Early on the morning of Friday, Jan. 19, 1900, in a little wooden
farmhouse on a snow-swept spit of land in central Massachusetts,
the finest catcher the game of baseball had yet known--a gentle,
churchgoing man, an attentive husband, a doting father of
two--rose from the couch on which he had been sleeping and made
his way in darkness to the kitchen stove. Martin Bergen, age 28,
was about to build a fire.
Out back, in the barn where his father was sleeping, the cows
needed milking and the hens and the horse feeding, but Bergen's
circuitry had been shorting out recently, and he was no longer of
this world. On this graying wisp of a winter dawn, those scolding
humpbacked witches that had ridden him for years were hanging on
more grimly than ever: the paranoid delusions that had made him
duck knife blades as he played behind the plate; the inclement
spells of nervousness and catatonia; the fear of his impulse to
violence; the lapses in memory; the fits of melancholy; and the
fantasies, oh, the fantasies on the train.
He had "suffered spells" and "acted queerly," as people put it in
those days, long before he joined the Boston club of the National
League in 1896, and the fact that he had stuck there over four
full years revealed how much a team was willing to endure to have
him behind the plate. Though Bergen was only an adequate hitter,
.265 lifetime, the Boston scribblers had crowned him the King of
Catchers. He was the Charles Johnson of his day, a nimble fielder
with a bullwhip arm who could snap the ball to second base
without so much as moving his feet.
"As a catcher, Martin Bergen was the best the world ever
produced," future Hall of Famer Jesse Burkett, a St. Louis
outfielder, told the Worcester Spy in 1900. "No man acted with
more natural grace as a ballplayer. There was finish in every
move he made. His eye was always true and his movements so quick
and accurate in throwing that the speediest base runners...never
took chances when Bergen was behind the bat."
June 3, 2001
The Bostons, popularly called the Beaneaters, forgave Bergen's
eccentricities while they were winning pennants in '97 and '98,
but by the summer of '99, when the team began to struggle, his
increasingly erratic behavior made him a lightning rod for
discontent. That April his four-year-old son, Willie, had died of
diphtheria while the Bostons were on the road, and it had
troubled Bergen that he could not get home before the end of the
religious service--late to his favorite child's funeral. "It's
pretty tough that my boy should be taken away," Bergen lamented
to neighbors, "but it seems a great deal harder still to think
that I should just get home in time to see him being taken out of
the door in a box."
Phantoms were wheeling like crows now in his head. Increasingly
distracted and morose, he skipped out on the ball club in the
middle of a pennant race, in late July, and stole home to his
60-acre farm in North Brookfield, Mass., for a couple of weeks,
believing that his teammates were plotting to kill him. In
passenger trains, heading to road games, he had sat with his feet
in the aisle so he could see his assassins approach from either
side. He believed that the National League had hired his personal
physician, Louis Dionne, to poison him. He had cried like a
frightened boy after unburdening himself of his paranoid
fantasies to a reporter for The Cincinnati Enquirer and had
begged the man not to write what he had said. (The reporter
complied.) The clamor and cheering at games had been driving
Bergen to a state of heightened agitation.
After his return to the team in August he caught fewer and fewer
games. He smoked heavily and chewed a 10-cent plug of tobacco
every game. Dionne listened to his woes and diagnosed the
problem as "tobacco heart"--frayed nerves due to excessive use
As the season drew to a close, with Wee Willie Keeler and the
Brooklyn Bridegrooms pulling away to beat the Bostons for the
flag, Bergen's mental condition grew more acute. He sought
remedies from doctors and importuned three Catholic
priests--Bergen rarely missed a Sunday Mass--to still the demons
that had nested in his soul. He brooded in the clubhouse,
staring into the distance for hours. Though of average stature,
at 5'10" and 170 pounds, he appeared to grow larger and more
fearsome to his teammates, evolving into a semblance of James
Wait in Conrad's Nigger of the Narcissus, who inspired such fear
among his mates that they shrank from even looking at him.
