4/23/12 - honey, i forgot to duck

In today's excerpt - in 1926, Philadelphia hosted a boxing match with the 120,000 spectators, a record attendance for a prizefight. Celebrities from Charlie Chaplin to William Randolph Hearst were in attendance. It was an effort to recoup losses from the financially disastrous Sesquicentennial celebrating the 150th anniversary of the founding of America:

"The Philadelphia Sesquicentennial celebrated the 150th anniversary of the founding of the nation in 1926. Built in South Philadelphia in the area now occupied by sports venues, the fair featured an eighty-foot-tall replica of the Liberty Bell covered with 26,000 lights. It rained on the day President Calvin Coolidge spoke at the opening ceremony in July, and it continued to rain throughout most of the rest of the fair. The weather and other factors led to financial difficulties, which some believe was the impetus for offering Sesquicentennial Stadium (later JFK Stadium) as the site of the Gene Tunney-Jack Dempsey heavyweight championship fight after plans to hold the fight at Madison Square Garden fell through.

"Dempsey was world champion, a boxer much loved by the rabid boxing fans of the 1920s. Known as the 'Manassa Mauler,' he gained his early reputation following several round-one knock-outs. Out of the ring for most of the three years preceding the fight, he had appeared in movies and on the vaudeville circuit. Dempsey's challenger, Gene Tunney, was known as an 'intellectual boxer,' not only for his interest in defense, but also because he read Shakespeare and quoted poetry. A Marine veteran, he competed in a series of fights to earn the title fight.

"Billed by promoters as 'the fight of the century,' the fight drew more than 120,000 specta­tors on this date in 1926, despite the pouring rain. Film stars such as Tom Mix and Charlie Chaplin, state governors, the mayors of Philadelphia and New York, financiers such as An­drew Mellon and Charles Schwab, and the publisher William Randolph Hearst contributed to the almost $2 million gate. It was a record attendance for a prize fight.

"Fans were largely disappointed in the fight itself. Dempsey seemed out of condition, slower, and less powerful than they remembered. The underdog Tunney made the most of his careful style, and he won the championship in a ten-round decision. Dempsey and his wife took the train back to the Midwest after the fight. At each train stop press conference, Mrs. Dempsey would ask, 'Jack, what happened?' Jack would always reply, 'Honey, I forgot to duck.' The quip was famously echoed by President Ronald Reagan many years later, in his reply to First Lady Nancy Reagan after he was shot by a would-be assassin."


Laura E. Beardsley


The Philadelphia Citizen's Almanac: Daily Readings on the City of Brotherly Love


Turner Publishing Company


Copyright 2010 by Turner Publishing Company


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