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Southampton's 20th Century Influencers: Jack Dempsey, The Manassa Mauler

Updated: Feb 7


 



Before getting into the life story of Jack Dempsey, it is important to understand the history of boxing as a sport in human culture. Boxing, in one form or another, is an ancient sport. The plaque seen here from the collection of the British Museum is dated between 2000 and 1750 BCE. It is either from the late Sumerian or early Babylonian periods from what we would today call Iraq. It depicts two people boxing.


The bronze sculpture is titled Boxer at Rest and is from Greece dated from between 330 and 50 BCE. It depicts a boxer at rest either just after or in between rounds of a boxing match. Notice the old style of protective wrappings on his hands. Today this is on display at the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme in Rome.


Another ancient sport that has come back to popularity in recent years is what was once called pankration. Pankration is derived from the Greek word "pan" meaning all and "kratos" meaning strength, might or power. Pankration itself translates to "all of the might."

Pankration was said to have been the most favorite sport in the ancient Olympic games. It was a mixture of both boxing and wrestling where fighters could win by almost any means necessary. The terracotta skyphos (drinking cup) from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art from c. 500 BCE shows a pankration match in action.

Frank Mir v Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira - 2011

The modern equivalent to pankration would be the sport of mixed martial arts, popularized by the Ultimate Fighter Championship or UFC. This modern sport combines boxing, kickboxing, muy thai, wrestling and jiu jitsu. The ancient pankration likely had slightly less rules and its competitions were likely a bit more brutal than today. The image here shows Frank Mir submitting Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira via an arm lock known as a kimura or double wrist lock at UFC 140 in 2011.

16th century bare-knuckle boxing

Jack Broughton

Boxing existed all over the world since ancient times, but today's modern professional boxing draws its lineage from the Prizefighting / Bare-Knuckle Boxing matches of 16th century England. At this time there were very little rules but fights mostly consisted of two men punching each other (as one would expect).


More formalized rules began to be instituted in 1743 by bare-knuckle boxing champion, Jack Broughton. Broughton was born c. 1704 and died on January 8, 1789 and was one of the first early stars on the British boxing scene. He developed a set of rules to eliminate things such as hitting a downed opponent, no hitting below the waist and also encouraged the use of early boxing gloves known as "mufflers." 1853 saw the London Prize Ring Rules come into place that further established the rules for boxing and establishing the size and construction of a boxing ring as well as outlawing headbutting, eye gouging and biting. At this time there was no one unified boxing organization so the rules often changed depending on the location and the fighters involved.

bare-knuckle boxing match

While boxing was fairly popular, an 1882 English court case would give many pause from competing as well as even being a spectator. The case is known as R v Coney and established that bare-knuckle boxing was an assault regardless of the participants consent and that voluntary attendance as a spectator could support a charge of aiding and abetting the assault. Because of this, boxing which was already a bit of an outsider enjoyment, fell into an even more seedy world of illegal gambling arenas and other unsavory ventures. In the United States in 1897 the first instance of film censorship occurred when several states banned the showing of boxing matches that had been filmed in Nevada where it was legal at the time. However the sport was still able to grow thanks in part to some star athletes like, John L. Sullivan.

John L. Sullivan

John Lawrence Sullivan was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts to Irish immigrant parents on October 15, 1858 an died on February 2, 1918. He was dubbed the Boston Strong Boy and was one of the biggest sports icons of the late 1800s. As a youth he did well academically in school and in 1875 enrolled in Boston College with the goal of becoming a Roman Catholic Priest. He quickly made a big career shift by becoming and professional baseball player and then transitioned into boxing. The exact number of fights and sparring sessions he had is unknown, however his professional record is recorded as 47 wins, 1 loss, 2 draws and 1 no contest with 38 of his wins coming via knockout.

Left - Dominick McCaffrey | Right - Tyson Fury


He began as a bare-knuckle boxer but also fought with gloves in what would be considered the early version of today's professional boxing. He was a world heavyweight champion in both earning his first title with a win over Dominick McCaffrey on August 29, 1885 and would defend it multiple times. This title is the same heavyweight title that British boxer Tyson Fury holds today.

