From the Sept. 1927 Ring magazine.

                            The $50,000 Bluff 

(Ring Magazine, September, 1947)

By Nat Fleischer

"Feel topping, do ya, ol' clod? Well, then, let's 'ave a bit of a gargle!"

That was something in the nature of a standard greeting to a pal when Squire
Abingdon was abroad in our fair land many years ago the most amusing and
picturesque British sportgsman ever to come to this side of the big drink.

The Squire was of noble blood and I believe, if memory serves, he was one of
the Beresford tribe, or clan, but not having a copy of Burke's Peerage at
hand, I would not be sure of this. But Beresford or no, he was a royal sort
of great fellow, a gentleman always, despite at times a decidedly
questionable atmosphere and hazy companionship. A blunderingly gracious sort
of clown whom everybody liked and took to, and who, chiefly because of his
great spendthrift tendencies, was welcomed everywhere.

And "a bit of a gargle" it was with the Squire every turn of the road, every
bend of the journey, until the stuff and a sudden attack of pneumonia caught
up with him in New Orleans. He was on the eve of sailing for home when the
hand of death beckoned.

It was the late Charley Mitchell, persistent and insistent challenger for
the world's main fistic title, and John L. Sullivan's undoubted Nemesis, who
was chiefly responsible for Squire Abingdon's presence in this country. At
that time, though -- the late '80s and al through the more or less gay
'90s -- British sportsmen were quite common in this country and attracted
little or no attention. They came for all sorts and manner of sports events,
came and went, some with money they were willing to spend and some only with
reputations on which they attempted to capitalize.

Squire Abingdon was different, different in every way. Of all the many
quaint and unusual sport characters I've read about or met in a long
experience through the years of lean and fat, I recall no man who lived more
for the sheer joy of it all, one who made every second count and who
everlastingly and always was for and with his friends.

It proved the death of him, that sort of rackety and rickety living, but I'm
sure the Squire would have had no other way were it his say in the matter.
"Nonsense, my boy," he told the attending physician, who, in great alarm,
had called in three others for a consultation. "It's the blawsted cold I
picked up and I shall be around again in just a bit. Tell Charley to order
up another case of the bubbly stuff and we shall all feel better!"

Alas, that final case was never ordered. Even at the moment, Charley
Mitchell and his father-in-law, the inimitable "Pony" Moore, once great
English bookmaker and "pub" proprietor, had been told that the end was fast
approaching for his lordship, badly weakened and lacking resistance with
which to combat the dread leveller, was sinking into a coma that spelled the

Contrary to the accepted notion, this Briton had a keen sense of humor, even
to the point of the ludicrous. He could carry on a rapid-fire bit of
wise-cracking, then tabbed as joshing, with the fastest of the day's
American raconteurs. Never came there a time when the able and likeable
Squire didn't have a ready reply, crisp and delectable, but always kindly
and devoid of rancor or that disagreeable "bite" that so distinguishes the
caustically sarcastic.

The Squire had one tremendous aversion. It was simply and plainly the mere
mention of John L. Sullivan's name. Such mention would transform the Briton
from a mild-mannered, easy-going citizen into a frenzied madman. All of the
hate that was within this strange personality seemed vented right on that
one point. And if a bit of praise were added for the once mighty John L.,
the case was all the worse.

It was to see and bet on the Sullivan-Kilrain fight back in 1889 that
Abingdon first came to this country, then as usual, in the company of
Mitchell -- the handsome, affable but at times sneering English champion.
Charley came here to help Kilrain against his ancient enemy, the Boston
Strong Boy.

It was a feud that flared for many years when the late Richard K. Fox was in
his heyday and was drenching the country with his Police Gazette belts,
medals and cups for all sorts of sporting championships.

Sullivan had flatly refused to wear or even compete for one of these Fox
baubles, hence the feud, and Fox continued his expensive attempts to get
Sullivan licked.

It was in 1888 that Sullivan so signally failed in his attempt to whip
Mitchell in France and still a year before that, in 1887, that Kilrain and
Jem Smith had fought a draw of 103 rounds. Both of these were bare-knuckle
battles under the ancient London ring rules and brought out a lot of
dissension and bad feeling, no end. The upshot was the match in Richburg,
Miss., between Sullivan and Kilrain in 1889.

Mitchell came over to help Kilrain as much as he could, financially and
morally, even going to the extent of being in Kilrain's corner for the
prupose of taunting and annoying Sullivan as much as possible. And Abingdon
came along to bet quite a chunk of money and also to nag Sullivan by
constant references to his failure in France.

"E'E cawn't even whip a tiny bit of a middleweight like Mitchell, bloime
me!" the Squire would roar from time to time.

These efforts were futile, however, for Sullivan prevailed in the end after
what was, as it should have been, the last big bare knuckle fight in this

Abingdon was perhaps the best informed man of his day on pugilistica. He
liked nothing better than to relate his experiences of far back and to argue
over the present day matters of the ring. Mitchell was always with him, a
sort of paid retainer and court jester.

