The first Jack Dempsey, known as “The Nonpareil,” whose name was Kelly, was born in Ireland. He arrived in New York as a boy and eventually went to work as a cooper. He attended a boxing show in 1883-he then was 21-and when one of the headliners failed to appear, Kelly volunteered as substitute and gave his name as Jack Dempsey.
He won that fight, indulged in others, was victorious, quit the cooperage trade and embarked upon a ring career. Campaigning from 1883 to 1888 and weighing no more than 150 pounds at most, he never was defeated, although he battled more than 60 men, taking on all sizes from welters to heavies. On Aug. 27, 1889, he met George La Blanche in San Francisco. In the 22d round, La Blanche pivoted completely around, with his right arm stuck out straight lice a stick, and it struck Dempsey with the impact of a whirling crowbar and dropped him for the count.
That was the first time the pivot punch was used-and the last. It has been perpetually barred.
Dempsey never recovered from that defeat. In his next fight Feb. 18, 1890-he won from Australian Billy McCarthy, but he lacked the dash and the spirit of the other years. On Jan. 14, 1891, Bob Fitzsimmons stopped him in 13 rounds in New Orleans and won Dempsey’s middleweight title. Jack outpointed Mike Keough in 4 rounds in 1893, drew with McCarthy in 20 in 1894 and lost the last battle of his career to Tommy Ryan at Coney Island, N.Y., 3 rounds, Jan. 18, 1895.
Dempsey took sick a short time later. On June 8, 1895, he made his final public appearance at a benefit given for him in New York. Hoping to regain his shattered health, he left for the West a short while later, but died in Portland, Ore., Nov. 1, 1895.
M.J. McMahon of Portland, who had been Dempsey’s attorney, was so touched by the neglect of Dempsey at his death by presumed friends and hurrahing admirers of other years, that he wrote the now world-famous poem. He had 1,000 copies made and distributed them among Dempsey’s friends. Being modest, he did not sign his name.
The poem first was printed anonymously in the Portland Oregonian on Dec. 10, 1899, and eventually was reprinted around the world. Dempsey’s friends, who had forgotten him so soon after his death in 1895, came rallying with funds to erect a tombstone and on this is now inscribed the poem which follows:
The Nonpareil’s Grave
Far out in the wilds of Oregon, On a lonely mountain side, Where Columbia’s mighty waters, Roll down to the ocean side;
Where the giant fir and cedar
Are imaged in the wave,
0′ ergrown with firs and lichens, I found Jack Dempsey’s grave.
I found no marble monolith,
No broken shaft, or stone,
Recording sixty victories,
This vanquished victor won;
No rose, no shamrock could I find, No mortal here to tell
Where sleeps in this forsaken spot Immortal Nonpareil.
A winding wooden canyon road That mortals seldom tread, Leads up this lonely mountain, To the desert of the dead.
And the Western sun was sinking In Pacific’s golden wave