Boston club president Arthur Soden told his boys to be careful
The catcher's wife, Hattie, had told Dionne that she had no fear
of him. Nor did she fear for their two children, six-year-old
Florence, a pretty brunette in curls, and flaxen-haired Joe,
three years younger. Martin liked to hitch up his horse and buggy
and take the kids to pick up the mail in town. By January 1900,
though, he was not getting along with his father, Michael, whose
drinking had been a source of tension between them, and on the
night of Jan. 18--when Michael was supposed to start living with
the family on the farm--Hattie met her father-in-law at the door
and refused to let him into the house. A row ensued. At one point
Hattie hid Martin's shotgun under the sheets of their bed, in the
same room where the two kids slept, and when Martin got up around
5:30 a.m. to make that fire, he had a couple of shotgun shells in
one of his pockets.
Standing before the kitchen stove, he lifted the oven lids and
scooped out Thursday's ashes. Then he gathered old papers and
laid them on the grate. Crossing the kitchen in his stocking
feet, he opened the woodshed door and went inside. He may have
meant to break up some wood for kindling. The heavy woodsman's ax
was in one corner of the shed. Bergen picked it up. There's no
telling where his last hallucination took him, but in that shed
he Jekylled into Hyde. He swept back into the kitchen, the ax in
his hands, and cut the corner into the bedroom. Hattie saw him
coming toward her. She got to her feet and raised her hands to
Martin Bergen was born in North Brookfield, 55 miles west of
Boston, on Oct. 25, 1871. He was one of six children raised by
Michael and Ann Delaney Bergen. When Martin was a teenager,
baseball was just coming to flower as the national game, with
Cap Anson of the Chicago White Stockings and King Kelly of the
Chicagos and then the Bostons showing the way in their wools.
Martin and his younger brother William practiced endlessly, both
William, a smooth fielder, would play 11 years in the majors,
most of them for the Brooklyns. His most enduring legacy would be
a lifetime batting average of .170, still the lowest for any
player with more than 3,000 at bats. Martin was cut from a better
but softer grain of wood. Even as a kid, on Father James Tuite's
team of altar boys, he had periodic tantrums, throwing down his
gear and stalking off the field if another player earned more
applause. He had a feel for the game, however, and he shaped his
considerable athleticism to fit its languorous rhythms.
Everywhere Bergen went trouble followed. He began his run in
minor league ball in Salem, Mass., in 1892, where he hit .247,
but the year was not over before he got into a beef with a
teammate over what The Sporting News described as an "imaginary
grievance" of Bergen's. He gave the other player "a bad beating."
Bergen fought with other teammates that year over what they too
maintained were imagined offenses.
At Northampton, Mass., in '93, Bergen's prowess as a catcher
began to draw attention, and he got offers from several other
teams around New England. In '94 he landed in Lewiston, Maine,
where he batted .321 in 97 games and caught brilliantly. "A
phenomenal ballplayer," his teammate Jack Sharrott recalled years
later in the Worcester Evening Gazette, but "so cranky that
hardly anyone could get along with him and it was only by the
greatest diplomacy that he was gotten along with at all."
Bergen performed so well in Maine that manager Jimmy Manning
signed him to his Kansas City (Mo.) Blues in the talent-rich and
hotly competitive Western League. There Bergen played to
generally effusive reviews. After a 9-7 victory over Indianapolis
in late July 1895, The Kansas City Star noted, "Bergen caught an
excellent game yesterday and kept the visitors anchored to the
bases all through the contest." What's more, it was not only his
artful catching that was drawing notices. By July 1, Bergen was
leading the Blues with a .407 average. "He is one of the cleanest
hitters that ever played in Kansas City," the Star reported on
June 23. His play suggested that he belonged at another level--in
the only major league then in existence, the National League.
Mood swings aside--Bergen flipped from bright, expansive highs
to dark, despondent lows--he was beginning to show a disturbing
inclination to flee from his travails. He had met the pretty,
fair-haired Hattie Gaines, who worked as a stitcher in the
Batcheller shoe factory in North Brookfield, and they had been
married in July 1893. He had urged her to join him in Kansas
City, but she had chosen instead to stay with her family in
upstate New York during the season. Living in a distant town
without his wife left Bergen more unsettled than ever, and his
erratic behavior incensed the tough Manning. Near the end of the
'95 season, in one of his "spells," Bergen left the Blues over a
perceived slight and went home to Massachusetts, never to return.
