Wednesday, January 26, 2011
A rare photo of President Kennedy playing golf.
Is that a thin Pierre Salinger in the background? Appears to be.
The Secret History of Golf – Presidential Golf
Conducting Surveillance on the Golf Course - The President Takes a Mulligan
From: The Kennedy Detail, Gerald Blaine, with Lisa McCubbin, (Gallery Books, 2010, p. 88-89)
Meanwhile, in Tampa, Agents Blaine and Yeager had split the duties of meeting with representatives from four different venues where President Kennedy would stop. Blaine drove the motorcade route suggested by police and made notes on what he saw as potential problem areas where they’d need extra security. He and Yeager had agreed to meet back at the hotel at 6:00 to regroup.
“Hey, Jer,” Arnie gave me the name of a good Cuban restaurant not too far from here. Are you up for some local culture?”
“Sure, that sounds super,” Blaine said. “I just realized I didn’t have lunch.”
The restaurant turned out to be a popular hangout that served truly authentic Cuban fare. When Blaine and Yeager walked in, they heard nothing but Spanish being spoken. As a scantily dressed young lady with jet-black hair, hoop earrings, and a short skirt led them to their table, Blaine and Yeager noticed the other patrons glancing at them as they walked by. The two tall, blond-headed men in their gray suits looked completely out of place in the laid-back restaurant, where every other man was wearing the traditional Cuban-style white short-sleeved shirt and the ladies were in strappy sundresses.
Blaine didn’t recognize anything on the menu, so Yeager ordered for them. Lechon asado, roast duckling pig, for himself and vaca frita, shredded skirt steak marinated in garlic and lime juice, for Blaine.
“And bring plenty of rice and beans,” Yeager added.
The service was quick, the food was delicious, and laughter and conversation filled the air. As the agents ate, they surveyed the lively clientele, but didn’t overhear or see anything remotely hostile.
“Hey, Jer,” Frank said. “I keep meaning to ask you – Win Lawson told me to be sure and have you tell me about your Easter golfing experience with the Boss. He wouldn’t tel me a thing, just kept laughing and said, ‘You gotta hear it from Blaine.’”
Jerry broke into a grin and shook his head. It was Win’s favorite story.
“Well, it was Easter weekend 1961 and we were down in Palm Beach. President Kennedy decided to go golfing with his father and a couple of friends. It was the first time he’d played since becoming president. And there was a big deal made of it because he wouldn’t allow the press to come along. During the campaign the Kennedy camp had routinely questioned the amount of golf Ike was playing when he should have been paying attention to more urgent issues, so President Kennedy didn’t want any publicity.
“So,” Jerry continued, “Win Lawson was with us on a three-week temporary assignment – before he became permanent – and since I was the senior agent, I had to instruct Win on how to conduct surveillance on the golf course. As we we’re walking down the fairway, I’m telling him, ‘You go out about two hundred to two hundred twenty-five yards, fade back into the rough, and keep an eye on the adjacent fairway to make sure there are no questionable people in the area.’
“Now, I had watched Ike play plenty of rounds of golf, and for some reason I guess I assumed that Kennedy would have the same tendency to hook left. So I told Win to take the left-hand side and I would cover the right.”
Yeager shook his head and chuckled.
“I had told Win to watch carefully when each of the golfers teed off, just in case you needed to take cover if the ball headed your way,” Blaine continued. “So, by protocol, the president teed off first. I watched him make contact with the ball and then I glanced over at Win to make sure he was in place, and I see him staring in my direction with his mouth wide open. The next thing I know, a golf ball in full flight hits me on the left side of my head. I immediately fell to my knees. The ground was spinning, but I was determined not to lose consciousness.”
Yeager was trying so hard not to laugh, but suddenly he couldn’t help himself. He could just picture it.
Jerry ignored Yeager’s laughter and continued. “So I feel the side of my head and there’s blood running down my face. By this time Win is standing over me asking if I’m okay. ‘What happened?’ I asked him.”
“He said it made a thwacking noise and bounced right straight in the air. The president took a mulligan.”
