When Kirsten and I were working on our Candela Structures exhibit from last fall through this past spring, one of our most helpful sources was a woman named Mary Ellen Coghlan. We first encountered her when we posted some research queries on a World’s Fair message board, where she was an active participant and used Lady Met as her avatar. She responded to our queries and helped get the ball rolling on our research.
Over the next several months, Mary Ellen would periodically pop out of the ether and send me a helpful note. “You should get in touch with this guy, because I think he has lots of Candela photos,” she’d say, or “This guy’s father worked on the World’s Fair — I’m sure he could provide you with some good information,” and then I wouldn’t hear from her again for a while. Her leads always turned out to be useful, and each time I found myself wondering, “Hmmm, why didn’t she tell me about that guy, like, five months ago?”
Mary Ellen didn’t respond to my repeated requests for a quick phone chat, so we maintained this odd system in which she sort of parceled out little morsels of information to me. Maybe she was testing me, making sure I was worthy. In any case, by the time our show opened back in May, I’d come to think of her as our guardian research angel, so of course I invited her to the opening reception. She didn’t respond to that either, and she didn’t show up at the reception (or at least didn’t identify herself — I had no idea what she looked like or if she even lived in the New York area), but she later sent me a note indicating that she’d seen the exhibit and approved of how it had turned out. Nice.
And that might have been the end of that. But Mary Ellen popped out of the ether again about five weeks ago by sending me a note on Facebook, of all places (we had never communicated via that method before). “Hey Paul,” she wrote, “check out my piece of Shea Stadium.”
My heart jumped and sank at the same time. I was pretty sure I knew exactly what was in that photo. And if I was right, it meant Mary Ellen was in possession of the one baseball artifact I would give almost anything to own.
“OK, I’ll bite,” I wrote back. “What is it?”
“It is an exterior panel that hung on the cables outside of Shea in 1964,” she responded, confirming my initial reaction. “They were blue & orange.”
Mary Ellen was referring, of course, to the amazing corrugated metal panels that adorned Shea Stadium for the first 16 years of its existence. I’ve written about them several times over the years and had always been told that they’d been discarded shortly after they were removed in 1980. So how did Mary Ellen get one?
Through the simplest means imaginable, as it turns out: She bought it on eBay less than two months ago. And for a ridiculously reasonable price, too. Or to put it another way, one of my holy grails was up for auction right under my nose and I didn’t realize it. That bruise on my ass is where I’ve been kicking myself for the past few weeks.
I congratulated Mary Ellen on her purchase, to which she blithely replied, “Someday I will bring the Shea organ in from my garage into my house too. I miss Shea Stadium. Can you tell?”
Wait a minute — she also had the organ from Shea? Jane Jarvis’s organ?!
At this point I sort of half-begged, half-demanded that Mary Ellen let me interview her. To my pleasant surprise, she readily agreed. Here’s how it went down:
Uni Watch: Tell me a little about yourself. Did you grow up in New York City?
Mary Ellen Coghlan: No. I’m from New Jersey, Bergen County.
UW: And did you attend the World’s Fair yourself?
MEC: You know, the funny thing is that I attended the Fair before it opened. My father was known as “The Bamboo Man” in the 1960s. He sold bamboo from our house in Upper Saddle River, and he became this quirky ’60s icon to some people. He got to be a guest on Johnny Carson”¦
UW: Talking about bamboo?!
MEC: Yes. He was also a guest on To Tell the Truth. Bamboo became the rage when he was selling it.
UW: Was this for tiki bars and things like that?
MEC: No. For people to grow in their homes. It’s a very hearty plant. Everyone was into Japanese stuff back then, in the late ’50s, early ’60s. It’s a lovely plant. Anyway, he was contacted by the African pavilion at the Fair, because they wanted some bamboo. I didn’t even know they had bamboo in Africa. But anyway, when he delivered it, I went along for the ride. And it was this crazy thing, running around the World’s Fair a couple of weeks before it opened.
UW: So this would have been in early 1964.
UW: How old were you then?
MEC: Ten years old.
UW: And what did you think of the Fair?
MEC: Oh, I was blown away by it. It was a kid’s delight. When we got back home, I wanted my mother to bring us back to the Fair when it was open, but I never got there. She figured we’d all get lost at the Fair, and that was not gonna happen.
UW: So you didn’t even get to go back and see your father’s bamboo? What a shame. Now, how does Shea Stadium play into all of this?
MEC: Well, I’ve always been a Mets fan, and the Fair was right next door.
UW: Did you attend lots of Mets games during that period? Did you go to Shea during that first season in 1964?
MEC: Probably. I don’t recall specifically, but my father took us to Yankee Stadium and to Shea, and I remember how Shea had those confetti panels on the outside. It was so amazing! I’m very sad that it’s gone. I’m not a big fan of Citi Field.
UW: I hear ya, Mary Ellen. Now, how did you acquire one of the confetti panels?
MEC: Well, I always search eBay for things relating to Shea Stadium and the World’s Fair, or any of my other quirky interests. I’m a big fan of the Brown Derby restaurant in L.A., for example. Anyway, someone on the Baseball Fever web site had posted that one of the panels was available on eBay. So I checked it out, and the guy selling it explained how he’d gotten it. He’d gone to a Mets/Dodgers game at Shea in 1980, which was the year they took the panels down, and he saw the panels laying in a pile. I think he said they were near the bullpen. He was there with a buddy of his — he grabbed a blue one and his buddy grabbed an orange one. They threw ’em in the trunk of their car and drove home with them. He’s a professor or teacher in California now, and the panel was in his parents’ garage in Queens, and they were finally giving him the ultimatum — “You’ve gotta get rid of this thing.”
