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The claim: Baseball fields were constructed in front of the White House in 1861
From professional baseball games played in the wake of the Civil War to presidents throwing out first pitches, the sport of baseball has long been tied to American politics and carries a lot of history.
According to one viral Facebook post, the game was so popular in the 1800s that a baseball field was erected in front of the White House.
"Throw it back to 1861 when baseball fields were constructed in front of the White House where Abe Lincoln would watch ball games with his son," reads a Facebook post Jan. 26 by the page Baseball Talk.
Accompanying the text is a black-and-white image of a purported baseball field in front of the White House. The post has 175 shares and more than 1,000 reactions.
USA TODAY was unable to reach the operators of the Facebook page for comment.
Baseball games were played in front of White House
It's true that amateur and professional baseball games were played on a field in front of the White House called the "White Lot," a 52-acre park that is now known as the Ellipse.
The field was called the White Lot because the area was enclosed by a whitewashed wooden fence. Federal employees would go there late in the afternoon after work because it was close to government buildings, according to the White House Historical Association.
Before Washington hosted a Major League Baseball team, the Senators played by the Capitol and the Nationals by the White House, according to Histories of the National Mall.
The Nationals, Washington's first baseball team, chose the Ellipse as their home field, and the team was formed in 1859, the DCist reported. Players on the team were mainly government clerks from the Treasury, the IRS and auditors' offices.
Other teams, including the Washington Mutuals and the Washington Alerts, played baseball games on the White Lot until use of the area by African American teams was prohibited in 1874, according to the White House Historical Association.
President Abraham Lincoln took an occasional break from the demands of the Oval Office to watch a baseball game on the field with his son Tad, wrote senior historian Joel Treese. In the summer of 1862, Lincoln and his son watched a game between the Quartermaster’s Department and the Commissary Department.
Image is from 1945
Though it's true that baseball games were held on the Ellipse, the black-and-white image used in the meme is from 1945, not 1861.
The photo, included on the site of the Library of Congress, was taken by Reginald Hotchkiss and is part of the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information collection.
The four diamonds in the image were not set out until 1904, when President Theodore Roosevelt formalized the park for public play, according to Histories of the National Mall.
A similar photo on the White House Historical Association site, taken by Carol Highsmith in 2010 as part of the Library of Congress collection, shows the same bird's eye view of the location but without the four diamonds present.
"The ellipse, photographed from the Washington monument, 2010," the photo's caption reads.
Our rating: Missing context
The meme claiming that baseball fields were constructed in front of the White House in 1861 is MISSING CONTEXT, based on our research. It's true that professional teams and federal workers played baseball games in front of the White House and Lincoln attended games with his son. However, the image used in the claim is from 1945, not 1861. The four diamonds on the field were not constructed until Theodore Roosevelt took office.
Our fact check sources:
Histories of the National Mall, accessed Jan. 31, The Ellipse
The White House Historical Association, accessed Jan. 31, Baseball and the White House in the Nineteenth Century
Histories of the National Mall, accessed Jan. 31, Was baseball ever played on the Mall?
DCist, Oct. 22, 2019, In 1859, The First Washington Nationals Played In Front Of The White House
Library of Congress, 1945, Washington, D.C., Views from Washington Monument
White House Historical Association, 2010, The Ellipse, photographed from the Washington Monument, 2010
Histories of the National Mall, accessed Jan. 31, The White Lot
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Image of baseball fields near White House is from 1945