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muriel j smith 120aRick Geffkin’s terrific story in the Two River Times last week about boxer Mickey Walker and how the Rumson Fair Haven teams got their Bull Dog nickname prompts me to share a personal story that involves not only the boxer, but also my dad and why I am a writer.  It’s something I can’t help…I inherited the passion.

Rick’s research. And it’s always extensive…. included reviewing an article my father, Vincent dePaul Slavin, (and it was ALWAYS Vincent dePaul, never Vince or Vincent DePaul, to be sure St. Vincent dePaul was always honored) who was a young reporter when Walker was training in Rumson.

It was 1921 and my father was 24 at the time, and writing for The Index and Elizabeth Review, billed as “the only Sunday newspaper in Union County.”  His byline on the story identifies him as a special correspondent to the paper, which means he was probably writing for several different papers at the same time.  Another gene I inherited.

He was raised in Philadelphia, and somehow the family found their way to Elizabeth, NJ, probably because his father got a job with the ESSO Refinery. He had met my mother, but it would be another four years before the couple married and settled in Union.

mickey walkerPHOTO:  Mickey Walker

Mickey Walker was about 21 at the time, was born in Elizabeth,  lived in Newark and was scheduled to wage “the fight of his life” against Jack Britton, another Irishman who held the welterweight title. My father thought the story was important enough and ‘local’ enough to wrangle his way into hanging around Walker for an entire day while the boxer trained in and around his home on Lafayette St. in Rumson. The news story, written in the flowing, adjective-filled prose of the day, captured some of the beauty of the area as well as the training techniques of Walker and his training team.

My father hadn’t spent much time in Monmouth County…it would be another ten years and a few children later before he brought his family to enjoy the beach at Sandlass Beach Club across the river from Highlands. And he described Walker’s Rumson training camp as being “three miles” from the more famous town of Red Bank.

You could tell he loved the area though. Despite the story being about the soon to be welterweight champion, my father took news space to write:

“Two blocks from the shore of the Shrewsbury River, in the rear of a bungalow well shaded with huge maple trees, there stands a little house, one story high, and containing but one room. In this room, Mickey went through a good bit of his hard work.”

Later in the article, he writes: “Every morning at seven sharp found Mickey tumbling out of the hay down stairs for his cup of tea and a few pieces of toast. At eight o’clock he started on the road, and with his many supporters, second, sparring partners and mascots, covered three miles through the hills of Monmouth County.”

The story goes on to talk about the run, the rubdowns after, the finishing order of the rest of the team, a nap for the champ, then launches back into the charm of Monmouth County and its people. The group, including my dad, Walker’s chauffeur and a few others, sat down for “a good old-fashioned country meal” when “the good old country mother at whose home the challenger boarded, spread on the table fried potatoes, egg salad (that couldn’t be beat) frankfurters, rolls and tea.”

After lunch, the story continues, “all hands bounced into Bulger’s ((Walker’s manager, Jack Bulger) auto and rode two blocks to the water front where Joe Higgins and Gillie had a chance to show their fancy diving wares…. Mickey sat on the rear of the pier with a fair damsel who showed him how to knit.”  The reporter added, “up until two weeks ago, Walker battled with the waves daily, but for the last few days Bulger wouldn’t permit his charge to take to the inviting waves of the Shrewsbury.”

Nor could Walker enjoy the festivities at Borden’s skating rink as the rest of his crew did. While the rest all donned skates to enjoy the rink, Walker wasn’t permitted by his manager to skate, the story said, for fear he might fall and injure himself.

Walker went on to a disputed decision in that bout but came back the next year to claim the title, and again to take the middleweight title from Tiger Flowers. And later yet, to go eight rounds as a heavyweight against Max Schmelling.  But he retired in 1935, opened a pub in Elizabeth and took up art, painting and exhibiting both still life and scenery.  Sadly, it was in 1974 when Freehold police found him lying alongside the road and took him for a homeless alcoholic. Actually, he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, atherosclerosis and anemia, and spent the next few years in a variety of care centers and hospitals. He died April 28, 1981 at Freehold Area Hospital.

My dad went on to be the police reporter for the Newark Evening News, covering everything from the Hindenburg explosion at Lakewood to Dutch Schulz’ murder on the street in Newark, as well as hospital ships returning with injured GIs during World War II, murderers and priests alike.  He died suddenly in 1945 nine days before Christmas. But he left me, his youngest daughter, with a gift for which I’ll always be grateful.