Dear Hamilton Bush,
I was reading something about how Dwight Eisenhower played sports at West Point, and it mentioned that one of his baseball coaches was a Chattanoogan. Can you tell me more about that?
Sincerely, I Like Ike
Let’s get right to it. A couple of readers have great questions about our local history, and here we have the answers!
Dear I Like Ike,
Indeed, there is a Chattanooga connection with Eisenhower and the West Point baseball team. The common thread is found in none other than Samuel Strang Nicklin, a hard-nosed, hard-drinking old hand who coached at Georgia Tech in 1902 and then took the reins of the Army baseball team from 1909 to 1917.
The son of John B. Nicklin, a Union Army veteran of the Civil War and mayor of Chattanooga from 1887-1889, Samuel was a major leaguer for 10 seasons. A utility player, he went by the name “Sammy Strang,” but he also earned the catchy nickname of “The Dixie Thrush” for his remarkable talent for singing opera.
He began his career in 1896 with the Louisville Colonels and followed with stints on the rosters of the Chicago Orphans, New York Giants, Chicago White Sox, and Brooklyn Superbas. He was a member of the 1905 World Series champion New York Giants. Legend has it that the baseball term “pinch-hitter” was coined in reference to Sammy’s ability to come through “in a pinch.” During his career, he scored 253 runs, 16 home runs, and finished with an overall career batting average of .269.
Among the players that Nicklin coached at West Point were the aforementioned Eisenhower and Army General Omar Bradley, who commanded the largest body of U.S. soldiers ever to serve under a U.S. field commander (1.3 million men) during World War II before going on to an illustrious career in politics. Both Eisenhower and Bradley were members of the West Point Class of 1915, famed as “The Class the Stars Fell On” because 59 of its 164 graduates reached the rank of general or higher during their military careers (In the U.S. Army, the insignia reserved for generals is one or more stars).
Sammy Strang also served his country—but earlier, during World War I as a captain in the 324th Infantry Regiment. He died in 1932 at the age of 55 and is buried in the Chattanooga National Cemetery.
Dear Hamilton Bush,
I was touched a few months ago by the passing of Guy Bilyeu, former executive director of the local Humane Educational Society. It is apparent that the organization made great strides under his leadership. Could you provide a bit on how the local Humane Society got started?
Regards, A Fan of Furry Friends
Dear Fan of Furry Friends,
Guy Bilyeu was certainly instrumental in a major turnaround that has occurred with the local Humane Educational Society during the last 10 years or so. The award-winning organization is probably best known for its “Getting to Zero” program that ended the euthanasia of “treatable, adoptable, and trainable” shelter pets under its care. Because of Guy and the Humane Society’s dedicated staff, board of directors, and outstanding volunteers, thousands of animals have found forever homes.
The history of the local Humane Society stretches back more than a century. In 1907, Ethel Soper Hardy, wife of Richard Hardy, mayor of Chattanooga from 1923 to 1927, saw the need to help abused, homeless animals in the Chattanooga area. She decided to take on the task, and officially incorporated the Humane Educational Society in 1910.
At first, the Humane Society worked with animals only. Then in 1919, a father who had severely beaten his son had to be tried under cruelty to animals statutes because there was no applicable law that protected children.
In the same year, the Humane Society began working for the welfare of abused and neglected children. It continued to do so until 1953, when the Humane Society reverted to the care of animals only and the Hamilton County government began caring for the disadvantaged children that were housed on the Humane Society grounds. In the 1980s, the care of dependent children was turned over to the private sector.
Today, the Humane Society takes in approximately 5,000 animals each year, and the staff works diligently every day to find homes for each of them. Through its fundraising efforts such as “Paws for the Cause” and “Paws in the Park” and ongoing community outreach and adoption programs such as the “Tree of Hope” Christmas program, the lives of both people and animals have been changed for the better. The great work continues.