Blaine started laughing.” So I went to the hospital and had X-rays taken and everything was fine. Apparently my mother was right when she said I as thickheaded.”
“Oh my God, Jer. That’s a great story.”
“But wait,” Jerry said with a smile “There’s more. So, the press got hold of this and there were some reports in the newspaper. As it turned out, Kennedy was scheduled to make a speech in front of the American Newspaper Publishers Association a couple of weeks later. He opened the speech by saying something like ‘I realize that your staff and photographers may be complaining that they don’t enjoy the same green privileges at the local golf courses that they once did. It is true that my predecessor did not object as I do to pictures of one’s golfing skill in action. But neither, on the other hand, did he ever bean a Secret Service man.’”
Yeager was in hysterics. “Just like him. I’m sure they loved it.”
“Oh yea, and for weeks afterward, the president would seek me out on post at the White House. He’d have a senator friend or somebody with him and he’d come up to me and say, ‘Jerry, tell him how far out you were standing when I beaned you.’
“ ‘Mr. President,’ I’d say, “I was out three hundred yards and I assumed I was out of your range. You can really hit a golf ball.’ He loved it. I swear every time he saw me, he’d ask me the same question. ‘How far out were you standing when I beaned you?’”
Blaine and Yeager finished their meal, returned to the hotel, and made plans for the next day…. They also needed to get an update on Joseph Milteer – and the alleged plot to kill the President….
In Washington, Jerry Behn was sitting in his office when Win Lawson called from Dallas….
From The Kennedy Detail (p. 124-125)
At Hyannis Port.
One agent who served on a temporary assignment in the summer of 1963 was twenty-two-year old Raddord “Rad” Jones. Jones was the youngest man ever hired as an agent, but after finishing first in his class at Treasury Law Enforcement Training School and obtaining the top score in every shooting qualification course, his age seemed irrelevant. Still, he had to fulfill the character assessment. He was assigned menial duties and was left for long hours on boring posts, such as the one every agent disliked – staring out into the black Atlantic Ocean on a rainy night. Not once did Rad complain. You could tell he was thrilled to be given the opportunity of serving the President of the United States and had the attitude to go along with his intellect and shooting skills.
One Friday afternoon, Rad was at one of the oceanfront posts when President Kennedy and his Secret Service detail arrived for the weekend. The president liked to hit golf balls from the backyard of the home, and as soon as he’d gone in and changed into a short-sleeeved shirt and Bermuda shorts, he came walking out of the house with his seven iron. Trotting alongside the president was a small mongrel puppy that was just one of the many dogs the family had accumulated.
President Kennedy set the golf bal on the ground, and to Rad’s horror, the dog immediately grabbed the ball in his mouth and raced directly toward Rad. The dog dropped the ball at the agent’s feet and then sat at attention, wagging his tail.
The week prior, the agents had been playing with the dog, when they weren’t on duty and had taught him to retrieve a thrown ball. The president did not look happy as he strode toward Rad. The young agent was mortified and figured his dream of serving on the White House Detail had just ended.
Rad explained what had happened and apologized profusely. President Kennedy could see that the poor young agent was truly regretful – and of course, it had been an innocent gesture. He smiled and said, “Just ask the guys not to do this anymore.”
“Yes, sir, Mr. President. Don’t worry. It won’t happen again,” Rad promised. Rad made sure that a sign was put up in the command trailer and form then on, the poor puppy seemed to wander around aimlessly searching for balls that had all suddenly disappeared.
A Brief History of the Seaview Country Club
– By William Kelly (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Clarence H. Geist decided to build the Seaview Golf and Country Club in 1914 after he got tired of waiting to get on the first tee at the Atlantic City Country Club.
A self-made man, “C.H.,” as he was known, was rich beyond imagination. He was the owner of a number of major utilities which earned him over $2 million a year.
Born in LaPorte, Indiana in 1874 of Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry, Geist refused to go to college because college men were “saps.” Instead he went West and traded horses until he was eighteen when he discovered there was not a lot of money in doing that.
