Every picture tells a story. That’s an old Rod Stewart song, but a 1941 baseball card also has a mysterious tale behind it. Picture this: It’s like a message in a bottle.
On the back of a 1941 Double Play card is a note written by John R. Lawsky of Athol, Massachusetts.
“Who ever gets this card, bring it to 30 Fairview Ave. and as a reward you will get 5 cards,” Lawsky wrote.
The card itself isn’t valuable; just a common from the 1941 Double Play set. The front features Joe Orengo/Joe Moore (Nos. 29-30), and because the Double Play cards had blank backs, there was certainly room for a message. The card is in poor shape and has pencil marks on the front. At one point in its life, someone decided to give Moore a mustache and a long beard, for example.
Plenty of cards have been written on over the years, but this was a little different. Makes you wonder if anyone ever took up Lawsky’s offer and whether he was an avid collector.
They were questions that would be fun to answer so just for the heck of it, I gave it a whirl.
Who Was John Lawsky?
It is unclear when Lawsky wrote his message, although the handwriting appears to belong to an adult. It matches up to a military registration card filled out and signed by Lawsky in 1947.
Lawsky, who was born in 1929 and would have been 12 years old at the time the Double Play set was released, was a lifelong resident in the Athol-Winchendon area of Massachusetts. He was an insurance salesman who enjoyed card playing and gambling, according to his godson, Craig Johnson of San Francisco. Johnson described Lawsky and his wife, the former Fern Bourgault, as the “‘it’ couple of our small town.”
“My Aunt Fern resembled Elizabeth Taylor in her younger years, and Uncle John was a cross between Sean Connery and Roger Moore,” Johnson wrote in an email.
Lawsky died of lung cancer in 1982, several months after his 80-year-old father passed away.
It’s not even clear if Lawsky collected baseball cards. It certainly would be news to Johnson, 61, who contacted his mother, Emilie Bourgault, 81, of Miami, and came up empty.
“My mom doesn’t know if John collected baseball cards as a kid and, in fact, found it incongruous with what she knows about him as an adult,” Johnson wrote. “I suppose there’s no reason a suave, gambling, lady magnet couldn’t have collected baseball cards as a child. Or an adult for that matter.”
Journey to the Present
The card’s most recent journey begins with Larry Tipton of Hilliard, Florida, who successfully bid on a group of beat up cards from the ’41 set on eBay. Tipton said he needed the Johnny Mize/Dan Litwhiler and Cookie Lavagetto/Pete Reiser cards.
Included in the winning bid was the Orengo/Moore card, which Tipton already owned. Tipton belongs to OBC, an online baseball card trading club that has been around since 1991. Because he did not need the card, Tipton sent it to a fellow member in Virginia.
“I bought the cards because I needed the Lavagetto/Reiser and the Mize/Litwhiler for my set,” Tipton said. “I did notice the message on the back of the Orengo/Moore card and found it interesting.”
Tipton bought the card on eBay from “sellingmaster456,” who is in Chicopee, Massachusetts. The seller, who has been on eBay since 2004, said the Orengo/Moore card was part of a “massive lot” he bought from a friend last month. His friend “bought it from a guy moving out of state.”
A Bay State Story with a Missing Chapter
Lawsky lived in Massachusetts his entire life. The house on Fairview Avenue was built in 1931 He met his wife when both were waiters at the Toy Town Tavern in Winchendon, which billed itself as “More like a country club than a hotel.”
The town got its nickname because of Morton Converse who teamed with Orland Mason of Winchendon to create the Mason & Converse Company. It later became Morton E. Converse & Company and remained in Winchendon until 1934. Converse was famous for building the original Giant Rocking Horse in 1912. The company produced so many different toys that Winchendon quickly became dubbed Toy Town.
The Lawskys were married in 1954 but never had any children. They did run a bar, called the Curve Inn, located on (where else) a curve on Route 12 in Winchendon. They eventually sold the bar, which burned down in 1999. The newspaper article about the fire called “Bill’s Curve Inn” the “former home to exotic entertainment.”
Fern later worked as a legal secretary, while John sold insurance. Fern died in 1997. They are both buried at Gethsemane Cemetery in Athol.
“They were an elegant, hip couple, perennial favorites of their nieces and nephews,” Johnson said.
Still, the mystery of the 1941 Double Play card persists. Neither Orengo nor Moore are from Massachusetts, and unless John Lawsky was a New York Giants fan, there would be no connection.
Assuming he wrote the note on the back and made the redemption-like offer, he must have had at last a few other cards and at some point, placed at least this one into circulation. Eight decades later, it’s still making the rounds.
“Seeing the card made me realize how little I know about my Uncle John’s life,” Johnson said.
If you have any clues, let us know.