Archibald Wright “Moonlight” Graham

“If you build it, they will come,” intones a mysterious voice at the beginning of Field of Dreams, the classic 1989 baseball movie. If you like baseball, you like Field of Dreams—that is an unavoidable fact of life. If you don’t like baseball, you also like Field of Dreams. There is no group that dislikes Field of Dreams; there are only those who have seen it and those who haven’t. The film’s high concept is flawless, after all: “what if baseball ghosts loved the Midwest more than the afterlife?”

As deserved as it may be, this post isn’t meant simply to sing the praises of Kevin Costner: one particular aspect of the movie relates to UNC specifically and especially.

Field of Dreams features an elderly doctor and ex-baseball player for the New York Giants, “Moonlight” Graham (played by Burt Lancaster). This character wasn’t entirely fictional and was based on one Archibald Graham, older brother of Frank Porter Graham: UNC system president, UNC student union namesake, and U.S. senator. President Graham admired his elder sibling and wanted to pursue a career in baseball himself, but luckily for the UNC system it didn’t take off.

Image of the UNC baseball team from the 1900 yearbook. Moonlight is the player with crossed arms on the far right, below the suited figure.

“Moonlight” was born in Fayetteville in 1879, and was a skilled baseball player since childhood. He pursued that passion for the game during his time at UNC-Chapel Hill (Frank Porter Graham did too, but as the Carolina Alumni Review points out, “it was Archie who could hit”). He put off advancing as a doctor to enter the minor leagues, and some suspect that’s where his famous nickname came from: moonlighting as a ball player to pay his way to a doctorate.

In 1902 he finally earned a certificate of medicine from UNC and completed his degree in 1905, at the University of Maryland. In 1909 he left North Carolina for the small town of Chisholm in Minnesota, where he established himself as the local doctor. As he lived there he became a beloved father figure to the community, only rarely returning to NC.

Archie passed away in 1965, and the Chisholm Free Press honored him with a story:

He was the champion of the oppressed; the grand marshal of every football, basketball, and baseball game. He encouraged youth to train and play; he always carried that extra candy bar for the energy some lanky, hungry lad needed; he was the first one at the side of the boy who got hurt in any sport. Doc was just that kind of man.

Read more about Moonlight Graham here.

Sources and Recommended Reading:

Carolina Alumni Review: September/October 2005

Chasing Moonlight : The True Story of Field of Dreams’ Doc Graham

The Hellennian (1900)

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