The men on the line square off and face each other. Bareheaded, with no more padding than a leather vest, their only goal is tom make sure the quarterback advances the ball.
The ball is hiked, the men on the line begin slugging each other in a bare-knuckled bloody battle to move forward.
In the gathering dusk, the crowd in the grandstands yell as they strain to see through the fog that swirls quietly in the dim light of a new invention – electric lights.
The date is September 28, 1892.
The schools are Mansfield State Normal and Wyoming Seminary.
Together they made history and paved the way for an American tradition – night football.
The revolutionary idea of a night football game started with a group of students who had played on Mansfield’s first football team in 1891. Eager to showcase their new sport, they proposed to play a night game at the Great Mansfield Fair.
The fair was the region’s major social event and featured such unique events as death-defying parachute drops from three balloons at over 2,000 feet.
But the talk of this year’s fair was about something never before seen in Tioga County, a glimpse into the 20th century – the electric light!
Invented just 13 years earlier by Thomas Edison, this new wonder was brought to Mansfield by John L. Cummings and the General Electric Company.
"John E. Cummings will be pleased to give all persons interest in Electric Lighting all the information possible on Isolated Plants and Central Stations. The General Electric Company has control of the very best patents, including the Edison and Thompson Huston Cail at the light plant on the fairgrounds."
Mansfield Advertiser, Sept. 28, 1892.
As early as Sept. 7 the Mansfield Advertiser reported "Normal School foot ball enthusiasts are endeavoring to arrange a game to be played by electric light with the eleven from Wyoming Seminary, near Scranton."
Professor S. E. Sprole, Mansfield’s manager, predicted a larger than usual crowd would be on hand to witness the first electric lights in Mansfield, since more people had heard of the electric light than of football.
"The electric light dynamo which is to be used to illuminate the fair grounds is a Thompson-Huston machine of thirty light capacity. It weighs 4300 pounds, and the generator, containing miles of insulated copper wire, makes nearly a thousand revolutions a minute. The lights to be used are twenty lamps of 2000 candle power and five 64-candle incandescent lights. The power to operate the dynamo is to be furnished by Messrs. Day & Waters from their 20 horse engine. The plant is in charge of H.E . Varney, of Philadelphia, and J. L. Cummings of this boro."
Mansfield Advertiser Sept. 28, 18922
The first night football game was only the fifth game Mansfield had ever played. The Red and Black posted a 3-1 record in it inaugural season in 1891. The match against Wyoming Seminary was the 1892 season opener.
Scheduling Wyoming Seminary was a bit of a stretch for Professor Sprole. "Sem" already boasted an eight-year football tradition and had finished 1891 as perhaps the best prep school football team in the nation with a 5-1 mark.
Nonetheless, Sprole was quite likely confident of a good showing. His team featured players such as Morton Jones, who went on to star at Lafayette, and James A. and James G. Dunsmore, who both later played for Penn State.
The star of Mansfield’s 1892 squad was George Walbridge, who later captained Lafayette and was named a Walter Camp All-American in 1897. The speedy halfback would win $5 by finishing first in the 100 yard dash at the fair the next day.
The boys of the first night game used practically no protective equipment. The only noticeable protection in team photos is padding sewn in the pants around the knees.
Helmets would not come into play for another 20 years. Players grew their hair extra long to protect their heads. At the end of the season they would have their locks shorn at the annual football banquet.
Wyoming Seminary wore white uniforms, reasoning they would reflect light more effectively. Mansfield sported new black uniforms. It cost $40 to outfit the whole squad.
Some of the players wore snug fitting canvas jackets over their jerseys since tackling below the waist was not permitted. Others wore pants, or jackets of black horsehair. Many opponents tackled players wearing these jackets, and many lost their fingernails.
Numbers would not be part of uniforms until Washington and Jefferson wore them for the first time in 1908. The ball itself was much larger and rounder than today’s football.
Football in 1892
In the 1890s, play was savage. In fact, brutality was one of the attractions of football in those days. Society was rebelling against the confining Victorian customs and increasing numbers of people were turning to this "killer sport."
