Just when it appeared the history beat was all tapped out Friday, in walks Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston.
Actually, it was Terry Dickson who walked in to the newsroom at that moment. Terry is a likable sort and a fine writer of humor columns and news stories for this publication. He took the seat beside my desk and proceeded to gab about growing tomatoes, cellular phones’ incompatibility with the Atlantic Ocean and, ultimately, Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston.
Dickson is also a military veteran, having served our country in the army (Alpha Co., 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment) during the Vietnam War. He was curious as to whether we cared that Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4092 on St. Simons Island plans to honor Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston with a Memorial Day wreath-laying ceremony.
After a brief explanation from Dickson and a couple of Google searches on my part, it was clear that we all should care about Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston. Where else could we find a local story that includes service in two distant American conflicts, ownership of the New York Yankees, farming on Butler Island Plantation in McIntosh County and eternal rest at Christ Church on St. Simons Island?
Before I digress, let us note Monday’s Memorial Day observation. Members of VFW Post 4092 will gather at around noon at Christ Church Cemetery to lay a wreath on the grave of Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston (1867-1938), a veteran of two wars who once served as National Commander of the VFW. That ceremony might begin a little later than noon. The veterans will arrive at the cemetery straight from Monday’s midmorning ceremony at the War Memorial on G Street at the Old Courthouse in downtown Brunswick.
As much fun as it is to write Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston, let us refer to him from here out as T.L., Cap or Col. Huston. (It will save space and, besides, you can only write Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston so many times without misspelling it.)
T.L. was born in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1867, the son of an Irish-born engineer and a Kentucky school teacher. One of seven children, he grew up mainly in Cincinnati and followed his father’s engineering footsteps, becoming a civl engineer and working for a time with the elder Huston on the Louisville and Nashville railroads.
When the short-lived Spanish American War broke out in 1898, T.L. served in the U.S. Army as a captain of the 16th Regiment of Engineers during the fighting in Cuba. That first stint in the army would tag him with a nickname for life, Cap. He remained in Cuba after the war, establishing his fortune by helping the newly-liberated nation shore up and improve its infrastructure.
Cap would later parlay that wealth into co-ownership of the New York Yankees, going into partnership with Jacob Ruppert to buy the American League also-rans in 1915. Amiable and outgoing, T.L. enjoyed a friendly rapport with the Yankees ballplayers and even joined them on the train at times for away games.
But when America entered World War I in 1917, T.L. again answered his country’s call to service. He returned to the 16th Regiment of Engineers, this time as its commander. In that capacity, Col. Huston kept rail lines running on the front lines of war-torn France.
At war’s end, Col. Huston turned his attention back to baseball. He and 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Ruppert would turn the Yankees into a dynasty while establishing professional baseball as a legitimate Major League. With their team needing a home, the two men built the once-iconic Yankee Stadium — Huston the engineer keeping a hand in much of the work. In 1920, they bought Babe Ruth away from the Red Sox for an unheard of six-figures.
Babe shattered baseball’s single-season home run record the next year with 54 dingers, the Yankees won a record 95 games and attendance spiraled that year to more than 1 million fans at the Polo Grounds. Yankee Stadium opened in 1923, the same year the Yankees won their first World Series. However, Col. Huston had bowed out the previous year, selling his share of the franchise to Ruppert.
Col. Huston’s interests apparently were turning more pastoral in nature. And that led him down south, down to our stretch of Coastal Georgia. In 1926, he purchased the Butler Island property in McIntosh County. He intended to raise friesian dairy cows on the former antebellum rice plantation that Maj. Pierce Butler established in the late 18th century. But the dairy enterprise eventually soured.
In its place, however, an iceberg lettuce truck farming operating sprouted on Butler Island under Col. Huston’s guidance. He kept in contact with his former employees on the Yankees roster, many of whom visited him in the offseason at his spacious home, the great Babe Ruth among them.
Huston remained committed to veterans causes throughout his life, contributing generously to disabled veterans organizations and other causes. In 1922, in fact, he served as the VFW’s National Commander.
Col. Huston died in 1938 and is buried at Christ Church. His wife, Lena Belle (1869–1949), and their son, Arthur Tillinghast Huston (1894–1964), also are buried at Christ Church.
And on Monday, some of Col. Huston’s fellow veterans of America’s foreign wars will gather at that cemetery for a simple ceremony to remember one of their own.