Wednesday October 22, 2003
Friends knew him as "Dubber," and some admirers called him Bing because he sang like Crosby. Youngsters in town used to know him as "The Peter Pan Man." Seven children called him Dad and 30 grandchildren and great-grandchildren called him "Bum Bum."
John L. Brumbaugh, 86, of Martinsburg, in his youth a talented baseball player and expert pool player, died of complications from cancer at home Saturday night. He was surrounded by his family and was watching his beloved New York Yankees playing in the World Series when he breathed his last, said his daughter, Edna M. Miller.
"He didn't want to die alone in bed at night," Miller said.
Baseball, pool, music and devotion to his family filled Brumbaugh's life, friends and survivors said.
"Dubber," as he was called by those who knew him, was born in Martinsburg on May 3, 1917.
Baseball was a passion in his early years. He was one of the few residents left who knew baseball great Hack Wilson, who lived in Martinsburg.
Brumbaugh met Wilson when he was a batboy on Wilson's Blue Sox baseball team. He also worked in Wilson's pool hall as a boy.
Brumbaugh was invited to Cooperstown, N.Y., when Wilson, who played for the Chicago Cubs in the 1920s, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979, said Jack Butts, 69, of Martinsburg, Brumbaugh's nephew.
"I was always close to Uncle Dubber," Butts said. "I was named for him and his father. My real name is John Louis Butts."
Brumbaugh played barefoot in center field for the Martinsburg semi-pro baseball team, Butts said.
He stayed in baseball through the 1940s, said Butts, who use to ride with on the team bus to games.
Brumbaugh and Butts' father, Jack C. Butts, who also played in the league, were invited to sign up for the Philadelphia Athletics by Connie Mack, owner and manager of the Athletics, Butts said.
During the 1930s, Brumbaugh, by that time an ace at pool, toured the Shenandoah Valley hustling up games for money.
"He had people who backed him. They shared in the winnings," Butts said. "A lot of hustlers came to town in those days."
Expert players like Willie Mosconi occasionally came to Martinsburg to play exhibition games against the locals, Butts said.
"My uncle could hold his own against him," Butts said.
The legend surrounding Brumbaugh includes a match against the great Minnesota Fats in Baltimore.
"We'd heard that about Dubber, but I don't know if it's gospel or not," Butts said.
Brumbaugh also racked up an enviable record of combat in World War II.
Brumbaugh served in the Second Armored Division in North Africa and later in the invasion of Sicily. He was with his unit in Normandy and was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge, Butts said.
"He didn't like to talk about the war," he said.
After he was wounded he was sent to a British hospital. He met a nurse there whose husband, a Royal Air Force pilot, had been killed in action. They fell in love and Brumbaugh went back to England and married her after the war.
Miller tells a story about a family ring, gold with the letter B in the crest.
"My grandfather gave it to my father when he went overseas. He told him to bring it back," Miller said. "My father said, 'You don't have to worry, Dad. I'll bring it back.'"
Any charm the ring may have brought Brumbaugh did not pass down to the next generation.
Brumbaugh gave the ring to his son, John L. Brumbaugh Jr., a Marine, when he left for Vietnam in February 1969.
"He arrived there on Feb. 19, on my sister Vicki's birthday. He was killed four days later on Feb. 23," Miller said. "He was buried in Rosedale Cemetery on March 11, on my sister Carol's birthday."
The ring came home with her brother's effects, she said.
Brumbaugh drove a truck delivering cleaning for Peter Pan Cleaners for 47 years, Miller said.
"Kids around Martinsburg knew him as 'The Peter Pan Man,'" she said. "Us kids used to ride with him sometimes. People gave him keys to their houses and he would go in and pick up their cleaning and bring it back."
"I knew him for just about all of his life. He was one of my best friends," said Earl "Jump" Eversole, 89, owner of Jump's Cash Grocery at 301 N. High St. "We played ball together. He was good at most anything he went at.
"He always came by my house to wish me Merry Christmas. When he came last year, his son had to hold him up. He couldn't even walk and he came by to see me."
During the 1950s and 1960s, Brumbaugh had his own Sunday radio show on a Frederick, Md., radio station, his daughter said.
"He sang the popular songs of the time," she said. "He had a crooning voice like Bing Crosby. People who knew him in England called him Bing because of it."
Brumbaugh was a fixture at the Lions Club minstrel shows during their heyday, Miller said.
He also won a national talent show sponsored by Lucky Strike cigarettes, but the war came before he could take advantage of it, she said.
Brumbaugh will be buried next to his son, John, at Rosedale Cemetery today.