Standard rules would not be established until 1894. The first night game was played by a combination of rugby and football rules. Slugging and kicking were commonplace tactics.
The playing field itself was any length agreed upon by the participants, but was almost always over 100 yards long. In 1892, the field at Smythe Park was at least 110 yards.
There were no 5-yard strip lines running across the field, no linesmen. The referee kept track of distance by dropping a handkerchief where he guessed the ball was last put into play. Players often engaged the referee in a discussion of the rules while teammates would slyly try to move the handkerchief. Teams were allowed three downs to gain five yards.
The game was divided into 45-minute halves. Once a game started, a player could not leave unless he actually was hurt, or at least pleaded injury. So whenever the captain wanted to put a fresh player into action he whispered to a player to "get your arm hurt or something."
Arguments followed almost every decision the referee made. The whole team took part, so that half the time the officials scarcely knew who was captain. In addition, every player was privileged to argue as much as he pleased with any and every player of the opposition. The player skilled in forensics was a priceless asset.
There were no neutral zone between the two scrimmage lines, only an imaginary scrimmage line drawn through the center of the ball. Nearly all linemen lined up squarely against those who played the same positions on the opposing team. They stood upright and fought it out with each other tooth and nail, fist and feet. A player didn’t stand much of a chance of making the line unless he was a good wrestler and a fair boxer.
Instead of a kickoff to start the game, the center merely touched the ball to his to, then tossed it back to a teammate who ran with it while the rest of the team gave him what interference it could.
The flying wedge was the play of the year. It worked like this: nine players withdrew about 20 yards from mid-field. At a signal they broke into lines and started simultaneously at full speed toward the ball.
By the time they arrived at the ball, they had worked up a stupendous mass momentum. The interference they gave for the runner was something wonderful to behold, and terrible to stop.
Players of one side were permitted to grab hold of their runner anywhere they could and pull, push or tank him along in any direction that would make the ball advance. Some runners had leather straps attached to their hips or shoulders to help their teammate get a good hold.*
* Portions of this account were written by the great John Heisman for "The Encyclopedia of Sport" by Frank G. Menke.
The 1892 game, scheduled for 7:30 p.m., actually started at 6:45 p.m., perhaps to take advantage of the few remaining moments of twilight.
Wyoming Seminary reports say at least some of the lights were posted on a pole in the middle of the field, adding a hazard to the already perilous sport. Other accounts say lights were also draped along the front of the grandstand.
The lighting was minimal and the teams were often unaware of which squad had the ball. Anyone in a uniform was liable to be tackled. The playing surface, also the site of many other events at the fair, was full of holes, butternuts, pebbles and "animal residue."
Mansfield won the toss and opened with a close "V." They gained 100 yards before being stopped. A few short gains were made through the center but they soon lost the ball to Wyoming who starting in with a rush.
Right halfback T.C. Jones circled left end for 25 yards. Left halfback Jaynes also found a hold on the left side for 10 yards. But the Mansfield defense stiffened an held Seminary on downs.
At this point the referee, Dwight Smith, who played on Mansfield’s 1891 team, deemed it "inconvenient to continue" because the limited lighting and foggy conditions made the dangerous game, well, too dangerous.
The game was called at the end of the first half and was followed by fireworks both on and off the field. Sem’s team manager, J.H. Race, was the umpire and Mansfield’s Smith the referee. Wyoming accused the Normal of using ineligible players, and the officiating was controversial.
The world’s first night football game ended bitterly in a 0-0 tie.
Before leaving Mansfield, Race submitted a challenge for a rematch. One hundred years later, Mansfield answered the challenge.
(Headline in Mansfield Advertiser dated October 5, 1892.
To Prof. S.E. Sprole, Manager Mansfield S.N.S. Foot Ball Team: Since you claim that your team won that farcical exhibition of foot ball given a Mansfield last Wednesday evening, I hereby challenge your foot ball team to meet the Wyoming Seminary team at West Side Park, Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Oct. 15, 1892, or on any other date prior that you may suggest. The referee and umpire to be competent men who have never had any connection with either school, and every member of each team to be a bone fide student of the school represented by such team.
