Marty Bergen, Murder/Suicide
Martin Bergen was born on October 25, 1871 in North Brookfield, Massachusetts to Michael and Ann (nee Delaney) Bergen. Michael and Ann were both born in Ireland, immigrating to the United States (all the children were born in Massachusetts) in 1865 at the end of the Civil War. Michael worked in a shoe factory.
The family consisted of:
Michael, born in April 1840
Ann, born circa 1844
Mary, born circa 1867
Margaret, born circa 1870
Ann, born circa 1874
Catherine (Katie), born circa 1876
William, born on June 13, 1878
William (Bill) would also play in the majors from 1901-11 for Cincinnati and Brooklyn. Bill, a catcher, learned the trade from his brother Marty, nearly seven years older. Both Bergen brothers would be hailed as one of the finest catchers of their time. In Bill’s case this might be especially so since he was one of the poorest hitters in major league history.
The Bergen family remained in and around North Brookfield. Ann, Marty’s mother, passed away in 1884. At the time of Marty’s death:
-Michael was living near Marty’s farm in North Brookfield
-William was living with his sister Margaret and her family in North Brookfield. He had recently played for Fort Wayne in the Interstate League.
-Mary Mulvey was living with her family in Brookfield
-Margaret McEvoy was living with her family in North Brookfield
-Ann Meaney was living with her family in Worcester
-Katie Bergen was living in East Brookfield
In 1892 at age 20 Bergen (5’10”, 170 lbs.) joined Salem in the local New England League, his first professional club. During the off-season before and after 1892, Bergen played on his local club, known as the Brookfields. Connie Mack, also a North Brookfield resident, was at times his teammate. In 1893 Bergen joined Northampton (MA), an independent club and played for Wilkes-Barre in the Eastern League. At the end of that season he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates, managed by Connie Mack.
The Pirates assigned Bergen to Lewiston in the New England League for seasoning in 1894. Unfortunately, the practice of farming wasn’t legal at this time in baseball history, so Bergen’s contract was void. At the end of the year he was drafted by both Washington of the National League and the Kansas City Cowboys of the Western League. Baseball officials assigned Bergen to Kansas City.
Kansas City president and field manager Jimmy Manning became exasperated with Bergen. He was moody and a malcontent player. In mid-season Bergen walked away from the club for a week while it was in Minneapolis over some supposed slight. Manning was relieved at the end of the year when his catcher was drafted by the Boston Beaneaters of the National League. Before Bergen would join Boston, team owner Arthur Soden had to make a trip to North Brookfield to convince the player that he was valued and would be treated well.
Bergen played for Boston from 1896-99. He gained a reputation as one of the best catchers in the league. One Sporting News article described him as “the greatest throwing catcher that the game ever produced.” Connie Mack stated that Bergen was the only catcher he’d seen gun down a base stealer at second from his knees.
From 1896-99 Bergen caught 65, 87, 120 and 72 games, respectively, for Boston. Each year he led the team in games caught. Boston finished fourth during Bergen’s rookie season. In both 1897 and ’98 they copped the pennant, before finishing second by eight games in 1899. In 1897 Boston lost the Temple Cup series (which ran from 1894-97) to Baltimore, 4-1.
Despite his catching abilities, Bergen was often the topic of trade rumors because of his moodiness, melancholy, inability to mesh with teammates and penchant for sulking and leaving the club. However, not all the trade rumors started that way. New York Giants’ owner Andrew Freedman coveted Bergen, trying to work a trade for the catcher on more than a few occasions. At the time of Bergen’s death, most within the game assumed that Bergen would be playing for the Giants in 1901.
TROUBLES WITH TEAMMATES
Even as a teenager, Bergen showed signs of anxiety and stress. He would become moody, pout and storm off if he felt that he wasn’t getting his fair share of applause. In 1891, his first professional season, he engaged in a brutal fist fight with one of his teammates. As will be common throughout Bergen’s career, his teammate’s slight was merely imagined on Bergen’s end.
During his time in Boston, Bergen would have several run-ins with teammates and opponents. These external conflicts were merely manifestations of his internal struggles. (Bergen’s thoughts here will be discussed in a later section.) Newspapers commonly referred to Bergen in terms of his erratic behavior. They would describe him as “sullen and silent” and highlight his moodiness, aloofness and inaccessibility.
Near the end of the 1898 season Bergen threatened his teammates after an altercation on the bench. He declared that he would “club them to death” at the end of the season. On July 20 or 21, 1899 the Boston team was traveling with the New York Giants by train headed to Cincinnati (The Giants were headed to St. Louis.) The men were having a good time playing cards and such. Bergen sat quiet and withdrawn away from the players. The train stopped for a layover in Washington D.C. After the train restarted, Bergen wasn’t aboard. The men looked outside to see him walking away from the terminal. He had jumped the club, returning home to North Brookfield.
