D.A. “Denny” Long, grandfather of Funspot owners Bob and John Lawton, was an American original. He was a man who was both practical and visionary, a hard-headed, shrewd businessman who also demonstrated an optimistic idealism. He was a pioneer in an age of pioneering optimists and made his mark in both baseball and journalism, rubbing elbows with the movers and shakers of his time.
Despite what his contemporaries would call humble or modest beginnings, D.A. achieved his full share of the American Dream the old-fashioned way – through the hard work and persistence. He will always be associated with two American firsts – the first regularly scheduled nighttime baseball game which was played over 100 years ago in Wilmington, Delaware, and the first dual circulation Sunday newspaper, which combined his Lowell Sunday Telegram with the Boston Post.
A farm boy by birth, D.A. moved from rural Carlisle, MA to the city of Lowell, a center for manufacturing and famous for its textile mills. The larger stage that Lowell provided suited him just fine. Baseball was establishing itself as the national pastime. The first professional league, the National League, had formed in 1876 with teams in cities like New York, St. Louis and Boston and the nation's thirst for the sport seemed unquenchable. Demand spread to smaller cities where minor leagues formed. Denny, a catcher in his high school days, had a sharp eye for talented players and a true love of the game. In 1893 and 1894 he owned the franchise of Birmingham, AL and from 1895 to 1898 owned the Toledo Mud Hens. In 1893 he and Ban Johnson, the strong-willed baseball legend who later became president of the American League, formed the Western League, which achieved major league status in 1900 and faced the rival National League in the first World Series held in 1903. But it was July 4, 1896 that he established baseball history when the Wilmington, DE club he managed met the Patterson, NJ club under the lights at Wilmington in the first regularly scheduled night game in baseball history.
Denny with his team, the Toledo Mudhens, around the turn of the 20th century.
Denny enjoyed spotting talent and was said to have sold more players to the big leagues than any other franchise owner. His players were sold to Baltimore, which later became the New York American League franchise; Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics and the St. Louis Cardinals. “I gave young players a better chance than any other team,” he recalled during a 1932 interview. At the time of the Spanish-American War in 1898, Frank Bancroft of Cincinnati joked, “Denny Long has sold enough players to Cincinnati to free Cuba.” One of the first players D.A. sold to a major league team was Joe Sugden, who went on to catch for the Pirates, St. Louis, Cleveland, and Detroit in a 13-year major league career which spanned 1893-1905. Sugden later became chief scout for the St. Louis Cardinals.
In addition to influencing baseball’s beginnings, D.A. founded the Lowell Sunday Telegram and developed innovative newspaper marketing strategies that reflected the boundless opportunities available at the turn of the 20th century.
In 1898 Denny’s idea for the combined sale of two Sunday newspapers, nearly came to fruition in Newark, New Jersey, but the sinking of the battleship USS Maine in Havana Harbor, Cuba sank his plan. At the time, New York papers sold for one cent. Denny proposed buying New York papers for 40 cents per hundred and bundling them with his planned Newark newspaper for two cents. He was negotiating the details of the deal when the USS Maine was destroyed. The news created such a demand for newspapers that the New York publishers had to resort to hiring outside printers to keep up and abandoned Denny’s proposal.
Never one to accept defeat, D.A. turned his attention to Lowell in 1899. He established the Lowell Sunday Telegram and approached the Boston Herald regarding his joint venture. When discussions fell flat, Denny turned to E.A. Grozier of the Boston Post, offering him one and a quarter cents per copy for the recently-started Sunday Post. Not wishing to wait for protracted negotiations, Denny marched into Grozier's office with cash in hand. He put a pile of bills on Grozier’s desk and said, “I will buy 204,000 copies of the Sunday Post at one and a quarter cents per copy and here's the cash. Count it.” Grozier did and agreed to Denny’s deal. At the height of the arrangement D.A. was buying 18,000 copies of the Post for distribution with his Sunday Telegram. He said later, “I never had anything in writing with Mr. Grozier but his word was better than a government bond and as a businessman I believe he had no equal among the heads of American newspapers.”
Denny during his time as owner of the Lowell Sunday Telegram.
It was the golden age of American newspapers with competition flourishing and large cities supporting as many as a half dozen major publications in which the press flexed its muscle with lively, sometimes florid accounts of war, crimes, scandal and celebrity. Denny earned a reputation for his paper's aggressive coverage of civic matters being called “a restraining influence often upon official indiscretion.” D.A. ran the Sunday Telegram from 1899 until 1922, building it into a $100,000 property, which he sold to Benjamin Pouzzner and which continued as a strong influence in Lowell for decades.
An active and energetic man, Denny bought a summer home on Simpson Avenue in the Weirs shortly after World War I and spent his summers in the area. In August, 1926, he landed a seven and a half pound smallmouth bass near the Eagle Island buoy, reeling in the prize winning fish after a 40-minute struggle. Up to that point it was the second largest small-mouth bass ever caught in Lake Winnipesaukee and was mounted and displayed at Irwin's Dance Garden. It is now on display in the D.A. Long Tavern at Funspot. Field and Stream magazine honored Denny for landing the largest small-mouth bass taken in fresh water that year and he also was presented with the Boston Herald mug for the largest bass caught in New England.
Denny continued fishing success when he landed a seven and a quarter pound bass off Jolly Island in 1936. That same day that his four-year-old grandson, Bobby, ( Bob Lawton, Founder of Funspot ) landed a three and a quarter pound bass. D.A.’s interest in newspapers continued as well and he helped his grandson, John, land his first job at the age of nine assembling the Sunday newspapers after they arrived at the Weirs via the Boston and Maine Railroad early on Sunday mornings. The newspapers were then taken by boat to the islands in the lake where John sold them to the summer island dwellers.
Long continued with his interests in gardening, golf, baseball, business and politics and was well-known in and around Laconia and the Weirs during his retirement years. His two grandsons, John and Bob, opened Funspot at the Weirs in 1964, and have been active in both state and local politics. Bob served in the legislature with his mother, Doris Thompson, Denny’s daughter, in the 1960s and 1970s and is best known for his legislation which put the state's motto "Live Free or Die" on New Hampshire license plates. Bob's son, David, was a state representative from Meredith and Center Harbor, and serves as managing editor of the Weirs Times, continuing a family tradition which dates back nearly 100 years to D.A. “Denny” Long – the dynamic publisher and baseball franchise owner whose enterprising spirit made him one of the most well-known and respected men of an unforgettable era of American history.