HURON — In his biography of Hank Aaron, Howard Bryant writes that Lefty Muehl, a native of Frankfort and part-time scout for the then-Milwaukee Braves convinced Aaron in 1960 to come out to Doland to pheasant hunt, promising him “a hunting paradise.” Aaron would make an annual trip to Doland to pheasant hunt an annual offseason ritual for many years (along with a visit to the South Dakota Developmental Center in Redfield to entertain children at the school).
Aaron was too young to experience them, but Huron was put on the baseball map a decade previous by annual Baseball Pheastivals that attracted some of the biggest major league stars of the time. Hall of Fame players like Joe DiMaggio, Enos Slaughter, and Dazzy Vance would spend a week giving clinics and generally being the toast of the town while enjoying parades in their honor. The week would culminate in a hunt on Saturday afternoon that led to an exhibition game, played at the State Fair grandstands, Saturday evening or the following Sunday in the afternoon.
The man who drove the Pheastival was former Huron Chamber of Commerce president James Meaghan. Meaghan was a lifelong baseball fan, so much so that his gravestone in Canova has no words, no inspirational message, just a picture of a baseball.
The Pheastival really began on a whim of a few friends that came to the Huron area in 1942 for a hunt, bringing along a pro ballplayer. That ballplayer invited a few teammates in 1943, and in 1944, the first true Pheastival occurred with enough players coming to form two teams and have an exhibition game.
The exhibition game would come to raise funds for Huron little league baseball, Huron parks, and eventually for the building of the new Memorial Park with funds raised.
The Pheastival that took place 75 years ago was notable as the two teams were primarily made up of major league teams, and the majority of players had just finished playing in the World Series in 1945.
Twenty-six major league players took place in the 1945 tilt, with the Cubs’ Andy Pafko taking out his frustrations over a World Series loss with a home run and a double in the game. The game took place on Sunday, Oct. 14, and fans were charged $1.50 for grandstand seats and $1.00 for general admission.
Paul Waner and Ted McGrew managed the two clubs, and National League batting champion Phil Cavarretta was part of one of the clubs. Dizzy Trout of the World Champion Detroit Tigers was part of the American League representatives. Yankee outfielder Charlie Keller was also part of the American League squad.
The parade in conjunction with the Pheastival in 1945 featured a 200-piece band from Huron along with musicians from Redfield, Ree Heights, Alpena, Bancroft, De Smet, Iroquois, and Woonsocket. There were also roughly a dozen floats depicting pheasant hunting.
The Pheastival put Huron on the baseball map and brought many to the town in the following years until Meaghan left to manage the affairs of the Cedar Rapids minor league team in 1949. He was later elected Cedar Rapids’ mayor. Meaghan retired to Florida and passed away in 1995.
The city hosted one more Pheastival, but in 1950, the Pheastival was cancelled and was never picked back up by the city again.