“Twitter-ing” from Opening Day at Delaware Park, 1937

Jun 15th 2010 10:44 pm |

Delaware Park grandstand under construction, 1937 (Turf and Sport Digest)

As some of you might know, I live a short drive from Delaware Park. It is my home track and one of my favorite places in the world to spend a lazy, summer afternoon. While the racing might be lacking in quality, the track itself makes up for it, being one of the most beautiful racing facilities in the country.

From the paddock and picnic area to the simulcast facility and the grandstand — Delaware Park is on par with places like Saratoga and Monmouth (two other east coast gems). Yes, it has the dreaded one-armed bandits and now table games but enter from the paddock area and you would never know that hundreds of drones are feeding the beast in slot parlors underneath the old grandstand. While it reeps the benefits of slots, it retains its charm as a racing facility – something very few “racinos” manage to do.

With the end of the Triple Crown season and the start of summer racing, I thought it was a good a time to do something about my home track and, as what often happens, my plans on doing a piece about the first opening day were modified a bit when I ran across something during my research.

Opening day at Delaware Park, 26 June 1937 (Turf and Sport Digest)

I try to avoid over-selling historical parallels between past and present but I couldn’t resist the comparison between a column that appeared in a local Wilmington paper in 1937 and the present-day social media tool Twitter.

The column was titled “Fast Fliers from Delaware Park’s Big Opening Day” and was made up of short observations about the day’s racing scene. The format of these snippets is uncannily similar to modern day ‘tweets.’ Like the millions of ‘tweets’ posted via Twitter, some of the “Fast Fliers” are mundane, others insightful, and a few are pretty funny.

While the 1937 snippets from “Fast Fliers” obviously lacks the interactive nature of digital technology, the format and content of the column will be familiar to those who use Twitter.  Best of all, though, the column from 1937 provides a unique glimpse into what it was like to attend the races at Delaware Park on the day that it opened over sixty years ago.

From the Wilmington Sunday Morning Star, 27 June 1937

Here is the full “twitter feed” from opening day, June 26, 1937:

“The crowd came early. They wanted to see everything before the races got under way.”

“Some complaining about trains leaving Wilmington too late, thus making a jam at the gates.”

“An hour before starting time about 3,000 automobiles parked in back of the stand.”

“Just been asked how many of the thousands here remember we had a depression a few years ago but who out here gives a damn about it.”

“The boxes are filling slowly. It is a cosmopolitan crowd. They just want to see and mix (friendships we mean, not drinks)”

“Nearly everybody ready to admit Delaware Park is a beautiful, well planned track.”

“A trip to the windows indicates money is plentiful and that many think they know horses.”

“Professional and amateur camera men are working overtime, and the barkers selling tip sheets are not doing any sit-down striking.”

“The grandstand is full, but about half the crowd never hoped to sit down, the are lined up twenty rows deep in front of the stand. They came too late.”

“Officially announced that 12,000 are ready to be thrilled at the first race.”

“The horses are out for the inaugural, the Delaware Racing Commission: Messrs. L. [illegible], Paul Adams, and C.F. Richards are in the box.”

“The press box is jammed and many of the boys who keep the world informed are standing up”

“The day, the hour, the minute is here, Delaware hears the cry, “They’re off,” and Legal Light wins the first legal horse race in Delaware.” [KM comment: Delaware Park now has a stakes race named for Legal Light.]

“Notables and just plain folks are mingling and milling in the crowd. A few remain seated while friends place bets.”

“The call for the second race brings nine horses to the track and the glasses are on the sport of kings.”

“The electric eye was necessary to decide the second race with the stand divided as to whether Mama’s Choice or Sir Windsor was the winner.”   [The “electric eye” refers to the photo finish camera, a relatively new piece of technology in 1937.]

“It doesn’t take long for a half hour to ‘go’ when you are listening to all the fellows with hot tips.”

“But it seems a long time while you are in the line in front of a pay-off window waiting to cash-in.”

“Running back of schedule, 4:30 p.m. now, and not ready for fourth race, but that doesn’t bother the 18,000 now here.” [The grandstand was built to hold 7,500, needless to say, the owners were overwhelmed by the opening day crowd and all other Saturday crowds during the 25 day meet. By closing day, newspapers reported that plans were being made to add 4,000 seats to the grandstand.]

“One difference between those in front of the stand and those on the green in front of the clubhouse; all the men in the reserved area have their coats on.”

“We have had the short races, now for the Kent Handicap, first race around the track with the horses ready.” [War Admiral was scheduled to run in the Kent but pulled out a week before the race. The Admiral’s owner Sam Riddle lived not too far from Delaware Park, just over the border in Pennsylvania, and was in attendance for opening day. The Kent is now a stakes race for three-year-olds on the turf, run in September at Delaware Park.]

“Races like the fifth are not good for fellows with a weak heart.”

“Circulated through the grandstand, the clubhouse and grounds after the big race and heard some ‘knockers’ at work; [for example]: Grandstand not large enough; should be able to buy beer; railroads should run more trains between one and two o’clock; price too high for clubhouse grandstand, $3.30, plus general admission.”

“And on the other hand hundreds were enthusiastic about the entire layout and the succesful manner in which everything was carried out on Opening Day”

“Some out state bettors thought the pots were small. Expected more betting with opening day on a Saturday.” [Its impossible to figure out exactly how many fans came from out of state but trains from Washington D.C., Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia, Wilmington, and all points in between, carried passengers directly to the back of the grandstand, just a short walk to the gates]

“Some fans started to leave the track after the seventh race, some got an early start, others afraid it was going to rain.”

“About 4,200 cars parked around the track, about 30 buses ready to go, and steaming engines of the P.R.R. and B. and O. with lines of cars in back of them waiting for passengers.”

“It looks like rain but we are going to get the eighth race off before it comes and then home with a day long to remembered behind us.”

Ah yes, afternoon rain over Delaware Park….it seems opening day in 1937 shared a few similarities to the thousands of racing days that followed.  See you at the old track in Stanton!


“Fast Fliers from Delaware Park’s Big Opening Day,” (Wilmington) Sunday Morning Star, 26 June 1937

Images from a story in the Turf and Sport Digest from July 1937

I would be remiss not to mention the fabulous Zenyatta and her 17th consecutive win on Sunday. She is an absolute joy to watch and hope that I get a chance to see her in person before she finishes her career.


Filed in Delaware Park,Opening day,thoroughbred racing history

6 Responses to ““Twitter-ing” from Opening Day at Delaware Park, 1937”

  1. Frank says:

    Good stuff, Kevin. Your point re: DEL retaining its charm is exactly right, and in fact, the slots money has really enhanced it. A few years ago, the simo area and grandstand had gotten pretty down-at-the-heels, but they’ve really spruced it all up. Great place to watch a race now, and the paddock is still fabulous.

  2. dana says:

    @ColinsGhost great stuff!

  3. Sarah Andrew says:

    Great toast to an underappreciated track! Great observations. Seems that tweets are not so new-fangled after all.

  4. Jim says:

    Cool post, timeless observations.

  5. Helene Conway says:

    THANK YOU!!!
    I loved this. I have many questions for you regarding this work which will have to wait for a time we can actually have a conversation.

    Helene Conway

  6. ccw35 says:

    Delaware Park’s paddock has to be the prettiest in the sport. Our family held picnics there on Sundays starting in 1973. Now, I take my young children. They love it there as much as I do. Worth a train ride from NYC or DC if you’ve never been.