In 1883, the Irish-American heavy-weight boxing champion John L. Sullivan embarked on an unprecedented coast-to-coast tour of the United States offering a prize to any person who could endure four rounds with him in the ring.
Christopher Klein tells of this remarkable journey and how the railroads and the rise of the popular press proved instrumental in forging Sullivan into America’s first sports superstar.
A dense ocean of humanity lapped up to the doorstep of John L. Sullivan’s gilded liquor palace. Heads craned and tilted as hordes of Bostonians attempted to steal a passing glance of their hometown hero through the open doorway. I
nside, a ceaseless flow of well-wishers offered their farewells to America’s reigning heavyweight boxing champion.
Sullivan’s dark, piercing eyes gleamed with the reflections of the flickering gaslights. His clean-shaven chin glistened like polished granite, although darkness hid in the recesses of a deep dimple and in the shadow of his glorious handlebar mustache.
Sullivan’s pristine skin, full set of even teeth, and straight nose belied his profession and visibly testified to the inability of foes to lay a licking on him.
Muscular without being muscle-bound, the “Boston Strong Boy” was constructed like a pugilistic product of the Industrial Age, a “wonderful engine of destruction” manifest in flesh and blood.
After imbibing the adulation inside his saloon on the evening of September 26, 1883, the hard-hitting, hard-drinking Sullivan waded through the throng of fawning fans outside and stepped into a waiting carriage that sprinted him away to a waiting train.
The man who had captured the heavyweight championship nineteen months prior had departed on many journeys before, but no man had ever set out on such an ambitious adventure as the one he was about to undertake.
For the next eight months, Sullivan would circle the United States with a troupe of the world’s top professional fighters. In nearly 150 locales, John L. would spar with his fellow pugilists but also present a sensational novelty act worthy of his contemporary, the showman P.T. Barnum.
The reigning heavyweight champion would offer as much as $1,000 ($24,000 in today’s dollars) to any man who could enter the ring with him and simply remain standing after four three-minute rounds.
The “Great John L.” was challenging America to a fight.
Read more via John L. Sullivan Fights America | The Public Domain Review.
“He had everything to lose. His story is one of the most dramatic examples during World War Two of an Italian willing to risk his own life to save the lives of strangers.”
Film director Oren Jacoby is describing Gino Bartali, one of the leading cyclists of his era – a three-time winner of the Giro d’Italia, who also notched up two Tour de France victories, 10 years apart, before and after the war.
During his lifetime, Bartali didn’t talk about his wartime activities.
It was only after his death in 2000 that details began to emerge, and Jacoby fills in some remaining gaps in a Storyville documentary film about Italy’s secret heroes.
Bartali, a villager from a poor Tuscan family, was reaching the peak of his career as the war approached.
He won his first Giro d’Italia in 1936, retaining the title in 1937.
Then – to Italy’s delight – he won the 1938 Tour de France.
It was a moment the country’s fascist leader, Benito Mussolini, had been looking forward to eagerly. “Mussolini believed that if an Italian rider triumphed in the Tour it would show that Italians too belonged to the master race,” says Bartali’s son Andrea in Jacoby’s film.
“It was a matter of national pride and fascist prestige that my father won the 1938 Tour, so he was under real pressure.”
Bartali was invited to dedicate his win to Mussolini, but refused.
It was a grave insult to il duce and a big risk to take.
Usain Bolt of Jamaica competes in the Men’s 100 meter semifinal on Day 9 of the Rio 2016 Olympics
Image Credit: Photograph by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
This image was captured during Usain Bolt’s semi-final race.
It was his last ever Olympics, so there was a lot of hype and a lot of pressure on him. I was actually photographing the high jump at the time, but I had time to duck across to the 100m race.
I ran to the 70m mark – I knew he should be ahead of the other athletes and planned to photograph him using a slow shutter speed. Initially, there was a false start – it’s an instant disqualification, and my immediate reaction was “God, I hope that’s not Bolt”.
I sprinted to the start line just in case, because that would have been the story of the Olympics. Luckily it wasn’t him, so I had run back, reset my camera settings and get ready – I was a bit pumped up.
Then the gun went off and Bolt was out in front by the 60m mark. You get camera shake when you’re shooting that slow so I had to hold my breath as they ran past.
Next thing you know, he’s gone. When it was over, I looked at my camera and saw the big grin on his face – I couldn’t believe it. I knew it was something different and exciting.
It wasn’t until after the 100m final later that night that I went on social media and realised that the image had blown up.
I’ve never had a picture gain momentum like that before. People were saying things like, “This is the photo of the Olympics” – which was a huge compliment.
I think the picture resonated with so many because it’s an artistic shot, but also because Bolt is an entertainer, a showman on the track, and a lovable character.
The way he runs, with such great technique and confidence, is all summed up in that picture.
I met him after his final race and gave him a print. He said “I’ve seen it, I love it!”
The House of David was an apocalyptic cult that formed a commune community which focused on clean, hirsute living, celibacy, and most memorably their minor league baseball team.
Founded in the late 1800’s on 1,000 acres of land, the new society farmed and developed a shockingly sophisticated series of services such as their own electricity, cold storage, and cannery.
However the House of David is likely best remembered for its shockingly successful baseball teams.
The community’s founder was a big sports fan and believed that such endeavors were good for both the body and the soul.
Starting in 1913, the commune had started playing competitive baseball and within just a couple of years, the players had fallen into a strict training regimen.
By the 1920’s the House of David players had become a fairly famous “barnstorming” sensation, traveling around and playing exhibition matches. Many of the players caught the attention of the major leagues, but the House of David forbid the cutting of their hair, so the trademark beards that made the team recognizable also made them unfit to move up to the pros.
Despite the bearded ceiling, the teams managed to gain a great deal of notoriety and some teams even took on professional players who would grow a beard or sometimes even wear fake beards in solidarity with their teammate’s religion.
The teams continued to play well into the 1950’s but the House of David commune was beginning to disband and was eventually embroiled in an underage sex scandal which essentially snuffed out any straggling remnants of the sect.
However the baseball teams and their communal heritage are still remembered in the House of David Museum which explores the history of the colony from its illustrious baseball teams to their impressive zoo to their industrial triumphs.