On the 100th anniversary of his death, a committed group of fans gathered in the heat at Mount Auburn Cemetery to celebrate the legacy of Joseph Gans. He is a little known Baltimore legend, and the ceremonies on Aug. 10, were designed to change all that.
In a loose recreation of his burial, a mock casket for Gans was brought in on a horse-drawn funeral wagon and carried to sit before his massive headstone, already adorned with photos from his career and boxing gloves.
Jeanne Hitchcock, from Gov. Martin O'Malley's office, presented a citation as a tribute to "celebrate and commemorate the life of and the 100th anniversary of the death of Joe Gans – a boxing legend and a beacon of hope for the African-American community.”
After the ceremony, the funeral wagon led the procession from the cemetery and many of those assembled made their way to Perkins Square.
As the small group gathered to await the street renaming at Perkins Square, individuals offered up tidbits about their connection to Gans and what they were doing to tell his story. One native Baltimorean admitted he’d never heard of Gans before that day.
And therein lies the rub. Baltimore brewed one of the greatest fighters of all times and too many have never heard of him. With 150 career victories and 100 knockouts, one wonders how that can be possible.
So Friends of Joe Gans, a group of local enthusiasts, has rallied to make sure everyone knows who Gans was, especially members of his hometown.
“With all the negativity that’s always floating around about Baltimore – ‘The Wire,’ ‘The Corner,’ ‘Homicide’ – we need to know some positive things,” said Kevin Grace, part-time actor, and Friends of Joe Gans president. “Once I did my research, I was determined to let everyone know about this great boxer.”
And they enlisted the support of the community that nurtured Gans.
“We were really happy to find out that a great fighter had lived in our community,” said Janet Allen, president of Heritage Crossing Resident Association, a group that encompasses the Argyle Avenue residence of Maria Gant, who adopted the 4-year-old when he became an orphan. “It seemed most of our residents had never heard of Gans but were thrilled to learn of his legacy and energized to share that story with the rest of the city.
“He really is our unsung hero.”
He was such a great boxer that he was known as “The Old Master,” an unusual title for one who died at the young age of 35 on Aug. 10, 1910. And a century later, his exploits are being resurrected.
He was the first African-American world champion in any sport.
Clay Moyle, in a review of the Gans biography by Colleen Aycock, said, “A number of great early 20th century fighters, including the likes of Jack Johnson and Sam Langford, were greatly influenced by Gans.”
With the purse from a 42-round bout – the longest title fight in history and the longest every filmed – he opened a hotel in Baltimore, The Goldfield, and debuted a young pianist, a little known jazz guy by the name of Eubie Blake.
It’s been a long year for Grace and his Friends. And while they have no immediate events planned, there’s the ongoing crusade to have a wax figure of Gans in the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum. “People can go onto their website [www.greatblackinwax.org] and make donations if they’d like,” Grace said.