To reporters, Bergen made the following claims:
-that his teammates were hounding him
-that at least four of his teammates shouted, “Strike him out!” when he was at bat
-that his teammates and team owner Soden were avoiding him
-that he was upset because manager Frank Selee wouldn’t give him a day off to visit with his family
-that he was upset that he was fined $300 for jumping the club
-that he did not like the tone of a telegram that he received from Soden during his absence
-that he was injured and could only be cared for by his lifelong, local doctor and friend (Dr. Louis Dionne).
In addition to the above Bergen registered numerous complaints about his teammates. On the other end it should be noted that Bergen’s bizarre reactions took a toll on his teammates. By the end of 1899, most did not want him to return to the club. Some were seriously concerned about their safety around the disgruntled player.
During this time Freedman made one of his many bids for Bergen; however, Soden took the catcher back for the pennant stretch. Bergen rejoined the club on August 4 when the men returned to Boston.
When the team was at home in Boston, Bergen always spent the night at his farm. There, the neighbors said he would play with his children all day, rarely associating with the neighbors. Throughout the 1899 season, Bergen pestered Selee for time off to return to his family. He would play a few games and then ask for time off to return home. The cycle repeated itself throughout the season. For his part, Bergen was probably trying to grasp onto the one thing that made him peace and happiness – his children. From the other perspective, Selee must have been at the end of his rope with the player.
It has been written and rewritten numerous times that Bergen suffered a broken hip at the end of the 1899 season. The story goes that this sent him into a depression (as it threatened the survival of his career) which spiraled into the tragedy of January 1900. However, this doesn’t seem to match my research:
1) Bergen did have an operation for an unknown ailment in January 1899; even if that was a hip problem, it didn’t stop him from playing the entire year with the club. Nor were there stories evident about any such injury during the 1899 season.
2) Bergen played the entire game on October 13, the next to last day of the season. He hit a double in the sixth inning and scored the game’s only run in a 1-0 defeat of Philadelphia. Boston was the home team, so Bergen caught in the ninth but the team did not bat. He was not hurt in the game.
3) Bergen did not play in the final game of the year on October 14. Bill Merritt caught the final game of his career.
4) Bergen went home at the end of the season and had a discussion with his doctor at some point shortly after the season. In an extensive interview about Bergen’s health in the January 27, 1900 issue of the Sporting News, Dr. Dionne did not mention Bergen’s hip.
5) Bergen was the subject of trade rumors during the off-season. He was mentioned several times in the major newspapers. He was expected to go to Cincinnati, Chicago or New York. The Giants seemed to have the inside track, as Freedman had at some point secured a promise from Soden for a first crack at the player. None of the articles mentioned any problem with Bergen’s hip.
6) In January 1900 a sportswriter visited Bergen at his farm. The resulting article made comments about the farm and the fact that Bergen preferred reading farm catalogues in his leisure instead of sporting periodicals. No mention was made of the catcher’s hip.
7) A healthy hip is essential to a catcher. One would be fairly certain that a major injury to such would have been mentioned in any of the above.
In 1892 Harriet (Hattie) Gaines, three to four years older than Bergen, moved to North Brookfield from New York State (The name of the town is illegible from the Sporting News article. All I can discern is that the name ends in “field.”) She had secured a position at the local shoe factory and became a boarder at the home of Rufus and Maria Ingraham on Central Street.
Hattie met and then married Bergen in Worcester in 1893. After their marriage the moved into the Ingraham home. A few years later, the Bergens purchased a small farm (called Snowball Farm) on Boynton Street from a John Smith, not far from the Ingrham residence. The property included a small 1.5 story house which became the family’s home. (Drawings of the home, inside and out, can be seen on page 3 of the Sporting News issue of January 27, 1900)
The couple had three children: Martin born circa 1894, Florence born in either 1894 or ’95 and Joseph born in either 1896 or 1897. (The age of the children is contradicted in the many articles following their deaths. They died before a Census could be taken, establishing an accessible record.)
Mrs. Ingraham stated that Hattie was a very nice lady but that Bergen was “fussy and continually finding fault” with his wife; however, Hattie rarely seemed to confide any displease within her marriage.
A TROUBLED MIND
Bergen had always seemed to be a moody guy. He was frequently described as sullen, quiet, morose, melancholy and depressed or any number of similar descriptive phrases. The ballplayers was also said to be paranoid and suffering from hallucinations and feelings of persecution.
In January 1899 he underwent an operation which required him to be under anesthesia (ether) for four hours. His doctor and family noted that he never seemed to recover mentally from the operation.
Most important to Bergen’s frail state was the death of his 5-year-old boy Martin during the summer of 1899. Naturally, Bergen was distraught over this. However, this was compounded by guilt and further melancholy over the fact that he was away from home at the time, on the road with the ball club.