After working as a breakman on the railroad, and dabbing in real estate, his big break came when he met Charles Dawes, of the South Shore Gas Company. While Dawes went on to become Vice President of the United States and ambassador to the Court of St. James, Geist found his fortune in gas.
According to William A. Gemmel (in From Humble Beginings, Consolidated Press, 1987) “Geist aggressively began to acquire utilities. In 1909 he acquired the Atlantic City Gas & Water Company and Consumers Gas & Fuel, both serving Atlantic City and vicinity.” Since most street lights on every Main street were gas lit, it was an important commodity and Geist was one of the men who bought and consolidated competing gas companies creating “natural monopolies.” He owned the gas companies and other utilities that served Pennsylvania, Delaware and South Jersey.
Geist maintained homes and offices in Atlantic City and Philadelphia, but spent much of his time playing golf as the President of the Whitemarsh Country Club near Philadelphia and a member of the Atlantic City Country Club. Geist was one of the first to travel to the Atlantic City Country Club by automobile, rather than by train and trolley, or horse and buggy. “Among the automobile parties” one newspaper item noted, “were Clarence H. Geist, who had as his guest A.W. Atterbury, one of the vice presidents of the Pennsylvania (railroad) lines.”
In 1914, Geist became impatient as he waited to get to the first tee at the Country Club of Atlantic City, as it was then known. With him was local realtor Maurice Risley, who had been quoted as responding to Geist’s displeasure by saying, “Mr. Geist. If I had as much money as you I’d build my own golf course.”
Geist told Risley to find him the land, which he did, just north of Absecon, and it was there Geist built the Seaview Country Club, which opened a year after construction began in January, 1915. Originally designed by renown architect Hugh Wilson (Merion Golf Club), the course was completed by Donald Ross, who added his distinctive sand bunkers.
Geist hired Wilfred Reid to be the Seaview’s first golf professional and hired another Scottish golf professional to teach his wife and daughters to play. Reid lasted less than a year before he moved on to the Wilmington Country Club and was replaced by another Scotsman, James Fraser.
James “Jolly Jim” Fraser was the pro at Seaview when President Warren G. Harding played a round of golf there in May, 1922. Harding was said to have been a friend of Geist and visited Seaview on more than one occasion. Harding was also a gambler, often wagering on every swing of the club, and losing a bet with Geist that Fraser’s youngest son, five year old Sonny Fraser, couldn’t round the course in less than a 100, which he did handily.
As a fabulously rich man, Geist was paranoid of being kidnapped and held for ransom, and when it was known that Al Capone was in town, hi caddy also served as a body guard, carrying a Thompson submachine gun in his golf bag along with the mashies and niblicks.
At a time when most golf clubs considered their golf pros employees in the service staff, who weren’t permitted in the clubhouse with the members and guests, Geist treated them better. “Dad told me Geist treated his golf professionals like staff executives,” said Jim Fraser, “but it took a long time before golf professionals were admitted to most other club houses.”
Jim is the son of Jolly Jim’s oldest son Leo Fraser, who also attributed the growth and popularity of first class country clubs to Geist, although he didn’t believe it was such a great thing for golf. Besides the Seaview Country Club, Geist also developed the Boca Raton Country Club in Florida, where Tommy Armour was the club professional and where many of the Atlantic City golfers retired during the winter months.
In 1927 Geist had Howard C. Toomey and William S. Flynn design the scenic Pines Course in the woods to the west side of the clubhouse, originally a nine hole course that opened in 1929, and expanded in 1957 by Flynn mentor William Gordon.
But it wasn’t just the world class golf courses, it was the service and facilities that made Seaview a complete experience. Leo Fraser, who became the Seview professional in 1935 said, “There was nothing like Seaview in the rest of the country. How many other clubs at the time had an indoor swimming pool, a French chef and liveried chauffeurs who drove Rolls Royces and Pierce Arrows? Every affluent club used Seaview as its standard. There was not a dining room in Philadelphia or New York that could excel Seaview’s. They had horses, squash courts, tennis courts, a trap shooting range, and of course, the golf course. It only cost $100 to join Seaview,” continued Leo, “but it took more than money to get in, and if Mr. Geist heard anyone complain about the price of anything, he’d just go up to that person and say, ‘You’re resignation has been accepted.’ That’s the kind of guy Geist was. He despised dogs, thought airplanes were the product of the devil, couldn’t stand cigarettes and his feet always hurt.”
