I’m starting a new category called “Unsolved Mysteries,” which will include interesting but unresolved research questions (or half-baked research, if you prefer)*. The following is from the same Rollo Wilson column that provided the José Méndez bit the other day (Pittsburgh Courier, October 11, 1924):
I don’t think anybody’s ever put anything in print about Oscar “Heavy” Johnson’s having a ballplaying brother. According to Wilson, Heavy’s brother played for both the Indianapolis ABCs and the Dayton Marcos, but I don’t have any leads there—Louis “Dicta” Johnson and Tom Johnson, both well-known players who weren’t related to Heavy Johnson and whose biographies don’t fit Wilson’s description above, were the only men with that last name to play for C. I. Taylor’s ABCs. William “Big C” or “Wise” Johnson played for the Marcos in 1920; but that team existed at least from 1917 through 1926, and I don’t have rosters for most of those years.
Working the Atchison, Kansas, angle, I found Oscar Johnson’s family in the 1900 U.S. Census and the 1895 and 1905 Kansas State Census. They’re easy to find: there were at least three black Oscar Johnsons born in Kansas of roughly Heavy Johnson’s age, but only one can be connected to Atchison. Here they are in the 1895 Kansas State Census, living in Atchison:
And in the 1900 United States Census, again in Atchison:
The parents, Frank and Harriet, were born in Virginia before the Civil War, almost certainly as slaves. Their first few children were born in Virginia as well; going by the census data here, they must have moved to Kansas sometime between the birth of Cynthia (November 1883) and Harrison (March 1888).
And in the 1905 Kansas State Census, still living in Atchison:
Their states of birth were on the following page, which I’m not reproducing here, but they match the information in the earlier records, with the parents and older children born in Virginia, the younger children (including Oscar) born in Kansas.
So Oscar’s brothers were named, in order of age: James, Edward, John, Frank Jr., Harrison, and Samuel.
According to the 1900 census, Oscar’s mother had by then borne 11 children, with 9 surviving. In 1900, six were living with them: Matilda, Cynthia, Harrison, Samuel, Beulah, and Oscar. Three of the older siblings reappear in the 1905 census (James, Edward, and Frank Jr.), which completes the nine children living in 1900. If these numbers are accurate, then Oscar’s older brother John, listed as 16 back in 1895, seems to have passed away by 1900, as did another child, unnamed in any of these records. And by 1905, two other children, Samuel and Beulah, are not living with the family.
Unfortunately, most of these names—James Johnson, Edward Johnson, John Johnson, Frank Johnson Jr.—are extremely common and hard to trace. But I have found a World War I draft card for a Benjiman [sic] Harrison Johnson, born in Atchison, Kansas, on March 10, 1889 (the same month, though one year off from the birthdate for Oscar’s brother Harrison given in the 1900 census), and living in Youngstown, Ohio:
I have no way of knowing whether or not this guy was a ballplayer. But I do have one more reason, aside from the name and Atchison connection, for thinking he’s Oscar “Heavy” Johnson’s brother—which I’ll talk about in another entry, this one on Heavy himself, tomorrow.
P.S. The title of this post came from the Hollies’ song; but, if you believe Wikipedia, the phrase itself may have originated as the title of an article published in Kiwanis Magazine in September, 1924—only a month before the Rollo Wilson column with the anecdote about Heavy’s brother.
*-Eh, what the heck—I’ll just call it “Half-Baked Research.”