Thine, Jack: Jack Bentley WWI Letters Home

For more than a century, hometown hero Jack Bentley’s baseball fame has been a source of pride for the Sandy Spring community. In 1913 at the age of eighteen, Jack was launched from playing high school baseball straight to the major leagues as a pitcher for the Washington Senators. Thus began an athletic career that oscillated between the major and minor leagues, in which he played for teams up and down the East Coast. Often referred to as “the next Babe Ruth,” his baseball prowess afforded him audiences with royalty and presidents, as well as a network of famous friends across Montgomery County. Despite this national notoriety, Jack remained grounded by his deep local roots.

With a “ready wit and booming bass-baritone voice,” Jack’s strong civic-mindedness kept him tightly woven within the fabric of Sandy Spring throughout his entire life. Whether as the founding president of the youth Pigeon Club, passionate breeder of the Brooke foxhounds, or Christmas tree farmer on the family’s Oakleigh property, Jack’s impression upon the neighborhood extended far beyond a local boy making good. This legacy continues today as the land upon which the Museum now stands was donated in his memory by his second wife, Helen.

In addition to the land, Helen also gave the Museum a trove of his personal items. Among this collection are letters written by Jack to his family while serving overseas during the First World War. Having once been described as “something of a philosopher,” Jack’s writing elegantly displays a young man yearning for home, processing the horrors he witnessed yet protecting his family from this reality with an upbeat tone and musings of life after the war.

Private Bentley was stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland before deploying to France with the 313th Infantry, “the Boys of Baltimore and Eastern Shore.” Bruce Evans, narrator and Sandy Spring Museum Board of Trustees member, brings these letters to life in a 75-minute digital production recounting Bentley’s nineteen-months of military service.

In addition to the inspired gift of Bruce Evans’ time and talents, this project would not be possible without the generosity of an anonymous donor providing funds to digitize the Museum’s entire historic document collection.

This project has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this project, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.