Sullivan v Kilrain - 1889

The last defense of his bare-knuckle title was on July 8, 1889 against Jake Kilrain. This fight was said to have lasted 2 hours and 16 minutes with a finish coming at the end of the 75th round when Kilrain's corner threw in the towel fearing Jake would fight until he died.

Left - John L. Sullivan | Right - James J. Corbett


Barn where Sullivan trained

Sullivan's last professional fight was against James J. Corbett on September 7, 1892 and would take place at the Olympic Club in New Orleans, Louisiana. Sullivan would lose this fight via knockout in the 21st round and Corbett won a reported $25,000 for it. Today that would be approximately $750,000. To train for this fight Sullivan stayed at the Canoe Place Inn in Hampton Bays and used a small barn to the east of the property to train. Today that barn still stands and is used by the Southampton Town Parks and Recreation Department as their Administrative offices.


Julius Keller, former owner of Canoe Place Inn recalled that over the years many boxers would come to visit the barn whenever they were in the area. They saw it almost as a pilgrimage to pay homage to Sullivan. Jack Dempsey once visited the barn and was given a tour by Keller and was reported to say that it was one of the most interesting relics of the sport he had come across and hoped it would be preserved for future generations. Thankfully the barn has stood the test of time and still exists today.


Jack with his parents Hyrum and Celia Dempsey

The boxer the world would come to know as the Manassa Mauler was born in a small cabin in Southern Colorado on June 24, 1895 as William Harrison Dempsey. His parents were originally from West Virginia and moved around a lot with Jack growing up partly in Colorado and partly in West Virginia. While in Colorado, his parents converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints with Jack being baptized at 8 years old. He had a large family with five brothers and five sisters.


He would eventually drop out of school to work and would leave home at 16 years old living the life of a hobo. He would ride rail cars around the country staying in hobo camps and working odd jobs. To make extra money he was known to go to saloons and challenge anyone to a fight which earned him a reputation as a fearsome fighter.

Young Dempsey


In these early saloon brawls he went by the name Kid Blackie but would not start his professional boxing career until he was 19 years old. His first professional bout saw him billed as Young Dempsey against another young fighter named Young Herman which ended in a draw. He spent his early career fighting mostly in the Colorado/Utah area.

From the film “The Health Farm Wallop” starring Jack Dempsey. His brother Bernie is the one pointing.

Jack “Nonpareil” Dempsey

His 16th professional fight would be as a replacement for his older brother Bernie against George Coplen in Cripple Creek, Colorado on November 19, 1915. Bernie was almost 40 at the time and while a good boxer himself was getting older and when he learned that his would be opponent was quite tough he asked his younger brother to sub in for him. However, rather than running it by the promoter, Harry was his family called him, assumed his older brother's boxing named Jack Dempsey, an homage to Irish-American boxer Jack "Nonpareil" Dempsey, and fought George Coplen. Jack would knock him out in the 6th round. By the end of 1916, Jack's record would be 25 wins, 1 loss, 5 draws and 4 no contests.

Fireman Jim Flynn

Fireman Jim Flynn would play a very important role in Dempsey's early career by being one of his most startling defeats. Flynn was born in Hoboken, New Jersey on December 24, 1879 and was a railroad fireman working in Pueblo, Colorado when his boxing career began. He would knock Dempsey out in the first round of their fight on February 13, 1917 in just 25 seconds. There was some speculation that this fight was fixed, however Jack denied it heavily. He blamed the loss on the fact that he had neglected to warm up properly before the fight and the fact that the fight took place at midnight. Before he realized the fight was really underway he was on the canvas.

Jack “Doc” Kearns

Following this loss, Dempsey's confidence would be damaged as well as his overall stock as a fighter. He would take a few more fights in the spring of 1917 but would eventually move to Tacoma, Washington to take a job working in a shipyard. In his autobiography Jack talks about being in a saloon brawl while living in Tacoma that was started by several large drunks and as he described him, a smaller and fanciful dressed man where Jack tried to defend the smaller man from the large drunks.


