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Dogged Pursuits, page two

Posted: July 2, 2009

(continued from page 1)

In 1893, the Columbian Exposition in Chicago attracted thousands of visitors. They ate copious amounts of sausage, including those sold by Oscar Mayer. He had founded his company 10 years earlier. In 1904, at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri, a legend was formed about the hot dog marrying the bun. Anton Feuchtwanger, a Bavarian sausage maker, was a vendor at the expo and, as the story goes, would lend a white glove to his customers so that they would not soil their hand while eating the sausage. Finding that the gloves were not being returned, Feuchtwanger asked a relative who happened to be a baker to make a long, rounded bun into which his "red hots," as he called them, would fit. Perhaps it was luck that the hot dog somehow eluded becoming the Feuchtwanger. The "wanger?"

In 1893, also in St. Louis—where claims are laid to the invention of the hamburger and also peanut butter—Chris Von der Ahe, the owner of a bar and the St. Louis Browns baseball club, reportedly began the tradition of selling hot dogs at ball games by putting the pup into a bun. This tale is as believable and as fanciful as any of the others, including those that are admittedly fictional. In his novel, If I Never Get Back (1989, Plume Books) Darryl Brock, who is ever in search of the perfect chili dog, tells the story of time-traveling Sam Fowler, who was riding on a modern-day Amtrak train. When he gets off in Cleveland, Sam finds himself in the year 1869.

"Bewildered at first," the explanation goes on the back cover of the book, "Sam soon meets up with the Cincinnati Red Stockings, baseball's first all-professional team, and begins to ride the rails with them on their first national tour across post-Civil War America. He encounters a political conspiracy, a get-rich-quick scheme with Mark Twain, and through it all, the shaky-legged beginnings of America's favorite pastime...before it ever was!"

During his travels, Sam puts to good use his knowledge of how baseball fed its fans in the twentieth century. After realizing the lack of concessions of the time, he eventually introduces hot dogs to the hungry customers watching the games. A few pages later, everything new was old again. Or something like that.

"The day's big news involved our concessions," Sam, the narrator, explains. "At a booth beside the clubhouse, the smells of hamburgers and hot dogs wafted over the grounds for the first time. A world premiere, so far as I knew. Johnny and I had brought in a small wagonload of supplies early that morning. While Helga unpacked our custom-baked round and long buns, we set up a grill and went to work.

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