Immediately after the 1899 season, Bergen talked with his physician. Dr. Dionne said all seemed fine but he was soon hearing from family, friends and neighbors that Bergen was acting “wild.” The doctor paid him a visit, finding Bergen pacing in front of his house. It didn’t take much prodding for the ballplayer to “open his heart” in a tearful rant. He made the following statements:
-He confessed to having “strange ideas.”
-He was afraid that he was “not right in the head.”
-He couldn’t remember much about the past baseball season. All he remembered was that a man came up to him after his last game and congratulated him on a fine performance and gave him a cigar. Bergen was afraid to smoke the cigar because he believed it was poisoned.
-He was also concerned that Dionne and his wife were trying to poison him. He would not and had never taken the medicine they gave him if he didn’t first mix it himself.
- Bergen was concerned that the National league had found out that Dionne was his doctor and had paid Dionne to kill him.
-He described being frightened of his teammates, feeling that they were out to kill him. Bergen would typically sit sideways on the bench, in the clubhouse and on trains in an effort to be in a ready position in case his teammates decided to attack him.
-He wished that he had quit baseball so that he could find some peace.
-He believed that people were plotting against him – including the Boston team and other National League players.
The doctor in all his wisdom of mental diseases gave Bergen a bromide and told him to repeat the dosage in three hours. However, the doctor did give him some advice which seemed to work. Bergen chewed and sucked on tobacco constantly. The doctor suggested that he quit the habit as it was contributing to his nervousness and anxiety. Bergen did so and felt better for a time.
Some time later, Dionne had what he described as a nice, pleasant conversation with Bergen. Marty then got up to leave his office and said, “This has been a pleasant talk, and it is strange how it has rattle me.”
Bergen also confided in his pastor Reverend Humphrey J. Wrenn that he believed himself to be insane and feared his own actions. He even asked for help. None was forthcoming from his doctor, priest, family or community. After Bergen’s deed of January 19, 1900, his doctor repeated made comments that Bergen was “insane” and a “maniac.” Thus, he believed that the situation was out of his control. In the wake of the tragedy a call would be made in the town to better educate the professionals and the community on mental health issues.
JANUARY 19, 1900
On the night of January 18, 1900, a Thursday, the Bergen family ate a hearty meal. (The sink was full of dishes in the morning.) The farm was well stocked but the cupboards were rather bare. The family went to bed, as the beds were slept in. Some time in the early morning it is assumed that Bergen arose and started preparing for the day. He first removed the ashes from the stove, the home’s primary heat source, indicating that the stove had cooled overnight. Bergen then placed paper in the stove for lighting. He hadn’t yet though retrieved wood from outside, as the inside pile was depleted. (This is how the house was found after the murders.)
Then, all hell broke loose (We know the assault occurred in the early morning because the bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Bergen were still warm when found). Stressed and delusional, Bergen began slaughtering his family. First (per the medical examiner’s opinion), he attacked his wife in the bedroom (a bedroom with two twin beds – probably the children’s room). He hit her multiple times in the head with the blunt side of an axe. She fell, dying on one of the beds.
Bergen then whacked his son once with the sharp side of the axe. He died on the bed as well. In the kitchen Bergen killed his daughter, hitting her multiple times in the head with the blunt end of the axe. Bergen then retrieved a razor and stood in front of a mirror in the kitchen (I guess the medical examiner assumed this because of the blood splatter). He then sliced his own throat nearly severing his head. Bergen fell beside his daughter.
At about 9 a.m. on January 19 Michael Bergen, Marty’s father, arrived at the house from his residence not far away looking for some milk. He discovered the bloody mess, finding the bodies as described. After composing himself, he told his daughter Margaret and son William (They lived in the same household, neighbors with the soon to be mentioned Arnold Wallace) of the incident on his way to retrieving the police. Constable Arnold F. Wallace, 57, took charge of the scene. Medical Examiner E.W. Norwood was called in.
The house was cleaned that day. On the 20th the bodies were placed in coffins and laid out in the Bergen home for family and friends to view. They were then transported to St. Joseph’s Church for the funeral ceremonies. Afterwards, they were interred in the adjoining Catholic cemetery. Marty was not given the last rites of the Catholic faith.)
From major league baseball, only Connie Mack and Billy Hamilton, a teammate, attended the funeral. Arthur Soden, Frank Selee, team captain Hugh Duffy and the rest of the Beaneaters were confused to the date of the funeral, believing it was scheduled for the following day, January 21.
Bergen’s pallbearers were a mix of local ballplayers, friends and former teammates:
William B. Conroy, a ballplayer
John Hinse (spelling?), a ballplayer
William McNamara, former teammate
Leonard L. Raymond, local ballplayer
Amazingly, the estate auction was conducted within a week of the deaths. Bergen had only paid a total of $300 on the farm, owing $1,650. He carried no life insurance, though he did have $2,600 in cash.