However while living in Washington away from his family, tragedy would strike. Jack's youngest brother Bruce was stabbed to death on June 26, 1917. Jack raced to his parents home in Salt Lake City, Utah where they were living at the time for the funeral but had arrived too late. He stayed there with his family for a short time and while there received word from the fanciful man from the Tacoma saloon brawl. This man turned out to be boxing manager Jack "Doc" Kearns and he was interested in working with Dempsey. He offered him the opportunity to come to Oakland, California and stay with him and begin training.

Jack “Doc” Kearns and Jack Dempsey

Kearns was a former boxer himself who competed in lighter weight divisions. But he would find more success in life after his fight career. Beyond being a boxing manager and fight promoter, he was also said to have been an avid gambler and a general all around schemer.


Dempsey would take him up on this offer and would move in with him. Under Kearns' tutelage Dempsey's record would extend from 25 wins, 3 losses, 7 draws and 4 no contests in the summer of 1917 to 56 wins, 4 loses, 9 draws and 6 no contests by the spring of 1919. In this time Dempsey would also avenge his loss to Fireman Jim by knocking him out in the first round of their rematch in 1918.

Jess "The Great White Hope" Willard

Kearns would eventually get Dempsey his biggest break, a world heavyweight title shot against then champion, Jess Willard. Willard was 6ft 6.5 inches tall and weighed 245 pounds. and was born on December 29, 1881 in Pottawatomie County, Kansas. He was so powerful that he had accidentally killed former opponent, Jack "Bull" Young, in their 1913 fight.


Willard had become heavyweight champion by defeating the first black heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson, earning him the nickname "The Great White Hope." Johnson was born on March 31, 1878 in Galveston, Texas and became heavyweight champion on December 26, 1908 by defeating then champion Tommy Burns in Sydney, Australia.


Johnson's title reign was marred by controversy with most of his fights in the United States suffering backlash from the general public's racist attitudes towards the heavyweight champion being a black man. However, Johnson would become a household name and would defend his title 9 times. His loss to Willard would come on April 5, 1915 via knockout in the 26th round of their fight in Havana, Cuba.

Jack Johnson and Jess Willard


Dempsey and Willard before the fight

Dempsey and Willard would fight on July 4, 1919 in Toledo, Ohio. Dempsey was 6ft 1inch and was 187 pounds. He was 5.5 inches shorter and weighed 58 pounds less than the champion which is a massive disadvantage. In his autobiography Dempsey said, “Standing in the center of the ring with champion Jess Willard. It was the most intense moment of my life.”


Prior to the fight, Willard had never been knocked down, but Dempsey would knock him down several times in the first round. At this time when a fighter was knocked down, the opponent was allowed to hover close by and begin attacking again once the fallen fighter's knees were off the ground. Near the end of the round Willard would be knocked down for the 7th time and while the referee was counting the bell would ring.

NY Times - July 5, 1919

Willard badly damaged by Dempsey

This prompted Dempsey would raise his hands in victory and leave the ring. Prior to the fight he had placed a $10,000 bet on himself to win via knockout in the first round so the new champ was eager to leave and collect his winnings. However, he had not won yet, Willard was saved by the round coming to an end. Dempsey's manager Kearns had to scramble to get Dempsey back in the ring for the start of round two.


Willard would survive two more tough rounds, but would not answer the call for the fourth. Dempsey was the new world heavyweight champion. Initially Dempsey was a massive start loved by the masses. He was seen as an everyday man who was able to raise himself up through hard work to become something great. However, controversy would follow.

Jack Dempsey vs Jess Willard



NY Times - July 5, 1919

Jess Willard was loved by the white American public because he had dethroned Jack Johnson and fears quickly arose that Dempsey would potentially give another black competitor, or even Johnson himself, a shot at the title. However in the July 5, 1919 edition of the New York Times in the article covering the fight, the very first paragraph talks about how Dempsey would not give a title shot to any black fighters. This statement is taken back and then reinforced several times over the years so it is hard to say if Dempsey himself refused to fight black contenders for his title. Or if his management and the boxing industry as a whole would not let him for fear of there being another black heavyweight champion and what kind of backlash that would cause in a still heavily divided United States. One thing is true though, Dempsey would never give a black man a shot at his heavyweight title during his reign.

