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William Harrison Dempsey (June 24, 1895-May 31, 1983) was born in Manassa, Colorado, one of ten children. His parents were of Irish, Scottish and Native American ancestry. His brother Bernie, a part-time professional boxer, chose the name “Jack Dempsey” after a famous middleweight champion “Nonpareil” Jack, and William started boxing under other names. When Bernie retired, William took the Jack Dempsey name.

At first he found it hard to make a living from boxing and started working in a Seattle shipyard until the death of one of his brothers. In order to pay the funeral expenses he accepted another fight. His formal boxing career began in 1914 when he earned $3.50 for a match, and then in 1918, under the management of Jack “Doc” Kearns, he boxed 21 times with only one defeat. He went on to win many fights and become heavyweight champion of the world. His overall record was 83 contests: 62 wins, 9 draws, 6 no decisions and 6 defeats.

JackDempsey1921_Program

In 1921 Doc Kearns and George Lewis “Tex” Rickard, a fight promoter, set up a match for the world heavyweight championship with Dempsey and Georges Carpentier, the European champion.  The boxing committee considered Atlantic City for the location of the fight. New Jersey State Boxing Commissioner John S. Smith thought a temporary stadium could be built in time at the airport, but the decision for the location of the match was Jersey City, New Jersey. The date was set for July 2, 1921.

Carpentier’s training camp was set up in secluded Manhasset, Long Island. Dempsey started training in Long Hill, New Jersey near Summit, but Atlantic City offered a location at its new airport and erected a grandstand so fans could watch his workouts. Dempsey and his entourage arrived in Atlantic City on May 6, 1921, and checked in to the Hotel Alamac. At City Hall, Mayor Edward L. Bader presented him with the ceremonial key to the city. Dempsey’s training camp at the airport became a popular site as the public came to watch his daily workout sessions. Doc Kearns charged admission as the daily crowds numbered 1,000, collecting one dollar per person. Dempsey’s training also included Boardwalk strolls and running on the beach. He had many different sparring partners during the months he trained in Atlantic City.

On June 29, 1921 he concluded his training and left the city soon after, aboard a chartered Pullman coach attached to a Reading Railroad train. He headed for the fight at Jersey City accompanied by Teddy Hayes, his trainer, Trant, his bodyguard and Mayor Bader, who had become Dempsey’s friend and who hoped to attract future boxing matches to Atlantic City. The championship fight, called “the battle of the century,” took place in Boyle’s Thirty Acres Stadium in Jersey City, and Jack Dempsey knocked out Georges Carpentier in the fourth round. The champ returned to Atlantic City in August 1921 for rest and relaxation.

Cover from the fight program, July 2, 1921, in Jersey City, New Jersey. (Courtesy of The Pop History Dig).

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Read the Atlantic City Press coverage from the fight: July 2, 1921 and July 4, 1921.
(Right click and select "View image").
ACPress07021921_01 ACPress07041921_01ACPress07041921_06

 

Five years later Dempsey returned to Atlantic City again to train for his 1926 fight against Gene Tunney. He and his bride, Estelle Taylor, went quietly to the Ambassador Hotel, avoiding crowds and fanfare. The Dempseys then rented a bungalow on the Fox tract at 205 Florence Avenue, West Atlantic City. His training facility was set up at Greyhound Park at Absecon Boulevard and North Carolina Avenue. This time the public was barred from the sessions. When it rained, Dempsey worked out at the gym at the Elks Lodge.

The Dempsey-Tunney fight was held at the Sesquicentennial Municipal Stadium in Philadelphia on September 23, 1926. It rained throughout the bout, and Tunney defeated Dempsey in ten rounds. The boxing camp at the Atlantic City dog track was dismantled and the area returned to greyhounds chasing an electrical rabbit.

Jack Dempsey opened a restaurant in New York after his retirement. He died on May 31, 1983.

JackDempsey1926_AC
Jack Dempsey training in Atlantic City in 1926. (SDN-066299, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum).

 

Sources:

Harry Mullen with Bob Mee. The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Boxing. Carlton Books: London, England. 2007.

Roger Kahn. A Flame of Pure Fire: Jack Dempsey and the Roaring 20’s. Harcourt Brace and Co.: New York, New York. 1999.

Jim Waltzer. The Battle of the Century: Dempsey, Carpentier, and the Birth of Modern Promotion. Praeger: Santa Barbara, California. 2011.

Atlantic City Press. Various articles.

Resources in the Atlantic City Free Public Library Atlantic City Heritage Collections:

Atlantic City Press

Local History Biography File -  “Jack Dempsey”

Jim Waltzer. The Battle of the Century: Dempsey, Carpentier, and the Birth of Modern Promotion. Praeger: Santa Barbara, California. 2011.

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