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"Say It Ain't So, Joe"

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“Say It Ain't So, Joe”
Written by Murray Head (1975)
Performed by Murray Head

The Music

In 1973, British singer-songwriter-actor Murray Head saw a documentary about Richard Nixon, who was then months away from his post-Watergate resignation. Head was struck by a moment in the film when an editor of a small town newspaper was talking about his readers who still supported the president despite so much condemning evidence. The editor compared Nixon's situation to that of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, the famous baseball player who was banned from the Majors after being accused of taking a bribe to throw the 1919 World Series.

Legend goes that after Jackson was banned, a young fan approached him and said, “Say it ain't so, Joe.” Head borrowed that  phrase for the title of a beautifully yearning ballad that was later covered by Roger Daltrey of The Who. In 2013, Head hit the charts a second time with a re-recorded version of the song.

Here's his original 1975 recording:

The History

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Born in 1888 to a poor South Carolina family, Joseph Jefferson Jackson fell in love with baseball at a young age. His natural gifts for the game were such that by the time he was thirteen, he was playing on a local team alongside men twice his age. Joe could throw a ball over 300 feet. He could make spectacular diving catches in the field. And he could hit anything that was thrown at him, and hit it far.

In 1908, Joe started playing semi-pro ball with the Greenville Spinners. During a double-header, he was wearing a new pair of spiked shoes that wore painful blisters on his heels. In the second game, he took them off. The story goes that after he hit a triple and pulled into third base in his bare feet, someone in the stands yelled, “You shoeless son-of-a-gun!” Though that was the only time Jackson ever played a game without shoes, the nickname stuck.

Dirty Socks

Later that year, Jackson started playing in the majors, first with the Philadelphia Athletics, then with the Cleveland Naps. In 1910, he batted .408, the highest average ever for a rookie. In 1915, he was dealt to the Chicago White Sox.

As depicted in the acclaimed film Eight Men Out, the White Sox were one of the best teams in baseball. But they were also saddled with a tyrannical and miserly general manager named Charles Comiskey. A former ball player himself, Comiskey was credited with being the first person to train players to change their field positions according to a batter's hitting habits. But as a manager, he underpaid his players and cut corners in every aspect of running the franchise. When Comiskey decided to save money by reducing the number of times uniforms were laundered each week, his team got the nickname “Black Sox.”

Of course, baseball in 1919 was nothing like it is today, with free agents and million dollar contracts. Players had what was called a “reserve clause” in their contracts that prevented them from changing teams without the permission of the owners. Further, there was no union to protect players' interests. For all that, Comiskey wasn't much worse than any other general manager. But his abrasive personality rubbed his players the wrong way. And their bitterness towards him set the stage for what happened in the World Series.

So too did the dissension in the ranks of the White Sox. The team was divided into two opposing factions—one led by second baseman Eddie Collins, the other by first baseman Chick Gandil. Collins' guys were more educated and sophisticated and had negotiated higher salaries for themselves. Gandil's were less polished, and underpaid.

It was Gandil who reportedly approached a gambler named Joe Sullivan about the idea of fixing the Series. Sullivan was connected with several gangsters in Chicago. The set-up was that each player would receive $10,000 for giving less than their best over the first three games. It guaranteed that the White Sox would lose to the Reds. Gandil, who was 33 years old and ready to retire, saw this as a way to get out of the game with some big money.

Dirty Stakes

Gambling had been part of major league baseball since its beginnings in the 1860s. And Chicago being a hotbed of organized crime, there were certainly plenty of hustlers skirting around the White Sox organization. Comiskey had even posted signs in his stadium that said, “No Betting In This Ball Park.”

Gandil recruited at least seven teammates to join him in the fix. And this brings us back to Shoeless Joe Jackson. When he was approached by Gandil—and according to later testimony—Jackson was promised $20,000 to participate. He agreed to take the money, once he was convinced that all his teammates were on board. After the fourth game, Jackson received an envelope with $5000. He felt that the players were being double-crossed by the gamblers, and refused to take the envelope. He told Gandil, “Somebody is getting a little jazz, everybody is crossed.” Despite the fact that Jackson had initially agreed to be part of the fix, he did not personally throw any of the games. In fact, he batted .375 with twelve hits in the series, and committed no errors in the field. But his association with the other players who did throw their games would permanently taint his reputation in baseball.

Three Strikes, You're Out

In 1921, eight members of the White Sox stood trial and were acquitted of wrongdoing. But soon after, baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned the same players from the Majors for life.

For the next 20 years, Joe Jackson played semi-pro ball, sometimes under an assumed name. Eventually, he and his wife settled back in his hometown of Greenville, where Jackson ran a barbecue restaurant and a liquor store. On the side, he coached kids' baseball teams.

Jackson died of a heart attack in 1951, at age 64.

Over the years, there have been countless fans who've lobbied for Jackson's induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1999, MLB commissioner Bud Selig said that Jackson's case was under review. But there has been no further action or comment.

