Look Back: A home run of an elopement
A baseball game becomes a guise for an elopement!
The game of baseball is not only our “national pastime,” it is also a means of exercise, fellowship for players and fans, and on at least one occasion, a cover-up for an elopement.
The main “player” in the elopement was Van Allen “Pouch” Rathbone. His necessary cohort in the event was Martha Elizabeth “Pink” Riddle. “Pouch” was born near Parkersburg; “Pink” was the daughter of a prominent Elizabeth family.
The setting is a baseball game, played in Elizabeth, Wirt County, in mid-August of 1894. The Elizabeth team, for whom “Pouch” played, was contesting the team from Burning Springs.
“Pouch” (no one knows how he acquired the nickname), at an early age began a love affair with the game of baseball. But, at the age of 23, after meeting “Pink,” his love of baseball had a competitor.
Seeing the interest that “Pouch” had for their daughter, Mr. and Mrs. Riddle strongly disapproved of the impending relationship. Though there was six years difference in their age, it was probably the fact that “Pouch” was a baseball player that raised their objection.
Trying to do things properly, “Pouch” asked the Riddles for permission to court their daughter — they refused. It was then that the lovers decided that elopement was their only alternative.
However, this too proved to be difficult. On one occasion he tried the “ladder method.” The ladder broke and out of the house stormed Mr. Riddle with shotgun in hand!
At another attempt, a vicious bulldog the Riddles had acquired to protect their daughter, gave “Pouch” an unpleasant welcome. He then decided that a more unorthodox method was necessary.
The August 1894 Game is About to Begin!
Little did the Riddles know that this game was part of a plot, carefully planned by “Pouch,” “Pink,” some of her friends, and the entire Elizabeth baseball team.
As usual, the Riddles were in the stands for the game, making sure that their daughter was with them.
Through the seventh inning the game had been exciting and the score was close. Mr. Riddle failed to notice that “Pouch” was no longer on the home team bench. Nor did he have suspicions when “Pink” waved at a girlfriend in another part of the stands and asked to be excused to visit with “Martha.”
Though the game began to strangely slow down, “Pink” and “Pouch” were speeding away; a friend had a buggy waiting for them outside the stands and they wanted to get as many miles away as possible before the game ended.
When the game ended with “Pink” and “Pouch” nowhere to be found, Mr. Riddle realized that he had been had! He is reported to have said, “Nobody would think the cad would elope in a baseball suit!”
Assuming they were headed for Parkersburg, he quickly wired the police to arrest them on sight. “Pouch,” anticipating the irate father’s action, headed for Marietta instead of Parkersburg. Crossing the river by ferry at Williamstown, they found a justice of the peace who married them; “Pouch” was still in his baseball uniform!
From Marietta they went to Parkersburg where they spent their first night as husband and wife.
The next day they returned to Elizabeth. Their story had quickly circulated and nearly the entire town turned out to welcome the newlyweds! The courthouse became a banquet hall and the rest of the day was spent in merrymaking.
Mr. and Mrs. Riddle eventually showed up, and realizing there was nothing they could do to change the situation, shook hands with their new son-in-law and welcomed him into the family.
The new Rathbone family later moved to Texas where “Pouch” died in 1929. “Pink” lived until 1961.
Note: The story above was condensed from a story in the Rathbun-Rathbone-Rathburn Family Historian, October 1992.
Bob Enoch is president of the Wood County Historical and Preservation Society. If you have comments or questions about Look Back items, please contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by mail at WCHPS, PO Box 565, Parkersburg, WV 26102.