the auction house described them as follows: "This is another interesting Zane Grey lot from our purchase earlier this year. Grey was a dentist in Manhattan when he received these four love letters from an East Orange [sic], NJ woman who signed herself as "Diosus" (the God of Good Fortune and Prosperity). Obviously infatutated [sic] with Dr. Grey, her emotions do the talking for her and she goes from admitting to someone else that she's affianced to Dr. Grey, to expressing somewhat suicidally that if she were to die it would be the best thing that could happen to her and would make things easier for Zane. She addresses him as "Dearest Boy" and Sweetheart". She lives with her family, and makes mention of her singing lessons in Manhattan. T [sic]are four letters, all dated from 1900-1901. From one of them: "I certainly was a very cross, disagreeable little girl yesterday morning, was I not? Please forgive me. I deserve a punishment for nearly killing you on Saturday night." The writer never used a return address, adding to the mystery of the relationship, and interestingly enough, Zane never threw the letters out...."

A biography of Zane Grey, Zane Grey: His Life, His Adventures, His Women by Thomas Pauly has the following:

** While the biography says Doris lived in  "Orange," her letters that were auctioned are postmarked East Orange. East Orange seceded from Orange in 1863, and for many years thereafter, people in the New York City metropolitan area  used the term "Orange" for all the "Oranges." Adding to the confusion,  the "Orange Athletic Club"  (club house and athletic field) was in East Orange.

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