Ode to the Other Jack Dempsey

Damon Runyon

Wilkes-Barre Evening News/April 8, 1925

Far out in the wild of Oregon,

On a lonely mountainside,

Where Columbia’s mighty waters

Roll down to the ocean’s tide,

Where the giant fir and cedar

Are imaged on the wave,

O’er grown with weeds and lichens,

I found poor Dempsey’s grave.

Captain Bob Roper read the above verse in an elocutionary tone, to the writer.

Captain Bob had called socially.

The captain never wears a hat, a hygienic thought. The captain thinks air and sunlight beneficial to the hair, also the brain.

Perhaps the captain is right. There is really not much sense in hats. They cramp the hirsute development. The primitive Indians always had crops of hair and they never heard of Stetson, Knox, Dobbs, Dinsey or Truly Warner.

Also, going hatless attracts attention to Captain Bob Roper as he strolls the boulevards.

The writer hesitates to suggest that this may have been in the captain’s mind when he discarded headgear—for the captain is something of a showman.

He is a stocky built gentleman, of upright, military carriage. His hands are always carefully gloved. A snakewood cane is invariably dangling from one arm. His ears are gently crimped around the edges, the result of nearly a hundred ring battles.

He is a Mississippian. He eliminates many “r’s” from his speech. And the Captain is one of the most intelligent men that ever crawled through the ropes.

He had but recently completed the devastation of a local pugilistic hope when he called on the writer.

He had already dismissed the affair from his mind. Boxing bouts are quite a matter of course with the captain, all in the day’s work.

He was chiefly concerned on the occasion of his call with raising an appropriate monument to the memory of the original Jack Dempsey, “The Nonpareil.”

This Jack Dempsey, an Irishman born in 1862, and dead since 1895, was middleweight champion of the world from about 1884 to 1891, when he was knocked out by Bob Fitzsimmons.

“The Nonpareil” is buried in Oregon, where he died.

The verse read by Captain Bob is the first stanza of a little poem, written years ago by an unknown poet whose inspiration was the fact that Dempsey’s grave was unmarked.

Captain Bob thinks Fistiana should raise a real memorial to the original Jack, recorded in pugilistic history as one of the greatest fighters that ever lived.

“I’ll gladly contribute a hundred dollars myself, and if we can get others to give similar amounts we can put a nice monument over Dempsey’s grave,” said the captain. “It would be a proper tribute to his memory from the game.”

The captain is something of a sentimentalist, as you will observe.

He was born the year before Dempsey died. All he knows of “The Nonpareil” is what he has read and heard from the old timers of American Fistiana.

He has more sentiment about the game he follows than those old timers, because they knew Dempsey personally. They will tell you of his prowess, of their admiration for him, but they haven’t moved in all these years to express that admiration in the material form of a memorial to “The Nonpareil.”

He must have been all they say. He fought many great battles in a ring career of about twelve years. You look over his record and you find only the entry “W,” meaning won, or “K,” meaning knocked out, save in one or two instances.

George LaBlanche, called “The Marine,” won from Dempsey in thirty-two rounds at San Francisco in 1889, using a full swing which was described as the pivot punch. This punch was barred thereafter, and LaBlanche’s victory was regarded as much of a fluke.

LaBlanche claimed the middleweight title, but he was presently knocked out by Johnny Herget, whose ring name was Young Mitchell, and who couldn’t make the middleweight limit. The title reverted to Dempsey who held it until he was beaten by Fitzsimmons.

Herget is a well-known citizen of San Francisco, LaBlanche is living in a little town in Southern California, a tailor by occupation.

Dempsey’s last public appearance was in New York in 1895. He died about five months later. Dempsey was one of a trio of great champions who were contemporaneous. The other two were John L. Sullivan and Jack McAuliffe.

Captain Bob Roper, at thirty, seems to be better than ever before in his ring career.

He wrote this reporter some months ago that he was retiring to go into business. Then he changed his mind, and kept on fighting. He has met Jack Renault, Quentin Romero-Rojas, and a dozen others more or less well known since changing his mind.

The captain in the ring is rugged and WISE. He knows how to take care of Captain Roper’s interests inside the ropes. He may not always win, but he is always there at the finish. He covers many thousands of miles of country in the course of a year traveling from place to place to combat.

He ought to have some money saved up. He is intelligent enough to have plenty.

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