Local man organizes to recognize famed tennis player
One Philadelphian is making it his mission to remember locally born Bill Tilden, an early 20th-century tennis player whom many suspect to have been gay.
Jon Rossman, 77, lives in West Mount Airy, only six minutes from Tilden’s former house on 5015 McKean Ave.
Rossman is in the process of pursuing a historical marker from the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission to place in front of Tilden’s house.
Tilden, a University of Pennsylvania grad, was born in Germantown Feb. 10, 1893. He was active in the tennis world from 1912 through the 1940s and is largely considered one of the nation’s best tennis players.
He was the first American to win Wimbledon, taking the title three times overall, and also claiming seven U.S. championships, among a number of other accolades.
But after two arrests on “morals” charges for sexual encounters with teenage boys in the 1940s, he began to disappear from the tennis world.
The Germantown Cricket Club took his photos down from their walls and the University of Pennsylvania deleted alumni records.
Tilden died in 1953 in Los Angeles at age 60 and was buried in Ivy Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.
He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1959.
Rossman, who was born in Germany but moved to the United States in 1939, said his mother had seen Tilden play.
“She had seen him play in Paris in 1928 and she told me about it,” he said. “She enjoyed watching him play and the various French champs he was beating. She told many stories and much later on, we took her to see his grave.”
Rossman said he didn’t know much about Tilden, but that his interest in recognizing the famed yet fallen player grew after he drove by Tilden’s house.
“A friend and I drove past the house in Germantown and I asked why there was no mark on it. That was a few years ago but suddenly recently, this miraculous thought came into my head and I think he deserves a marker,” he said.
In order to apply for a historical marker, interested applicants must submit an application about the historical figure or place, which must have a local or regional significance.
Applicants must submit 12 copies of materials, and PHMC does not pay for the markers. Each marker costs anywhere from $1,400- $1,875 to install.
Rossman recently received materials for the application, which is due Dec. 1.
He said he is hoping for help from local and national tennis organizations.
For more information on assisting in the application process, contact Rossman at 215-844-0779.