Great Sport Writers of the Early Days of Boxing Game
Some of Best Newspaper Men of Europe and America Have Been the "Boys" Who Followed the Celebrities of the Roped Arena.
(By Jack Skelley in Yonkers Herald.)
In looking back for some thirty years I'm somewhat amazed at the sweeping off of so many noted, able and popular boxing writers, who in their salad days reported and wrote so profusely and proficiently on the fistic battles and champions of the past.
Clever, graphic, hustling, honest, sporting scribes, who never missed a big mill if they had to spend many sleepless nights, put up with all kinds of hardships and traveled many thousands of miles, under all sorts of strenuous conditions to get to a ringside by hook or by crook.
It was no Sunday school picnic in the bare knuckle days to report an important battle. To be chased from one state to another by sheriffs and the police, sleep in barns or any old place; eat whatever they could grab and still be on the alert for every bit of news and more made by the principles of a contest.
Elliott and James.
Sometimes it would be a couple of weeks before a safe battlefield could be found and even then the fight writers were more or less at the mercy of the outlaw mobs that followed up these mills on the turf.
If old Joe Elliott, of the New York Herald, or Ned James, of the Clipper, were alive today they could unfold many gruelling tales of roughing it to and from an important battle. But both these veteran scribes passed away many years ago, after very active, laborious careers. They were really the pioneer boxing journalists of America. "Old Joe," as his friends liked to call him, was a very high class newspaper man, who could write ably on most any subject, but personally he was a great admirer of the manly art and consequently made it his specialty. It was his fad indeed.
Both Elliott and James, with many other American journalists, crossed the Atlantic to report the famous Heenan-Sayers fight in England in 1860, for their respective papers. Ned James especially was a very enthusiastic follower of the ring. He was the recognized fistic authority of his day. He wrote and published many books on boxing that have long been out of print. Among them I remember the lives and battles of John Morrissey, John C. Heenan, Tom Hyer, Yankee Sullivan and numerous others. Poor James went blind long before he died and lived for many years in absolute obscurity up on a farm in Connecticut.
There was old Mark McGuire, of the New York Sun, who died in 1889. Most everybody called him by his pet name, "Toppy." His life was indeed a checkered one. Before the American News Company was established McGuire handled all the newspapers in New York city. He employed some 560 newsboys, among whom were Barney Williams, who became a famous Irish comedian; Judge Dowling, Superintendent of Police Kelso and other men who subsequently attained great prominence. Among his customers were Andrew Jackson, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun and T. A. Benyon. McGuire later ran the "Cayuago" roadhouse, at McComb's Dam, which was a resort for old Commodore Vanderbilt, Robert Bonner and other noted men. Later in life Editor Charles A. Dana, of the Sun, made him the fighting scribe of his paper. "Toppy" never missed an important battle and had a fund of fistic information. He was as honest as the day is long in all fistic writings and doings.
J. B. McCormack.
John B. McCormack, who for many years wrote for the Cincinnati Enquirer and other leading papers under the nom de plume of "Macon," played quite an important part in fistic journalist in his day. In 1880, McCormack matched John L. Sullivan against Prof. John Donaldson. This was Sullivan's first noted battle and he won it with a knockout after twelve rounds. "Macon" reported all the important championship mills for almost the past fifty years. He knew the game from A to Z and was a very prolific writer on his pet subject of boxing. Mr. McCormack passed in after a very active career some seven years ago. His son, George McCormack, who was also a sporting writer, especially on boxing and baseball, died from the white plague about a year ago.
Most every sport knew the genial Harry Weldon who so ably filled the position of sporting editor on the Cincinnati Enquirer for so many years. He was probably the most popular writer of his class in the Middle-West. His sad death a few years ago was not only a great loss to his host of friends in the baseball and pugilistic fields, but a great sorrow. Harry was a kind, whole-souled fellow with a heart as big as an ox.
John Boyle O'Reilly.
This country never had a more brilliant writer on boxing than John Boyle O'Reilly, who at his death was the editor and proprietor of the Boston Pilot. He wrote and published several books on the old game and was already to defend the manly art by his clever pen. He was widely and favorably known throughout the country as a poet and as an all-around literary genius. His name will always be held in honorable regard both because of the work he achieved and because of what his name represented not only to Irishmen, but to Americans in sympathy with the spirit of Home Rule, which is ultimately to triumph in the Emerald Isle. Mr. O'Reilly died in 1890 in Boston.
Speaking of the fistic scribes of Boston, there was Nelse Innes, formerly sporting editor of the Boston Herald, a bright, active, valorous little fellow who made a most gallant fight against consumption until he finally was counted out by old grim death away off on the hot deserts of Arizona. Charles T. Mack, another boxing writer of Boston, better known under the nom de plume of "Bill Blunt," died from the same disease in Cincinnati a few years ago. I also remember Captain A. W. Cooke of the same city who passed in about five years ago.
