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Ted Williams Cheers Up a Young Amputee

By Bill Nowlin , July 12, 2016

Throughout the history of baseball, there are recurrent myths and legends, and heartwarming stories, too. Many of them are even true.

Cynicism aside, it really does make us feel good when we read about a ballplayer who visits a child dying of cancer, a star who brightens the day of a family enveloped by gloom.

Babe Ruth was famous for promising severely-ill youngster Johnny Sylvester in October 1926 that he would hit a home run for him. He did, and the story made national news.[1]

Ted Williams, in a sense, followed in Ruth’s footsteps. It may have had something to do with his mother’s fervent dedication to the Salvation Army. It may have simply come from the human empathy evoked in him when he learned of a youngster struggling in some fashion. Almost anyone who ever spent any time with Ted Williams in a public setting can tell a story of how he made a beeline to the kid on the wheelchair, not the fat cat who was trying to curry favor.

Even from his first years away from home, playing for the Minneapolis Millers in 1938 and for the Boston Red Sox in 1939, there are stories of him visiting a hospital or befriending a bedridden boy. It’s part of a pattern that led him to a lifelong commitment to the Jimmy Fund in Boston.

In working on my first book about Ted Williams with Jim Prime, I came across some of the stories and was able to talk on the phone with Donald Nicoll and with Tommy Seessel of Chattanooga.[2] There was another story that I was never able to truly pin down, until 2016. It was quite a story, just a month after Ted had visited Tommy in Tennessee.

An 11-year-old boy, Glenny Brann, had been playing cowboys and Indians with some other kids in Malden, Massachusetts. They had tied him to a stake and set him on fire. The Boston newspapers did not report whether the act was done with malice, but they supposedly fled leaving Glenny on fire.[3] He was rescued just in time to save his life, but the doctors were unable to save his legs. Both legs were amputated well above the knee. The terrible incident occurred on March 27, 1947.

For more than a month, he was on the “danger list . . . his condition fluctuating from day to day but never improving enough for him to leave his bed.”[4]

Red Sox pitcher Joe Dobson’s wife, Maxine Lee Dobson, was a former nurse at Malden Hospital, and she heard of the sad story. Joe Dobson visited on April 30.  He asked what the boy might like, and Glenny said he wanted a signed baseball and a bat with which Ted Williams had hit a home run.[5] On May 13, 1947, Joe returned with Ted Williams. They brought him a baseball signed by the team and a bat. They invited him to be their special guest at a game at Fenway Park once he was able to leave the hospital.

Courtesy of the Glen Brann Family

Glenwood Brann’s father was a janitor. An Associated Press wire photo that ran nationwide showed father and mother at Glenny’s bedside, a big smile on his face as he showed them the bat and ball that was signed, “To my pal, Ted Williams and Joe Dobson.”

He was said to be a grammar school second baseman.[6] And a baseball fan. The first thing he asked Ted Williams was, “You had a little trouble last Sunday, didn’t you?” The Red Sox had just held on to beat the Yankees, 8-7. Ted told the Boston Globe’s Harold Kaese, “I told Glenny I’d try to hit a home run for him. He asked me if I would. I said, ‘Sure, I’ll do my best.’"[7]

Glenny had a radio but he missed hearing the home run, a seventh-inning drive into the screen on top of Fenway Park’s left-field wall—the first time Williams had hit a home run there. “I guess he was doing some heavy thinking about then and did not have the radio turned on,” said his father. A nurse asked him if he’d like to go out on the sun porch with some other patients. Then someone came and asked him if he’d heard it, and he hurriedly turned on the game. As fortune would have it, Williams came up to bat again in the eighth inning and hit another home run, also into the screen, and that one Glenny heard. “He got quite a kick out of the home run,” his father said. “He told me about it as soon as he saw me.”[8]

The Red Sox won the game, beating the White Sox, 19-6. Williams said later, “I guess I should go to a hospital every day.”[9]

Glenny said he hoped to get out of the hospital by June because that’s when his grandmother opened her summer camp in Hamilton and he wanted to invite “the doctors and all the Red Sox players to go fishing and have a clambake with me.”[10] Lincoln Junior High Principal James A. Cronin started a fund, which the Boston Traveler and the Branns’ First Baptist Church both joined and in just a very few days raised more than $13,000. Radio singer Eddie Cantor dedicated a song to Glenny on his program. Cleveland Indians President Bill Veeck, himself having lost a leg, wrote Glen a letter while a clothing merchant from Cleveland started a fund to raise additional money. Veeck’s first letter arrived before Glenny had been told that his legs were amputated, so it was not read in full to him. Veeck quickly wrote another letter for him to keep, and he sent along some baseballs and a cap.