We agree to pay the necessary traveling expenses and local entertainment of your team and their substitutes.
J.H. Race, Manager
The Challenge Accepted
To the Wyoming Seminary Foot Ball Team:
A century ago, your coach challenged the red-blooded sons of Mansfield to a rematch following the world’s first night foot ball game played by our teams Sept. 28, 2891 at Smythe Park in Mansfield, PA.
We, the members of the Freshman and Sophomore Foot Ball Club of Mansfield University, hereby accept that challenge!
Our squad, stout-hearted stalwarts to the last man, will meet your varsity at 7:00 p.m., Monday, Sept. 28, 1992, at Smythe Park exactly 100 years after our first titanic tussle.
We agree to clear the field of the horse chestnuts that your team uncharitably claimed impeded their efforts in 1892. Your team and its loyal fans are also invited to enjoy the hospitality and attractions of Mansfield’s "Fabulous 1890s Weekend" Sept. 25-28.
Together, Wyoming Seminary and Mansfield University will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first nigh foot ball game played in the United States of America!
(August 2, 1992, area newspapers)
The 1992 Game
Both schools wanted to celebrate their place in history by playing each other again on the centennial anniversary. Since NCAA Div. II did not allow MU’s team to play Sem, MU formed a club team. The two teams will begin the game at 7 p.m. – 100 years to the hours after the 1892 game.
The evening’s highlight will be a halftime re-creation of the 1892 game. Striving for historical accuracy, Alpha Chi Rho will use the rules and plays of the day. The uniforms and the ball are from the General Electric commercial that commemorates the 1892 game.
Thanks primarily to GE and Alpha Chi Rho, the show you will see will be historically accurate – right down to the pole in the middle of the field which the 1892 team used to light the world’s first nigh football game. It was the first and last time a light pole was placed at mid-field.
In the 1890s, the county fair was the social event of the year, and the place where new products, inventions and ideas were tested. The Mansfield Fair was no exception.
Officially it was the Tioga County Agricultural, Mechanical and Industrial Fair.
It was administered by the Smythe Park Association, which was formed on Nov. 28, 1879 with capital stock of $2,500.
The first fair was held on Oct. 1-3, 1879. Sixteen carloads of stock and equipment came from New York State and 5,000 people attended on Oct. 2.
The fair was held on the "Island," a five acre plot owned by Dr. Henry G. Smythe and used as a picnic area by the community. The island was formed by a cove. During the summer everyone, including the boys from the orphan school, worked to clear the brush and make lawns.
The new park was opened to the public for the July 4th celebration, 1879. Improvements continued to be made through the efforts of the Smythe Park association.
Many improvements cam when the Association turned a disastrous flood of 1889 into an advantage. The river changed and filled the cove. They placed a creek underground, made a new entrance gate and terraced the bank in front of the cattle barns. . .
In addition to the usual rides, shows and exhibits of farm produce, there were baseball games and special attractions. . .
The Mansfield Fair became known for its free attractions. Many of these were acts that during the winter season played the vaudeville circuit and special tour performances. Many came directly from New York City and Atlantic City. These included the top acrobats, The Five Troup, tight wire acts, Russian bear acts and others. Among the special free attractions were the hot air balloons, early aeroplane flights and the first every night football game under electric lights.
The final fair was held Aug. 31-Sept. 3, 1956. Smythe Park became the property of the Mansfield Area School System. Its buildings had to be removed as the park was also a part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ flood control system and protection for the borough. The school board continues to respect the wished of Dr. Henry G. Smythe, using the "Island" for wholesome recreation and as a public park.
(This edited information is excerpted from "The Great Mansfield Fair" by Chester P. Bailey.)
