Many people know the Harlem Globetrotters, which played its first game in Hinckley, Illinois on Jan. 7, 1927. Yet they may not be as familiar with another barnstorming basketball team that came to the Adirondacks in the 1930s to play teams around the region.
The House of David players were based in Michigan, about 100 miles east of Chicago, the home of the Globetrotters, and the Adirondack Museum has a memento from their Dec. 29, 1938 game against the North Creek Crescents.
"This is a poster," Adirondack Museum Chief Curator Laura Rice said, "and it has an interesting photograph of several men in basketball uniforms sporting very long facial hair, some of them, and across the top is says, 'Whiskers! Whiskers!'"
This poster of the House of David basketball team from 1938 is in the Adirondack Museum’s collection.
(Photo provided — Andy Flynn)
The House of David basketball team hailed from a Christian commune called the House of David.
"They were encouraged not to shave," Rice said.
The House of David was founded in 1903 by Benjamin and Mary Purnell in Benton Harbor, Michigan. While their barnstorming baseball team - again featuring men with long beards - was more famous, their basketball team hit the road in the winter months to play community teams throughout the United States.
"This was a way of both funding the commune and bringing some cash flow into the organization, but it was also a way of, as Benjamin Purnell said, encouraging spiritual and physical discipline for his members," Rice said.
There isn't a lot of information about the North Creek Crescents in the history books; however, Adirondack newspapers in the 1930s tracked the local adult teams and recorded the scores of games. Teams came from communities such as Horicon, Schroon Lake, Lake George, Bolton, Newcomb and Wells.
Although it was during the Great Depression, this was a time when the wood products industry was still in full gear in the Adirondack Park, and mining was a way of life for places like North River, home to the Barton garnet mine. Log drives were still taking place down the Hudson River, tourists still traveled to hotels in the region, and North Creek was developing its alpine ski industry with trails on Gore Mountain. Plus, the train was operating from Saratoga Springs to North Creek, so there was a direct transportation link to this corner of the Adirondacks.
As for the House of David, communities throughout northern New York were more familiar with the commune's baseball team before the basketball team began playing games in early 1933. The baseball team toured throughout the summer, playing local teams around the North Country. Then, in the winter, the basketball team returned to many of the same communities for games. From January to March 1933, for example, the House of David "quintet" played games in villages such as Tupper Lake, Ticonderoga, Plattsburgh and Massena and traveled to North Creek later in the year.
"The North Creek Crescents expect to play the 'House of David' in the near future," reported the Nov. 30, 1933 issue of the North Creek Enterprise.
This was the first year the Enterprise reported the House of David team playing in North Creek. It was also the first year the Crescents were named as the community team.
On Feb. 2 1933, the Enterprise printed the basketball game score between the North Creek A.C.'s and the Horican A.C., which was played at the North Creek high school to benefit the school band. By November 1933, the Enterprise was regularly reporting on games played by the Crescents. The first game of the season in North Creek for the adult league teams matched the Crescents against the Lake George Firemen on Nov. 10, according to the Nov. 9 Enterprise.
In the lineup for North Creek were John McArdle, former high school captain and high scorer, Erwin (Butsey) Andrus, former high school star and guard, Phil Baroudi and Dick Sawyer, former stars on the high school team, John Donohue, captain on the high school team the previous season, and Harold Yandon who played with Sommerville's professionals.
By the time the North Creek Crescents played the House of David basketball team on Dec. 29, 1938, the institutions community basketball leagues and barnstorming teams had solidified their place in the American landscape and were a welcome form of entertainment during the Great Depression.
The preliminary game that evening, starting at 8 p.m., matched Newcomb and Schroon Lake, with Newcomb prevailing 31-30 (North Creek News-Enterprise, Jan. 11, 1939). The House of David won the game against the Crescents, starting at 9 p.m., drawing a crowd of about 600 people to the North Creek High School gymnasium.
"Although the Crescents lost, they gained in knowledge in knowing how a better team plays the game and also on the financial end, they cleared enough to buy a badly needed ball and time clock," the North Creek News-Enterprise reported.
While the local adult basketball teams provided another way to promote community pride throughout the region, the barnstorming teams provided additional entertainment for their novelty value, as promised on the promotion game poster in 1938.
"What I really love is where it says, 'A novelty side show and a good basketball game combined.'" Rice said. "And then it says, 'More fun than a circus!'"
Rice said she likes having the poster in the Adirondack Museum's collection because it's an interesting look at social life and recreation during that time period in the North Country.
"A lot of traveling entertainers would come through, slide shows and that sort of thing," she said. "And it's just a curious look at religious life in early 20th century America."