Summary

Birth:
1873 1
Death:
August 11, 1912 1
Baltimore, MD 1
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Full Name:
Catherine Ruth 1
Also known as:
Catherine Schamberger Ruth 1
Birth:
1873 1
Death:
August 11, 1912 1
Baltimore, MD 1

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Stories

Babe Ruth's Mother Gets Her Due

Her name was Catherine Schamberger Ruth, and she was buried in an unmarked grave nearly a century ago and thereafter lost to history. Her father was an upholsterer named Pius, an immigrant from Germany.

Her husband, named George, was a horse driver, a lightning -rod salesman, a grip man on streetcars and finally a bartender.

And her baby, named George Herman Ruth Jr., became a baseball player the whole world called Babe.

He arrived in a little row house on Emory Street 113 years ago today, with a midwife named Minnie Graf standing by. Catherine held her baby only briefly. She gave birth to seven more children over the years, including two sets of twins, but only a girl, Mary Margaret, known as Mamie, would live past infancy. 

And only Mamie would grow up in her parents' embrace.

Babe Ruth ran the streets, and his parents ran him off to St. Mary's Industrial School. "I was a bum when I was a kid," Ruth told his biographer, Bob Considine.

The story is part of American folklore now. But Catherine life's - and her death - are not.

A cousin, John Ruth, told Robert Creamer, author of "Babe: The Legend Comes to Life":

"His mother missed him when he was in the Home, and she would cry and ask her husband to get him out. Then when he came home she'd have trouble with him and hit him, and his father would have to put him back in again."

George was her baby, but Catherine didn't live long enough to hear him called Babe. She died when the Babe was a teenager moving back and forth between St. Mary's and one of the bars his father ran.

"The first five years of his life, that's the only real association he had with his mother," says Paul F. Harris Sr.

Harris, a semiretired lawyer with an office in Catonsville, is one of our latter-day tellers of the Ruthian saga. His father played a few games of organized ball against the Babe, and his dad's coach at Mount St. Joe's was Father Gilbert, later one of the two major influences on the Babe in his years at St. Mary's. Harris has written a book, "Babe Ruth: The Dark Side."

Harris will be there at the Babe Ruth Birthplace, on Emory Street, at noon today for the annual birthday tribute to the Babe. But there's an added note. In researching his book, Harris went to the old Holy Redeemer Cemetery, Belair Road at Moravia, and found where Katherine Ruth was buried.

He was stunned: The mother of history's most famous athlete lies in an unmarked grave.

At today's ceremonies, 96 years after her death, officials from the Babe Ruth Birthplace will present Harris with a check for a headstone for Catherine.

"She was probably the worst-treated woman in the history of the world," says Harris, referring to the tough, sometimes abusive men around her, and the loss of so many of her children. "And here she had this boy, the Babe, who was running streets and stealing, and they didn't know what to do with him. So they sent him away."

And rarely went to visit him.

"Maybe I'm just too ugly," the Babe said when other boys' parents arrived and his did not.

He was a teenager who hadn't yet signed his first professional contract with the Baltimore Orioles when Catherine died. Her sister, Lena Fell, took care of her during her last days. Harris says the Babe and his father "did not attend any of this...nor did her brutal father. He didn't want to be bothered."

The Babe had been released from St. Mary's at 14 but was in and out for the next several years when he kept getting into more trouble.

"I'd do things," he told Considine. What things? "Drinkin'," said Ruth.

On August 11, 1912, an exhausted Catherine died after a long bout with tuberculosis and was buried in that unmarked grave next to her parents.

"There's no doubt it's her grave," said Harris. "I'm absolutely sure of that. I went over to the cemetery, to the office, and they gave me the plot number. It's the only plot in the whole cemetery without a marker on it. I went back to the office and said, Are you absolutely certain this is her? They said, 'Absolutely. The papers say it.'"

That's the only identification. Beginning today, nearly a century after her death, the Babe's mother will finally give up her anonymity.

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