“I talk so much about Mr. Geist,” Leo Fraser said, “because he was one of the greatest characters I’ve ever met during my whole life in golf. And he had a lot to do with my career in the early years. But you know he was also a part of the game’s history in this country with the golf resorts he built.”
“He probably fired me and rehired me a dozen times. I probably argued with Mr. Geist more than I should have. My brother Sonny didn’t argue with him and he got along very well with C.H. They played a lot of golf together, too. Yes, he was a character, but he owned the finest club around and he never got the credit for all his accomplishment that he deserved. He was a man ahead of his time.”
According to Leo Fraser, “Mr. Geist wanted me to play with him all the time. Then he wanted to take me out of the golf shop and join the gas company, and that’s the reason I left. The only reason he wanted me to work for the gas company was so that he could play golf with me whenever he wanted. Mr. Geist insisted I work for the gas company. I wasn’t fixin’ to do that, so when I was sixteen years old I went to Detroit to visit my favorite aunt.” Leo worked as a club professional in Michigan and won some tournaments there before returning to Seaview to be the club professional.
Leo’s younger brother “Sonny” Fraser however, was more inclined to work for Geist’s gas company and play golf with him, often playing hooky from school to do so. Sonny later said that Geist promised to leave him an endowment in his will, but when Geist died in 1938, there was no such endowment in the will, and Sonny sued the estate and was given some money. Sonny moved briefly to Philadelphia to work for a Sugar company, but then returned to Atlantic City to be the private secretary to “Hap” Farley.
With the death of Geist, control of Seaview Country Club was taken over by a group led by Elwood Kirkman, who had been the Georgetown college room mate of Hap Farley, who became the political boss of Atlantic City when Nucky Johnson went to prison.
A tournament was held at Seaview in 1940 that brought together celebrities like Bing Crosby and Bob Hope and top flight golfers including Ben Hogan, Jimmy Demaret and Gene Sarazen. The golfers all returned to Seaview for the 1942 PGA championship, won by Sam Snead over Jimmy Turnesa (2-1) in match play, with a spectacular 60 foot chip shot on the 37th hole, Snead’s first major.
After winning the match, Snead enlisted in the military, as did Leo Fraser, who went on to serve in combat, getting a battlefield promotion to Major, which became Leo’s nickname.
While Sonny Fraser was not accepted into the military because of failing health, he became a popular politician, New Jersey State legislator, helped raise money for war bonds and founded the Atlantic City chapter of the American Cancer Society. Sonny Fraser also bought the Atlantic City Country Club and refurbished it to its former pre-war grander.
In the legislature, Sonny Fraser rose to the position of Speaker of the House, and got every bill and law passed that he introduced, including the passage of the bill to bring horse racing to Atlantic City and Garden State (Camden Country), the first legal gambling in the state.
Fraser not only got the law passed, but he was part of the group that built the Atlantic City Race Track, which also included John B. Kelly, the Philadelphia contractor and father of actress and princess Grace Kelly, who celebrated her sixteenth birthday in the Oval Room of the Seaview Clubhouse.
Sen. Frank Smathers of Florida objected to horse racing in New Jersey however, considering it competition to the Florida tracks, and charged Sonny Fraser and his group with having illegal slot machines in the Atlantic City Country Club clubhouse. Instead of getting rid of the slot machines however, Sonny Fraser sold the Atlantic City Country Club to his brother Leo, the returning war hero. Leo went on to become President of the PGA, a major promoter of women’s golf and helped start the Senior’s Tour (now the Champion’s Tour).
While bringing the US Women’s Open to the Atlantic City Country Club three times, Leo Fraser introduced the area to women’s golf, and beginning in 1986 the LPGA established one of its premier events at Seaview, the ShopRite Classic (1986-87, 1998-2006, 2010)
President Eisenhower visited Seaview in 1953, and enjoyed it enough to return on a fairly regular basis, especially after leaving office, sometimes mingling freely with staff and guests, and signing one dollar bills that he gave away as souvenirs.
