Sunday, July 29, 2012

And The New Heavyweight Champion of the World...

When thinking of the sport of boxing names like Marciano, Louis, Ali, Dempsey, Tyson and Chavez come to mind. But there have been so many legendary champions, great matches and history decorated in greatness. So it is easy to believe that the amazing fighters of the past can be lost to history and be overshadowed by the next generation of fighters achievements. This is so in the case of Jeremiah "Joe" Jeanette. Never heard of him you say, well he might just be the greatest boxer of all time.

Jeremiah"Joe" Jeanette was born August 26, 1879 in West Hoboken, (Now Union City) NJ. Jeanette apprenticed at his father's blacksmith ship and would eventually drive a truck for a local coal company. Now, Jeanette got his boxing start in a not so normal way, on a dare. That's right the great Joe Jeanette's career started all because of a dare. His first fight was in 1904 against Arthur Dickinson in Jersey City, NJ. Even though Jeanette lost the match, he decided to make a go of a career. He did so because the sport was  very rewarding. During that time a fighter earned roughly 3 to 5 dollars a fight. In a short time Jeanette would be earning almost 25 dollars a fight. That amount may not seem like much, but to an African American in this time, most didn't make 25 dollars in a year However, it is in that fight that would be the start one of boxing's greatest legend's career.

Jeanette's career started almost instantly. He had, over the first two years of his career, 15 fights with Sam Langford (Who ESPN placed on their Greatest Fighter Nobody Knows list and The Ring put at #2 on their greatest punchers of all time list). In that time Jeanette became a dangerous inside boxer with at the same time developing his defensive skills. This combination made many boxers, both black and white, shy away from challenging Jeanette. During the same time as his fights with Langford, Jeanette also competed against future heavyweight champion Jack Johnson, that's right I said Jack Johnson, as in the fist black champion in boxing Jack Johnson. Jeanette and Johnson would face each other ten times. Jeanette would win one, loss two, two draws and five "No Decisions." Now that may not sound impressive, but only two losses against one of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport is quite amazing. The fights ended when Johnson became champion in 1908, even though Jeanette made many attempts to schedule a fight the mighty Jack Johnson feared the idea of stepping in the ring again with Jeanette.

Yet as if his feud with Johnson wasn't enough to make Jeanette boxing royalty, perhaps his April 17, 1909 fight against Sam McVey does. The two faced off in Paris, France in a rematch for the World Colored Heavyweight Championship. McVey won the first bout in February 1909 but it would be that April that would showcase the stuff boxing legends are made of. The fight drew a large crowd as Europeans at this time were intrigued with Africa and people of African descent. The fight would make every Rocky film seem like a Disney movie. It had no judges and no set round limit. It was a controlled no holds barred match, just Jeanette, McVey and the referee. The fight started with the sound of the bell and would go on for 49 Rounds and lasted roughly THREE AND A HALF HOURS. During this battle Jeanette was knocked down 27 times, dazed by a crushing blow from McVey in the first round, and almost knocked out in the 16th and later in the 19th round. However, Jeanette recovered from the beating, driven by pride. McVey was knocked down 20 times and finally at the start of the 49th round McVey could not even stand up. By the end, as Mc Vey sit in the corner and Jeanette's hand was raised, the ring looked something like a scene from a horror movie. Jeanette was then declared winner by TKO. Jeanette would hold and defend the "title" for five months before losing it to long time rival Sam Langford.

In his 18 year career Joe Jeanette finally called it quits in 1919 at 40 years old. His career record would stand at 147 wins and 9 losses with 68 wins by KO. Of his 9 losses he was only knocked out two times, the KO's came in the beginning and end of his career. However, Jeanette often disputed his number of fights, claiming he fought close to 400 fights.  Following his retirement Jeanette didn't leave the sport, he refereed matches and trained aspiring fighters at his home on 27th Street and Summit Ave. in Union City, NJ. One of those boxers would actually go on to become Heavyweight Champion, perhaps you've heard of him James J. Braddock. Aside from his work in the boxing world, Jeanette also went on to own and operate a taxi company located also in Union City. He passed away in 1958 at 78 years old. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1997 and was the first recipient of a Union City historical marker in 2009. Yet his legacy can be seen as this, a fierce and feared fighter, a man who Jack Johnson called "the toughest man I ever fought," a boxer whose career and abilities were held down by America's racist history, but more importantly Jeanette is boxing royalty, a fighter that should still be held in high regards today for his feats in the ring but for paving the way for future boxers of all races. Jeanette stepped into the ring in the days before film, in a time when a black man was treated as a second class citizen and so little if anything exists of his talent, but mention him to any really boxing fan and even though he never held the title Jeanette is held in the highest of regards and is not only remembered but treated almost as a mythical Greek god, which is what should keep him as one of the greatest of all time.  

Sunday, July 22, 2012


This summer has been one of the hottest summers on record. That being said it makes one think of ways to cool off. You can sit at home under an ice cold air conditioner, take a dip in the town pool or what most Americans on both coasts do and head to the beach. But the beach might not be the safest place for one to head to during the summer heat waves, just ask those that visited the beaches of New Jersey  in 1916. No, there was not some kind of early 20th century guido patrolling the boardwalks to find someone to smush with, but something much more dangerous lurking in the water. The summer would go one to spawn the movie that would scare every beach goer right out of the water for the last 40 years. Now it sounds like the cheesy movie the Sci-Fi network just let out but the Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916 is a piece of summer time history everyone should know.