Whether he really believed it or not, Abingdon had an idea he himself could
lick Mitchell and when along in his cups dearly loved to pick a fight with
his handsome companion. Generally these wordy affairs were egged on by
Mitchell himself in the presence of a barroom full of companions.

They always wound up one way -- Abingdon would sock Mitchell a punch in the
nose and then of course they would be separated. Charley was asked why he
permitted this and his smiling reply was:

"Well, the blighter likes it, the show-off that he is, and always pays me
twenty quid when it's over." Mitchell was willing to take a lot of punches
on the nose at the rate of $100 per.

And there was no one quite so sartorially perfect as this same Abingdon.
During their grand tour of America, which was for pleasure mostly, though
Mitchell picked up plenty, for that time, with occasional exhibitions, he
made everybody gasp with displays of exceptional clothes, generally in the
very highest of good taste. He said that his ordinary suits cost him ten
guineas, or over $50 in American coin at the time, but the better grade
always put him back a matter of fifty and sixty guineas each. He carried
many of these around with him that he never wore at all and it was his
pleasure, when he found a pal about his own size to give him two or three of
the suits.

One of his prizes was a sable overcoat that cost him $5,000. And he had a
stock of walking sticks, many of them inlaid with jewels and worth hundreds
of dollars apiece, the Squire being careful to have his "crutches" match his
suiting as well as having the boutonniere and the somewhat lavish display of
jewelry in pleasing harmony. Men of coin were much bejeweled in those piping

Abingdon was by long odds the most remarkable British sports character ever
to come over to America.

When George A. Baird, better known as Squire Abingdon, died in New Orleans
in 1893, his death created an international sensation. When he came from New
York with Hall and Mitchell and their party, he started immediately to lead
a life of dissipation and after Hall's defeat by Fitzsimmons, he kept
exceedingly late hours until he broke down in health. He found New Orleans
very fast in a sporting sense and he cut out a pace that all who were with
him followed except Hall. His ambition to shine as a sporting luminary was
the incentive that brought him into a sphere which his wealth and social
rights might have induced him to avoid.

He chose his companions from among the most famous or rather infamous of
England's sporting men. Fighters and toughs of all descriptions he numbered
among his pensioners and to deserve his patronage, the latter were disposed
to go to any lengths to serve him. Some queer stories were told of assaults
upon inoffensive people who happened to have incurred the Squire's

With an income estimated at from $75,000 to $1,000,000 per year, Baird might
have bought his way to a much higher position than the one he occupied in
English sporting circles, but his fondness for the society of race track
touts, toughs and fighters, caused him to be ignored by the leading sporting
set, then headed by the Prince of Wales.

He was a great purchaser of thoroughbred stock but his stable transactions
were always effected with a view to keeping that branch of his affairs on a
paying stock. Barring his liberality in dealing with his pugilistic
constituency, he was in every sense a sportsman for revenue only.

Before his death he was the owner of one of the most famous racing stables
in Great Britain. He was the most liberal purchaser of yearlings every
season at the Great Doncaster Blood Stock Sales.

The era of Squire Abingdon was the most notable one in the history of
American pugilism. It was an era of grudge fights, of colorful ringmen, of
brawny, two-fisted gladiators.

That era has passed in fisticuffs. Gone is the drama, the color and the
glittering spectacle of the prize ring as it was known in the days of
Charley Mitchell, Pony Moore, Squire Abingdon, John L. Sullivan, Bob
Fitzsimmons, James J. Corbett and James J. Jeffries among other pugilistic
greats. That was the era when the signing of a heavyweight fight, especially
one for the world title, was a momentous occasion.

Today, when Joe Louis signs for a championship defense, he goes into the
inner sanctum of the Twentieth Century Sporting Club, places his John
Hancock to the contract offered him and when it is all over, out of the room
he comes with the officials of the organization to announce that he will
defend his crown on such-and-such a day. It's cut and dried commercialism.
No drama. No hair-raising side bets. No fanfare. No excitement. No color.

Not so in the days when Squire Abingdon backed a fighter. Let's go back to
the year 1892, shortly after James J. Corbett had taken the world
heavyweight title from John L. Sullivan.

The scene is the New York Evening World. The sports editor is Clarence
Ryder, famous the world over as a sports writer.

Charley Mitchell, his father-in-law, the old Minstrel Pony Moore, Jim Hall,
Squire Abingdon and several of their friends walked into the sports
department seeking the sports editor.

They were ushered into Ryder's office. Clarence offere the Squire a seat but
before the chair could be placed before him, the Britisher plunked down on
Ryder's desk fifty thousand dollar bills -- crisp, new money he had just
received from the Hanover Bank near the Pulitzer Building.

