Having stopped at Lancaster Cemetery to pay my respects to Charles Demuth – Lancaster’s noted artist – I set out to look around the area between the Demuth family plot and Park Avenue. While I did not know exactly where the next grave was, I had been given general directions to the area where he slumbered. Note: more about the life and works of Charles Demuth can be found here: Charles Demuth.
As I walked along the grassy roadway towards Park Avenue, I scanned the older stones to my left, knowing the gentleman I had come in search of was resting among them. Many of the larger stones caught my attention and I paused to photograph a number of them, knowing I would have to look deeper into the names engraved upon those stones. I finally noticed the grave marker for the man I wanted to visit. I carefully made my way across the uneven ground covered with freshly mowed grass to stand at the simple stone that seems out of place – there are much larger memorials to citizens who did not make a mark on the world stage – but the marker reflects the simple life of the man who rests here.
Leighton P. “Whitey” Gibson was born October 6, 1868, the son of John and Caroline Gibson. Gibson would learn baseball by playing in the lots of his hometown of Lancaster. On these sandlots, the right-handed Gibson excelled as a catcher, the position he would be most noted for playing.
After graduation, Gibson remained in Lancaster, where he played in the local leagues. Gibson made his appearance in professional baseball in 1886, when he played for Lancaster of the Pennsylvania State Association and Norfolk of the Virginia League. The 1887 season found Gibson on the roster of the Lynn Lions of Lynn, Massachusetts, where he had forty-three singles, five doubles and twelve stolen bases.
Gibson’s statistics with the Lynn Lions had caught the attention of the Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association who invited him to spring training in 1888. Gibson made the team and on May 2, 1888, Gibson made his first and last appearance in the Major Leagues. His entire professional career resulted in three plate appearances, with a grand total of zero in the statistics column – Gibson had no hits, walks, RBIs, or strike-outs in the 10-1 loss to Cleveland.
Although Gibson remained on the roster for the majority of the season, it does not appear that he ever played another game in the professional levels that season. According to an article in the October 3, 1914 edition of the Lancaster New Era, the reason the Athletics did not play him that season was because they had too many catchers. Note: Most articles about Gibson and the 1888 season make it sound as if Gibson sat on the Philadelphia bench the entire season. There are other statistics for him that season, showing he made plate appearances for both the Salem, Massachusetts and the Portland, Maine teams of the New England League. Even more interesting is his obituary makes it sound like he played more than one game for Philadelphia – if he did, I was not able to discover it.
The following season, Philadelphia attempted to resign Gibson to a season-long contract, but why Gibson did not sign it is murky. Many articles state he preferred the simpler life in Lancaster as opposed to the hustle and bustle of Philadelphia. Despite this claim in the later years, the June 18, 1889 edition of The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that many teams had been after him, but Gibson was demanding too much money.
Whichever version is the truth, Gibson never made an appearance in the Major Leagues again, although he would continue to play baseball for the next five season in the Minors and independent leagues, mostly for teams within Pennsylvania. His statistics for his Minor League career – although far from being complete – include: 278 singles, thirty-eight doubles, eleven triples, four homeruns, and fifty stolen bases.
After retiring from professional baseball, Gibson returned to Lancaster, where he settled down and married Emma Copley. He ran a hotel at Talmage, which is a community to the northeast of Lancaster, until he retired to a small farm he had purchased. Despite no longer playing baseball professionally, Gibson was noted to have managed and played for the local team.
In 1906, newspapers reported that Gibson was attempting to organize a first-class independent minor league club in the Lancaster area. This team would play other teams from all leagues in the Philadelphia region. Note: Other than a brief mention in regional newspapers, I have not been able to find anything more about this proposed new club. My guess is this idea ended when Gibson took sick and the idea disappeared after his death the following year.
Gibson died at his home in Talmage, Lancaster County on October 11, 1907. Gibson was just thirty-nine years old when he passed and was survived by his wife. Note: Oddly, while his tombstone and initial obituary list October 11 as the date of Gibson’s death, it is listed in numerous articles as being October 12.
I finished paying my respects to the baseball player before making my way back to the vehicle, remembering the short Major League career of Leighton “Whitey” Gibson. I paused for one last look back toward his resting place before I left the peaceful garden of stone, knowing I would return another day to visit more of the notable graves within the sacred borders of Lancaster Cemetery.