He would not be out of the game long. Bergen had ended up batting
.372 for the Blues that season, with 188 hits and 118 runs scored
in 113 games, so it was beyond any wonder that, at season's end,
the desperately needy Bostons came after him. They had lost their
formidable catcher, Charlie Bennett, in January 1894. (Leaving
Wellsville, Kans., on a hunting trip, Bennett was running to
catch a moving train when he lost his grip, slipped and fell
under the wheels. He lived but lost both legs.) Boston manager
Frank Selee dispatched his best pitcher, future Hall of Famer Kid
Nichols, to scout Bergen in Kansas City. "I saw at once that he
was a good man," the Kid recalled in the Boston Morning Journal
years later. The Bostons gave the Blues $1,000 and shortstop
Frank Connaughton for Bergen, but the catcher sniffed a
conspiracy against him, and Selee had to travel to North
Brookfield to assure Bergen that he would be used properly and to
mollify him over his salary complaints. In those days the
National League had a salary cap of $2,400 per player, and Bergen
wanted top dollar.
Two seasons would pass before Bergen made the maximum--a good
part of '96 was lost to injury--but he began to bloom as a
defensive catcher in '97. Some of his feats became legendary. In
one game in Washington that year he threw out seven runners
trying to steal second base. "Bergen did throwing the like of
which had never been seen in that city," said former New England
League umpire William Fitzpatrick, a cousin of Bergen's.
The Bostons were charging toward their fourth pennant in seven
years, and the catcher asserted himself as a respected and even
crucial member of one of the greatest teams of the 19th century.
Four of those Bostons would make it to Cooperstown: Nichols, who
won 361 games in a 15-year career, had at least 30 wins per
season seven out of eight years, from 1891 through '98, and
pitched a staggering 532 complete games; outfielder Hugh Duffy,
who holds the highest batting average for a season, .438 in 1894
(236 hits, including 18 home runs, in 539 at bats); outfielder
Sliding Billy Hamilton, whose career record of 937 stolen bases
stood until Lou Brock broke it in 1979; and third baseman Jimmy
Collins, who hit .346 and .328 in the Bostons' last two pennant
seasons of the 19th century.
They were solid, even brilliant, and Bergen was embraced as a
mate. Between the lines he played the unruffled pro. John
Gaffney, one of the premier umpires of those times, never knew
Bergen as a complainer, this in an era noted for its theatrics.
"I have been behind him umpiring for four years, and in that
time he never raised a kick at any of my decisions," Gaffney
told the Worcester Telegram in 1900. "The worst I ever heard him
say was, 'Gaff, look out for the corners a little sharper.'...No
man could catch more gracefully or do more with less apparent
exertion than Bergen. Every move he made counted. He and [Dick]
Buckley were the only two players I've ever seen who could throw
to the bases without moving their feet....That was one of
Martin's strongest points. It...worked [sic] havoc with base
If Bergen seemed odd off the field, he more than made up for it
in the Bostons' run to beat the Baltimores for the '98 National
League title. That year, Bergen bought his farm two miles outside
North Brookfield for $1,650, putting $300 down, and for Christmas
the club sent him a present fit for a young gentleman farmer with
a family: "Two handsome horses, a carriage, sleigh, harness and a
piano," reported The Springfield Union.
He was a favorite of the fans, so the money changers in the front
office loved him. Bergen had hit only .248 in his second year in
the majors, playing 87 games, but he came back in '98 to have his
best season, hitting .289 over 120 games and earning his
reputation as the best fielding catcher in the game. Yet that
year he also grew increasingly hostile and unbalanced and,
according to the Boston Morning Journal, "assaulted several of
the most inoffensive members of the team while in the west."
All this came to a boil on July 28 in what The Sporting News
would describe as a "sensational scene" instigated by Bergen over
breakfast in the fancy dining room of the Southern Hotel in St.
Louis. The night before, on the train bearing the team from
Brooklyn, pitcher Vic Willis and other players had begun kidding
one another. "Bergen took a hand in the fun-making," the News
reported, "and good fellowship was the rule. Suddenly Bergen grew
morose and refused to join in the horseplay. He growled at
Willis, but no one paid any attention to it, as it was nothing
unusual for him to relapse into one of his spells when he would
not talk with or be talked to by anyone."
The next morning, Willis came down to breakfast and was escorted
by the headwaiter to a seat next to Bergen. The 22-year-old
Willis, a 6'2" rookie on his way to winning 25 games that season,
greeted his catcher as he sat down. "If you don't get away from
me," snarled Bergen, "I'll smash you, sure!" Willis refused to
move, and Bergen reached over and slapped him on the face.