The editor stood motionless. He was amazed. It was the first time he had
ever seen so much money on his desk placed there by any of the many fight
managers who frequented his office to place side bets for their charges in
fights that Ryder had a hand in arranging.

"My name is Squire Abingdon of England. This is my friend Charley Mitchell,
the champion of England. You no doubt have heard much about him. This is his
manager, Pony Moore, his father-in-law. Here is fifty thousand dollars which
I am prepared to turn over to you as a side bet that my man, Mitchell, can
whip your Jim Corbett who just took the title from John L. Sullivan.

"This little man you see here, is the fellow who went thirty-nine rounds
with your Sullivan and had him whipped to a frazzle when time was called and
the bout was declared a draw only eight years ago. We came here to challenge
Corbett to a match for the title. I have also brought Jim Hall, the
Australian middleweight champion, here to challenge Bob Fitzsimmons whom he
knocked out in Australia in four rounds.

"You're the man who can arrange matters for us. Here's the money, get us the
fights. What we are mostly interested in is the fight with Corbett. Mitchell
will thrash your champion within an inch of his life if given the chance and
I'll be ready to back that statement up with a side bet of $50,000."

Ryder was flabbergasted. He told Baird to wait. Into the office of the
dramatic editor Clarence went, to see if Leander Richardson, owner of the
Dramatic News and one of the founders of the Morning Telegraph, was still
there, as Clarence and he had only a few minutes previously engaged in

Richardson was there, discussing a play with the dramatic editor. Ryder
explained his mission. He asked richardson where he could get Bill Brady,
Corbett's manager, and today the dean of Broadway theatrical producers.

"Leander, don't let that money get away from us. Call Bill Brady. Phone him
and tell of Abingdon's $50,000 splurge," said Ryder.

Richardson put in a call for Brady and soon had him on the wire.

"Bill, get busy right away. We must cover that bet. Round up $50,000 to
cover it. There are dozens of sportsmen, Bill, who will be glad to help you
get that sum together and back Jim. It's a cinch. I'll get plenty of it,
myself. That money mustn't get away from us."

An arrangement was made with the Squire to meet him within forty-eight hours
in the office of the Evening World's sports department to have the bet
covered and the fight arranged. But the editor figured that the affair was
too big to stage in his office and the Hoffman House was chosen, instead.

Two days later Bill Brady, Richardson, Ryder, Mitchell, Hall and Billy
Delaney, trainer of Corbett, were together in the Hoffman House to close the
deal. Brady called Abingdon's bluff because that is what it amounted to when
the showdown came.

Abingdon, with all of his wealth, wasn't prepared to back his man for so
much money. He pulled out fifty thousand dollar bills, placed them on the
table and told Brady to cover the amount. But he almost fainted when Brady,
contrary to Abingdon's expectations, put up his fifty grand plus one
thousand additional, and said:

"There you are, Squire. The winner to take all. Let's sign for a fight. I'm
going you one thousand better. The bet is for $51,000."

The Squire paled. he didn't expect Brady to come across with the dough and
he crawled. He finally agreed to bet $5,000 on the side, the purse to be

The deal was closed and then Brady went hunting for a battleground. He
contracted to stage the fight at the Coney Island Athletic Club but the
reformers got busy and there was an awful yelp from them, so big, in fact,
that Judge Gaynor, later Mayor of New York, chased the bout out of Brooklyn.

Then Brady tried to stage it in Georgia but the governor placed a ban on it
in that state. Finally it landed in Jacksonville, Florida, with the State
Militia in charge to see that nothing was done contrary to the law. Just
before the fight got under way, they rushed the best seats and held on to
them regardless of the actual owners.

Mitchell was knocked out in the third round and Squire Abingdon never did
see that fight. Nine months previously, the Squire had clinched a fight
between Hall and Fitzsimmons for New Orleans in which Hall was knocked out
by Fitz in four rounds and it was after this fight, in which the Squire
dropped a fortune, that he became ill and died of pneumonia.

As for the bout with Mitchell, the Britisher shoudl have won that bout on a
foul. When Corbett floored Charley in the third session, Mitchell was taking
the count on one knee. Looking up at Corbett, he began a tirade of filthy
language aimed at Jim.

It was part of the play to get Corbett's goat. He wanted Jim to lose his
head and commit a foul and this Corbett did. Enraged at the language,
Corbett slapped Mitchell across the mouth with his open glove while the
count was still on. It was a ticklish moment.

Bat Masterson, sports editor of the Morning Telegraph, and one of Mitchell's
men, there to protect him, immediately rose in protest. So did Pony Moore.
They shouted to Honest John Kelly, the referee, to disqualify Corbett, but
he took no action.

Brady, Billy Delaney and Nonpareil Jack Dempsey leaped into the ring to
protect Corbett's interest and in so doing, they also had committed a foul
because the count had not yet been completed. But despite this, Kelly
decided not to punish Corbett, who he figured was fully justified in
silencing the Britisher.