Glenny was told about the amputations on the day Ted Williams visited. Though the surgery had been done three weeks earlier, he was in a sort of tent to keep the bedclothes from having contact with his body and he had been unable to see his lower body.

It is heartbreaking to read the story of how he’d been told by the doctors about the loss of his legs, but he himself wanted to be the one to tell his father. His parents had already been told, of course, but he didn’t know that at the time. Dr. William H. Fisher first informed him and explained how soldiers in war who had been grievously injured learned to use artificially limbs. Glenny asked, “Does my mother know?” He was told she did. Then he said, “I want to talk it over with my daddy.” He told his father, “I cried a little bit, but I got over it.”[11] He wanted to know if he’d ever walk again. He was told he’d be able to play like with other kids if he did what the doctors ordered. Right away, he asked for some milk and a piece of pie and said he wanted to scoot around the hospital, “I want to see all the other kids that are here.”[12] And he wanted to get back to his friends at the Lincoln School.

One Globe story ended: “Tomorrow Glenny will go out on the sunporch again. Perhaps he is crying softly to himself tonight as he rests his head on his pillow. But Glenny’s fight has begun and Glenny has definitely won the first round.”[13]

On May 20, nearly two months later, but just a week after the ballplayers visited, he was taken off the danger list. A couple of days before, he’d been visited by Dickie Landry, a boy from Lynn who had his own legs severed by a train several months earlier. Dickie showed Glenny how he could get around on his artificial legs. Landry’s visit reportedly prompted “marked improvement” in Brann.

The story had spread far and wide, with a hard-carved wooden nutcracker arriving as a gift from Austria and an airplane being named in his honor by USAF members on Guam.[14]

Glen Brann left the hospital on August 23, just about a month before his 12th birthday (September 20) when he wanted to give a party for his playmates.

Whatever happened to Glenny Brann? I wanted to know. Was he still living? At age 11 in 1947, there was a good possibility he was still alive and could recount the story and tell what it meant to him to have one of baseball’s biggest stars take an interest in him. I hadn’t yet dug into the Malden newspapers.

From time to time, I tried Internet searches and didn’t come up with anything. There was a Glen Brann in Arizona at one point, but the telephone number I found had been disconnected. Every year or two, something would nudge me and I’d give another look, but I kept coming up empty. There are a lot of people on Facebook. So I tried there, sending a message to a Glen Brann on May 22, 2015. Then the unexpected happened—I got a response. Almost exactly eight months later.

It was Glen Richard Brann of Chester, New Hampshire, the eldest son of the boy Ted Williams had visited. They dropped the Glenwood. Glen was born in 1962, some 15 years after the incident. Glenny had finished school, married Beverly Tenney, and produced a son and a daughter. He bought a home in Hampstead, New Hampshire, and that’s where the two kids were raised.

He’d become a successful banker, a vice president of the Bank of Boston. His son understands that Beverly’s father, Harold Tenney, “got him into the bank and then he took it from there.”[15]

He wore wooden prosthetic legs, and they weren’t the lighter-weight material that might be used today. “They were wooden prosthetics that you stepped into and you have to cinch on with a belt. They came all the way up to the waist. He had only stubs, maybe like six-inch stubs there that controlled his legs.”

Brann had his legs amputated just above the knees. When able to be moved, and after spending some time at home, he was transferred to Springfield Shriners Hospital. More than a year later he returned to Malden and was able to walk into his home at 38 Henry Street using his new artificial legs for the first time.[16]

The family moved to Wakefield, Massachusetts, in August 1948, and Brann entered Wakefield High School in September 1949. He graduated with honors, and had been class president for two years. He managed the football, baseball, and basketball teams. He then attended Malden Business School studying to become a CPA, while being active in DeMolay and the Grange, building model airplanes, collecting stamps, and enjoying fishing.[17]

Brann married Beverly Jean Tenney in September 1955. The two had been classmates both at Wakefield High and Malden Business School. She worked as an accounting clerk for John Hancock Life Insurance Company. He was employed at the First National Bank of Boston. They made their home in Danvers.

