"Croquet mania” first swept through America in the late 1800's and early 1900's and enjoyed particular popularity in New York and Brooklyn where hundreds of men and women could be found playing on the Long Meadow of Prospect Park, the northern part of which also became known as the Croquet Grounds. Croquet is believed to be the first co-ed sport played in America and the first croquet club founded in the US was the Park Place Croquet Club of Brooklyn in 1864.
In 1892 the Croquet Club House (Shelter) was built near the northern area of Long Meadow by the West Drive in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. The nearby area of the Croquet Grounds were depicted in postcards of the time and painted by the American artist William Merrit Chase in one of his pastoral landscapes. The lawns were regularly mowed and rolled for play and one could rent croquet sets for a nominal fee from the club house. Unfortunately the shelter was lost to a fire in the 1950's and all that remains are two stone sets of stairs leading up to an empty wooded area.
During croquet’s popular early days in the late 1800's the 9 wicket version of the game (similar to the version played by the BC&H*C today) was the preferred form in America with variations on rules debated and published. Modern 6 wicket Association Rules croquet is played the world over but the familiar backyard game with 9 hoops has a distinctly American feel. Croquet was even an exhibition event in the 1900 Olympics in Paris!
Harpo Marx, the famous silent member of the Marx Brothers, was caught up in the center of the sports' popularity in the early 20th Century. He got a special permit from New York City to play croquet in Central Park with his friends and in his autobiography said, "Croquet mania was upon us like the plague. Croquet became the most serious thing in the lives of a lot of people who should have been concerned with far more important matters.”
The actor, screenwriter and playwright Moss Hart was another popular figure bitten by the croquet bug and eloquently said in a letter, “Croquet is a noble game; its basic element is skill, but its first requisite is a right code of ethics. Played correctly, it is a game of savagery, passion and deep almost mystic fulfillment."
Original Croquet Club House in Prospect Park, Brooklyn Images courtesy of Prospect Park Archives
Harpo Marx playing his favorite game
Croquet at Boulogne by Edouard Manet, 1871-72
Croquet Scene by Winslow Homer, 1866
Prospect Park aka Croquet Grounds by William Merritt Chase, 1886
1909 map of Prospect Park. Image courtesy of the Prospect Park Archives