Shoeless Joe Jackson might not ever reside in the Hall of Fame, but he'll always have a home in Greenville, S.C.
Once described by Babe Ruth as "the greatest natural hitter I ever saw," Jackson spent his formative years in Greenville and eventually returned to the city when his playing career had finally ended. (After being banned from baseball for his role in the "Black Sox" betting scandal of 1919, Jackson spent many years as a star attraction on the barnstorming circuit.)
From 1940 until his death in 1951, Jackson and his wife, Kate, lived in a modest but well-appointed brick home in Greenville. That same home is now the site of the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum, situated directly across the street from Fluor Field (home of the South Atlantic League's Greenville Drive).
This location is not a mere coincidence, but the result of an ambitious renovation effort. In 2006, the house was cut in half, moved three miles, reassembled and refurbished. On June 21, 2008, it officially opened as the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum.
Now, visitors can stroll through the home's living room, kitchen, master bedroom, bathroom and study while viewing a wide array of artifacts, memorabilia and learning materials related to Jackson's life.
This ambitious project, a volunteer effort from start to finish, is largely thanks to the efforts of museum curator Arlene Marcley. This was not the culmination of a lifetime of Shoeless Joe fandom but simply a case of one thing leading to another.
"I worked for the [Greenville] Mayor's office for many years, and I began to notice that almost every single day we'd get a visit, a call or a letter where someone would be asking us, 'What do you guys have about Shoeless Joe Jackson?' I had never heard of him, but I began to learn real fast," she recalled.
And once Marcley learned Jackson's story, she became hooked.
"I became very interested in the Black Sox scandal, and what I learned didn't sit well with me," said Marcley. "He was found innocent by a jury but was still banned by baseball. That really got me going. ... I told the Mayor, 'Greenville's really missing the boat, not having anything to do with Shoeless Joe.' He gave me his blessing, and so I went with it."
Playing a key role in the process was Richard Davis of the A&E television show Flip This House, who acquired Jackson's former home and deeded it to the nonprofit foundation that Marcley had established. Marcley then put the word out to baseball historians and memorabilia collectors, who assisted greatly in the procurement of Jackson artifacts. This cooperative spirit is best exemplified by the museum's study, which features a jam-packed wall of donated baseball books related to nearly every facet of the national pastime.
The Jackson memorabilia on display hails from every era of his life, dating back to pictures and artifacts from his days as a child laborer at the nearby Brandon Mill (now a Dunlop Sport factory). Jackson played for the company's baseball team, and his stellar performance there resulted in a spot on the Greenville Spinners Minor League squad (where he acquired the "Shoeless" nickname, after playing a game barefoot). This led to a job with Connie Mack's Philadelphia A's, the first stop of a 13-year career that came to a premature end due to the fallout of the 1919 Black Sox scandal.
Visitors to the museum can view everything from the old Brandon Mill whistle where Jackson worked as a child to vintage photographs from Jackson's playing days to the wooden doors of the liquor store he opened upon his return to Greenville.
Marcley explains that local children, barred from entering the store, would stand outside its doors in a bid to get "Mr. Joe" to come play baseball with them.
"[The kids] loved to play baseball with him, but they didn't realize who [Jackson] was or how great he had been," said Marcley.
But thanks to efforts such as the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum, Jackson's legacy as one of Greenville's preeminent athletes remains secure. Despite the ignominious end to his professional career, legions of local residents still feel a special kinship with this illustrious native son.
An example of this devotion can be found in one of the museum's most moving artifacts, a baseball left at Jackson's nearby gravesite by a member of Greenville's Little League team. On the ball, the following message is inscribed:
"Mr. Jackson, please watch over me as I play your game to the best of my ability. I'm going to play for all of the years you couldn't. I know you were innocent. Somehow I know you are the greatest ever."