The summer of 1916 was one hot summer. It was a record setting summer and if the heat wave wasn't bad enough there was also a polio outbreak on top of it. The New Jersey beaches was the primer vacation spot on the Atlantic coast with visitors from all over the nation, from every day Joe Shmoes to the President of the United States. It was in that year that the Jersey Shore would be stricken with a panic it has not seen since. It would be two weeks of terror and result in the death of four people and a coastal manhun...shark hunt.

The old Engleside Hotel in Beach Haven, NJ is just one example of the majestic hotels that once lined the New Jersey beaches. But it was there in Beach Haven that one of the most infamous shark attacks in history would take place. Charles Epting Vansant, a Philadelphia native, was visiting Beach Haven with his family. Just before dinner Vansant took the family dog and decided to take a dip. Minutes after Vansant entered the water he began to shout, yet other beach goers thought he was calling his dog he actually was being attacked by a shark. Lifeguard Alexander Ott knew something was wrong and jumped in to save Vansant. Ott claims when he grabbed Vansant and pulled him to shore the shark continued to pursue them to shore. Vansant had not only lost his left leg but his life as well, he died on the manager's desk on the Engleside Hotel around 7:00pm.

The July 1st attack at Beach Haven was seen as nothing more than a freak attack. The beaches remained open and the mercury continued to rise. The next attack would happen 45 miles north at Spring Lake, New Jersey. On July 6 Charles Bruder a Swiss immigrant working as a bellhop at the Essex & Sussex Hotel went for a swim after work. Bruder swam out about 130 yards and began screaming. He was bit in the abdomen and as the shark continued to attack he took off Bruder's legs. The water turned so red a woman told the lifeguards that she thinks a canoe had flipped over. Upon inspection lifeguards Chris Anderson and George White were first to see the destruction the shark had caused. Bruder would bled out in the rescue attempt . The scene was reported in the New York Times, "women were panic stricken and fainted as Bruder's mutilated body was brought ashore." Now with two attacks within days, the panic was unstoppable. Beaches were empty, almost a 75% drop in tourists. The attack in Beach Haven was local news but now with a second attack it was a national event.  It is estimated that New Jersey resort owners lost some $250,000 (which is $5.3 million today).

After the July 6 attack actions were being taken all over the place. Beach towns tried to salvage the summer and netted off bathing areas. Scientists meet at the American Museum of Natural History in order to try to make sense and calm the masses. They claimed a third attack was unlikely and that the attacks were a surprise to begin with. Shark sittings jumped up and down the Atlantic from Florida to New York. And fishermen and hunters, professional and amateur took to the surf and seas trying to catch the "Jersey man eater." But no precaution could stop the attacks. On July 12 in Matawan, NJ only 30 miles north of Spring Lake, but more surprising 16 miles inland, another attack was taking place. With the oceans the most damages place to go it only made sense for people to take to rivers, creeks and streams. However, Matawan Creek would be the scene of the final attacks in July of 1916. In the early afternoon of July 12, a group of local boys jump into the creek to beat the summer heat. While swimming off Wyckoff Dock the boys saw what they described as "a weathered log" had appeared within yards of them. It turned out that weathered log was a shark. As the boys fled the water 11 year old Lester Stillwell could not get out fast enough and the shark pulled him under. The boys ran to town and got help. Men quickly left their daily routine and upon arriving at the creek they dove into the water. One rescuer Watson Stanley Fisher was attacked in the rescue attempt and he would later die in Monmouth Memorial Hospital. Stillwell's body would later wash up 150 yards upstream from the attack. However, the panic of the day was not over. After the Matawan Creek attacks, Joseph Dunn was attacked losing his left leg a half mile upstream from Wyckoff Dock but was rescued by his brother. So within 2 weeks the "Jersey man eater" took almost five lives. After the third day of attacks the hunt was kicked into full gear and that is people could talk about.

The "Jersey man eater" was not identified until July 14. After the attack at Beach Haven reports had the shark at 9 feet and possibly a Sand Tiger Shark. Others suggesting it a Blue Shark as it was caught on near Long Branch after the second attack and some that it was a Sandbar Shark as one was caught at the mouth of the Matawan Creek around the same time. Some scientist even claimed that the attacks were of a rogue Great White or even a Killer Whale. But on July 14 Michael Schleisser of Harlem reeled in a 7 and a half foot Great White in Raritan Bay just miles away from Matawan Creek. The contents of the shark's stomach were a "suspicious fleshy material and bones," which after examination would be identified as human. The shark was then mounted, as Schleisser was also a taxidermist, and displayed in a shop on Broadway in New York City. After this catch no other attacks were reported that summer. But there is some debate that still lingers today if Schleisser's shark was the actual shark, but the fact is not another attack took place on the Jersey Shore or the immediate area, in fact the next shark attack in New Jersey would not happen until 1926 in Sea Bright.

Yes, unfortunately today Jersey Shore shark attacks are being forgotten and The Jersey Shore Shark Attack may be its lasting legacy. However, even though the movie is completely ridiculous and an insult not only to New Jersey but the events it does draw attention to that summer of 1916. The shark attacks that year are immortalized in the 1975 blockbuster Jaws. As the story is loosely based on the events at the Jersey Shore as well as other shark related incidents. But either way the movie has been scaring people out of the ocean since its release, myself included. Yet the "Jersey man eater" is slowly fading from history. Today it is a tale told every summer along the New Jersey coast as a way to scare the daylights out of little kids or first timers to the Jersey Shore. It is important to remember such events as they are our history, and letting them fade away or be the basis for a spoof movie does not seem fair to those involved. Somewhere there is the family of the victims who still remember their losses, while other families retell of the heroine rescue attempts made by lifeguards and the rest of the great state of New Jersey retell the story to keep the legend, events and stories surround that hot July of 1916 alive.