Smarting from the blow, Willis appeared ready to fight, but he
checked himself. Several players urged him to another table, then
out of the room.
Selee warned him not to retaliate. "I'll make a sacrifice of my
personal feelings and swallow the insult in the interests of the
club," vowed Willis, "but if Bergen makes another break at me,
we'll settle the question of which is the better man." Bergen
refused to apologize, claiming he was made the butt of jokes on
that train, and Selee warned him against any further trouble,
telling Bergen, "If you say the word, I'll begin negotiations at
once to trade you." Bergen said that he wanted to stay but that
nobody would make a fool of him. The other players, trying for a
fifth pennant in eight years, admired Bergen as a hustling,
hardworking player but were livid over the slapping incident.
"It's his disposition to be gloomy and morose and we give him all
the latitude we can in order to keep peace with him," one unnamed
player told the News. "That scrap with Vic Willis was an outrage.
Bergen made an ass of himself and brought discredit on us all by
his inexcusable conduct.... It is a surprise to me we were not
all thrown out bag and baggage.... There is no boycott on Bergen,
but there is nothing cordial in our relations with him and he so
understands. He has made trouble with a good many of the boys and
we just give him a wide berth. But he's a ballplayer, and once we
get into a game, personal feelings are set aside in admiration of
the artist, for such he is."
The Southern Hotel incident, suppressed by the writers at Selee's
request during the season, finally broke in The Sporting News in
mid-October--after Boston had won the pennant--but the story did
not force the team to trade its star catcher. The club had come
to perceive him as too valuable. Since the middle of the '98
season, however, the Bostons had been a house unevenly divided,
an entire team set against one man. Matters could only grow
In addition to paranoia, Martin Bergen most likely suffered from
schizophrenia with a touch of manic depression. "If I had to make
a diagnosis, that would be it," says Dr. Carl Salzman, professor
of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who examined various
contemporary accounts of Bergen's behavior. Schizophrenia,
Salzman says, can be marked by delusions such as Bergen
experienced: "a belief that something is happening that isn't,
and it's usually threatening. Other symptoms are withdrawal,
inability to socialize, or fear of socializing; flat or dull
feelings, not the usual range of expression of emotion; and
difficulty thinking and controlling one's thoughts. It's a brain
disease that causes the person to be more vulnerable to the usual
stresses of life."
Today someone like Bergen would be treated with drugs and
psychotherapy, but at the turn of the last century "there weren't
any medications to treat this illness," says Salzman. "There was
no psychotherapy. Many people [with Bergen's symptoms] were put
in hospitals and locked up." The only medicine Bergen seems to
have been prescribed were bromides, mild sedatives that,
according to Salzman, were "commonly used at that time to quiet
people down, especially if they were very anxious or had trouble
sleeping." Against Bergen's afflictions, though, bromides were
Meanwhile, the stresses on the field and off mounted through
1899. The crowds seemed to grow louder and closer around Bergen.
His wife became ill with tuberculosis. His paranoid fantasies had
become self-fulfilling. Following the St. Louis incident, his
teammates indeed "gave him a wide berth" and were no longer
cordial. After his son Willie died in April, Bergen began to
imagine that players were making light of the boy's death and
joking about it behind his back.
Later that spring, in front of the Burnet House hotel in
Cincinnati, sportswriter Harry Weldon of the Enquirer came upon
Bergen in a "jolly good humor" and asked him what he thought of
the pennant race. "Why, we will win the pennant in a gallop,"
boasted Bergen. "It's a cinch for us!" Then, Weldon would recall
in The Sporting News the following January, a scowl came over
Bergen's face. "But it won't make a damned bit of difference to
me whether they win or not," he said.
"Why not?" asked Weldon.
"Because I won't be with this bunch much longer," Bergen said.
"I am going to quit them. I am tired of traveling with a lot of
knockers and backbiters. They are all giving me the worst of it.
I'll shake the gang just as soon as we get to Boston."
Frank Killen, the Boston pitcher, was listening as Bergen spoke.
Other teammates soon gathered around, and Bergen stopped talking.