But there is a legend about a fight between Dempsey and Johnson having taken place in 1921 shortly after Johnson was released from prison. Johnson was imprisoned for violating the Mann Act. He was said to have transported a woman across stateliness for immoral acts, but it is assumed this charge was brought up because he was married to a white woman. But after his time in jail the 40 year old Johnson was past his prime as a boxer, but would continue to take fights and perform in exhibition bouts as a means of making money.


NY Daily News - December 11, 1921

Johnson and Dempsey's legendary encounter is said to have taken place in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada in December of 1921 in a private setting only for high stake gamblers to watch. Given the fact that Johnson needed money, Dempsey's manager was an avid gambler with questionable morals, and the location of the fight being in a mining town with a lot of gambling so far from civilization it is very possible. There is also an article in the December 11, 1921 New York Daily News that had an account of the entire fight, the only written record of this encounter. Dempsey was said to have been beaten up for the first five rounds but made a comeback and knocked out Johnson in the 7th round. Dempsey was questioned about this fight a lot and while he never confirmed it, he also never denied it.


Maxine Gates and Jack Dempsey

The biggest stain on Dempsey's public image came when he was accused of being a draft dodger. Dempsey had signed up in accordance with the Selective Service Act of 1917 that allowed the United States government to conscript citizens into the armed forces for WWI. However Dempsey gained exemption due to him taking care of his mother, invalid sibling and wife. In 1917 when Dempsey did this he was far from heavyweight champion and he was still married to his first wife, Maxine Gates. Gates was 16 years his elder and was a prostitute. In his autobiography he talks a lot about their marriage and how most of it they spent apart with him boxing around the country and her mostly not being in his life.

Dempsey and his fancy shoes

In 1918 while growing his stardom, Doc Kearns had had Dempsey do a photo shoot with the Sun Shipbuilding Company who were based near Philadelphia. This photoshoot was done to show Dempsey "doing his part" in the war effort to try and get men still at home to join the workforce and support the war effort. However in the pictures Dempsey can be seen wearing fancy leather shoes. Many saw this as Dempsey being disingenuous and in 1919 after being crowned world champion, he had enough popularity for this scandal to become nation wide. The United States took him to court in 1920 on draft dodging charges and his first wife Maxine Gates was their main witness. Dempsey would beat this case and he divorced Gates in 1919.

Dempsey with his parents at his “Slacker Trial” in 1920

Dempsey knocking out Miske

While this scandal was going on, Dempsey would have two more fights. He would first defend his title against Billy Mike in Benton Harbor, Michigan on September 6, 1920. Dempsey would win this fight via 3rd round knock out. His next defense would be a 12th round knockout over Bill Brennan in Madison Square Garden on December 14, 1920. This would be a tough fight for Dempsey with Brennan winning much of the fight and Dempsey bleeding profusely from the left ear before Dempsey was able to knock him out.

Jack Dempsey vs Bill Brennan

George Carpentier - The Orchid Man


George Carpentier during WWI

Perhaps what Dempsey is known for most, is his third title defense against Frenchmen, George Carpentier - The Orchid Man. Carpentier was born January 12, 1894 in Liévin, France and typically fought between 147 and 175 pounds. So while being a lighter fighter, he was known for being powerful at at the time of their fight was the world light heavyweight champion.

Also while Dempsey had the stain of his draft dodger trial on him that cause fans to boo and jeer at him in his previous two fights, Carpentier was seen as a war hero. He had served in the French Air Force as an aviator in WWI and was awarded two of the highest honors in the French military for his service during the war. Prior to the war he was already a popular boxer in France, but after the war his star shined bright in France, England and the United States.


Their fight would take place on July 2, 1923 at Boyle's Thirty Acres in Jersey City, New Jersey. Dempsey was 6ft 1in and weighed in at 190 pounds with Carpentier coming in at 5ft 11.5inches and weighing 174 pounds. This would also be the first fight to take place and be broadcast live on the radio.

