Love-Hate Eight Part 2: In which the men of MBC seize an unexpected opportunity to race

Dubbed ‘The Year of Triumph[1],’ 1893 was a banner year for MBC, one of unexpected and sustained victory.

By the time the 1893 Minnesota and Winnipeg Association Regatta rolled around, the Men of MBC were well into their fourth year of training under former professional oarsman, John A. Kennedy. Kennedy had a reputation for coaching his athletes’ physical form while, at the same time, instilling a strong sense of courage and determination. He was finally beginning to see results. By mid-summer, Kennedy’s boys were in top form, trained to consistently perform at potential, and keen to compete.

The 8th annual Minnesota and Winnipeg Association Regatta was held in late July in front of the Hotel Lafayette at Lake Minnetonka. The shore was teaming with fans; interest in rowing and in this particular regatta had been building for years. To meet demand, the Great Northern scheduled five commuter trains from the Twin Cities to Minnetonka. attaching extra cars to handle overflow. Even so, the train that left Saint Paul at 4:45 on the 28th was 'so heavy and cumbersome that before it reached the lake it became crippled, and a vexatious delay occurred at Wayzata[2]'.

The senior four was this regatta’s signature race, far and away the most popular and anticipated event. Betting on shore was rife and betrayed the general belief that MBC was the crew to beat. Odds were set at 4 to 5 against MBC, 6 to 4 against the Lurlines, and 5 to 1 against Winnipeg[3]. The Minnesota boys did not disappoint. The highly trained crew established an early lead and crossed the finish line with ample open water. Over the two-day regatta, MBC went on to win five of the six events, losing the junior single—MBC’s only defeat in 1893—when Lurline sculler, C.F. Brown out-pulled T.L. Wann.

Just one week later on August 3rd and 4th, five clubs gathered[4], again on Lake Minnetonka, for the 16th annual Mississippi Valley Amateur Rowing Association (MVARA) Regatta , considered 1893’s great aquatic event of the west. MBC won every race it entered: the junior and senior fours and the junior and senior double. The Lurlines, seeing their main rivals undefeated, criticized MBC for declining to enter any race in which it did not 'have a cinch.' MBC soldiered on. Without missing a beat, Kennedy’s senior four[5] boarded a train to Detroit to compete in the Northwestern Amateur Rowing Association Regatta on August 9th and 10th while the men rowing the junior four[6] prepared for the Columbian Regatta at Lake Geneva (Wisconsin) to be held on August 15th and 16th.

After handily winning the National Championship, the senior four traveled to Lake Geneva to meet their teammates where Percy Houghton was needed to fill out the junior four. It was another spectacular win for the Minnesotas. True to form, MBC’s junior four had open water shortly after the starting gun went off and proceeded to increase their lead all the way to the turning stake. MBC was so far ahead on the return pull that the men intentionally paddled at light pressure, at one point letting their boat stop entirely, teasing the fans and their competitors but still comfortably crossing the finish line first.

Not ready to end the season—and seeing a welcome opportunity to finally dust off their eight-oared shell—the seven MBC athletes immediately telegraphed Saint Paul summoning Almeric H. Paget, one of the club’s star scullers, and coxswain W.H. Yardley to Lake Geneva to fill out an eight[7]. MBC had bought their first eight earlier in the year under the impression that they would be racing the Lurlines, plans that had fallen through. Their fine eight-oared shell had been sitting idle all summer. Although its crew had been cobbled together at the last minute and had not trained together for weeks, the combined four-oared crews were able to move the boat. They won easily to the immense delight of the crowd.

MBC's unanticipated first eight-oared race and win may have been insignificant against the backdrop of their many other 1893 victories, but it drew attention to the club that would open up new opportunities to compete going forward.

And now, a postscript:

Saint Paul spared no expense on a royal welcome for the men of MBC when they returned home after the last of their summer racing.

On the morning of MBC’s return, the Minnesota National Guard reported to the armory in full dress uniform before marching to Union Depot where a throng of people were gathered. Officers and members of the boat club were waiting on the platform, many wearing the team’s cherry color. A broom brigade had organized on either side of the platform, down through the corridor of the depot, and out into the street. When returning oarsman George Nettleton stepped from the train, the crowd startled him with the cheer: ‘M-I-N-N-E-S-O-T-A! Minnesota! Meanwhile, Battery A of the Minnesota National Guard had drawn a cannon down to the water’s edge opposite the depot. The club’s cheer was the pre-arranged signal. The club had won 15 trophies that season, so a salute of 14 shots was fired, followed by a double shot in honor of the eight-oared race victory. Apparently, George Nettleton, overwhelmed by the cannon shots, retreated back into the train car. A group of women had informally planned to sing but were drowned out by cheers. After the athletes disembarked and the boats were unloaded, the ladies sent a fusillade of flowers into the air. The U.S. Infantry Band struck up ‘The Conquering Hero Comes’ as a platoon of mounted police followed by four companies of the Minnesota National Guard and the light artillery led a procession to the boathouse. Members of MBC carrying the eight-oared and four-oared shells on their shoulders fell into line in front of the victorious oarsmen and their friends. Thousands of Saint Paul citizens watched the procession to Raspberry Island where Judge Flandraus and others awaited to welcome the victors[8].

The royal pomp of the reception reflected Saint Paul’s incandescent pride in its victorious oarsmen.

[1] The Bellman 1909 p. 910.

[2] The Saint Paul Daily Globe, July 30, 1893.

[3] Ibid. 1893 Minnesota and Winnipeg Association Regatta senior fours: MBC (Archie Wright - stroke, George Nettleton - 3, Percy Houghton - 2, and W. N. Armstrong - bow) vs. Lurline (W. B. Grosskopf - stroke, A. L. Buffington - 3, D. F. Fitzgerald - 2 and G. K. Taylor - bow) vs. Winnipeg (P.A. Macdonald – stroke, A.C. Hopper –3, J.D. Morrice – 2, and F.W. Heubach bow).

[4] Chicago, St. Louis, MBC, the Lurlines, and Winnipeg.

[5] Kennedy’s Senior Four: William N. Armstrong bow, Percy Houghton 2, George O. Nettleton 3, Archie Wright stroke.

[6] Kennedy’s Junior Four: T.L. Wann bow, Percy Houghton 3, Lester M. Mabon 2, Edwin Halbert stroke.

[7] MBC’s 1893 Eight-Oar crew: Archie Wright, G. O. Nettleton, Percy Houghton, W. N. Armstrong, E. G. Halbert, L.M. Mabon, T. Wann, A. H. Paget, W. H. Yardley (cox).

[8] Details summarized from, ‘With Loud Acclaim,’ The Saint Paul Daily Globe, Morning Edition, August 22, 1893.

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