Newspapers are an oft maligned information source, so much so that Benjamin Franklin warned not to pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel. Niagara County has had its own share of newspaper controversy. In fact, the first fight occurred in the 1820s when the story is told that Lockport’s early pioneers traveled under darkness of night to the fledgling village of Lewiston and proceeded to “acquire” their printing press and transport it back to Lockport. Then, because Lockport had a newspaper, and Lewiston did not, Lockport was named the county seat of Niagara County.
Controversy seemed to follow another newspaper tradition in Niagara, the annual Newspaperman’s Baseball Contest. On May 7, 1894, the battle lines were drawn between the rivalry of Niagara Falls and Lockport. The Falls newspapermen’s contingent traveled in three rail cars, totaling 234 players and spectators, to the Lock City-on-the-canal. With banners flying and music playing the newspaper editors, printers, reporters, bankers, and businessmen arrived at Lockport’s handsome brick rail terminal, scrapping for a fight. The Lockport newspapermen had their band of heavyweights, too, ready to take part in this noble battle of tongue and turf.
The joint processional reached the “refreshment hall,” where good food and libations were enjoyed by all. The throng of about 3,000 at this point included a great number of “rooters,” a crowd of frantic men who favor one side or the other and shout like madmen. Up to this point in the festivities the sun had been shining, but as if Providence itself had other plans for the day, clouds started to roll in as the teams took to the field. The “rooters,” as if sensing the worst, shouted “play ball,” repeatedly. Next, as an evil omen, lightning flashed in the west. Then it happened; rain began to fall. Soon it fell in torrents and everyone ran for cover. Rain formed a small lake by the diamond and it was utterly impossible to go on. The rain settled the score. The game was over!
Each team began their litany of what “woulda’, coulda’, shoulda,’” have happened if they only had a chance. Lockport newsmen took to their presses, and Niagara Falls newspapermen returned to the Electric City and cranked out their own stories in an attempt to settle the conflict with ink. But in truth, this prestigious contest would have to await another year to be settled on the field of glory.
Douglas Farley, Director
Erie Canal Discover Center
24 Church St.
Lockport NY 14094