In 1892, The Chicago Tribune reported that a judge in Racine, Wisconsin had fined several athletes for playing baseball on the previous Sunday. It went on to whet the readers’ appetite by speculating that the “Sunday observance law war is expected to be more exciting than last summer, as outdoor sports and picnics will be strictly prohibited within city limits on the Sabbath day.”
Modestly-sized Racine, divided between strict Lutherans and more liberal Catholics, was far from the only city to discourage public entertainments on the Sabbath. Even big, bad Chicago: In 1895, a judge fined “Cap. Anson” – who had led his team to five N.L. pennants in the 1880s – “and eight of his ‘Colts’” –- later to be the Cubs – “$3 and costs each for disturbing the peace . . . . They were found guilty of ‘noise, rout, or amusement’ on the Sabbath,” reported the Tribune. The issue of Sunday observance was not always so amusing. In some cities, it came to violence, with vigilantes attacking Catholic immigrants’ Sunday beer-halls.
About 70 years later, on a Sunday in February, 2012, GOP presidential candidate and observant Mormon Mitt Romney visited the running of the Dayton 500 NASCAR race. He described the event as “quintessentially American.” (Because of rain, the race had to be delayed two days.) Indeed, the Daytona Speedway was first opened on a Sunday in 1934.
The story of the two sorts of Sundays may be that America became irreligious between Cap Anson’s time and the Daytona Speedway’s – but the story is actually more complex than that.