Harry N. Pillsbury’s final correspondence to ACB

Pillsbury’s end was sad and prolonged… ChessBase has a good article on him which I will briefly quote as they do a good job outlining the facts of his end:

Disease and madness

In April/May 1904 Pillsbury played his last big tournament, in Cambridge-Springs. Though he managed to beat Lasker he finished only ninth. Marshall won the tournament. By now Pillsbury was markedly affected by his disease. He suffered from permanent headaches and restlessness and barely managed to play the tournament to its end. After the tournament he played only two more games in his life. He wrote the chess column for the Philadelphia Inquirer because he needed money but felt unable to give simultaneous exhibitions.

On March 1, 1905 Pillsbury was hospitalised and is said to have tried to throw himself out of a window. On March 7, 1905 he suffered a stroke. On March 27, 1905, he had an operation in the in Presbyterian Hospital in Philadelphia which apparently helped him a bit because on May 13, he gave another simultaneous exhibition. In November 1905 he went to the Bermudas with his wife to recuperate but suffered another stroke. One more stroke followed in March 1906 and on June 17, 1906 Pillsbury died at the age of 33 at the Frankford Hospital in Frankford, which today is a part of Philadelphia. He was buried at the Laurel Hill Cemetery, in Reading, Massachusetts.

.                                                                                                     — ChessBase  – André Schulz 12/5/2017 


The purpose of this blog post is to follow the notices in ACB v3 (1906) of Pillsbury’s afflictions, which include a final correspondence by Pillsbury, who wished it published. We begin with the March notice of Pillsbury’s impending demise:

ACB v3 N3 (Mar 1906) p54


Three months later, in the June issue, ACB published a message from Pillsbury he wished to send to the general chess readership:

ACB v3 N6 (Jun 1906) p117


The next month’s issue, despite Pillsbury’s optimistic letter, contained news of his death (ACB v3 N7 (Jul 1906) p121-122):

Harry Nelson Pillsbury 

(Aside – note that the death notice refers to Pillsbury’s letter as published in June being received in May.)


To facilitate internet searches I’ll include the text versions of the above notices:

Harry Nelson Pillsbury.

Shocking news emanates from Philadelphia in the shape of a report that Harry N. Pillsbury is at the point of death, paralysis of the left side having set in following an attack of apoplexy. At the most, according to the physicians in attendance, America’s chess champion can hope to live but a few weeks longer. His recent trip to Bermuda, undertaken for the purpose of recuperation, did not accomplish for him what had been expected. Pillsbury is in the prime of his young manhood, having celebrated his 33rd birthday on December 5th last. The reports from his bedside are very discouraging and hold out little comfort. Unless the old adage, “While there’s life, there’s hope,” is applicable in his case. America will shortly be called upon to mourn the loss of her greatest chess genius since Paul Morphy’s day.

.                                                                                                                               — ACB v3 N3 (Mar 1906) p54


A Message from Harry Pillsbury.

That the hopelessness of the American chess champion’s condition was grossly exaggerated in the news reports, hastily circulated about the time the apoplectic stroke laid him low, will be agreeable news to his host of friends the world over. Firm determination tempered by a buoyant .cheerfulness is the key note of the following statement issued by Pillsbury under his own signature:

“I am very much alive, although, as I understand reported, out of chess for all time—and other various sensational stories about me. I had a very close call no doubt, but my “rough and ready” bringing up has given me something of a constitution. What I went through in Nuremberg showed a bit of what I can stand.”

The champion’s friends have prevailed upon him to remain throughout the summer under the immediate care of the physicians who have had charge of his case. The cost of the special treatment provided for him is defrayed from a fund raised by means of voluntary contributions, and of which Mr. Walter Penn Shipley, 404 Girard Building, Philadelphia, Pa., is the treasurer. The champion’s enforced absence from chess is a national loss and concerns one part of our country as much as another.

.                                                                                                                         — ACB v3 N6 (Jun 1906) p117


Harry Nelson Pillsbury.

Bom, Somerville, Mass, December 5, 1872.
Died, Frankford, Pa., June 17, 1906

Coming so soon after the characteristically cheerful statement made by the American chess champion in May, and printed in the Bulletin last month, the sad demise of Harry Nelson Pillsbury, following a comparatively brief period of confinement, shocked and dumfounded not alone his own countrymen, but spread sadness among a million devotees who feel themselves lastingly indebted to the grand player for pleasure they derived from imperishable contributions to his art, and whose admiration the’talents, skill and genius of the lamented master compelled.

This great calamity to American chess occurred on Sunday, June 17, 1906, at Frankford, Pa., where the master had been under special treatment since January 24 last, a fortnight after his return to Philadelphia from Bermuda, whither he had gone with Mrs. Pillsbury on November 8, 1905. He suffered his first stroke of apoplexy on March 7, but showed wonderful recuperative powers after a most severe attack. The.end came when the world at large was encouraged to hope for his return to his former activities.

Cut off in the prime of life, at a time when he could reasonably have been expected to attain a crowning climax, but nevertheless, after one of the most brilliant chess careers on record, Pillsbury’s work suddenly ceased and his master mind, released from what in some sense were too exhausting efforts, fled to soar above, leaving the world a memory of transcending achievements that must survive as long as chess does last or its history continues to be handed down to future generations.

From the time he first came to New York, during the early nineties, Pillsbury began to be known as the “Morphy of the North,” and his startling performance at Hastings, a few years later, furnished ample justification of the use of this honorable title. Considering his tournament record, which few can match, his position as United States champion, and his unexcelled feats in blindfold chess, Harry Pillsbury earned the right to a place in the niche of fame alongside of Paul Morphy, and in the light of the Southern genius’ most worthy successor, his grateful countrymen will ever regard him.

The American Chess Bulletin, in common with many contemporaries, from which liberal quotations are printed in this issue, offers sincere and heart- felt condolences to Mrs. Pillsbury in this her hour of tribulation.

.                                                                                                                         — ACB v3 N7 (Jul 1906) p121-2

Here is a report from BCM in May, 1906, which also asserted that Pillsbury’s condition was not as grave as originally reported:

BCM v26 N5 (May 1906) p200

And the notice of Pillsbury’s death in July’s BCM:

BCM v26 N7 (Jul 1906) p288


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