Jack Dempsey vs. Georges Carpentier

Despite being held in the United States, Dempsey was not seen as the hero in this fight. The majority of the fans cheered for Carpentier and this was also the first fight to have a large number of women in attendance which many attribute to Carpentier being portrayed as a dashing French war hero. This fight was also the first boxing match to ever produce a million dollar gate, meaning it netted a profit of over $1,000,000. The recorded gate was $1,789,238 with almost 90,000 in attendance.

Jack Dempsey vs. Georges Carpentier

But like many of Dempsey's fights, this was quick. Tex Rickard who was the lead promoter of this fight feared it would be a quick one and had even asked Dempsey to take it easy on the Frenchman in the early rounds as to not end it too early. But Dempsey would end the fight in the 4th round at the 1 minute and 16 second mark.

Jack Dempsey vs Georges Carpentier



Jack Dempsey vs Tommy Gibbons


Dempsey would not fight again until July 4, 1923. This fight would take place in Shelby, Montana against Tommy Gibbons and Dempsey would win via decision after 15 rounds. But his fifth defense would come up fast against very stiff competition.

Luis Ángel Firpo

Luis Ángel Firpo was born October 11, 1894 in Buenos Aires, Argentina and was known as the Wild Bull of the Pampas for his wild and unhinged fighting style. Firpo was seen as a very hard fight for Dempsey and coming into their fight, Firpo was on a 19 fight win streak that included knockout wins over former Dempsey opponents Bill Brennan and Jess Willard. Willard would actually retire after his fight with Firpo.


Firpo and Dempsey would meet on September 14, 1923 at the Polo Grounds in New York City with 85,000 in attendance. The fight would only last 57 seconds into the second round, but it would be non-stop action the whole time. The biggest moment occurred in the first round when Firpo knocked Dempsey out of the ring with a flurry of wild punches.

Jack Dempsey vs Luis Ángel Firpo


Dempsey knocked out of the ring

When knocked out of the ring the fighter is given 20 seconds to get back in which Dempsey was able to do, but when he fell out he landed on the ring side reporter and cut the back of his head badly on a typewriter. Luckily a photographer was able to capture the exact moment he fell out. Artist George Wesley Bellows would create a painting of the moment in 1924.


By George Wesley Bellows - 1924

While Firpo would create the most memorable moment of the fight at Dempsey's expense, Dempsey would knock Firpo out 57 seconds into the second round. This would be Dempsey's fastest title defense.

Dempsey knocks out Firpo

Daredevil Jack - 1920

Once Dempsey had become world heavyweight champion, he began to make a lot of money both as a fighter, and outside of the boxing ring. Most notably, Dempsey began to work in the emerging film industry. His first acting role was in "Daredevil Jack" in 1920 which was a 15 chapter silent film series. Between Firpo and his next fight, Dempsey would be in 12 films.

Harry Wills

At this time while working outside of the boxing ring, Dempsey would be accused by many of avoiding fights. Specifically being accused of avoiding popular black contender Harry Wills. At this time rather than fighting people like Wills for his title, Dempsey would perform in exhibition bouts around the country for pay rather than putting his title on the line.


He also became a spokes person for various things and helped to sell various products. In a newspaper ad from 1921 just after beating Carpentier, Dempsey is using his star power to help sell Nuxated Iron supplements said to cure general tiredness. However these supplements had very little iron in them, however they did have a fair amount of what we would today call rat poison. Fair to say vitamin supplements have come a long way since the 1920s.

Jack and Estelle

In his time away from fighting, Dempsey also would marry his second wife, actress Estelle Taylor. Taylor was born May 20, 1894 in Wilmington, Delaware and they would meet while both living in Los Angeles, California and working in the film industry. Taylor did not get along with Dempsey's manager Doc Kearns and Kearns didn't really approve of Dempsey being with any women as it took away from his fight career. However Dempsey would marry Taylor on February 7, 1925.