The 1890s were a time of fabulous changes in America. While a few outlaws were still shooting up the West, automobiles were appearing on the east coast. It was a time of spectacular progress and widespread poverty. However, 1892 was termed a "prosperity year." Grover Cleveland was President. While they didn’t experience the high drama of the cities, small towns in America continued their march toward progress. Mansfield was no exception. (The following is by County Historian Chester Bailey):
Founded in 1857, Mansfield Borough experienced a period of growth during the 1880s. The increase in train traffic, a successful annual Agricultural Fair, and the growth of the Mansfield State Normal School all contributed to Mansfield’s growth.
The Borough Council opened the 1892 year with an ordinance that made it illegal to cross any bridge in the borough faster than a walk. It carried a $5 fine. Building new and repairing old plank sidewalks were on the agenda. . . . A new bid for cleaning and lighting street lights was awarded at 85 cents per night. To solve the problem of available fuel oil which the borough furnished, a platform to hold a barrel of oil was placed in the borough building.
The borough council considered an ordinance to allow bicycles and tricycles to be ridden on the side walk by posting a $200 bond. They requested the railroad company to slow trains at the Main St. crossing and set the wage for borough employees at $1.50 per day for man and $3 per day for man and horse. . . .
The story behind the first annual Fabulous 1890’s Weekend is as fascinating as the first night football game itself. County historian Chester Bailey, while a student at Mansfield University in the mid-1930s, discovered accounts of the historic 1892 game. Bailey, who also worked as a reporter for the Advertiser, documented the event and had it placed in the Football Hall of Fame. He kept the event alive for nearly 40 years. In 1976, as chairman of the County Bicentennial Committee, Bailey had the game formally recognized. Mansfield University and Mansfield Borough jointly erected a plaque in Smythe Park commemorating the 1892 game.
In 1988, the MU PR staff discussed the idea of staging a re-creation of the 1892 game. With the support of President Rod Kelchner, the staff and Alpha Chi Rho, members produced the re-enactment, learning all the plays of this rough 19th century sport.
As the centennial of this historic event drew nearer, the PR staff met with the Mansfield Area Chamber of Commerce with the idea of creating a whole weekend devoted to the 1890s. The Fabulous 1890s Weekend Committee was formed almost on the spot. As word spread of the plans to turn back the town 100 years, so did the enthusiasm.
In addition to the Chamber and university, the Southern Tioga School District, Mansfield High, Mansfield Borough, ministerium and numerous community and university organizations volunteered their help.
From the inception of the idea, the goal has been to create a historically accurate, family-oriented weekend celebrating the last and most colorful decade of the 19th century. All events culminate with the centennial game.
Plans call for the Fabulous 1890s Weekend to be held every year to celebrate life in the 1890s and America’s First Night Football Game.
The Jupenlaz Harness Shop
One of Mansfield’s thriving businesses of 1892 continues today; the leather business operated by the Jupenlaz family. William Hollands started the business in 1848. He moved into the present location, 8 North Main Street, in 1885 and sold it a year later to a Mr. Jaynes. Fred Jupenlaz bought the business in 1901. Ernest Jupenlaz started working for his uncle while he was in high school. After graduating in 1922 he entered the business full time.
Jupenlaz Harness Shop gained a reputation for excellence throughout the Twin Tiers. Harnesses for carriage and pleasure horses to the heaviest draft horses used in construction and in the woods for heavy timber business received the same expert care.
As the task for the horse changed, the Jupenlaz shop also changed. Shortly after the automobile came into the area, touring car owners discovered that Jupenlaz’s could replace straps and even repair the necessary side curtains. Other leather products were introduced including luggage, ladies’ pocket books and men’s billfolds.
According to Ernest, the custom jobs increased more than anything, else, including children’s pistol holsters that were distributed in Florida and equipment for Florida State University’s circus. These included leather mouth pieces for hanging by the teeth, foot harnesses and shoulder straps, and belts with cups to support the pole for the performer.
Repair work was always a big item. No advertising was ever necessary, for word-of-mouth spread Jupenlaz’s fine reputation.
Jupenlaz Harness Shop always had a display in the main building at the Mansfield Fair.
Ernest Jupenlaz still operates his shop in the original 1885 site. Stop in and see one of the last remaining leather workers in his shop which has come to be a living museum.
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By Joyce M. Tice
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