Peter J. Donahue.
No boxing scribe was better known some twenty years ago in the big metropolis than Peter J. Donahue, the sporting editor of the old Recorder. He wrote snappy, fearless fighting gossip under the signature of "P. Jay." In his younger days he was a fleet foot sprinter of considerable reputation. He wrote fighting for the New York World for many years, but finally went over to the Recorder with Colonel Turner. Donahue was also a very popular referee and matchmaker. He was a thoroughly honest fellow and was indeed very popular with the fans of his day. He also fell a victim to the white plague and passed away before he had reached the prime of his life twenty years ago.
Howard B. Hackett.
Howard B. Hackett was another noted boxing writer of Donahue's time. He was attached to the New York World for many years and covered all the big fights for that paper. I remember him so well at the big fistic carnival at New Orleans, in which Sullivan lost to Corbett, McAuliffe defeated Myers and I met George Dixon. It was at this carnival that Sullivan, McAuliffe and my humble self were dubbed the "Three Fighting Jacks," in 1892. Hackett was certainly a live wire in those days, and I can hardly realize he has passed and gone some fifteen years.
"Big Jim" Kennedy.
There was "big Jim" Kennedy who started out as a pugilistic scribe on the New York Times and afterward ran the Seaside A. C. and other boxing clubs in this section of the country. Kennedy for years was associated with Pat Powers in conducting the big bicycle races at Madison Square Garden and other sporting events. He had many noted fighters under his management and was well known from the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts for his fair dealings and many worthy qualifications. Many years ago he ran some walking matches at the big garden with Billy O'Brien, who was also in his day a fighting reporter. Kennedy was only 45 years of age when he dropped dead, a victim of heart disease, in a Brighton Beach train on his way to Manhattan, April 20, 1904. O'Brien passed in many years before him.
Some of the Others.
There was Bayard Braiser of the New York Evening Journal, a very honest and worthy writer of fistic events, and Billy Norr, of the New York World, who, besides writing boxing and baseball was the author of a very realistic, graphic book entitled "Stories of Chinatown," which so interested Hall Caine, the noted English novelist, that he paid many visits to Chinatown to hunt up Norr's unique characters.
Tom Lee (not Chinese), former sporting editor of the Evening World, also passed in quite suddenly. William E. Harding, of the Police Gazette, and "Denver" Smith, a strong and able special fistic writer of the New York World, were others well known.
"Big Tom" Evans traveled over to Chantilly, France, to see the battle between John L. Sullivan and Charley Mitchell, and Bob Turnbull was also at the ringside in France. Turnbull started early in life as a boxer and fought Jack Dempsey and other middleweights. He afterward took to reporting fistic events and became attached to the New York Herald. Later he became interested in the real estate business and died worth a couple of hundred thousand dollars. All these boxing scribes have been swept away and many others I cannot recall, within a few years.
Across the Ocean.
Over in England there has also been quite a sweeping off of the boxing writers. There was George Atkinson, formerly editor of the London Sporting Life. He took a very active interest in the fighting game for many years, but finally joined the church and became a preacher. He died a few years ago. Many of the sports in this part of the country will remember little Ed Plummer, who reported so many skin glove fights for the New York papers. He also refereed many fistic and athletic events for some twenty years in this vicinity. He finally went to England and joined the staff of the Sporting Life, where he did good work until death counted him out some three years ago. I also recall Fred Gallaher, a very capable journalist, who came out to this country with a bunch of Irish and English athletes. Later he made a second trip with Charley Mitchell, then the boxing champion of England. Gallaher was a Dublin man and founded the Dublin Sport, which is still the recognized sporting authority of Ireland. He wrote for many American newspapers, but finally returned to London to write pugilism for several of the leading sporting journals of England and Ireland. Gallaher died suddenly from heart failure in London some four years ago. He had many friends on both sides of the Atlantic and was a very genial, good-natured, companionable man under all conditions and circumstances.
Old grim death has certainly played havoc among the prominent and able boxing writers of the past thirty years. As I look around the press seats nowadays at the ringsides I see but two or three scribes who reported fights in my day. All the others have joined the great majority. Their places are filled by younger men who know little of the hardships, dangers and all night toil of their worthy predecessors. Very few indeed of the leading fighters of the past thirty years have been counted out, but what a sweeping away of the boxing scribes! They were a good, honest, hard-working bunch and their conscientious labors in the interest of the manly art should not be forgotten. They are classed with the champions of their day.