Taylor would prove to be very influential over Dempsey. She had convinced Dempsey to get a nose job in 1924 prior to their marriage. A news paper article talking about his new nose referred to it as "...a thing of chaste Grecian beauty." However, Dempsey's fight team was furious about it. They saw it as a liability. In future fights Dempsey may be hesitant to take punches for fear of breaking his new nose and it would give his opponents a weakened target to aim for. Taylor would also convince Dempsey to take more control over his career which would end up with him firing Kearns. Kearns would end up suing Dempsey over the years for large sums of money due to their various business dealings.

Gene “The Fighting Marine” Tunney​

Gene “The Fighting Marine” Tunney​ in his Marines dress uniform

Dempsey's sixth title defense would come against Gene "The Fighting Marine" Tunney. Tunney was born on May 25, 1897 in New York City and enlisted in the Marine Corps during WWI. He served with the 11th Marine Regiment in France and later in Germany during the war. However, he never saw combat having spent most of the war in the Marine Boxing team. Later in life he joined the United States Naval Reserve during WWII and helped to establish a physical fitness program for student pilots.


Their fight took place on September 23, 1926 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This was another historic fight in Dempsey's career with a gate of $1,895,733 and 120,274 people in attendance, a record crowd that would not be beaten for 67 years. Dempsey was considered the heavy favorite going into the fight despite the fact that Tunney had only lost one time in his previous 82 fights.


Dempsey v Tunney

However, Tunney would win via decision in the 10th round. Some had speculated that Dempsey lost because he had been poisoned by one of his bodyguards. The story is that the bodyguard was paid off by notorious racketeer Arnold Rothstein who had placed a $125,000 bet at 4 to 1 odds on Tunney to win. The fight was called the upset of the decade by the Ring magazine. Upon returning to his dressing room after the loss he turned to his wife and said, "Honey, I forgot to duck."

Tunney dethrones Dempsey
Jack Sharkey

Within a year Dempsey is back in the ring in a number one contenders fight with contenders Jack Sharkey. They would fight on July 21, 1927 in Yankee Stadium with Dempsey winning via 7th round knockout. While a win for Dempsey, it had its own controversy. Sharkey had turned to the ref to complain about low blows Dempsey had allegedly been throwing and while not looking Dempsey landed his knockout punch. But no matter the way, Dempsey won and earned another fight against Tunney. It would shape up to be an unforgettable moment in sports history.


Dempsey v Tunney II would happen on September 22, 1927 in Chicago, Illinois. This would be the first 2 million dollar gate in entertainment history with a gate of $2,658,660. The key difference between this and their previous meeting was a new rule that had been instituted for the first time. Now, when a fighter was knocked down, the standing fighter must back up to a neutral corner and then the referee will begin their 10 count. Previously, fighters could stay very close and lean over their downed opponents while the referee counted and strike again once their knees came off the ground. This rule change would help earn this fight the nickname of "the long count."

Jack Dempsey v Gene Tunney


Dempsey standing over Tunney

Tunney would win the first six rounds much like he had before but in the seventh, Dempsey would corner Tunney and knock him down for the first time in Tunney's career. Dempsey had forgotten the new rule and was not walking to a neutral corner which caused the referee to delay the start of his count. By the time Dempsey began to move away and the referee began his count, Tunney had been on the ground for approximately four seconds. Tunney eventually gets up at the referee's count of nine which would really be 14 and the fight continued. Many use this to claim that Dempsey should have won the fight right here with others maintaining that he should have remembered the new rule.

A young Tunney and Dempsey prior to their two fights

To rub salt in the wounds of any Dempsey fans, in the next round Dempsey would be knocked down and Tunney would not go into a neutral corner, however the referee would begin counting right away. Dempsey would get up and win the last two rounds. But Tunney would again win this fight via 10th round decision. After the fight Dempsey would raise Tunney's hand and say to him, "You were best. You fought a smart fight, kid."


As film of the fight circled the country and more and more people saw it, more and more people were upset about the long count. When asked about it, Tunney claimed that he had picked up on the referee's count at two which would have been six if he started when the knockdown occurred so he could have gotten up at nine and been back in the fight. He was just doing what all smart boxers do and wait until nine for some added rest after a knockdown. In response to this, Dempsey said, "I have no reason not to believe him. Gene's a great guy." Dempsey and Tunney would remain good friends into their old age visiting each other often.


