06 February 2008

Madman!

On October 4, 1892 Benjamin Mitchell went insane.

Ben was the clubhouse manager of the West End Athletic Association in Somerville. West End had just lost the championship game of the Central New Jersey Baseball League. Despondent over losing the pennant, he snapped - became delusional - and went screaming from the clubhouse, convinced that the players were trying to kill him in anger over their loss.

New York Herald headline, 7 October 1892
Benjamin was quickly captured and taken to the Somerville jail. During his first night in the lock-up, he escaped by leaping from a second story window, fleeing across Hillsborough to Belle Mead. He came to the farm of William Ely, appealing for help - looking for protection from the men he believed were pursuing him.

Mr. Ely sent Ben to the poorhouse run by Mr. Van Cleef. He wasn't there long. By midnight he had slipped away from the poorhouse - with Van Cleef and two neighbors in pursuit - and returned to the Ely farm, breaking in through the kitchen and grabbing a shotgun that Mr. Ely kept standing in the corner.

When Van Cleef and the two farmers caught up with Ben at the Ely place, he opened fire, causing Van Cleef and company to retreat and fetch help from Squire Hageman. They woke Hageman, swore out a warrant against Benjamin, and returned to the Ely farm with several constables in tow. Ben was still holed up in the kitchen, and once again shot at the men, wounding the two farmers.

The constables, Van Cleef, and Mr. Ely huddled briefly and came up with a plan. Mr. Ely went into the house by the back door and came into the kitchen through the rear, creating a diversion while the rest of the men forced their way into the home from the front.

Benjamin Mitchell was subdued and tied hand and foot for his trip to the more secure Somerset County Jail - where he awaited commitment to the asylum.

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