It has been a while, hasn’t it? I last blogged here in July 2021, not long before my son Nathan was born. I decided to take a break from updating both of my blogs at that time, since I had several more pressing projects to work on, including a new book and a new sideline of work, to say nothing of the responsibilities of fatherhood! But the family is doing well, I’m a year into dadding, and it seems like it’s time to get back to blogging, too.
In a strange way, this post connects directly back to the last one, since it involves me doing some genealogical legwork to learn more about a distant family member with an interesting profession. Last time out, I found out that the grandfather of an uncle by marriage was a well known preacher within Churches of Christ, and I managed to locate a sizable amount of information about him, including a small bit of his writing, along the way.
This entry, however, goes into a very different field of work! A few months ago, my mother-in-law mentioned that her father had, several years earlier, received a plaque from the local/county hall of fame commemorating a distant family relative who had had a remarkable football career. Unfortunately, her dad was in the middle of a rough spell health-wise, and the plaque sat where it was for some time until its recent rediscovery.
Within the last couple of years, I have taken an interest in genealogy again, as it is something that I enjoy working on with my parents. We (and others in the family!) have done a lot to build out the family tree, and learning more about my ancestors scratches an itch similar to the effect working on a church history project has for me. I am obviously much less familiar with my wife’s ancestors and extended family, but I told her mother that I would do some digging on this mysterious plaque honoree to see what I could find. As it turns out, I found a lot! (1)
Hermit Davis was born in Double Springs, Alabama, on March 31, 1912. (There is some discrepancy amongst the ages listed for him on later censuses, some of which imply that the year of his birth was actually 1910, but his draft card says 1912 and is the most reliable record available.) Hermit, who did not have a middle name, was the sixteenth child (!) in his family, fourteen of whom lived to adulthood. (2) After a standout football career at Winston County High School, he played for four years at Birmingham-Southern College, where he was on the freshman squad in 1931 and lettered from 1932-1934. (3) After his senior season, Hermit was selected for the second team of the 1934 “Little All-America” squad, which honored the country’s best players from small colleges and universities. (4)
Following his collegiate gridiron success, Hermit moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he played for the often woebegone Chicago Cardinals of the National Football League during the 1936 season. He also played for the (football) New York Yankees of the American Football League that same year, and then had short stints with the Boston Shamrocks (also of the AFL) and the Wilmington Clippers (of the American Association) the following year. Somewhat humorously given the size of today’s professional players, Hermit, a defensive end, measured 5’11” and weighed 200 pounds during his playing days. He also managed to snag a single reception for thirty-six yards during his season with the Cardinals. (5)
After his playing days were over, Hermit returned to Chicago for a while; his draft card from 1940 places him on Racine Avenue, where former team owner Chris O’Brien had lived and the same street which had given its name to the “Racine Cardinals” who would later become the Chicago and then Arizona Cardinals. (6) At the time, Hermit worked for the Campbell Soup Company and lived with his older brother Andy. Both of those things would soon change.
Although it is unclear when exactly he moved, Hermit relocated to Dade County, Florida, and married Josephine M. Leonard (born in 1911 or 1912) there in 1943. The Davises lived in Coral Gables for the next few decades, with Hermit working first for the local police department before settling into a lengthy career, from which he ultimately retired, as a firefighter. Sadly, Josephine passed away on April 23, 1974, though Hermit would live on until February 21, 1993. The couple, who did not have any children, are both entombed in the mausoleum at the Our Lady of Mercy cemetery. (7)
Although Hermit’s football career did not bring him lasting fame and fortune, he did live a long, active, and seemingly fulfilling life, and I hope that this blog, in some small way, is a tribute to my wife’s maternal grandfather’s great uncle.
(1) Unless otherwise noted, the biographical and historical details listed in this post come from my research through the Ancestry website.
(2) Charles E. Wilson, …And West is West: The Wests of Winston County, Alabama, Their Kin and Kith, vol. 2, The Way West (1991): 92-94.
(7) I am indebted to the r/genealogy discussion forum, which helped me track down both Hermit’s and Josephine’s obituaries in the Miami Herald.