Glen Brann and his daughter Teri on the occassion of her wedding.
Courtesy of the Glen Brann Family

He worked hard on his ability to get around, and was quite mobile. “He would drive in to Boston, to the bank, for many years. He had a car rigged up for handicapped,” said his son. That was quite a haul, 45 miles each way. He became quite adept on the prosthetic legs; he and his wife even enjoyed bowling.

Glen perhaps inherited something of a strong constitution. His younger brother Dicky served on the destroyer USS Jarvis as a gunner in the Navy. Glen also had a younger sister, Arleen, who was born while he was in the hospital.

And as for Glen himself, his son says, “He actually was into water sports. He could swim like a fish. He could get on a disc with a chair, light a cigarette, and spin around the lake—a guy with no legs. It was interesting to see. He didn’t let it get to him. He didn’t show it.” The cigarettes got to him, though. He developed emphysema. It’s what he died of in 1987. “Even when he barely had the wind, he would swing those things around [the prosthetics]. Those things were heavier than he was. They’d stand up by themselves and he’d climb on. That’s just about how it was. We may have been taller than him but he let us kids know a thing or two! He was very strong, because he used his arms a lot to get around.”

About the incident, though, “he didn’t talk much about it. As kids, we didn’t ask much about it because for us it was normal. It was absolutely normal to us.”

“I was always very proud of my brother,” said Arleen in 2016. “The doctors told my parents that he probably wouldn’t have children because of all the skin grafting, but he had five children. What saved him was the leather jacket that he was in. That is what saved his life. My parents were always there for him. When he moved to Hampstead, my parents bought a summer cottage three or four houses down. They were always there to help when he couldn’t do something.”[18]

Had it been malicious? The Brann children weren’t told. The local newspapers of the day told the story, and this being an era before the names of juveniles were withheld for reason of confidentiality, we know who was involved. He was, reported the Malden Press, “victim of a too-realistic playing with two schoolboy chums in the cellar of 310 Bryant Street . . . one of the youngsters touched part of the rope with which Brann was tied as a ‘cowboy’ with a red hot poker. The rope began to blaze and set Brann’s clothing afire. In fear and pain, Brann tried to roll on the floor to smother the flame, and his playmates tried to smother them with ashes in vain. Brann then dashed up the cellar stairs to the back yard of the house with his two ‘Indians’ following.

“Miss Marilyn Katz, 17, a senior at Malden high, hearing the screaming, seized a bed blanket and ran out and attempted to beat out the flames on Brann’s clothing.” By then, police and firemen arrived and he was rushed to Malden Hospital. The Press explained that no charges were filed, “convinced that the tragedy was an accident.”[19]

The two boys were Robert Katz and Albert Winer, both 12. The house on Bryant Street was evidently heated by a coal furnace, hence the ashes and the poker. It was Bob Katz, Marilyn’s brother, who told Malden Police Lieutenant Frank E. Lenehan that they had been playing in the cellar then tied a heavy Manila rope around Glenny and seated him in a chair. Bob heated a poker and “approached the Brann boy . . . in an imitation branding process”—purportedly part of the play—“when suddenly he discovered the rope aflame.” Marilyn Katz was burned on her lower left arm and was treated by Dr. Samuel G. Pavlo, who first treated Glenny, but she refused hospitalization. Two Bryant Street mothers, Mrs. Ida Clark and Mrs. Lenora Cheeck, finally helped smother the flames.[20]

“I’d heard the names,” says Glen’s sister Arleen. “One of them—I couldn’t tell you which one —actually worked for a while at a 5 & 10 type store in Wakefield with my other brother.”

A feature article in 1961 looked back on the story. The Branns now owned a lakefront cottage in Hampstead, New Hampshire. Asked what he had learned from the experience, he said that children should have more parental guidance and discipline. He said that “the boys responsible for his accident, however unintentional, were always given too much liberty and left pretty much on their own.”[21] As to how he had learned to become so self-sufficient, he credited his parents whom he said treated him equally like his brother and sister with no “preferential attention” and a “help-yourself-or-do-without-it” attitude.[22]

Arleen agreed, “My parents never, ever gave in to him. ‘You want something? You can get it yourself.’"