Towards the end of his life, Jackson said, “Regardless of what anybody says, I was innocent of any wrong-doing. I gave baseball all I had. The Supreme Being is the only one to whom I’ve got to answer. If I had been out there booting balls and looking foolish at bat against the Reds, there might have been some grounds for suspicion. I think my record in the 1919 World Series will stand up against that of any other man in that Series or any other World Series in all history.”

See all installments of our Music History series here.

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6 East Coast Castles to Visit for a Fairy Tale Road Trip
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Lucy Quintanilla/iStock

Once the stuff of fairy tales and legends, a variety of former castles have been repurposed today as museums and event spaces. Enough of them dot the East Coast that you can plan a summer road trip to visit half a dozen in a week or two, starting in or near New York City. See our turrent-rich itinerary below.


59 miles from New York City

The crumbling exterior of Bannerman Castle
Garrett Ziegler, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Bannerman Castle can be found on its very own island in the Hudson River. Although the castle has fallen into ruins, the crumbling shell adds visual interest to the stunning Hudson Highlands views, and can be visited via walking or boat tours from May to October. The man who built the castle, Scottish immigrant Frank Bannerman, accumulated a fortune shortly after the Civil War in his Brooklyn store known as Bannerman’s. He eventually built the Scottish-style castle as both a residence and a military weapons storehouse starting in 1901. The island remained in his family until 1967, when it was given to the Taconic Park Commission; two years later it was partially destroyed by a mysterious fire, which led to its ruined appearance.


116 miles from Beacon, New York

William Gillette was an actor best known for playing Sherlock Holmes, which may have something to do with where he got the idea to install a series of hidden mirrors in his castle, using them to watch guests coming and going. The unusual-looking stone structure was built starting in 1914 on a chain of hills known as the Seven Sisters. Gillette designed many of the castle’s interior features (which feature a secret room), and also installed a railroad on the property so he could take his guests for rides. When he died in 1937 without designating any heirs, his will forbade the possession of his home by any "blithering sap-head who has no conception of where he is or with what surrounded.” The castle is now managed by the State of Connecticut as Gillette Castle State Park.


74 miles from East Haddam, Connecticut

The exterior of Belcourt castle
Jenna Rose Robbins, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Prominent architect Richard Morris Hunt designed Belcourt Castle for congressman and socialite Oliver Belmont in 1891. Hunt was known for his ornate style, having designed the facade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island, but Belmont had some unusual requests. He was less interested in a building that would entertain people and more in one that would allow him to spend time with his horses—the entire first floor was designed around a carriage room and stables. Despite its grand scale, there was only one bedroom. Construction cost $3.2 million in 1894, a figure of approximately $80 million today. But around the time it was finished, Belmont was hospitalized following a mugging. It took an entire year before he saw his completed mansion.


111 miles from Newport, Rhode Island

Part of the exterior of Hammond castle
Robert Linsdell, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Inventor John Hays Hammond Jr. built his medieval-style castle between 1926 and 1929 as both his home and a showcase for his historical artifacts. But Hammond was not only interested in recreating visions of the past; he also helped shape the future. The castle was home to the Hammond Research Corporation, from which Hammond produced over 400 patents and came up with the ideas for over 800 inventions, including remote control via radio waves—which earned him the title "the Father of Remote Control." Visitors can take a self-guided tour of many of the castle’s rooms, including the great hall, indoor courtyard, Renaissance dining room, guest bedrooms, inventions exhibit room, library, and kitchens.


430 miles from Gloucester, Massachusetts

It's a long drive from Gloucester and only accessible by water, but it's worth it. The German-style castle on Heart Island was built in 1900 by millionaire hotel magnate George C. Boldt, who created the extravagant structure as a summer dream home for his wife Louise. Sadly, she passed away just months before the place was completed. The heartbroken Boldt stopped construction, leaving the property empty for over 70 years. It's now in the midst of an extensive renovation, but the ballroom, library, and several bedrooms have been recreated, and the gardens feature thousands of plants.


327 miles from Alexandria Bay, New York

Part of the exterior of Fonthill castle

In the mood for more castles? Head south to Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where Fonthill Castle was the home of the early 20th century American archeologist, anthropologist, and antiquarian Henry Chapman Mercer. Mercer was a man of many interests, including paleontology, tile-making, and architecture, and his interest in the latter led him to design Fonthill Castle as a place to display his colorful tile and print collection. The inspired home is notable for its Medieval, Gothic, and Byzantine architectural styles, and with 44 rooms, there's plenty of well-decorated nooks and crannies to explore.

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7 Famous People Researchers Want to Exhume
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This week, the surrealist painter Salvador Dali is being exhumed from his grave in Figueres, northeastern Spain, where he has lain beneath the stage of a museum since his death in 1989. Researchers hope to collect DNA from his skeleton in order to settle a paternity suit brought by a tarot card reader named Pilar Abel, who claims that her mother had an affair with the artist while working as a maid in the seaside town where the Dalis vacationed. If the claim is substantiated, Abel may inherit a portion of the $325 million estate that Dali, who was thought to be childless, bequeathed to the Spanish state upon his death.