Ten minutes later, Weldon was talking to the manager, Selee, when
Killen came over, took Weldon aside and said, "Marty is out there
crying like his heart would break. He sent me here to ask you not
to put anything in the paper about what he told you." Weldon
promised. Then Killen turned to Selee and asked what the trouble
was with Bergen.
"He is insane," Selee said. "I've done everything in my power to
get along with him. He is possessed of the insane idea that none
of us like him. I will have to get rid of him. He is the greatest
catcher in the business, but...there is no use trying to keep
him on the team."
Soden, the Beaneaters' president, had warned Selee that Bergen
was dangerous and, he feared, might shoot someone. Players
thought that Bergen was growing more and more detached from
reality. Some attributed his eccentricities to drink, but he was
known to be a temperate man and never hung out in saloons on the
road, reading in his room after dinner rather than carousing with
the boys. When the team played at home, Bergen, rather than stay
at a hotel in Boston, commuted by train from North Brookfield.
In July, on their way to Cincinnati at the beginning of a long
western road trip, the Boston players were gathered in groups in
their special car, laughing and playing cards as Bergen brooded
alone in a corner. The train stopped briefly in Washington, D.C.
Suddenly, a New York player, whose team also had a special car
hitched to the train, dashed into the Boston car and asked what
was going on with Bergen. "We looked about the car, but could see
nothing of him," Kid Nichols later recalled. "Then someone told
us to look out on the platform. There was Bergen, with his grip
in his hand, walking away from the train as fast as possible. Our
train had started so we could not stop."
It would be the longest and most spectacular walkout of Bergen's
career, and it infuriated the Bostons because it left them, as
they contended for their third pennant in a row, with only their
backup to catch game after game in the midsummer heat. The Boston
Globe's T.H. Murnane, a former player who had become the most
respected of the nation's baseball writers, journeyed to Bergen's
farm in late July to get the story and found the shed full of
hay, the corn crop healthy and Bergen standing in the barn
doorway with little Florence and Joe. He complained to Murnane of
all the catching he had done, of his shattered nerves, of his
need for rest.
Two years before, following the '97 season, Bergen had told
Murnane, "Many a time I have asked for a leave of absence simply
because I thought I would go mad if I worked another day without
rest." Now Bergen told the reporter, "Manager Selee would never
listen to my reasons for coming home, always turning me off with
the remark, 'That will cost you fifty dollars; you can't give me
any stories.' At Chicago, on the last trip, at least four
members of the Boston team went out of their way to abuse me
every time I went to bat. They would call out, 'Strike him
out!'...I left the club when it reached Washington.... I found
manager Selee and the rest of the players were trying to avoid
Bergen's return to Boston, on Aug. 4, a little more than two
weeks after he had left, unexpectedly was the crowning moment of
his career. Against the Washingtons, Bergen nailed all three
runners who tried to steal on him. The fans gave him an ovation
every time he came to bat. In the ninth inning, with two out, the
Bostons down 3-2 and men on second and third, Bergen drove a
single to left that scored both runners and won the game. Fans
vaulted the barricades at South End Grounds to shake Bergen's
hand and pound him on the back. Wrote Murnane, "After the game
Bergen was a mark for the crowd, who cheered him until he went
out of sight."
His teammates were still riled over what Bergen had said about
them in the interview with Murnane at the farm, and they were
even more rankled by the ovations for Bergen, which suggested to
them that the crowd had taken Bergen's side. The next day, before
the game, the players demanded that Bergen retract what he'd told
Murnane, but he refused. Claiming to the press that they had
nothing but "the best of feeling for their comrade" and that they
were not guilty of "the charges of keeping aloof from him," the
players threatened to strike. They were 15 minutes late for the
game, and they took the field only after Bergen resorted to the
oldest dodge of all, saying that Murnane had "incorrectly quoted"
That September, Bergen again went AWOL. He returned unannounced
a few days later, showing up at the ballyard in Brooklyn a few
minutes before a game and donning his gear without speaking to
anyone, not even Selee. Two days later Bergen was lounging with
some Boston players outside Brooklyn's Hotel St. George,
appearing to be in the best of moods, when two children began
needling them. "Boston couldn't beat nuthin'," they said.
According to the Boston Evening Record, "Bergen laughingly
chased them, and when he caught them sat down on a curbstone,
with one child on each knee, making them say, 'Hooray for
Boston!' before he would let them go."
