Walter Johnson Birthplace Memorial - Atlas Obscura

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Walter Johnson Birthplace Memorial

Before he was the "Big Train," baseball's greatest pitcher was the original "Humboldt Thunderbolt." 

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Walter Johnson, who some historians consider the greatest pitcher in baseball history, was born on a farm outside Humboldt, Kansas, on November 6, 1887. As a child, he would help his parents, Frank and Minnie, manage their 160-acre farm. However, by the time Walter was 13, his parents had to sell the farm due to ongoing drought, and Walter moved into Humboldt, where he attended school. 

Walter Johnson moved with his family to Southern California in 1902, where he began to pick up the game of baseball. An athletic child, he picked the game up quickly, becoming something of a phenom who began to garner attention, first from local and regional semipro teams, and eventually, by 1907, the Washington Senators.

The Senators were a notorious doormat when Johnson joined the franchise, but he soon distinguished himself as a star. The “Big Train,” as he was known, would spend his entire career with the Washington, D.C., franchise, setting records, winning two Most Valuable Player awards, and dragging the traditionally moribund franchise to its only World Series win in 1924.

Johnson rode his famous fastball to 417 career wins and over 3,500 strikeouts. His 165.1 Wins Above Replacement (bWAR), according to Baseball Reference, is the most all-time by any pitcher, and second only among all players to Babe Ruth. After his career was over, Johnson would become a manager and broadcaster, and unsuccessfully ran for Congress as a Republican. In 1936, he became one of the five players chosen to be part of the initial class of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

This marker is a tribute not only to Walter Johnson, but also to Dick Davis. Davis, a resident of nearby Chanute, Kansas, was a baseball historian who focused on promoting the legacy of Johnson and George Sweatt, a Negro Leaguer player who was also born in Humboldt and who eventually played for the legendary Kansas City Monarchs. Davis’s goal was to encourage tourists and baseball historians to visit Humboldt, and he worked with local officials to build a welcome sign and this plaque, which was erected in 2001 with the blessing and acknowledgment of Johnson’s family. In 2023, after Davis’s passing, a new sign was built along the highway, officially welcoming visitors to see the home of the “Original Humboldt Thunderbolt.”

Know Before You Go

Walter Johnson's birth site is open to the public, located at the end of approximately 2.5 miles of level unpaved road. Be wary of weather and site conditions before driving.

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