This would be Jack's last professional boxing match. He would continue to be involved in the sport helping younger fighters and promoting fights. He would also have exhibition boxing matches from time to time with up and coming fighters like future champ Max Baer. He would also continue his film career in retirement, but now many times not as the main star and heartthrob, but in a supporting role. Like appearing in the 1933 film, The Prizefighter and the Lady which also starred Max Baer.

Left - Dempsey v Baer in an exhibition fight | Right - The Prizefighter and the Lady poster


Hotel Riviera del Pacifico

In 1930 at the start of his retirement, Dempsey would become the manager of a new hotel and casino 70 miles south of the United States border in Baja, California, Mexico called the Hotel Riviera del Pacifico. It was financed by Al Capone who was one of Dempsey's biggest fans. Sadly the hotel would never be a big success with the end of prohibition coming in 1933 in the United States and there never been a good road built from the border to the hotel.

Advertisement for Dempsey's restaurant

In 1935 Dempsey would open Jack Dempsey's Broadway Restaurant in Manhattan on 49th Street across the street from the third Madison Square Garden. In its early years Dempsey was known to be a fixture in the restaurant always greeting fans, signing autographs and taking pictures. It would eventually move to the Brill Building on Broadway between 49th and 50th streets and as Dempsey got older and his star faded, so did the restaurant with it eventually closing in 1974.

Dempsey with his 3rd wife Hannah Williams and their daughters Joan and Barbara

Dempsey with his 4th wife Deanna Piatelli

Dempsey would also divorce his second wife Estelle Taylor in 1930 shortly after retiring from fighting. He would marry his third wife, stage and film actress, singer and comedian Hannah Williams in 1933. Together they would have two daughters, Joan and Barbara. They would remain married for 10 years before being divorced in 1943. He would be married for the 4th and final time in 1958 to Deanna Piatelli and together they would adopt a daughter.

Dempsey in WWII

In retirement Dempsey would also get a chance to rectify one of the biggest stains on his life. He was still upset about the draft dodging accusations from World War I and when WWII started, while he was too old to serve in battle, he wanted to do his part. He originally enlisted in the New York State Guard and was commissioned as a First Lieutenant but would resign and then accept a commission as a Lieutenant with the Coast Guard Reserve instead. He reported for duty in June 1942 at the Coast Guard Training Station in Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, New York and was assigned Director of Physical Education.


He was already seen as a boxing legend with most fans coming around and forgiving him in his two fights with Gene Tunney, but Dempsey wanted to serve his country since he was not able to before. In this time he did his part by mostly making appearances at fights, camps, hospitals and war bond drives. He was promoted to Commander in March of 1944 and was aboard the USS Arthur Middleton in 1945 for the Invasion of Okinawa. He was released from active duty in September 1945 and received an honorable discharge from the Coast Guard Reserve in 1952.

Left to Right - Joe Frazier (then heavyweight champion), Jack Dempsey, Jack Sharkey, Georges Carpentier and Gene Tunney wishing Dempsey Happy 75th Birthday in MSG in 1970​.

Jack Dempsey is seen today as one of the best boxers to have ever lived. Many boxers today still cite him today as a big influence on them. Mike Tyson has always said Dempsey was one of his favorite fighters and biggest inspirations in the ring. In 1954 he was an inaugural inductee to the Ring magazine's boxing hall of fame and an inaugural inductee in 1990 to the international boxing hall of fame. He also maintained good relations with many people in the professional boxing industry throughout his life including many of his former opponents.

Dempsey's Grave


On May 31, 1983 Dempsey would die of heart failure at the age of 87 in New York City. He is buried in Southampton at the Southampton Cemetery on County Road 39, but how he ended up here is a bit of a mystery to us still. The June 5, 1983 edition of the New York Times says, "...Jack Dempsey was buried today, one mile from the beach he loved..." But it is hard to tell what beach here in Southampton would have been his favorite as there are none directly within a mile of the cemetery. Between Jack Dempsey's grave and John L. Sullivan's final training facility, Southampton has quite a connection to two of boxing's biggest legends.

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