When his two children were still fairly young, Glen and Beverly divorced, and he married another woman, having three more children—all boys—with her. But she left him at some point and his first two kids took him in. “He was a cigarette smoker all the years I remember. All of a sudden, it was tougher and tougher for him to breathe. I took him in for a while. I would actually have to carry him to his car. He could put his legs on when he got there. My sister took him in for a while. We’d not lived with him since we were kids. We still did weekends with him. He was good with that.”

At a certain point, he decided it was time and he left the bank, though they kept him on the books and he would go in sometimes. Glen’s mother was living in a senior citizens’ home in Tewksbury at the time, but near the end she had gone to live with him. Finally, the day before Christmas in 1987, “he just quit breathing. They took him to the hospital and that was it.”

The bat Ted Williams brought is long gone, but there remain three baseballs, old but still showing the signatures of the ballplayers.

Ted Williams game used bat from 1947-48.

Glen Richard Brann says of himself, “I always had a pretty healthy respect for fire, due to my father’s circumstances. I always thought I’d be a fireman, but I just never got to it. I thought, Wow, I’d like to be on the other end of that and put one out.” Instead, he says he became something of a “master of everything. I went into the architectural millwork company. I learned that from the Italians, and I’ve basically done my own thing for 30 years now. Building furniture, cabinetry. I’m also involved in an MLM that’s worldwide. I like that, too. Multi-level marketing. We’re in 24 different countries. We do electricity, telephones, Internet, digital . . . everything people are already paying for, but we get up to 18 percent off their bills. It’s kind of an interesting way to make some money. It comes in monthly, and it’s growing. I like it.

“I have two boys. One’s a teacher, and one’s still going to school and has a child he’s raising.”

 


[1] The Johnny Sylvester story was remembered many years later when he died in January 1990. See Robert McG. Thomas, Jr., “Johnny Sylvester, The Inspiration for Babe Ruth Heroics, Is Dead,” New York Times, January 11, 1990.
[2] Both stories appear in Jim Prime and Bill Nowlin, Ted Williams: The Pursuit of Perfection (Champaign, Illinois: Sports Publishing, 2002).The story of Donald Nicoll (thought to be dying of a stomach diease) is on page 130, and the story of Thomas Seessel (sick with the flu and force to miss a game he'd been really hoping to see) is on page 131. Both boys were interviewed by Bill Nowlin, Nicoll on February 15, 1997 and Seessel on July 1, 1997.
[3] When contacted in early 2016, the Malden Police Department replied—unsurprisingly—that it no longer has records from this long ago. Thanks to Beverly Smith and Lieutenant Jon Crannell of the Malden Police.
[4] Malden Press, May 2, 1947: 16. Thanks to Stephen Nedell and the Malden Public Library for access to Malden newspapers.
[5] Malden Evening News, April 30, 1947: 1.
6] “Glenny, Told Legs Cut Off, Keeps Chin Up,” Dallas Morning News, May 13, 1947: 1.
[7] Harold Kaese, “Lad Misses Ted’s First Homer, Turns On Radio In Time to Hear Second,” Boston Globe, May 14, 1947: 24.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Virginia Bohlin, “Courage of ‘Glenny’ Brann Gives His Father Real Thrill,” Boston Traveler, May 14, 1947: 1, 18.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] “Glenny Fights Back Tears; Learns His Legs Are Gone,” Boston Globe, May 14, 1947: 1.
[14] Malden Evening News, April 9, 1954: 11.
[15] All quotations from Glen R. Brann are from an interview on February 4, 2016.
[16] Malden Evening News, May 17, 1948.
[17] Malden Evening News, April 9, 1954.
[18] Interview with Arleen McCauley on March 18, 2016. Arleen McCauley worked in the billing department of a health rehabilitation company in Florida.
[19] Malden Press, April 4, 1947: 18.
[20] Malden Evening News, March 28, 1947: 1.
[21] Joyce Leffler, “14 Years Have Passed Since Near-Fatal Fire,” Malden Evening News, July 20, 1961: 4.
[22] Ibid.

 

 

 

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