Monday, March 19, 2012

Scarce Copy Of "The Blind Pugilist" Sees Light of Day

by Stephen J. Gertz

"Every boy has a hobby, and my hobby was fighting," so says Philadelphia boxer, cigar store owner, and sometime dog trainer Ellwood McCloskey (1872-1927), known as "the Old War Horse of the Prize Ring," in The Blind Pugilist, a promotional memoir rich with vivid anecdotes of his days in the ring, his training regimen (maintained despite  going blind and retirement in 1901), and his professional record. It is an extremely rare piece of boxiana, not found in R.A. Hartley's History and Bibliography of Boxing Books.

Garrett Scott, a rare bookseller located in Ann Arbor, Michigan with a sharp, fully-functional eye for heteromorphic literature, i.e. books deviating from the norm, scores a knockout for finding this forgotten and extremely rare little book. From my perspective, it's a main event, eye-opening fisticuffs with handcuffs on the eyes.

"I never 'jobbed' or quit; nor was I ever knocked out. I also defy anyone to refute this latter statement. I simply quit my profession because of losing my eyesight, as at present I am totally blind. In addition, let me say that I did not have to quit because I was a 'dead one' or a 'has been.'"

According to BoxRec, Ellwood "The Old War Horse" McCloskey's professional boxing record, 1895-1901, was 81 fights, with 26 wins, 32 losses, 20 draws, and 3 no-contests. This is far from a sterling record. McCloskey, a Lightweight, was, apparently, indeed so. And, despite his no-knockouts claim, he took the horizontal express and landed on Dreamstreet, boxing's boulevard for the out of this world, three times.

He fought Kentucky Rosebud, Billy Whistler, and Jimmy Simister three times each. He was in the ring with Crocky Boyle, Yock Henninger, Marty McCue, Eddie Lenny, Patsy McDermott,  Young Starr, etc.

Between Rounds by Thomas Eakins, 1898-99.
McCloskey is seen in corner, overlooking Bill Smith.

In addition to his career in the ring, McCloskey played a small role in American art, appearing in Philadelphia artist and fight fan Thomas Eakins'  Between Rounds (1898-99). McCloskey is seen working as a corner man overlooking local featherweight Billy Smith in 1898. McCloskey corralled other boxers to pose for Eakins, who had set up a boxing ring in his studio. Ellwood was a firm wrangler who took no nonsense from recruits: "Hey, you son of a bitch, haven't you got a date to pose for Mr. Eakins? Come on now, or I'll punch your goddamn head off" (Goodrich, Lloyd. Thomas Eakins His Life and Work, Vol. II, p. 145).

Pittsburgh Press December 15, 1912.

In 1912, Ellwood McCloskey, now totally blind, returned to boxing for an ad hoc bout, decking C.J. Dunn, who, while patronizing McCloskey's cigar store, insulted Mrs. McCloskey. Dunn was hospitalized in the aftermath of the aspersion.

In a sign of the times, it was Dunn who was charged with a crime, not McCloskey, who, despite having been a professional boxer and not directly threatened by Dunn, was deemed the innocent party. Insults to a man's womenfolk were not countenanced by contemporary standards.

Lawrence Journal-World May 31, 1923

Pete Herman.

Herman Gulotta (1896-1973), fighting as Pete Herman aka Kid Herman, fought his last sanctioned bout in April of 1922; he had been going blind for a while and, after treatment returned sight to one eye in 1923, apparently returned to the ring. He ultimately went totally blind. 

Sam Langford.

 Ellwood McCloskey and Pete Herman were not the only blind pugilists. Sam Langford, "The Boston Terror," is considered to be "the greatest fighter to never win a world boxing championship....He was the most avoided fighter in the illustrious history of boxing. Despite often being outweighed by 20 to 50 pounds in many of his fights, he scored more knockouts than George Foreman and Mike Tyson combined. Fighting from lightweight to heavyweight Sam Langford took on all the best fighters of the first two decades of 20th century. He spent the last years of his fighting career virtually blind where the bulk of his losses occurred, although he still won a number of fights impressively by knockout. He was an amazing fighter. His record was 214-46-44, 16 no decision, 3 no contest with 138 KOs" (Monty Cox, Cox's Corner Profiles).

The grim novelty spectacle of a blind man in the boxing ring has not passed.

Ramathan Bashir (r), the blind pugilist of Naguru, Uganda,
here sparring with a blindfolded opponent.

"Ugandans will for the first time witness a boxing contest for the blind at a major contest on Boxing Day. The rare amateur fight will feature Uganda's Ramathan Bashir and Tanzania's Simon Peter Makalebera at Stillight Beach, Mukono...

"Bashir, 29, a former striker with the defunct Sambaya FC of Naguru turned to boxing after losing his sight seven years ago.

"The East Coast Boxing Club blind pugilist has been regularly featuring in exhibition fights against blind-folded opponents during charity concerts at the International School of Uganda in Lubowa. The local amateur boxing body UABF has already given green light for the contest.

"'This man (Bashir) is a true boxer, we have no problem. Provided he is in good shape, the fight should go on,' observed the local amateur boxing body's secretary Simon Barigo" (Blind News, December 16, 2009).

His trainer is presumed to be the Anne Sullivan of boxing, the miracle worker if ever there was one when boxers are blind, and deaf to reality.

And if you find another copy of The Blind Pugilist, another miracle.

McCLOSKEY, Ellwood. The Blind Pugilist. N.p. [Philadelphia]: N.p. [by the author?], n.d. [late 1920s]. Third and hitherto unrecorded edition. Sixteenmo. 32 pp. Photo-illustrations. Pictorial wrappers.

"This book written in 1915. No Revisions or Additions made since, with exception of back cover." 

With an advertisement from McCloskey on the inside rear wrapper thanking his wife and urging all who pity him to patronize the cigar store she operates for the family. He alludes to his mother having been dead some ten years, placing this sometime later than 1925. 

The outer rear wrapper records that, "These pictures were taken February 1st, 1916," and further notes  "The Blind Pugilist and his little pupil give 'Boxing Exhibitions' throughout the country." 

OCLC notes one copy (Chicago History Museum) under title, Ellwood McCloskey the blind pugilist and his pupil James McCarty: Starting an Exhibition of Boxing (1916). Only two copies of the second edition, under the title  Ellwood Stanislaus McCloskey, issued in 1917, are located, at Harvard Medical School and Notre Dame.  

Book images courtesy of Garrett Scott, Bookseller, with our thanks.

Image of Pete Herman courtesy of BoxRec, with our thanks.

Image of Ramathan Bashir courtesy of Demotix, with our thanks.

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