Fenway Park not just home to the Red Sox

Baseball has hardly been the only attraction at this versatile venue, which has hosted football games, concerts, political rallies . . . even elephants

The Bruins played the Flyers in the NHL’s Winter Classic on Jan. 1, 2010, at Fenway Park.
Jim Davis/Globe Staff
The Bruins played the Flyers in the NHL’s Winter Classic on Jan. 1, 2010, at Fenway Park.

You know Fenway Park as the home of Hall of Famers Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, and Jim Rice, as a place where baseball is cherished. But the Green Monster has been a backdrop for far more than baseball in the last century.

John Phillips Sousa, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Joe Namath, Ray Charles, Pele, and Bruce Springsteen are among the notable figures who appeared at Fenway, if only for a single day. Their stories are part of the historical fabric of the park, even if they aren’t as celebrated.

According to ‘‘Field of Our Fathers, An Illustrated History of Fenway Park’’ by Richard A. Johnson, the first non-baseball event at Fenway was a field day of track events hosted by the Boston Elks Lodge on Aug. 10, 1912.


The featured performer was Jim Thorpe, fresh off winning the decathlon at the Olympics in Stockholm.

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In June 1914, Fenway hosted three elephants who were purchased for the Franklin Park Zoo with money donated by Boston school children. Many of those children — the crowd was estimated at 50,000 — turned out at Fenway to see the new arrivals plod across the field.

June 7, 1914: Elephant trio presented at Fenway Park

College football arrived at Fenway in 1914 with Boston College playing Dartmouth.

Political rallies were once a staple at Fenway. On June 29, 1919, a crowd of 50,000 turned out to hear a speech from Eamon de Valera, president of the Irish Republic.


June 30, 1919: Eamon De Valera pleads Irish cause at Fenway

Paul J. Maguire/Globe Staff
Fenway Park was reconfigured for football for several decades, and the Patriots called it home for 41 games in the 1960s.

On Nov. 4, 1944, only five months before his death, Roosevelt gave his final campaign speech at Fenway. Wracked by polio, Roosevelt spoke from a car driven onto a platform behind second base, lit by floodlights. A crowd of 40,000 packed the grandstands, with another 15,000 listening from the streets around the park. Frank Sinatra, Orson Welles, and Kate Smith were among the celebrities on hand.

Nov. 5, 1944: Fenway Park is spectacle of color as leaders rally for FDR

‘‘Our young men and our young women are fighting not only for their existence, their homes, and their families,’’ said Roosevelt, ‘‘they also are fighting for a country and a world where men and women of all races, colors, and creeds can live, and work, and speak and worship — in peace and freedom and security.’’

The crowd chanted ‘‘We Want Roosevelt’’ as his car circled the warning track.


Football games were so frequent at Fenway Park in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s that the yard markers were practically permanent.

The New York Giants, a fledgling professional team, played at Fenway in 1927. The Boston Redskins, a member of the new NFL, used the field in 1934. Bronko Nagurski and his Chicago Bears battered the Redskins, 26-0, in 1936 at Fenway.

The Bears returned in 1942 to play Army in a charity game before 40,000. The Bears, under George Halas, sweated out a 14-7 victory.

The Harlem Globetrotters faced a team of local all-stars at Fenway in 1954, the only time basketball was played at the park.

July 30, 1954: Globetrotters put on a display at Fenway

Boston Globe/File
In 1944, Fenway Park hosted President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a rally days before his re-election.

In 1959, a star-studded lineup performed at the Boston Jazz Festival at Fenway. Dave Brubeck, Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Dinah Washington were among those in the lineup.

The Boston Patriots made their debut at Fenway in 1963. The Patriots would play at Fenway for six seasons.

Oct. 12, 1963: Patriots roar back for win in Fenway debut

‘‘It was a lot of fun,’’ said wide receiver/kicker Gino Cappelletti. ‘‘We didn’t have our own stadium, so it became our home. We had been playing at BU. There are a lot of memories.’’