Elwood Kirkman, who headed the group that controlled Seaview, also owned the Boardwalk National Bank, a mortgage and title company, and the Flanders Hotel on the boardwalk in Ocean City, where he lived in the Penthouse apartment.
As the former Georgetown college room mate of political boss Hap Farley, Kirkman had a tight and powerful business connection and was unscrupulous in nature. Kirkman had many partners in many businesses, including restaurants and motels and hotels, and if a partner died, he took over completely, often excluding the proper heirs from their inheritance.
When the State of New Jersey decided to build Stockton State College, Kirkman sold them much of the land, mainly pinelands, the ownership of which was questionable, and deeds provided by Kirkman’s title company proved to be falsified. Although this scandal didn’t break until the 1980s, when it did make news, Kirkman was forced out of his control of Seaview, though his other interests were untouched, and he was never tried, convicted or did jail time for his misdeeds.
After Marriot purchased the Seaview in 1984 it was opened it to the public, but after decades under Geist and Kirkman, it maintained its first class status, so much so that when the Rolling Stones came to Atlantic City for their Steel Wheels Tour in 1989, they stayed at the Seaview rather than at any of the Atlantic City casino hotels. After two shows at the Boardwalk Hall (Then Convention Hall), the Stones took a day off to celebrate guitarist Keith Richard’s birthday, with a party held in the Seaview’s basement game room.
In 1998 Marriot sold the Seaview to LaSalle Hotels and golf course architect Bob Cupp, Jr. was brought in to restore the Bay Course to its original state as one of the finest links courses in America.
After a brief layoff, the LPGA Classic returned to Seaview in the summer of 2010, and in September of that year, Seaview was sold to Richard Stockton State College, with plans to upgrade and maintain it as a first class golf resort.
Some thought it ironic that the Stockton trustees would purchased the land for their college with false deeds provided by Seaview President Elwood Kirkman, now own the Seaview, and have plans to upgrade the facility and use it to help educate a new generation of students in the business, service and maintenance of a such a first class facility.
[William Kelly is the author of “300 Years at the Point – A History of Somers Point, N.J.” and “Birth of the Birdie,” a history of golf. He can be reached at email@example.com ]
The President and the Prodigy
Warren G. Harding and James "Sonny" Fraser at Seaview Country Club - 1922
The caption reads:
President Harding congradulating James Fraser, five year old golf expert, on the Links at the Seaview Golf Club, Atlantic City, where the President compared his style of play with that of the youthful champion. (circa 1922)
The President and the Prodigy – Warren G. Harding and Sonny Fraser at Seaview.
By William Kelly (Billkelly3@gmail.com)
HBO’s award winning TV series Boardwalk Empire features a number of characters based on real people, including Nucky Thompson (aka Johnson), Commodore Louis Kuehnle, Arnold Rothstein, Lucky Luciano and Al Capone, and then they introduce President Warren G. Harding as a character in the final segments of the first season.
In the Boardwalk Empire version of events, Nucky leads the New Jersey delegation to the Republican national convention in Chicago, and instead of backing New Jersey legislator Walter Edge, as expected, he gives the votes to a longshot, darkhorse candidate nobody ever heard of, Warren G. Harding. Harding is portrayed as a manipulated sap, and Nucky makes his deals with Harding’s campaign manager. Nucky wants new highways built to bring more tourists to Atlantic City, and he withdrew his support for Edge when he learns the highway funds went to Edge’s construction company for roads in North Jersey. Walter Edge was a real person too. As founding publisher of the Atlantic City Press, Edge went on to serve as a senator and twice as governor, decades apart, 1917-1919 during World War I and 1944 – 1947 during World War II.
Whether you can credit Nucky with getting him the office is questionable, but President Harding really did visit Atlantic City.
