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In search of: The phantom gym at Eastern State Penitentiary

The dynamic duo of boxing history are back for another adventure

By Khadi Madama with Eamo Clyne

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Boxing history
Boxing history

The Blue Collar Cat From Dublin, Eamo Clyne and I have a special list. The list is a compilation of all of the historical boxing gems that are in the local driving distance of NJ and Pennsylvania. Some are easy to find and others more difficult because they are no longer there. But what about those Boxing gems that were NEVER there in the first place, yet appear to have been there? Is it smoke and mirrors? Is it an evil plot?

 

Now that’s the question that was raised when on that fateful day Eamo Clyne and I were trying to decide on our next In Search Of boxing adventure. The next item on the list was regarding this photo that I discovered of boxers while on a tour of Eastern State Penitentiary years before. I had taken a snap of it and then tucked it away for years until we started setting up Eamo’s office. In fact, it’s nicely framed in a collage on Eamo’s office wall at this very moment. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

 

It all began when I visited ESP back in 2009 and discovered the photo on a wall in one of the crumbling rooms on the tour. Being a huge boxing fan, especially from the good old, bad old days, I naturally noticed right away a photo of four pugilists posing in their trunks with a small man who, in a straw hat, looked more like a carnival barker than a manager. The photo on the wall had no description and the tour guide had no information about it and so it slipped into obscurity for the next 8 years until it came out of an archival dig of the boxes containing boxing memorabilia for Eamo’s office.

 

Now, if The Blue Collar Cat were knocked out by Mike Tyson, cold and on the canvas and anyone whispered the word “boxing” in his ear, I guarantee that he would not only wake up but that he would bolt straight upright and want to know how soon we could leave to get to the next match or adventure.

 

You think I’m exaggerating? Wild horses couldn’t keep him away. And so, it was on a warm spring day that we found ourselves going over the list to see where we might go exploring, when I recalled the ambiguous photo and directed Eamo’s attention to it on the wall. Did I also mention that I had it stuck in my noggin that Rubin “The Hurricane” Carter had been imprisoned in ESP?

 

I was sure as shootin’ that he was. Eamo disagreed and said that he had never read or found anything to that end and he did another bit of research to prove it to me. That’s why he’s the researcher and I’m the writer, but now we had this huge gaping mystery to solve - that of the absence of a boxing gym for the fighters in the photo and to identify who the boxers were.

 

After all, there was Eamo Clyne raring to go and planning the long and winding road-trip down Rte 70. Snacks and drinks for the car, notepads, map quest, auto phone charger, well, you get the picture.

 

The photo, we discovered later by the clerk on the phone at ESP, had been taken in 1929 for an exhibition of Jewish life of that era, and placed in the crumbling synagogue where the exhibit was being featured. The identity of the boxers in the photo was finally revealed. Ace Clark, Tom Toner, Matt Adgie and Jack Gross. The mysterious little chap wearing the “42 Street Skimmer” was none other than The King of Bootlegging - Max “Boo Boo” Hoff, one of Philadelphia’s most famous Jewish mob bosses. The funny thing is that if you look at the photo, it’s difficult to be sure that they are not in an actual boxing gym.

 

And that is how the search for the phantom gym of Eastern State Pen got it’s name. We did learn, however, that a fun diner is right across the street from the prison, named aptly, Mugshots. It is said that Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins is a friend of the owner and has been known to frequent there.

 

For heaven’s sake, don’t let on to Eamo Clyne!

 

 

To read more adventures from the dynamic duo, check out the day they found Muhammad Ali’s old home

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