In 1920, George Herman “Babe” Ruth spent the summer in Haverstraw filming one of his more famous roles in “Headin’ Home.” The film was shot almost entirely in the Village of Haverstraw. Baseball scenes were filmed at Markham Field, behind Saint Peter’s Church on Broadway. The original field was fitted with covered bleachers and resembled an early twentieth-century stadium. The Haverstraw farm team mainly used this stadium, which was known then as the Polo Grounds.
Watch a segment of the film here.
In The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth, author Leigh Montville describes Ruth’s entrance into the film industry:
The Babe became a movie star in the following weeks. Or at least he made a movie. He had signed in July to appear in Headin’ Home, the story of a village simpleton’s rise to baseball glory and the capture of the hand of the local fair maiden. (No typecasting here.) The deal was not unusual – sports stars were increasingly being brought into the growing movie business – but the timing was peculiar. The Babe made the move almost immediately, in the middle of the season.
The studio was in Haverstraw, New York, 30 miles outside the city and on the other side of the Hudson River. For a succession of August days – often nights – Ruth took the ferry to New Jersey, drove to Haverstraw, played his role, and returned back on the ferry to the pennant race. He was supposed to receive $50,000 for his efforts. The producers, Kessel & Baumann, paid him $15,000 up front and gave him a second check for $35,000 to hold for a few weeks until they could put enough money in the bank. He folded the check and put it in his wallet and carried it everywhere. He was not averse to showing it in the locker room.
“Hey, I need some money,” he would say, big joke, pulling out the check, which soon became worn-looking. “Could you cash this for me?”
During the production, there were days when he arrived at the ballpark and didn’t have time to wash off the makeup. He would make monster faces in the clubhouse, then go out to be the first man in baseball history to play right field with eyeliner and mascara. On the morning of August 22, he filmed all the live baseball scenes before a crowd of 2,000 at a local field in Haverstraw also known as the Polo Grounds. With a bat he supposedly whittled from a tree trunk, he sent shots over the fence off constable Peter Reilly’s house and into Frank Smith’s front yard and onto a shed and into someone’s kitchen. He then left the filming and played against the Detroit Tigers in the afternoon in the real Polo Grounds.
A local legend is still told today, that Ruth, during filming of a scene, hit a home run ball out and over Saint Peter’s. The story has been passed down among generations of Haverstrawans since that day in 1920, as many locals were present for the filming of the scene. If the legend holds true, it is said that this home run would be one of the longest range home runs in baseball history. It is easy to understand this when visiting Babe Ruth Field in Havestraw. Stand on the home plate (which is not the original place of Ruth’s home plate, as the field was shifted since 1920; the spot is very close to original, though) and gaze across the field to the spire of Saint Peter’s. The distance is unimaginable for a home run ball. If it could be proven that the Babe hit this ball, this dusty field in Haverstraw could become an integral part of baseball history.
Here is a scene from “Headin’ Home.”