Monday, July 06, 2009

Baseball Place No. 63: House of David Museum


Years ago I gained the appreciation of my son’s friends’ parents by stepping up and enduring something painful on their behalf.

I took the boys to the first – and later, the second – Pokeman movie.

They were too young to just drop off. I just had to sit there and take it. It was excruciating.

The only benefit to this has been that I’ve held it over my son’s head ever since.

Well, after a trip to Benton Harbor earlier this year to the House of David Museum, he says we’re even.

He’s wrong, of course. Those Pokeman movies were brutal. And the House of David Museum is very cool.

Josh Pahigian liked the museum, too, naming it place No. 63 in his “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

I got the impression that the museum was the outgrowth of some folks’ passionate collecting, starting in a room of their houses and spreading a little until their wives gave an ultimatimum.

I can relate. And I loved it.

The House of David was a Christian commune formed in the early 1900s in Benton Harbor, which is in southwest Michigan near the Indiana border. Members of the colony agreed to refrain from sex, smoking, drinking, eating meat, cutting their hair and shaving.

Picture a whole team of Johnny Damons, before he turned traitor.

But there were fine craftsmen and businessmen, running a popular amusement park and selling their products.

And, of course, they were passionate about baseball.

We arrived on a rainy day this spring, warmly greeted by Chris Siriano. He walked us through the museum’s amazing collection,

The House of David’s baseball team barnstormed around the country, using the games as an opportunity to tell about their way of life and send money back to the commune.

The team didn’t just play well; it entertained, kind of like a baseball version of the Harlem Globetrotters. The teams are credited with inventing “Pepper,” and traveled with portable lights to play games at night.

Soon, the commune had several teams touring at once. Siriano said they were good, because if a player on an opposing team displayed great skills, a House of David representative would soon approach him and offer a nice salary to come on board and grow his whiskers.

The teams often played Negro League teams, and demanded their competitors eat and sleep in the same restaurants and hotels. That earned them a spot in the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City.

Every inch of the museum is covered in clippings, posters and displays, including the train from the amusement park that Siriano and friends are restoring. It’s clearly a labor of love.

The House of David was a fascinating group, and I could have spent the day listening to Siriano tell its story.

I would have, too, except for the kids getting bored and Siriano’s dog was running around the museum and I’m violently allergic.

I liked that the museum was a mom-and-pop operation. As much as I loved the impressive Cincinnati Reds museum, with his flashy exhibits and hands-on activities, it was neat to see a small group of folks caring so much about something that they work together to keep a little bit of it alive.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Siriano's love for the HOD is fake.He told me the Judge torn down the theater but he was the one that tore it down/wanted to take control? How could one just auction off the collection he loves so dearly in a rummage sale type of abandonment.