The Patriots were 5-1-1 at Fenway in 1963 that season before losing in the AFL championship game.

In all, the Patriots played 41 games at Fenway. The final football game at Fenway Park was Dec. 1, 1968. The Patriots beat the Cincinnati Bengals, 33-14, before a modest gathering of 17,796. That ended six decades of football at a park built for baseball.

Pele, the soccer superstar, drew 18,431 fans to Fenway in July 1968. His team, Santos of Brazil, beat the Boston Beacons, 7-1.

July 9, 1968: Pele paces Santos over Beacons at Fenway

A few, shall we say, less-refined athletes invaded Fenway on June 28, 1969, as Bruno Sammartino, Killer Kowalski, and George ‘‘The Animal’’ Steele drew 12,000 for the first wrestling card there since the 1930s.

Charles B. Carey/ Globe Staff
The Boston Beacons of the NASL called Fenway Park home in 1968.

Fenway hosted another jazz festival in 1973 that dissolved into what was described as ‘‘pandemonium’’ and required a heavy police presence.

For about 30 years starting in 1973, Fenway was used exclusively for baseball. Outside of an occasional college game, the gates opened only for Red Sox games.

That changed when John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino purchased the Red Sox in 2001.

‘‘We tried to ramp up the rpm level in all levels of business operations, including the use of the park,’’ chief operating officer Sam Kennedy said. ‘‘There are only 81 baseball games, plus playoffs, a year. Using a premium location for other events just makes sense.’’

With a directive from team president Lucchino to be selective, the Red Sox opened Fenway to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band for shows on Sept. 6 and 7, 2003. He began both nights with ‘‘Take Me Out To The Ballgame’’ and told the sellout crowds his shows were a ‘‘rock and roll exorcism’’ that would drive out the supposed ‘‘Curse of the Bambino.’’

Sept. 7, 2003: Bruce Springsteen turns Fenway into house party

A year later, Springsteen was proven correct as the Red Sox won their first World Series since 1918.

Jimmy Buffett, the Rolling Stones, Phish, the Dave Matthews Band, Paul McCartney, and Aerosmith are among the musical acts that have played at Fenway since.

David L. Ryan/Globe staff
The Red Sox have brought music concerts back to Fenway Park in recent years. This stage was set up for a Neil Diamond concert in 2008.

In Kennedy’s estimation, the 2010 NHL Winter Classic was the premier non-baseball event at Fenway under Henry’s ownership. The Bruins beat the Flyers, 2-1, in overtime before 38,112 fans.

Jan. 2, 2010: Winter Classic at Fenway a grand slam on ice

‘‘Stepping out of the dugout and looking out to the left, seeing the Citgo sign, was probably one of the most surreal experiences of my playing days,’’ said Bruins forward Shawn Thornton. ‘‘It was pretty cool. It really was. Bobby [Orr] was leading us out . . . I never, ever thought I’d be there.’’

The hockey rink came back the next two winters for a series of college games, high school games, and community skating. The Red Sox plan to take a break from hockey next winter.

Fenway hosted a soccer game between European powers Celtic FC and Sporting Lisbon in 2010. A game featuring Liverpool FC, also owned by Henry and Werner, is planned for this summer along with the return of Springsteen.

July 22, 2010: Celtic, Sporting bring soccer back to Fenway

A long-term goal is the return of football for the first time since 1968.

‘‘We would love to have a football game,’’ said Kennedy. ‘‘College football especially makes sense to us. We have pursued some different ideas. Having a big-time college matchup would be perfect. We know the dimensions work.’’

The difficulty would come in getting a team to give up a home game. But Fenway Park is an unequaled draw.

‘‘It’s something we’re working on,’’ Kennedy said.

Cappelletti hopes to see it happen, too.

‘‘I have a lot of great memories of playing at Fenway Park,’’ he said. ‘‘The Red Sox aren’t the only ones who can say that.’’