Warren G. Harding liked to play golf and gamble and reportedly came to town as a friend and guest of Seaview Country Club owner Clarence Geist, who also liked to play golf and gamble. They played together quite frequently and President Harding is said to have placed a wager on every swing of the golf club.
There is a photo of Harding and Geist and two other golfers standing in front of the Seaview Clubhouse, which is often the subject of a trivia question as to the identity of the other two golfers.
There’s also a newspaper photo of Harding shaking hands with Sonny Fraser, a seven year old golf prodigy and son of the Seaview golf pro Jolly Jim Fraser. Harding lost a bet with Geist that young Sonny Fraser couldn’t round the course in less than a hundred, which he did handily.
Arguably the worst president of the United States ever, Harding presided over the “Teapot Dome” scandal, which preceded Watergate as a national Deep Political event, and he may have been assassinated since he died suddenly of apparent food poisoning while traveling aboard a train.
Young Sonny Fraser however, grew up to be a real Boardwalk Empire character, as he went on to become one of the best amateur golfers ever, and a successful politician who introduced the first legal gambling to South Jersey before he died, tragically young.
James Emerson “Sonny” Fraser was born to Millie Fraser, the wife of golf pro “Jolly Jim” Fraser, at the Fraser home on the first fairway at Seaview Country Club on August 4, 1916.
His mother had practiced putting on the nearby green earlier that morning and golf would become a primary factor in Sonny Fraser’s life.
Growing up in the house on the course, the fairways and greens were his backyard and playing the game of golf was a natural for him. His father hand-carved a custom set of clubs so young Sonny could take his first swing at an early age and he quickly learned to play well.
As a five year old child golf prodigy, Sonny won a bet for Clarence Geist, against then U.S. President Warren G. Harding, that he could round the Seaview course in under 100. Sonny won the bet for Mr. Geist and by the age of 12 he shot a 73, and at 13 he was credited with a 69.
Since he was young when his father died in a traffic accident, Sonny and his older brother Leo were greatly influenced by Seaview owner Clarence Geist, as well as club members and other golf professionals associated with the world class resort.
Sonny began formal tournament play at the age of 14 when he tied the Seaview course record of 67, then held jointly by his father and Walter Hagen. He reportedly missed a two foot putt on the final hole, some say intentionally, so as not to break his father’s record. In 1943 he did set the Seaview mark – a remarkable 60, 11 under par.
Known as one of the longest hitters in the game Sonny went on to meet and beat the best amateur as well as professional golfers, and his fame outlived his short but glorious life. He played in hundreds of exhibition matches, was in great demand for charitable events, and always drew a crowd to the galleries whenever and wherever he played. Those who knew him say Sonny Fraser was one of the best amateur golfers ever.
Tall and handsome, Fraser attended Atlantic City High School, but never graduated since he often played hooky to play golf with Geist, who promised to leave Sonny an inheritance in his will. Geist was a self-made man who thought college graduates were “saps.” When Geist died in 1938, and there was no inheritance, as promised, Sonny sued the estate and won a modest settlement.
In 1939 Sonny decided to concentrate on business, working at first for Geist’s Atlantic City gas company, then for a Philadelphia sugar concern before becoming secretary to Atlantic County political boss Frank “Hap” Farley, whose college room mate and business associate Elwood Kirkman had taken over the Seaview when Geist died.
But it was Sonny Fraser who was always in the center of the action, and he became known for making difficult tasks appear easy and accomplished a lot as a businessman, politician and charity fundraiser.
Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, Sonny was unable to enlist in the service during World War II; instead he served with distinction on the War Manpower Commission. He also helped raise thousands of dollars for wartime charities – the Salvation Army, Red Cross, USO, Valley Forge and the Atlantic City Naval Hospitals. Suffering from his own disease, Fraser founded and helped raise money for the local chapter of the American Cancer Society.
In the winter of 1943-44 Sonny Fraser and a group of businessmen purchased the Atlantic City Country Club, and Fraser was named President.
