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John Murtaugh


Date and Place of Birth: February 6, 1874 Elmira, NY
Date and Place of Death:    December 1, 1918 Ansonia Hotel, New York, NY
Baseball Experience: College
Position: First Base
Rank: Major
Military Unit: Office of the Judge Advocate General US Army
Area Served: United States

John Murtaugh was one of the greatest baseball players who ever donned a Cornell uniform
Syracuse Herald, December 9, 1918

John F. Murtaugh was born on February 6, 1874 in Elmira, New York. The son of Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murtaugh, his father operated a grocery store in Elmira. John Murtaugh graduated from Elmira’s School No. 3 before entering St. Bonaventure College (now St. Bonaventure University) at Allegany, New York in 1890.

Coaching the baseball team at St. Bonaventure was future Hall of Famer John McGraw, and Murtaugh learned his baseball skills from “Little Napolean”. Aged 22, he graduated from St. Bonaventure in 1896 and entered Cornell University the same year. He graduated from Cornell in 1899, and during that time he played football and on the baseball team as a first baseman, being unanimously elected team captain his senior year.

“He was the best college first baseman that I ever had the pleasure of meeting,” said future Hall of Famer and former Cornell coach, Hughie Jennings. “I urged John to make baseball a profession, he would have been one of the biggest men in the game today. I do not mean as a player alone for he was fitted as a leader and director and would have made one of the greatest baseball kings that the nation has ever known.”

But baseball was not to be Murtaugh’s chosen path. He was admitted to the bar in 1899, elected to the board of supervisors of Chemung County in 1900, and appointed corporation counsel of Elmira under Mayor Z.R. Brockway. Then, for four years, he served as a distinguished member of the senate of the state of New York and for a year its majority leader. Upon completion of his senatorial term in 1915, Senator Murtaugh returned to Elmira and resumed his duties in the legal profession.

In May 1918, Attorney Murtaugh voluntarily enlisted in the army and was given a commission as a major on September 10, serving in the judge advocate's department and based at Governor's Island. It was the intention of the government to send Murtaugh overseas, first to France, then to Constantinople, Turkey, but on December 1, 1918, Murtaugh was the victim of a tragic and fatal accident.

Staying at the Ansonia Hotel on Broadway, New York, where he occupied a suite of rooms with Major Jed Adams, Murtaugh was feeling unwell and sent the bell boy for Rochelle salt, a form of potassium sodium tartrate, which was popular as a mild laxative. However, the bell boy returned with Roach salt, an insecticide made of sodium fluoride, which Murtaugh consumed with deadly consequence.

It took three agonizing hours for the poison to kill John Murtaugh. There was nothing doctors could do to help him. He was 44 years old.

Following a requiem high mass at St. Patrick’s Church in Elmira, John Murtaugh was buried at St. Peter and Paul’s Cemetery on December 4.

Elmira Daily Gazette, April 4, 1898
Bolivar Breeze, June 23, 1898
Elmira Morning Telegram, December 8, 1918
Syracuse Herald, December 9, 1918
Elmira Morning Telegram, January 12, 1919

Date Added September 8, 2013

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