Back in the day, folks told a story about a Savannah baseball player who hit the longest home run ever hit.
On a now long-gone diamond near Forsyth Park, the legend goes, a big man named Jumbo Barrett took that legendary swing, and the ball went...
Well, nobody really knows.
"I've always been fascinated with Savannah lore," says Dr. Julius "Boo" Hornstein, author of a new children's book, The Legend of Jumbo Barrett and His Amazing Home Run.
"You do reach a certain point in your life when the lore becomes reality," he laughs.
Some stories say the ball went over 500 feet. Some say it landed six blocks away.
In Hornstein's colorful book — fancifully illustrated by Charlie Swerdlow — the ball lands in a scoop of ice cream being doled out at one of Savannah's old ice cream shops, Jerry George's.
So is that what actually happened?
"No," laughs Hornstein. "That's why we call it a legend! The story has been around forever. Every time someone told it, the ball rolled further and further, and the distance got longer and longer."
There was a real Jumbo Barrett, that we know for sure. His baseball career was cut short by injury, but he was a well-regarded local cop for decades.
"When I was a little kid, I remember my father pointing out Jumbo," recalls Hornstein. "He'd say 'see that policeman over there' — he'd never use the word cop — 'that's Jumbo Barrett. He hit the longest home run ever hit.'"
Barrett was a major league prospect, at one point being offered a contract to play for the great John McGraw of the New York Giants.
"But he experienced the tragedy of a badly broken leg playing in Atlanta, against the Atlanta Crackers," says Hornstein. "It ended his career. In those days they didn't have the orthopedic surgery we have now. So he came back to Savannah and played semi-pro ball, in what was called the City League."
As part of his whimsical research for the book, Hornstein and a friend got a tape measure and went to Forsyth Park — rough location of one of Savannah's old City League diamonds — to see what Jumbo's home run might have looked like.
"My guess is it went up over the trees. This was in the 1920s, when the tree canopy in Forsyth Park was lower than it is today. I've got the ball bouncing in the street at Park Avenue and Bull Street. But I doubt if it actually ended up in a kid's ice cream cone," Hornstein laughs.
The Legend of Jumbo Barrett is available on Amazon.com and at E. Shaver's bookstore downtown.