In May, 1944, Sonny Fraser married the beautiful artist Madeline Vautrinot, of Egg Harbor, a prominent painter and art teacher. They lived in a big house in English Creek, the scene of many political discussions and where Fraser’s birthday was annually celebrated on August 4 with friends he met on the golf course – Indiana Governor Paul V. McNutt, N.J. Governor Alfred E. Driscoll, baseball star Jimmy Foxx, Olympic hero John B. Kelly and his teenage daughter Grace, along with Hollywood icons Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.
While the main house sits on a hill with a sloping green, Fraser built an art studio for Madeline down by the stream around the old grist mill. That’s where she painted and many of the party guests gathered around the mill pool, where they kept the lobsters fresh and champagne cool.
Sonny Fraser and his friends would sit around the grist mill pool, drink champagne and make glorious plans for the future, including the establishment of legal gambling with the Atlantic City Rack Track.
When Sonny Fraser began developing the Atlantic City Race Track, opposition surfaced from Florida Senator Frank Smathers, who considered the New Jersey tracks competition to those in Florida. Smathers publicly objected to Fraser opening the track while owning the Atlantic City Country Club, where there were illegal slot machines in the clubhouse.
Rather than getting rid of the slot machines however, Sonny sold the Atlantic City Country Club to his brother Leo, just returned from the war. While Sonny was the archetypical amateur golfer, Leo was the total professional who made golf his life, eventually becoming president of the PGA. Leo borrowed the money to buy the club from his friend Carroll Rosenbloom, the owner of the Baltimore Colts football team, a sale that permitted Sonny to open the Atlantic City Race Track.
Nominated as the Republican candidate for Assembly, Sonny was elected to the State House in 1947, and reelected again two years later, becoming popular with Democrats as well as Republicans. He made highway construction and safety a prime concern, sought spraying of seashore communities for mosquitoes and managed to get every one of the bills he introduced passed into law.
Although heavily involved in state and local government, various businesses and the Race Track, Sonny Fraser always found time for a round of golf with his pals Hap Farley, Somers Point Mayor Fred W. Chapman and race track partner John B. Kelly. Fraser often played in charity golf tournaments, including an annual tournament to raise money for the local cancer society. For Sonny, it was personal as well as athletic challenge.
In 1947 he was named The Most Courageous Athlete of the Year by the Philadelphia Sportswriters, and in 1949 was named the Most Outstanding Young Man in New Jersey and was considered a possible candidate for governor, but his disabilities overcame him. Although confined to a wheelchair, he continued to play golf and carry out his official duties.
In 1950 he was named Speaker of the Assembly, one of the most prestigious positions in Trenton. When Sonny tried to resign because of his illness, the Governor refused to accept his resignation and requested he return to Trenton, but that never happened. Fraser fell down and injured his hip while visiting his friend Bob Hope in California. He returned home and tried to recuperate but his health deteriorated rapidly.
Sonny Fraser died on Tuesday, August 29, 1950. Flags as the State House in Trenton, throughout Atlantic City and much of the State were lowered to half mast, and tributes poured in from around the country. His English Creek home, the scene of many political planning sessions and parties, was the scene of his wake, attended by over two thousand people, friends, neighbors and ordinary citizens as well as powerful politicians and celebrities.
Reverend Gill Rob Wilson, an editor of the New York Herald Tribune, conducted funeral services on the lawn from a temporary pulpit on the edge of the lake. Wilson said, “Sonny drove deep into the hearts and affections of everyone who knew him. The strong hands he wrapped around a driver gripped the heartstrings of people. He will always be remembered as someone who fought hard for the underdog and for lost causes. No one ever came to him and was turned away. It is appropriate that we pay tribute to Sonny, not in cloistered halls but here in this space in the surroundings he loved. It is here that Sonny must go on and we must turn away.”
James Emerson “Sonny” Fraser was then laid to rest in the Absecon Presbyterian Cemetery.
To honor the 300th anniversary of Egg Harbor Township in 2010, local historians tried to find anything left from the 1710 founding of the township - a tree, a building or a monument.
But all they could find was the old grist mill at Sonny Fraser’s home, where they used to keep the lobsters fresh and the champagne cool, and make glorious plans for the future.
[William Kelly is the author of “Birth of the Birdie” – a history of golf. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. ]