Title: newspaper publisher, playwright, baseball team co-founder
Birthdate: December 22, 1818
Death Date: June 26, 1891
Plot Location: Section 44, Lot 28
Thomas Fitzgerald was born in New York City to an Irish Catholic couple, Garret and Catharine. He claimed he was born near the site of the old Harper’s Publishing Building, as if he was destined to become a writer because of his proximity to writers.
Thomas first worked as a journalist for the Freedonian in New Brunswick, New Jersey. His next job was for a paper in Tallahassee, Florida before settling in Philadelphia in the early 1840s.
When he met his future bride, he may have joked with her that he was a writer and since her name was Sarah Riter, so was she. Their marriage produced three sons, then a daughter, then three more sons.
After working for the Bulletin and other journals, Thomas started his own weekly newspaper, The Item. It was successful enough to become a daily, so the name was changed to The Evening Item in 1852.
Writing was just one of many things Thomas did well. He sang, lectured on classical music, became controller of the Philadelphia public schools, and was the first to introduce music into the curriculum. His pamphlet, “Music in Our Public Schools” achieved wide popularity.
Meanwhile, he found time to dabble in the early development of baseball, and was one of the founders of the first Philadelphia Athletics ball club in 1860. The first of several plays that he wrote, “Light at Last” was produced in 1868 and it ran in New York, Boston, Chicago, and other major cities.
Thomas retired from the newspaper business in 1890, passing it to his three oldest sons. He embarked on a trip through Europe with his son, Riter, in 1891. While in London he died from a case of the flu, a very common cause of death after a very uncommon life.
He left a valuable collection of paintings to the Academy of Fine Art to be placed in a special gallery known as the “Fitzgerald Collection.” However, the Academy didn’t have enough room for them all.
Sarah died in 1876. All but two of the boys joined their parents in the family plot, and all have simple, modest stones like this one:
One unanswered question is why he sometimes referred to himself as Colonel. He was not a “Southern gentleman,” never in the military, and no such title or honor was ever bestowed on him by a U.S. governor or anyone other than himself. It could have simply been his ego was as big as his many talents.
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