There is a new exhibit on the walls of Pizza King at the corner of Loring and Salem Streets. Researcher Christine Lewis has been documenting the boxing scene of Lawrence for many years. Hours of web searches, interviews, microfilm trawling, and bar hopping have finally led to a fun and interesting display of boxing memories.
Lawrence, MA at one time rivaled its upriver neighbor Lowell as a boxing city, but for many reasons the story of boxing in Lawrence has been overlooked and undersold. Small industrial cities were places where our grandparents got their start on the path toward becoming Americans. As these small industrial cities experience a changing of the guard, much of their history is disappearing. Long gone are the special barrooms that would enshrine the hometown boxing heroes. Sportswriters wrote detailed and highly personal stories about the small city boxers and the men in the business-of-boxing infrastructure. While major sports media outlets like ESPN and Deadspin now provide us with a steady stream of stories and gossip around national athletes, nothing can compare to the long-form journalism of the early 20th century, where, traced over time, lives of these men read more like Greek myths than celebrity tabloids. This exhibit focuses on the early years from 1900 through the mid 1930s. So much of who we once were as a culture can be read through the stories of men like George “The Marine” LaBlanche who died broke in Lawrence. The city leaders passed the hat in order to save him from a pauper’s grave. Lawrencian Tommy “Kloby” Corcoran’s NE title fight with Eddie Shevlin brought over 12,000 fans to the city of Lawrence. When Jimmy Cagney needed to hone his street cred, he hung out with Lawrence’s Andy Callahan. Amateur boxer Mike Tardugno earned an NCAA boxing scholarship that took him through Georgetown and Columbia where he graduated with a law degree. His brother Angie was the 1933 bantam weight AAU champion.
Christine chose the Pizza King in Lawrence for the first exhibit because the King, John Sapienza has deep family roots in the city. She felt that his customers would appreciate and possibly recognize some of these early names. And he’s the last of a dying breed of stand alone pizza men. She certainly has tried a less traditional venue, one that would encourage interaction. This is only the beginning. Watch Queen City MA for more boxing news and stop into Pizza King for a slice of calzone and boxing.