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The TEX RICKARD Story
The author of His Eye Is on the Sparrow, the distinguished life of Ethel Waters, turns now to the extraordinary saga of America's greatest and most colorful sports promoter, George Lewis Rickard, whose achievements during the first Golden Age of Sport placed him among the most celebrated titans of his day
When Tex Rickard, the sports promoter, died in Miami on Jan. 6, 1929 the newspapers could not have devoted much more space to his career if he had been President. In itself this was not too puzzling. Every move Rickard had made for years had been front-page news. Before creating the "million-dollar gate" with Jack Dempsey, Tex had been, successively, a cowboy, a town marshal in Texas, a prospector in the Yukon, a gambling-saloon owner in the Klondike and Nevada gold rushes, a fortune hunter in South Africa and a cattle baron in Paraguay. More difficult to explain than the tremendous press coverage of Rickard's death was the widespread emotional reaction of the public. Thousands of men and women who never had known Tex personally mourned him as though he had been their lifelong friend.
This curious phenomenon first became apparent as Rickard's body was being taken to New York. In death as in life, George Lewis Rickard traveled in style. His body—in a $15,000 solid bronze casket that weighed 2,200 pounds—was shipped north in a private railway car hooked onto the end of the Havana Special. Wherever the train stopped, and at whatever hour of the night or early morning, crowds of men and women were at the station to see the private railway car that Tex Rickard was going home in.
The day that train ended its 35-hour journey in New York's Pennsylvania Station, a front-page headline in the New York Times read:
COLD NUMBS CITY;
Yet, outside, thousands waited for a look at the casket. All along the route crowds lined both curbs of the 16 blocks to Madison Square Garden. The temperature did not rise above 25° that day, but a crowd started to gather outside the Garden early in the afternoon, and by 4 o'clock there were 700 persons in line.
"There are mighty few men in whom New York is enough interested to walk across the street to see them dead," the Sun's Edwin C. Hill wrote. "But they came, the people who had been waiting, and they were of every sort and degree...." It was a bizarre sight—Rickard lying in his bower-covered coffin in that high, bare auditorium under the brilliant arc lights he had used on fight nights, and 15,000 persons slowly filing past in two lines, one on each side of the bier.
The next day 10,000 more people attended the funeral rites. Rickard for years had not been much of a church-going man, and after considerable discussion it was decided that a Baptist clergyman, an Episcopal clergyman, a Catholic lawyer and a Jewish judge should in turn recommend him to the safekeeping of God.