Thoroughbred Racing in the “City by the Bay”

Oakdale Race Track in Mobile, Alabama. c. early 1900s.

When most folks think of Thoroughbred racing in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the Deep South, one city usually comes to mind—New Orleans. However, another city on the Gulf Coast shared equal popularity during this era—the “City by the Bay,” that is, Mobile, Alabama.

While New Orleans had its Metairie Race Track and the Fairgrounds (the nation’s third oldest track still in business), Mobile had the Bascombe, Arlington Fairgrounds, and Oakdale race courses.

Bascombe Race Course. In the American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine, a popular magazine in the antebellum era, Bascombe’s 1838 racing schedule is listed, along with the names of the various horses competing, the days when different races will be held, the purse for the winner, and so on. These were the races the publication had omitted in an earlier issue. In 1860, the course was used as an encampment for volunteer troops called “Camp Montgomery.” Nowadays, Mobile uses it to train its Mounted Police Unit.

Arlington Fairgrounds. This track was located near the Bascombe Course, on a road that followed along the Mobile Bay southward for seven miles. Called the Bay Shell Road at the time, it was paved with oyster shells and to travel on it one had to pay a toll. Arlington’s track began around the 1870s, and its use for racing continued into the early twentieth century.

Oakdale. A track in this community was also in use at the turn of the twentieth century. Some local historians consider this one to have been Mobile’s best.  

In my novel-in-progress, I use a fictional track in Spring Hill, Alabama, west of Mobile. During the antebellum era, Spring Hill was a late spring and summer refuge from yellow fever for many of Mobile’s wealthy citizens.

Bibliography

“Camp Montgomery,” Alabama Historical Quarterly 20, no. 2 (1958): 293

“Fairgrounds History Remembered in New Documentary,” Mid-City Messenger, November 18, 2014,https://midcitymessenger.com/2014/11/18/fair-grounds-history-remembered-in-new-documentary/.

“Horsing Around,” Mobile Bay Magazine 37, no. 4(2021):82.

McLaurin, Melton and Michael Thomason. Mobile: The Life and Times of a Great Southern City.  Woodland Hills, CA, 1981.

“Omissions in the Racing Calendar,” American and Turf Register and Sporting Magazine 10 (January and February, 1839): 94.

Preston, Ben C. “Mobile Alabama Nostalgia Back in the Day,” Facebook, December 23. 2016, https://www.facebook.com/groups/MobileNostalgia.

Scott, Mike. “From Horses to Corpses: How Metairie Race Course Became Metairie Cemetery,” The Times Picayune, April 12, 2017; Updated July 22, 2019https://www.nola.com/300/article_4d8f567b-5039-5e52-88b7-9e6a4331925a.html

Contests & Ministry

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

During my thirty-plus years of writing, I never entered a writing contest… until recently. Why not? One word—fear. As a child, I was usually one of the last children who got picked at recess for softball and other competitive activities. Oh, I did win a few board games and such, so I’m only speaking in general terms. But the truth is, I simply wasn’t very good at much.

So, when it came to writing contests, I shied away from them. I feared that losing would cause me to quit writing altogether, which I did not want to do. In recent years, however, I’ve entered a few. Have I won any? Nah! But my novel, Vengeance & Betrayal, was a finalist once. Because I have lots of bylines and publishing credits now, losing doesn’t bother me. Hey, winning wouldn’t be so bad either.

Contests, I’ve learned, are a great motivation for doing our best work. Sometimes, the judges will give us a critique to help us improve. And if we’re a finalist or winner, it encourages us to keep at it. But if we lose, well, don’t get discouraged. Learn from that and work harder at the craft. I’ve discovered that contests are fun!

Having said that, because I’m a Christian as well as a writer, I see my writing as a ministry. If God has called us to be writers, we can enter contests, of course, especially those that involve our published works. However, our motivation and purpose should go beyond winning them. If all we’re concerned about is winning contests, we miss the point of our calling. Though they are great and can be rewarding, eternal rewards are in store for those who write for Christ’s kingdom from a heart that seeks to win others to Him.

So, let’s check our motivations. For whom do we write? For ourselves and earthly rewards or for Christ?

Guilt-Free Writing

WRITER ON BREAK. WILL BE BACK LATER.

For many years during my writing career, I suffered from guilt whenever I took time off from writing. I needed to be at my typewriter (laptop) pecking away at the keys. What was I accomplishing in a literary sense if I wasn’t? On the other hand, what was I accomplishing by staring at my typewriter paper or my laptop screen all day, struggling after ideas and stories ? Nothing, nothing at all.

I’ve since learned that little breaks are great for writers, that they’re not a waste of time. It’s how we recharge and get fresh ideas. Many a day I’ve walked away from my desk, my mental activity exhausted. Whenever I reach this point I know it’s time to do something different. Go for a drive, go for a walk, or take an entire day or weekend off. Get up from your work every ninety minutes or so instead of writing long hours on end. Nothing wrong with doing that, and I recommend it.

So, don’t feel guilty about the times you don’t write. Look at it this way: even when we’re resting, we’re working. Why? Because proper rest contributes to greater productivity. Your writer’s brain will be forever grateful.

Till next time, friends!

Shakespeare’s Row, Gentlemen Only

Gideon Deshler, c. 1850s
Gideon entered the game room and strode straight to the bar to purchase a beer. Tobacco fogs swirled over tables, and lights from gaslit chandeliers danced in their mist. Murmurs punctuated whirring roulette wheels. Along a far wall, men played games of twenty-one and faro. Billiard balls cracking against each other echoed from an adjoining room.
Gideon never played roulette, though he did sometimes play billiards, and he occasionally engaged in twenty-one and faro. Poker, though, was the pastime he’d come to love. Men who stood beside him at the bar conversed while drinking their liquors of choice. The entire place smelled of beer and tobacco.

In the above scene the protagonist in my WIP, Gideon Deshler, enters a game room in antebellum Mobile’s popular gaming establishment, Shakespeare’s Row. Like New Orleans, Mobile attracted gamblers from a variety of backgrounds—gentlemen, professional gamblers, and the unsavory types.

Shakespeare’s Row, however, only catered to well-mannered and honest gamblers, those who at least appeared to be gentlemen. Troublemakers and dishonest players weren’t allowed on its premises. One writer described it as a string of brick buildings housing numerous businesses along the street, then when a person entered through one of its two arched doorways, he’d find a courtyard. In the middle of this courtyard stood a three-story building, with stairways, that housed twenty-eight game rooms facing it. Gambling activity continued there all night.

Shakespeare’s Row is one of the central settings of my novel-in-progress, tentatively titled Thoroughbreds and the Prodigal. 

Sources

Amos, Harriet E. Cotton City: Urban Development in Antebellum Mobile, Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 1985.

Chafetz, Henry. Play the Devil: A History of Gambling in the United States from 1492 to 1955, N.p.,Bonanza Books, 1960.