Part I is here.
I have to admit. I giggled a lot going through Hank Kaplan’s files. Kaplan was referred to as the “Sweetest Scientist” for his knowledge of the fight game and his expansive archive revealed how he amassed such knowledge: He read.
Local papers. National papers. International digests and journals. Short notes from friends and broadly-circulated newsletters. Fragile and flaking articles cut from early issues of The Ring and National Police Gazette. Newspaper, magazine, bulletin, and newsletter clippings probably fill a handsome majority of the 695 cubic feet of the Hank Kaplan Boxing Archive.
He also watched. As a publicist, promoter, writer, analyst, and life-long fan, Kaplan saw an innumerable amount of fights. There are notes and results scribbled on fight programs. Official weights were written down, then crossed out and replaced with weights at fight-night. Interviews, articles, and blurbs on seemingly all who laced up the gloves were saved.
Information on fighters — well-known world champs to tomato cans to … who was that guy, again? — fill 60 boxes. The vast majority of boxers who answered the bell are lost to time, but they’re remembered in the files of the Hank Kaplan Boxing Archive.
There’s another 36 boxes that contain files on Jewish boxers. And 43 on Muhammed Ali alone. In total, there are 1,335 document boxes organized into 20 subgroups, and further arranged from there.
It is glorious.
The finding aid is available online and the collection is processed down to the folder level. Just a quick glance will show you how great a resource this is.
And now… Research reactions and fangirling via poorly drawn stick figure!!
There’s a reference in the January 24, 1962, edition of “Graham’s Corner” (a feature in the defunct New York Journal-American) to Ethel Barrymore being a regular attendee at wrestling cards that were held in New York’s Lexington Avenue Opera House. If that grand dame of the theater could see the entertainment value of wrestling and sit through a card at its vaudevillian best, what the fuck is everyone else’s problem?
Jack Curley was a promoter (of both wrestling and boxing) who put on the famous Jess Willard-Jack Johnson heavyweight championship fight of 1915. The full fight film is embedded below and Curley is introduced at 6:56.
In part 24 of his serialized memoir, published in The Ring, he discussed his favorite fights in each of the weight classes and said “… I always will believe that the best heavyweight fighter I ever saw was the Willard who wrested the title from Johnson at Havana and so, regained the title for the white race.” That line made me bust out with an audible “Holy shit.” Things were different back then, I know, but just seeing the racial terminology used in the parlance of the day and in the numerous ancient clippings stuffed in those folders… just holy shit.
A positive “Holy shit!” moment came from the Curley file, too. In 1913, he promoted an Emmeline Pankhurst speech in New York, “in an effort to bring votes for women in a time when this national problem was a thorn in the sides of our congressional leaders” (unfortunately, Kaplan clipped off information regarding the author and publisher of this piece, and the only identifying information was “9/37” written in the margin).
This was my immediate reaction to the Pankhurst event:
Take your “Diva Revolution” and blow it out your ass, Vince. Curley booked towards real change!
Even before the advent of Godwin’s Law, at least one person HAD to put in a Hitler reference.
Naturally, files on boxing include some depressing shit. Two of note: Pinkie George‘s story on his greatest promotion (stay tuned for part III!! /shill)…
… and an aging fighter’s request for one more bout so he could pay for his daughter’s first communion dress. So many sads.
But now onto the happy!
Tex Rickard’s always been one of my favorites in boxing history. He was my favorite boxing promoter. The Rickard file did bring the giddiness and I very much enjoyed reading about the grandeur of Madison Square Garden in its hey day. It must have been a marvelous sight to a pair of unjaded eyes.
Note that I wrote Rickard was my favorite. That award now goes to Jess McMahon. Mostly for his story about how he got away with holding Lincoln Giants baseball games on Sundays, which was illegal in the teens and twenties during the Tammany Hall era.
I held a Don King contract. I felt dirty, but slightly giddy, as if I snuck a peek in the Devil’s briefcase while he was busy holding court in the loo. It was an old contract but… It felt weeeeeeeirrrrdddddd.
I wanted to go back in time and flip soooooo many birds. To the dude who wrote the “male pugilists need have no fear that feminine competition will cause them to hang up the gloves and take to darning, rather than delivering, socks!” line in a 1934 The Ring piece, and to the Cauliflower Alley Club newsletter writer who, in 1979, deemed it oh so necessary to mansplain to the club’s 20 or so female members about the meaning of “man” in “five-man commission”.
I know, I know… time and place, time and place, still…
Blow me, geezers.