'Chasing Moonlight'

by Donna Lampkins Stephens

Dr. Bob Reising is still chasing Moonlight.

Reising, the evening supervisor of the Academic Success Center at the University of Central Arkansas, co-wrote with Brett Friedlander a 2009 biography of Dr. Archibald Wright (Moonlight) Graham, the professional baseball player who played in one major league game on June 29, 1905, for the New York Giants and never got to bat. He left the major league and spent the rest of his life as the beloved town doctor of Chisholm, Minn.

But unlike the version of his story in the 1989 film “Field of Dreams,” starring Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones, Graham didn’t retire from baseball following his one major league game, in which he played two innings in right field with no hits coming near him. With two out in the top of the ninth, he was on deck, but the batter ahead of him flied out to end the game. Two weeks later, the Giants sold him to Scranton, according to msnbc.msn.com.

Instead of retiring, Graham moved in 1909 to Chisholm, Minn., where he practiced medicine until his death in 1965, while continuing to play town baseball until he was nearly 50. The Boston Red Sox offered him a contract to return to professional baseball in 1910, but he declined. He married Alecia Madden of Rochester, Minn., in 1915, became the Chisholm Public Schools’ first physician two years later and served there until retiring in 1961.

“Chasing Moonlight: The True Story of Field of Dreams’ Doc Graham” came out in paperback last year. But there is much more to the story, as Reising has discovered.

Since the book’s publication, he’s continued his research, helped by feedback from readers. He’s now involved in two Graham-related projects — writing, with the Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Paul S. Mueller, Graham’s medical biography and appearing in a documentary film featuring Graham and his wife’s nephew, Dave Madden. As a victim of polio, Madden spent 16 years in an iron lung at the Mayo Clinic. Reising said the two were close, with Graham often visiting the younger man, who became a celebrity because of his optimistic attitude.

Both works are to be released in 2013.

“I’m just very anxious to tell the story,” Reising said. “I think it is very inspiring. I have yet to find two men who in the face of adversity and great difficulty did more for humankind. Can you imagine a man in an iron lung making people feel good?”

Graham’s story begins with his birth in Fayetteville, N.C., on Nov. 10, 1879. He played professional baseball from 1901-08, during which he also earned his medical degree and completed three medical internships.

Reising writes that because of his medical training, Graham was often late reporting for spring training or left before the season ended: “Hence a teammate once aptly accused him of ‘moonlighting,’ a claim that earned him the nickname ‘Moonlight.’”

Whereas the 2009 biography focused on Graham the baseball player, Reising said in the meantime, he had come to appreciate him as a physician.

“Unknown to me, Graham was probably far ahead of his time as a medical professional,” he said. “He did some miraculous work, medically-speaking. People who know him only through ‘Shoeless Joe,’ the novel, and/or the movie “Field of Dreams” get the impression this fellow may have been a hick doctor up in the boondocks, but he did startling things medically, real breakthroughs. He was a genius.”

Reising said Graham did the first study of blood pressure in children. As Chisholm’s school physician, he surmised that many students’ illnesses might be caused by blood pressure problems, but the medical community then believed those were adult conditions. So he embarked on a 13-year study of blood pressure in school children, and in the mid-1940s took his data to the Mayo Clinic, which published it in 1945.

“It proved irrefutably that children can and do have blood pressure problems,” Reising said. “It was a breakthrough study so significant that it became mandatory reading in medical schools all over the world. It’s still cited.”

Chasing Moonlight led to his collaboration with Mueller, chair of general internal medicine at the Mayo Clinic. Mueller had collected material about Graham in advance of writing the medical biography, and he told Reising his book “halted” him. Reising’s June trip to Minnesota was the result.

“The biography really opened his eyes to some points that he didn’t feel comfortable with, so it was at that point that I received a call from the Mayo,” Reising said. “Essentially, he’s providing the medical expertise and I have the human element, people who actually knew Graham or were treated by Graham. So I’m trying to dig into his medical practice, how he handled it; for instance, what was a typical day like?”

During the 10-day trip to Minnesota, he did more interviews to go with the material left over from the book.

“As the book came off the presses, I was still learning more about Graham,” he said. “They’d tell me stories. At the book signing in 2009 in Chisholm, someone leaned across my shoulder and told me a wonderful story about Graham.”

After his conversations with the Mayo Clinic began, he learned of Madden, who died in 1963 after 16 years in the iron lung, a tank respirator that helped maintain the breathing of polio patients until they could breathe independently.

“Moonlight visited him regularly,” Reising said. “He was well received and well respected by the medical faculty of the Mayo. Once in a moment of crisis, there was a catastrophe in Rochester and the Mayo actually put him to work seeing patients.

“(Graham and Madden) also talked baseball. Madden was 19 or 20, in perfect health, when he was struck, and he became a celebrity as the most cordial, upbeat, optimistic man most men had ever met. He refused to be visited by people who felt sorry for him, and he once publicly said he was happy to be in the iron lung because he’d been in such terrible agony, such excruciating pain, prior to his insertion into the iron lung.”

People called Madden the good-humored man.

“He’s been called a saint,” Reising said. “He was never in a bad mood. Charlie Finley, owner of the Oakland A’s, outfitted him in a portable iron lung and had a special ambulance take him from Rochester to Minneapolis to watch the Minnesota Twins play. One of the highlights was seeing Jack Kralick, the Minnesota pitcher, throw his no-hitter.”

Reising said Madden ran a television rental business from the iron lung and was visited by President Dwight Eisenhower, 1952 Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson and the actor Danny Kaye, among others.

“He was an amazing man in the face of this devastating, debilitating ailment,” Reising said.

He said the medical biography would aid the Mayo Clinic’s documentary on Graham and Madden, which will be featured at the clinic’s annual celebration in 2013.

“I think they had plans to do something about Madden and Moonlight and came upon my book,” he said. “I was interviewed for two hours. Now we’re waiting for the film to be finished.”

For more information about Reising’s projects, including a presentation detailing the upcoming film and medical biography, contact him at 501.852.2265 or [email protected]