Late in the '99 season, with the Bostons trailing the Brooklyns,
Bergen read some stinging rebukes of him in the press. The Boston
Post, which blamed him for the club's woes, wrote that "Bergen
has not a good friend on the team" and patronizingly referred to
him as "the boy who will not mind." He had vowed to Murnane that
he would never play for another team, but Selee and Soden talked
openly of trading him.
Under increasing stress, Bergen felt he was going to pieces. Near
the end of the season, while catching against Philadelphia, he
experienced a psychotic episode that caused him to give up so
many passed balls that Selee removed him from the game. As a
pitch reached the plate, the Springfield Republican reported
months later, Bergen would leap out of the way, letting the ball
go by, because he imagined someone was standing next to him and
making a "fierce stab at him with a knife." The next day, Oct.
10, a headline in The Boston Globe read BERGEN MAKES A FARCE OF
Bergen began acting wildly, complaining of the circus going on in
his head and telling of an urge to run off into the woods. The
day after the season ended, his brother William summoned Dionne.
The doctor rode out to the farm Martin called Snowball and,
according to accounts that appeared months later in The Boston
Herald and other publications, found him pacing frantically in
front of the house. "What's the matter?" Dionne asked.
"Doctor, my head is spinning," Bergen said. "I have lots of
"What sort of ideas?" Dionne asked.
"I have an idea that someone is trying to injure me," Bergen
confided. "I don't know what I'm doing. I played ball all last
summer, and people tell me I played fine, but I can't remember
hardly any of it. In fact, I don't remember hardly anything about
the last game--I played it in a trance--except that when it was all
over, a man came up to me and said, 'Martin, you played great,'
and he gave me a cigar, but I was afraid to smoke it. It was a
big cigar, and it looked to me like poison. I thought this man
had been told to...kill me."
Dionne mixed a bromide for him, but Bergen was reluctant to take
it when Hattie poured it. The next day, during a second encounter
with Dionne, Bergen confessed, "I thought someone in the National
League had found out that you were my family physician and had
arranged to give me some poison. I did not take it from my wife
because I didn't wish hers to be the hand that poisoned me."
Bergen had told Murnane that he walked out on teams when he was
seized by an "uncontrollable" urge to cut for home. He told
Dionne he had left the Bostons in July because he feared that
players were trying to kill him, and that on his journey home he
walked sideways through the cars so he could see his pursuers
coming at him from either way.
In November the doctor visited Snowball farm to attend to the
tubercular Hattie. He found her lying on the couch and coughing
up blood. Martin was wringing his hands in anguish. "The sight of
that blood drives me crazy!" he said.
On Sunday, Jan. 14, Bergen visited Dionne's office to pick up
medicine for Hattie. Dionne inquired about his health. Bergen
said he had visited a doctor in Kansas City during the summer.
Curious about Bergen's memory, Dionne asked him what route he had
traveled west. Bergen did not recall. He did remember playing
baseball in St. Joseph, Mo., he said, but that was all. As he
left, he said, "This has been a very pleasant talk, and yet it's
strange how it has rattled me. I'm almost crazy."
Four days later, on Thursday, Jan. 18, Bergen rose early on the
farm, helped his father with the chores and cooked breakfast for
his family. He had ordered $25 worth of groceries from Boston the
day before, but he had no sleigh with which to fetch the goods
from town, so he stopped at Mrs. Daniel Collins's farm and asked
to borrow hers. She saw him walking his horse in harness onto her
place, his two kids in tow. "Hello, here comes farmer Bergen!"
she said. Like the fans in the stands, the gentlefolk around
North Brookfield had never seen the dark side of Bergen. Bergen
laughed and said, "What kind of farmer do you think I make, Mrs.
"I think you will make a very good farmer, Mr. Bergen."
Bergen shook his head and laughed again. "I don't think I will
ever make a good farmer," he said.
He hitched the horse to the sleigh and set out with his father
for town, leaving the kids behind with Mrs. Collins. In E.W.
Reed's drugstore Martin ran into Dionne, to whom he apologized
for not having filled the prescription the doctor had given him
on Sunday. "I've only just got around to it," Bergen said.
The papers had been abuzz with trade talk involving Bergen, so
one man in Reed's asked him, "Are you going to be playing ball,
"No, I'll never play another game of ball," he said sadly.
