Date: Sun, 14 Dec 1997 15:52:15 -0500

From: Gregory {Greg} Downing downingg[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]IS2.NYU.EDU

Subject: Re: 'Mudville"

At 11:07 AM 12/14/97 -0500, you wrote:

I recently received a request from _Boston Globe_ writer Robert Smith

for help in locating the original town Mudville (assuming it existed) that

inspired E.L. Thayer in his poem "Casey at the Bat." I replied that the

town is almost certainly mythical, like "Dogpatch" of the Li'l Abner comic

strip. I quoted from Paul Dickson's baseball dictionary and also referred

Mr. Smith to onomastics scholar Leonard Ashley.

Mr. Smith replied: "I still hold hope of finding the mythical Mudville,

so I would appreciate you querying your learned friends [at ads-l]. E.L.

Thayer never pinpointed the place, but he grew up in central Massachusetts

and some in these parts are convinced it is here."

A definitive answer might be available from the Massachusetts Historical

Society (I'll check the address tomorrow)....

Gerald Cohen gcohen[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]

Maybe there is or maybe there isn't an original Mudville -- if there is,

it's hard to imagine this wouldn't have been written about already,

somewhere. But perhaps germane are various longstanding figurative uses of

mud, incl. "one's name is mud/Mud," which OED2 cites from as early as 1823

(which scotches that hornetookian speculation one sometimes hears, in

accordance with which the phrase derives from the name of the doctor who

treated Booth after the Lincoln assassination). OED2 mud n. meaning 3 has

some semantic analyses of the origin of "one's name is mud." OED2 mud n.

also deals with other locutions in which "mud" is used figuratively in

negative ways.

Perhaps Thayer chose a fictional name to make the poem more generic, rather

than attaching it to a particular place or team. But only research can say.

By the late-19C the Post Office was however forcing various shall-we-say

colorfully-named US localities to change to more genteel monikers. If there

was anyone who ever named a town Mudville, it may therefore be that their

onomatsic efforts wold have been undone before the time the poem was written

(1880s or 90s as I recall).

I just looked it up -- the poem was originally publd. in the Hearst

newspaper in San Fran in 1888 (he and Hearst were friends from Harvard

days). There's a very interesting brief bio of Thayer at:

He graduated with high honors in Philosophy, was a fellow student of

Santayana's and a pupil of Wm James, and also edited the Harvard Lampoon.

He's known for this one poem, written when he was about 25. But no one ever

said life isn't strange....

Greg Downing/NYU, at greg.downing[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] or downingg[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]