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The Brawls at Boston Corners
Arthur Myers
April 02, 1973
Prizefights have changed a lot of things over the years: the amount of money in people's pockets, the shape of a man's nose, opinions once held to be unshakable, the course of many men's lives. But only once to my knowledge has a prizefight changed the map of the United States. That was the fight between John Morrissey and the man they called Yankee Sullivan, and as a result of it Massachusetts lost an entire town to the State of New York.
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April 02, 1973

The Brawls At Boston Corners

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Articles were signed to fight for a purse of $2,000 on Oct. 5, within 100 miles or thereabouts of New York City. The fight seemed sure to draw thousands, but how to keep the enterprise from being busted—that was the problem. Someone thought of Boston Corners, and the wheels of history went into a slow grind.

The Harlem Railroad had just been built, and the sports began inundating Boston Corners via rail the day before the fight. The fighters waited until the last minute. One never knew; the law boys might make it over the hills from Great Barrington after all.

A ring had been set up on the drying ground of an old brickyard, and hours before the scheduled fight, the spectators staged dozens of unscheduled ones.

When the fighters got into the ring, Morrissey looked like a giant beside the middle-aged Sullivan. But just as the fight was about to start, Old Smoke got a special shot of encouragement. His wife jumped up at ringside and yelled that she had $1,000 that said her man would draw first blood. The bet was covered, and the gong sounded.

Sullivan immediately penetrated the burly Morrissey's defense and opened a gash over his right eye, and Mrs. Sullivan collected early. Morrissey had a magnificent build but a rather serious handicap for a fighter: he was blind in his left eye. Sullivan worked diligently on the gash, and the blood kept running down into Morrissey's good eye.

In those days, a knockdown ended the round, and the rounds sped by quickly as one or the other of the fighters hit the deck. The fight became more and more bloody and bitter as it ground on past the 15th, 20th, 30th rounds.

Each time one of the fighters got in a good blow it would set off a chain reaction in the crowd as their followers started sympathetic fights of their own. This extracurricular activity proved the decisive factor in the fight going on in the ring.

In the 37th round Sullivan glanced at the crowd just in time to see a close friend take a good one on the chops. Enraged, he stormed from the ring to avenge his buddy, and in a flash the whole crowd was a snarling, brawling mass. Morrissey stood alone in the center of the ring, and after some minutes of indecision, the referee raised his hand in victory. Unfortunately, however, the Massachusetts lawmen had made it over the mountains after all, and as soon as the fight ended they collared the champ and tossed him into the clink in Lenox. Prosecuted by District Attorney Henry L. Dawes of Pittsfield, he was fined $1,200 a few days later.

All in all, the boys made an indelible impression on Boston Corners, in more ways than one. The fight, publicized by newspapers all over the country, finally convinced the New York and Massachusetts legislatures that something had to be done, and a few months afterward Boston Corners was ceded to New York. Things have been pretty quiet there ever since.

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