Toledo’s Day in the Sun

The day was July 4th, and the year was 1919, marking the 100th anniversary of “Toledo’s Day in the Sun” on July 4th, 2019. That day, 100 years ago, was to be an auspicious occasion for two men that were to meet inside the boxing ring. The City of Toledo, Ohio played host to one of the most unforgettable boxing matches in history. Jack Dempsey, was attempting to defeat the world heavyweight boxing champion, Jess Willard. Jack Dempsey, aka, “The Manassa Mauler” was born in Manassa, Colorado on June 24, 1895, but grew up in Logan County, WV, where his parents were born. Jess Willard was born in Pottawatomie Co., Kansas on December 29, 1881.

Jack Dempsey was 6′ 1″ with a 77 inch reach. Jess Willard was 6′ 6-1/2″, had an 83 inch reach and outweighed Dempsey by 58 pounds.

Jack Dempsey (left) and Jess Willard (right)
Images courtesy of Wikipedia

A 97,000 wooden seat capacity stadium was built around the boxing ring for the occasion in anticipation of a very large crowd, which turned out to be about 45,000 people (spectator numbers have been disputed depending who you believe). That day of July 4th was a sweltering one as the temperature reached 95 degrees. The scorching heat even affected the newly cut wood of the constructed stadium, with sap oozing from the wood making it impossible for the crowd to sit down without ruining their clothing.

Prior to the fight, Jess Willard made some remarks about his opponent that only fueled the fire that motivated Jack Dempsey. Willard didn’t even really train for this fight, but the opposite was true for Dempsey. Dempsey poured his heart and soul into training for this boxing match. What the crowd witnessed that day became an historic event in the world of boxing and for the City of Toledo. It even garnered an historical marker.

Ohio Historical Marker
Dempsey-Willard Fight
Image courtesy of remarkableohio.org

As the first round began, it was apparent that the smaller statured Dempsey was on the hunt, as he relentlessly pursued and struck his larger opponent. Just a mere 30 seconds into the first round, Dempsey landed a huge left blow to Willard’s jaw, reportedly breaking it in over a dozen places. Willard went down to the mat. Willard got back up and was knocked down repeatedly, just in the first round.

Willard taking a blow to the chin
from Dempsey
Image courtesy of Wikipedia

The boxing match only lasted another two rounds. By the beginning of the fourth round, Jess Willard did not leave his corner. The fight was over and Jack Dempsey began his reign as the heavy weight boxing champion of the world for the next 7 years.

Dempsey remained a celebrity for the rest of his life after his boxing days were done. He opened a restaurant during the 1930’s and also became a Lt. Commander and Commander in the Coast Guard Reserve during World War II. He remained in the public eye until his death.

Jack Dempsey passed away at the age of 87 on May 31, 1983 in New York.

As for Jess Willard, the injuries reported that Willard sustained from the fight could not be substantiated, and are highly disputable, but none the less, the reports of his injuries still persist to this day. Therefore, besides the severely broken jaw that was apparently sustained by Jess Willard, it was also reported that he had a broken cheek bone, broken ribs and permanent hearing loss.  Jess Willard slipped into retirement after the fight and only boxed for exhibitions.

Jess Willard did manage to parlay his boxing fame into minor roles for vaudeville, a role in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and starred in a 1919 film called “The Challenge of Chance”. In 1933, he also had a minor role in the boxing movie, “The Prizefighter and the Lady”.

Jess Willard passed away 2 weeks shy of his 87th birthday on December 15, 1968 in Los Angeles.

More To the Story…

What a lot of people don’t know is that there were 2 other notable gentlemen present at this event, who took it upon themselves to start gathering guns and knives from spectators as they entered the stadium. Bat Masterson, former sheriff of Dodge City, Kansas and his good friend and my ancestral cousin, Wyatt Earp. Wyatt Earp was 71 years old at the time, but I’m sure with their inherent notoriety, the presence of Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson surely instilled not only a sense of fear in those individuals that may have been carrying any weapons, but also a calming sense of security in the rest of the crowd.

It’s no coincidence that these two men, former law enforcement legends would show up at this fight. Tex Rickard, a former law enforcement officer himself, was the fight promoter and Willard’s manger. Tex Rickard had become fast friends with Wyatt and his brother Virgil back in Wyatt’s Yukon days, where Wyatt ran a bar called “The Northern”. Rickard then met Bat Masterson at a boxing match between Terry McGovern and Jimmy Britt in New York in 1906. Both Masterson and Rickard still carried their respective badges from their days of law enforcement.

Bat Masterson had become a boxing/sports columnist and Wyatt had refereed some boxing matches himself a few years before.

Bat Masterson passed away on October 25, 1921. Tex and Wyatt remained friends until Rickard’s death on January 6, 1929. Wyatt Earp passed away 7 days later on January 13, 1929.

“Tex” Rickard (left), Bat Masterson (center) and Wyatt Earp (right)
Images courtesy of Boxing.com, Smithsonian Magazine © and “The Last Gunfight” by Jeff Guinn, 2011

In remembrance of this historic sporting event, the City of Toledo has planned a celebration with a list of events:

Toledo’s Day in the Sun

If you are interested in reading more about Wyatt Earp, check out my three part series “What Really Happened at the O.K. Corral?”

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

What can you learn?

Here is what you can take away from all of this…I was fortunate enough that by chance I found out that an ancestor was here in the city where I live today. Go to your local library to do some research, or any of the local historical societies. These institutions will have a plethora and wealth of local historical information. So dig into the history of where you live, even if your ancestors are not from that place, because you never know what you might discover.

Featured Image:

Banner image from the book of the postcard collection of Ken Levin, “You Will Do Better in Toledo: From Frogtown to Glass City”. The Collection and Writings of Ken Levin, Edited by Sandy and John R. Husman Published by The Toledo Blade, 2008

Sources:

Wikipedia, Boxing.com and Newspapers.com

Acknowledgements:

The City of Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz and his staff

Matt Lewandowski

Ken Levin, whom my wife and I met at a local event, purchasing his book, “You Will Do Better in Toledo: From Frogtown to Glass City” (he signed our copy of the book)

Special thanks to my wife, Cheryl for her continued love and her support of my writing

Brian S. Miller – this is my 35th post.

Have a happy and safe 4th of July!

2 thoughts on “Toledo’s Day in the Sun

  1. Nicely put together. I’ve never followed Jack Dempsey’s boxing career even though many family members want to believe he was their cousin. One day I may find the connection to one of my two Dempsey lines. Or maybe not. I’ve missed several of your previous posts due to being so busy researching. I hope to make up for it soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cathy, Thank you so much!! Jack Dempsey’s family has deep roots in Cabell Co. WV. Also a best friend of my wife’s, Wanda Dempsey Warnke, went to high school together near Toledo, OH at Northwood. I did some research for Wanda and found out she is 3rd cousins with Jack and actually 8th cousins with my wife, Cheryl. I love genealogy! You never know what you’ll find! Thanks again! Brian

      Liked by 1 person

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