Gill Stadium has been much more than just a ballpark
Special to the Union Leader
This is the fifth in a series of articles from the Gill Stadium Centennial Committee leading up to the facility's 100-year anniversary on Sept. 8.
Best known for baseball but also renowned as the site of some legendary high school football games, Gill Stadium at times during its nearly 100-year history has served as a year-round facility — and not just for sports.
When it opened as Textile Field in 1913, the stadium included an oval track for middle- and long-distance footraces, as well as a straight track for sprints and other areas for field events. Auto races also took place on the track, and in October 1925, auto polo made its debut in what by then had become Athletic Park, with two-driver teams wielding mallets from behind the wheel.
Decades before the construction of JFK Coliseum beyond its outfield fence, the stadium housed its own hockey rink for the first time in 1922. Three years later, the 270-by-142-foot rink served as home to the fledgling Manchester City Hockey League.
Long popular in Manchester, boxing finally made it into the stadium in 1926 with a five-bout card featuring such local favorites as Johnny "The Polish Flash" Harko and Louie Prince.
Soccer has been a fixture at the stadium almost since its inception, and lacrosse games have been played there, too.
Gill has housed circuses and carnivals and, on at least one occasion, the Miss New Hampshire pageant. In 1925, a Miss Yvonne Fredette received her crown inside the stadium.
And it wasn't just circuses and carnivals that brought animal acts inside the facility's brick walls. You've heard of donkey basketball? Well, in 1936 Gill was used for a game of donkey baseball, with prominent local citizens taking their cuts and shagging pop-ups aboard the backs of beasts of burden.
At least one show at the stadium bombed. Literally. On Oct. 6, 1942, a crowd of about 6,000 turned out to see "Action Overhead," a display in which a model city was destroyed by incendiary bombs detonated by members of the U.S. Army.
Nine years later, another soldier created a sensation in the city when Pfc. Eddie Fisher sang at Gill. One of the era's top crooners, as well as one of its top heartthrobs, Fisher had been drafted a year earlier and served as the lead vocalist for the United States Army Band. No model cities were destroyed, but several hearts reportedly were broken.