Until the very end of the first U.S. Men's National Curling Championship tournament, just completed at Chicago Stadium, a ruddy, rotund, bright-eyed man of 55 named Hughston M. McBain seemed to be trying hard to keep his high spirits under control.
It was Mr. McBain who conceived the idea of staging the first national championships under the quiet sponsorship of Marshall Field & Company, the famed Chicago department store of which he is board chairman. Thus, it fell to him to stand in the place of honor for the colorful opening ceremonies (with the 40 participating curlers marching on the ice and 55 kilted girl drummers and bagpipers from the University of Iowa adding a further decorative note) and to deliver the address of welcome to the 10 rinks (teams to you, possibly) before hurrying down to the ice to throw the first stone. The night before, Mr. McBain sought to compose himself by going to bed early, curling (naturally) up with a book on the game written by a Scots parson, the Reverend John Kerr, in 1880. Mr. McBain was pleased to note that the Reverend referred to the game as "a commoner's game," since he has been trying to nail the canard that curling is a rich man's fancy. Mr. McBain slept like a rock, or rather a stone.
Next day, Mr. McBain looked longingly at his kilts and the plaids of the McBain clan but bravely put on the uniform of a board chairman, a conservative business suit, instead. Thus attired, he delivered his welcoming address. But when he got down on the ice to dispatch the first stone, his effervescence started to boil over. And when the stone went skimming down the ice and into the "house" (assisted by a nudge from a prankish curler's toe), Mr. McBain could restrain himself no longer. He whirled and took a few running steps and then vaulted into the grandstand.
As play began, Mr. McBain was all over the place, talking, laughing, back-slapping, collaring friends for a quick one at the Broom Closet, the public bar, or the Rock Pile, a private bar for tournament officials. Outside the bars, Mr. McBain had plenty of elbow room. The biggest crowd at any one time during the four-day tournament was under 2,000. The Chicago Stadium seats 18,000.
Mr. McBain's spirits soared dangerously from time to time, but he remained true to his buiness suit. One day he sought to fortify himself against exuberance by rushing off to attend a meeting of Illinois Bell Telephone Company directors. But, as the tournament progressed and the curling grew more exciting, it became clear to close observers that there was a growing gleam in the McBain eye, a brighter red on the McBain cheek. At last, on the final, thrilling night, Mr. McBain threw caution (and his business suit) to the winds, hustled into his red plaid jacket, McBain tartan, and dark green pants and roared out a happy and triumphant summation of the tournament play: "Curling is going to grow and grow—like golf, like hockey, like bowling!"
What provoked this McBain extravagance (there are, after all, supposed to be 20 million bowlers) was a rousing finish to the tournament in which Hibbing, Minnesota fought off a determined bid by Minot, North Dakota, to win 12-6 and wind up the bonspiel with eight wins against one loss.
If North Dakota had won (it was leading 5-4 halfway through the game), it would have taken two games to break the three-way tie. And that would have meant curling straight through until dawn because the Stadium ice was scheduled to be melted and replaced for the Ice Capades, the next Stadium attraction.
This development was averted when Minnesota, sparked by its skip, Harold Lauber, and "second," Petey Beasy, a sort of curling Leo Durocher, picked up three points in the sixth and went on to score four more in the next two ends. The victory was particularly satisfying to Hughston McBain because it served to dramatize his point that curlers come from all walks of life. The Minnesota rink included a golf pro, a lumber foreman, a beer distributor and a city employee.
In this first national tournament, nine states (plus Alaska) were represented. In the next one—or one not far off—there are likely to be rinks entered from all 48 states and maybe, who knows, Hawaii.