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The Sioux City Ghosts

Sioux City Ghosts 1934 Team
All photos and newspaper articles taken from scrapbook donated to Smithsonian by the son of a Sioux City player.
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https://americanhistory.si.edu/connect/podcasts/history-explorer-sioux-city-ghosts
Newspaper clipping of 1934 team photo.

Sioux City born-and-reared, the Ghosts picked up games with only the best local teams, but never let what happened on the field get too demanding or serious.

Look, it’s hard to take a ball team seriously if the bunch comes out on the diamond in uniforms that say, “Whiting’s Cleaners—we clean everything but fish.” But then, when the Sioux City Ghosts took the field, nobody expected anything serious, except seriously uncommon softball talent.

Let’s just say it this way—the Sioux City Ghosts became a phenom on half the sandlots in the country. Once, they played a game in a pasture, lots of messy base-like pies beneath their shoes. Maybe fifty fans were watching just off the baselines. Seriously.

No matter. Frank “Papa-be-kind” Williams, one of the old-timers, once told a reporter that fifty fans or fifty thousand riding bleachers made no difference to the guys. What they loved to do was play ball and have fun, no matter if they stepped on—or in--the wrong base.

Fans came to roar with laughter. Sioux City born-and-reared, the Ghosts picked up games with only the best local teams, but never let what happened on the field get too demanding or serious. One of their most beloved schticks was “shadow ball,” which meant their playing a couple of innings without the ball, acting as if it was there just the same, every last player in pantomime, sometimes even in slow motion. Fans—and they were many—went entirely bananas, if they weren’t laughing the moment they sat down. Some people called them “the Globetrotters of Softball,” so blame antic was their show.

Let’s be clear here: the Ghosts were splendidly multi-talented. For a time, pre-Depression, come December they simply switched sports, went inside, and took the court as a basketball team.

Think that’s something?—there’s more. More than occasionally, much to the delight of awe-struck fans, they’d break into song. Why not? People loved a good male chorus.

You couldn’t be a Ghost and be married—traveling was the pits on marriages, after all--and, of course, you had to be African-

Sioux City Ghosts Promotional Poster
All photos and newspaper articles taken from scrapbook donated to Smithsonian by the son of a Sioux City player.
/
https://americanhistory.si.edu/connect/podcasts/history-explorer-sioux-city-ghosts
Poster advertising a game between the Sebastopol Allstars and the "Louder, Faster and Funnier" Sioux City Ghosts.

American. The Ghosts had no traveling patsies like the Harlem Globetrotters either. They made a habit out of playing the best softball teams wherever they went.

How’d they do? I thought you’d never ask. In somewhere close to twenty years of ball games, they took it on the chin 100 times. . . but won more than 2000 games against really good clubs.

During the Second World War, most of the team was in the South Pacific or Europe, with the armed forces. When the war ended, the Sioux City Ghosts once more took the field and toured throughout the west, pulling their goofiness along wherever they went, using horses to run the bases or bicycle. So maybe one game, one of the Williams boys is pitching (they started the team) when he simply throws the umpire out of the game and grabs a six-year-old out of the crowd to call balls and strikes. Then he tells that child to call a pitch a strike even though it went over the backstop. Kid says “strike,” crowd goes bananas.

Today, playing pro in the Bigs means big salaries. Not back then. Maybe $25 a game in a season between 80 and 90 games long. The Sioux City Ghosts were much beloved here and all over the country.

All of that was 75 years ago. Times were different.

Oh, yeah, and every last one of those Whiting Cleaner uniforms said, “We clean everything but fish.”

What’s not to like?

Dr. Jim Schaap doesn’t know what on earth happens to his time these days, even though he should have plenty of it, retired as he is (from teaching literature and writing at Dordt College, Sioux Center, IA). If he’s not at a keyboard, most mornings he’s out on Siouxland’s country roads, running down stories that make him smile or leave him in awe. He is the author of several novels and a host of short stories and essays. His most recent publications include Up the Hill: Folk Tales from the Grave (stories), and Reading Mother Teresa (meditations). He lives with his wife Barbara in Alton, Iowa.
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