UW: When did put the listing up on eBay?
MEC: Pretty recently — in early July.
UW [incredulous]: Of this year? Like, last month?
UW: You’re lucky I didn’t know about it — I would have bid a lot!
MEC: I was so surprised that it showed up there. And to be honest with you, I didn’t think I was going to win.
UW: How many other bids were there?
MEC: Eight, I think.
UW: What was the starting price?
MEC: A hundred dollars.
UW: And your winning bid?
MEC: A little over $500.
UW: How high would you have been willing to go?
MEC: I would have gone to $1000. I can’t believe I got it for barely half of that — I thought for sure I’d be outbid. I think maybe he didn’t title the auction properly. He just wrote “Shea Stadium — Original Blue Rectangle.”
UW: Yeah, that doesn’t really tell the full story. So once you won the auction, how did they ship it to you?
MEC: As soon as I paid for it, I jumped into my pickup truck and got it. I didn’t want someone else to make him an offer on the side and I’d be screwed! It was still at his parents’ house in Queens. When I arrived to pick it up, his mother said, “I can’t believe anyone would pay for this thing. It’s been kicking around in our garage for years.”
UW: Was it a hassle to transport? How big is it, how heavy is it?
MEC: It’s three feet by four feet. And it weighs nothing — I think it’s just corrugated aluminum. I thought it would be corrugated steel, and I was worried that it would be a real struggle. But it’s not heavy at all, you can lift it with one hand, no problem. [Here it is being held by Mary Ellen’s niece and nephews. — PL]
MEC: I’m sure it’s original, but I’d like to get it authenticated somehow, just to be sure. It has drips of orange paint on the back — that seems pretty convincing.
UW: What about the orange one that the seller’s buddy took — does he still have it?
MEC: I asked his mother that, because I figured I’d buy the orange one too. But she said he’d thrown it in the trash years ago.
MEC: Yeah. It would’ve been great to have a blue one and an orange one together.
UW: So yours is maybe the only one left, like, anywhere.
MEC: To my knowledge it is, yeah. Nobody on Baseball Fever was aware of any others that have survived. I’m sure someone else has gotta have one or two in a garage, I would think. But who knows.
UW: Do you have any other memorabilia from Shea?
MEC: I bought a set of seats. And I bought something from the dedication at the stadium’s groundbreaking — it’s a Lucite block with a shovel embedded in it.
UW: So now that you have the confetti panel, what are you going to do with it?
MEC: I have an old bar in my house, and I have all sorts of World’s Fair signs and things like that in there. I’ll probably put it in there. When I pass away years from now, I’ll leave it to the Baseball Hall of Fame, if they want it.
UW: Now, what’s the story with this organ?
MEC: It’s in my garage. It weighs a ton!
UW: How’d you get that?
MEC: Again, on eBay, for about $500. The person selling it lived way upstate, between Syracuse and Buffalo. I called her up and she said, “The person we purchased the house from used to work at Shea Stadium, and they took the organ when the Mets were getting rid of it in 1979,” which I think was the last year Jane Jarvis played there. [That’s correct, at least according to Wikipedia. — PL]
UW: So was this the original organ at the stadium?
MEC: I don’t think so, because I’ve looked at some photos of Jane Jarvis from 1964 or ’65, when she started playing there. It’s a Thomas organ, and I have the serial numbers, so I have to contact Thomas to see if they can trace it.
UW: Can you play the organ?
MEC: No. It’s just another, like, dopey thing I’ve bought.
Mary Ellen also gave me the contact info for the guy who sold her the panel. I’ll be getting in touch with him shortly and will post an update once I speak with him, but I wanted today’s entry to belong to Mary Ellen. I pleaded with her to provide a photo of herself holding the panel, but she says she doesn’t like to have her picture taken. I prefer to think maybe she just likes to maintain an air of mystery. Either way, she’s aces — thanks for all the help and support you’ve provided over the past year, Mary Ellen, and thanks also for sharing your story.As for me, I’m super-duper happy to know that one of the Shea panels escaped the scrap heap, and even happier to know it’s in the hands of someone who deserves it and will take good care of it, even if that someone isn’t me. But hey, Mary Ellen, if the Hall of Fame doesn’t want that panel, I know someone else who’ll gladly take custody of it.Membership Update: A nice little surge-let of membership orders just before the August break (including Masao Okazaki’s Rollerball treatment, shown at right) has put us only three enrollees shy of cracking the 800-member mark. You can help push us over the top here.
Raffle Reminder: Speaking of which, all membership enrollees will get three bonus chances to win the college football helmet from Gridiron Memories that I’m currently raffling off. For details, look here.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Hill on Hill! (Good spot by Dylan Buell.) ”¦ Here’s more on David Wright and the S100. Meanwhile, Shane Victorino tried the S100 on Thursday night, but Rawlings didn’t send him a double-flap model, so we got to see the rare sight of Victorino going single-flapped. After two ABs, he went back to his usual helmet. Further details in the last section of this page (with thanks to Bernie Langer). ”¦ Steve Luft notes that the Blackhawks have changed the design of their red line. ”¦ Here’s a fantastic look at the anti-drugs patch that the Rams wore in 1988 (big thanks to William Schaefer). ”¦ What’s going on here? Jonathan Sluss explains: “Throwback uniforms were presented to players from the Old Dominion teams of the 1930s (the last decade of football there before this year). The colors are green and yellow because the school was then known as William and Mary Norfolk Division. 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