The grave opening may seem like a fittingly surreal turn of events, but advances in DNA research and other scientific techniques have recently led to a rise in exhumations. In the past few years (not to mention months), serial killer H. H. Holmes, poet Pablo Neruda, astronomer Tycho Brahe, and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, among many others, have all been dug up either to prove that the right man went to his grave—or to verify how he got there. Still, there are a number of other bodies that scientists, historians, and other types of researchers want to exhume to answer questions about their lives and deaths. Read on for a sampling of such cases.


An international team of art historians and scientists is interested in exhuming Leonardo da Vinci's body to perform a facial reconstruction on his skull, learn about his diet, and search for clues to his cause of death, which has never been conclusively established. They face several obstacles, however—not the least of which is that da Vinci's grave in France's Loire Valley is only his presumed resting place. The real deal was destroyed during the French Revolution, although a team of 19th century amateur archaeologists claimed to have recovered the famed polymath's remains and reinterred them in a nearby chapel. For now, experts at the J. Craig Venter Institute in California are working on a technique to extract DNA from some of da Vinci's paintings (he was known to smear pigment with his fingers as well as brushes), which they hope to compare with living relatives and the remains in the supposed grave.


A portrait of Meriwether Lewis
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

As one half of Lewis and Clark, Meriwether Lewis is one of America's most famous explorers, but his death belongs to a darker category—famous historical mysteries. Researchers aren't sure exactly what happened on the night of October 10, 1809, when Lewis stopped at a log cabin in Tennessee on his way to Washington, D.C. to settle some financial issues. By the next morning, Lewis was dead, a victim either of suicide (he was known to be suffering from depression, alcoholism, and possibly syphilis) or murder (the cabin was in an area rife with bandits; a corrupt army general may have been after his life). Beginning in the 1990s, descendants and scholars applied to the Department of the Interior for permission to exhume Lewis—his grave is located on National Park Service Land—but were eventually denied. Whatever secrets Lewis kept, he took them to his grave.


A black and white portrait of Shakespeare
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Shakespeare made his thoughts on exhumation very clear—he placed a curse on his tombstone that reads: "Good frend for Jesus sake forebeare/ To digg the dust encloased heare/ Bleste be the man that spares thes stones/ And curst be he that moves my bones." Of course, that hasn't stopped researchers wanting to try. After Richard III's exhumation, one South African academic called for a similar analysis on the Bard's bones, with hopes of finding new information on his diet, lifestyle, and alleged predilection for pot. And there may be another reason to open the grave: A 2016 study using ground-penetrating radar found that the skeleton inside appeared to be missing a skull.


A black and white photograph of John Wilkes Booth
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The events surrounding Abraham Lincoln's death in 1865 are some of the best-known in U.S. history, but the circumstances of his assassin's death are a little more murky. Though most historical accounts say that John Wilkes Booth was cornered and shot in a burning Virginia barn 12 days after Lincoln's murder, several researchers and some members of his family believe Booth lived out the rest of his life under an assumed name before dying in Oklahoma in 1903. (The corpse of the man who died in 1903—thought by most people to be a generally unremarkable drifter named David E. George—was then embalmed and displayed at fairgrounds.) Booth's corpse has already been exhumed from its grave at Baltimore's Greenmount Cemetery and verified twice, but some would like another try. In 1994, two researchers and 22 members of Booth's family filed a petition to exhume the body once again, but a judge denied the request, finding little compelling evidence for the David E. George theory. Another plan, to compare DNA from Edwin Booth to samples of John Wilkes Booth's vertebrae held at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, has also come to naught.


A portrait of Napoleon
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Napoleon has already been exhumed once: in 1840, when his body was moved from his burial-in-exile on St. Helena to his resting place in Paris's Les Invalides. But some researchers allege that that tomb in Paris is a sham—it's not home to the former emperor, but to his butler. The thinking goes that the British hid the real Napoleon's body in Westminster Abbey to cover up neglect or poisoning, offering a servant's corpse for internment at Les Invalides. France's Ministry of Defense was not amused by the theory, however, and rejected a 2002 application to exhume the body for testing.


A portrait of Henry VIII
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In his younger years, the Tudor monarch Henry VIII was known to be an attractive, accomplished king, but around age 40 he began to spiral into a midlife decline. Research by an American bioarchaeologist and anthropologist pair in 2010 suggested that the king's difficulties—including his wives' many miscarriages—may have been caused by an antigen in his blood as well as a related genetic disorder called McLeod syndrome, which is known to rear its head around age 40. Reports in the British press claimed the researchers wanted to exhume the king's remains for testing, although his burial at George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle means they will need to get the Queen’s permission for any excavation. For now, it's just a theory.


A portrait of Galileo
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The famed astronomer has had an uneasy afterlife. Although supporters hoped to give him an elaborate burial at the Basilica of Santa Croce, he spent about 100 years in a closet-sized room there beneath the bell tower. (He was moved to a more elaborate tomb in the basilica once the memory of his heresy conviction had faded.) More recently, British and Italian scientists have said they want to exhume his body for DNA tests that could contribute to an understanding of the problems he suffered with his eyesight—problems that may have led him to make some famous errors, like saying Saturn wasn't round. The Vatican will have to sign off on any exhumation, however, so it may be a while.


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