Michael Bergen stayed in town while Martin drove back to Mrs.
Collins's place, where he picked up Florence and Joe and returned
to the farm without his groceries, which had not arrived.
Martin was an early riser, as most farmers are, and the sagest
guess is that the following morning he came off the couch where
he'd slept at around half past five. Not long after, he rushed
out of the shed, ax in hand, hallucinating in a psychotic fury,
and raised the blade above Hattie as she stood by the bed.
Wielding the weapon with a batter's practiced force, Bergen
brought it down on the left side of her head, crushing her
forehead and killing her instantly. She fell on the bed with her
arms still raised above her head, as if in supplication. Florence
and Joe, in their nightclothes, ran screaming out of the room.
Martin swept after them and caught the boy with the blade along
the top of the head, severing the crown of his skull, then picked
up the body outside the bedroom door and threw it to the bedroom
floor. Florence had hidden behind a kitchen chair, but Bergen saw
her and went after her. He missed her once with the ax, breaking
a piece off the wooden chair, but killed her with a blow to the
head in front of the stove.
Surrounded by his dead family, Bergen took his straight razor off
the kitchen shelf, stood before the looking glass above the sink
and cut his throat with such force that he nearly decapitated
himself. The razor fell on a table by the sink. Martin died next
to Florence on the kitchen floor.
Later that morning Michael got up in the barn and went to the
house. He tried the front door, but it was locked. He heard no
movement inside. He went to Mrs. Collins's place and told her
that the house, usually bustling in the morning, was silent, and
that the curtains were drawn. "Go back and milk the cows," Mrs.
Collins said, "and try to get into the house."
Near noon, Michael let himself in through the shed. He saw the
carnage by the stove.
Less than eight years had passed since the most infamous ax
murders in U.S. history: the hacking to death of Lizzie Borden's
parents in Fall River, Mass., 63 miles southeast of North
Brookfield. The Bergen murder-suicide would not achieve such
long-lasting notoriety, but the story, involving one of the most
famous ballplayers of the day, was strung in black in the
headlines of newspapers nationwide among the latest dispatches
from the Boer War.
The horror of what took place on Snowball farm not only plunged
the little town of North Brookfield into mourning but also
fetched sleighs with bells ringing from around the countryside.
Hundreds of people, some of them riding in a horse-drawn taxi
from town, gathered around the Bergen house and peered ghoulishly
through the windows as doctors, policemen, the coroner and the
undertaker moved around the bodies, trying to piece together what
The next day, in a steady rain, the bodies were taken in three
hearses to St. Joseph's Church in North Brookfield, where 800
mourners gathered inside to hear the service. At least that many
stood outside. Only two baseball men--an East Brookfield neighbor,
37-year-old Connie Mack of the Milwaukee team, and Sliding Billy
Hamilton, Bergen's roommate on the road--attended the funeral.
"What a state his mind must have been in!" cried Jesse Burkett
when he heard the news. Horrified members of the Boston team were
quoted endlessly in the papers--including all those who, taking
Soden's advice, had shunned Bergen. They had avoided him in life
and had not attended the funeral after his death. A number of
them pleaded that they had mistakenly thought the service was on
Sunday. Selee did send flowers.
The burial was in a single broad grave in St. Joseph's Cemetery.
Bergen's good friend T.H. Murnane, the writer and former
ballplayer who had visited him at the farm six months earlier and
found him standing and smiling with his two children in the barn
doorway, sent 28 white flowers with a background of ferns and a
note that said, "May these flowers speak a word of charity for
Martin Bergen, who has done this insane deed."
The flowers were lying on Bergen's casket as the funeral train
wound up the hill to the cemetery.
HE WAS THE CHARLES JOHNSON OF HIS DAY, A NIMBLE FIELDER WITH A
"HE IS INSANE," SELEE SAID OF BERGEN DURING THE '99 SEASON. "I
WILL HAVE TO GET RID OF HIM"
SODEN WARNED THAT BERGEN WAS DANGEROUS AND, HE FEARED, MIGHT
BERGEN RUSHED OUT OF THE SHED, AX IN HAND, HALLUCINATING IN A
AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY THERE WAS NO MEDICATION TO TREAT
PEOPLE LIKE BERGEN
HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE GATHERED AROUND THE BERGEN HOUSE AND PEERED