(Warren PA Times-Mirror, June 18, 1930, p. 11)
Back in 2008 I wrote about the murder of Elias Bryant, who played baseball under the name of “Circus Country Brown” and was known for his on-field comedy act. In 2010, I posted his death certificate—which, incidentally, showed that he was buried in Frederick Douglass Cemetery on Staten Island, the same cemetery where Sol White was buried (and where a new headstone for White was dedicated a couple of weeks ago). I understand that the Negro Leagues Grave Marker Project is now focusing on getting a headstone for Bryant.
As I noted at the time, the death certificate didn’t give any specific information about Bryant’s birth date. However: as JR pointed out in the comments last week, the Puerto Rico passenger list from 1925 that showed the combined team of Lincoln Giants and Royal Giants travelling to San Juan included one Elias Brown, born March 28, 1896, Atlanta, Georgia.
One big problem is that the parents of this Elias Bryant are named Elias and Emma, whereas the ballplayer’s death certificate says his parents were named Henry Bryant and Louisa Gant. So despite the coincidence of the birth month (March) with the 1925 passenger list, this is not 100 percent certain to be Elias Bryant the ballplayer.
A couple of other interesting items related to Brown/Bryant. In the April 17, 1920, New York Age we’re given this list of Atlantic City Bacharach Giants players coming north from spring training:
(Yes, it’s that Home Run Johnson.) “Fielder Brown” from Morris Brown College is, I believe, our Country Brown. Not sure why he’s going by the name “Fielder Brown,” unless it was a middle name or maybe an early nom de guerre before he settled on Elias Brown. (“Brown,”by the way, could be a reference to his alma mater.) At any rate, Elias Bryant appears in the 1920 Atlantic City directory with “Ball Player” given as his occupation:
In the late 1920s and 1930s, when he played for Nat Strong’s Royal Giants as they barnstormed through Pennsylvania, upstate New York, and elsewhere, he was commonly billed as a vaudeville artist, which I used to think was just a reference to his baseball comedy—but I’ve found a few articles claiming that he did actually perform on stage during the off season. (James Riley says Brown’s wife was an actress.) A note in the Franklin, Pennsylvania, News-Herald puts him with the Keith Circuit in 1930:
(Franklin News-Herald, June 17, 1930, p. 13)
Brown also sometimes liked to exaggerate his age, a common publicity ploy among Negro league players. In 1934, for example, when he was at most 38 years old, he was reported several times to be 48.
Lastly, how about a sample of Bryant's humor. Here’s a story told by his manager Dick Redding in 1934:
Here’s another from the Harrisburg Telegraph in 1927:
(Harrisburg Telegraph, June 28, 1927, p. 12)
UPDATE 5/29/2014 Edited to add a couple of additional items.
UPDATE 5/30/2014 According to his death certificate Bryant was not on the vaudeville circuit during that off season, but rather working for the WPA. But he was still playing ball in 1937, the summer before his death. His last team was the New York Colored Stars, a barnstorming outfit managed by Bunny Downs and starring Brown, Nip Winters, and Arvell Riggins.
(Warren, Pennsylvania, Times Mirror, August 7, 1937, p. 2)
UPDATE 6/4/2014 The latest on Elias Bryant.