June 27, 1914: The Battle in Paris, Johnson vs. Moran

Jack Johnson - boxrec.com
Jack Johnson – boxrec.com
Frank Moran (an early victim of what would be bad photoshopping today) image from the Chicago Daily Tribune, published 6/28/1914
Frank Moran (an early victim of what would be bad photoshopping today) image from the Chicago Daily Tribune, published 6/28/1914

In 1914, world heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson was in exile. Technically his crime was violation of the Mann Act, which criminalized the transportation of women across state lines “for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose.” The truth was Jack Johnson, the son of former slaves, had married Lucille Cameron, a white woman. Johnson had been convicted by a snow-white jury of the Mann Act violation even after Cameron had refused to cooperate with the case against him. Johnson decided to skip town and the couple had fled the U.S. through Canada. By 1914 they were living in Paris.

A lesser known boxer came to Paris in June of 1914 to challenge Johnson’s crown, and the truth was he was well-positioned to do so. Frank Moran had fought Johnson before and was familiar with the champ’s style, and Moran had developed a rep as a knock-out artist, with a savage right cross he lovingly dubbed “Mary Ann.”

The Chicago Tribune published a detailed account of the match the following day, but the tenor of most of the American coverage of the fight can easily be gleaned from these paragraphs recounting the 14th through 16th rounds:

(Chicago Daily Tribune, 6/28/1914)
(Chicago Daily Tribune, 6/28/1914)

Below is a video made from the film of the fight. Someone has inserted both crowd noises and voiceover/play-by-play, but it still appears to capture the key moments.

In the end, the match wasn’t particularly exciting, and it was decided for Johnson. Most fight observers agreed he wasn’t in his best form and took some cheap shots when he could, but remained the superior fighter. Jack Johnson’s fascinating career trended downward from there, as he was already 37 at the time of the bout. Ken Burns made a documentary about Johnson that you can read more about here: Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson.

Frank Moran became a Zelig-like character, rubbing elbows with some of the 20th century’s most notable people. “The Fighting Dentist,” as he was sometimes called (huh?), had sparred with the likes of Theodore Roosevelt early in the 1900s, and by the late 1920s he was an actor. He appeared, sometimes uncredited, in films with famous names like Bela Lugosi, Mae West, Charlie Chaplin, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.

Little noticed in Europe at large, much less other parts of the world, an Austro-Hungarian royal and his wife dined in Sarajevo, 1,111 miles from Paris. They feasted with other dignitaries on fine wine and fresh trout. The following day, June 28, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, planned to review Austro-Hungarian troops and attend a museum dedication.

[The Chicago Sunday Tribune, via Newspapers.com]

Paris, 1914: a solstice gathering

The Flammarion Engraving, artist unknown, associated with writings of Camille Flammarion - Wikipedia, public domain image
The Flammarion Engraving, artist unknown, associated with writings of Camille Flammarion – Wikipedia, public domain image

At midnight on June 22, 1914, an august party of dignitaries gathered atop the Eiffel Tower to, according to the following day’s New York Times, “salute sunrise on the occasion of the Summer solstice.”

The gathering was not the first of its kind (it was the eleventh) and perhaps not of historical importance, but the famous names mentioned in the Times article imbued the account with a certain gravity.

A Jean de Paléologue poster for Loïe Fuller at the Folies Bergère in 1902 (Wikipedia, public domain)
A Jean de Paléologue poster for Loïe Fuller at the Folies Bergère in 1902 (Wikipedia, public domain)

The Times reported that attendees included astronomer and author Nicolas Camille Flammarion, who addressed the gathering. Also among the 200 or so in attendance were leading French composer Camille Saint-Saëns, Gustave Eiffel himself, and American astronomer Percival Lowell.

The assemblage had a banquet, at some point Flammarion gave his speech and the Times reported everyone enjoyed “an ‘astronomical burlesque.'”

Then, at 3 a.m., American dancer Loïe Fuller took center stage and performed a “sunrise dance.”

Fuller, a true pioneer in dance, had left America many years before to find her fame in Europe. She became a star in Paris, and it remained her home till her death in 1928. She was a true innovator in style and lighting, famed for her “Serpentine Dance.”

Aside from newspaper accounts, there isn’t much of a record of Mme. Fuller’s appearance on the Tower that solstice, nor of how she choreographed her 1914 “sunrise” steps. This silent short from 1902 of her performing the “Serpentine” illustrates her style.

A sense of what those assembled atop the Eiffel Tower that night may have felt watching the performance can be gleaned from a  quote by her contemporary Arsène Alexandre, who described Fuller as a “marvelous dream-creature you see dancing madly in a vision swirling among her dappled veils which change ten thousand times a minute.”

As for the speaker, Camille Flammarion–he was a forerunner of the likes of Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson, popularizing astronomy the best way he could at the time, through lectures as well as scientific and speculative writing. Some idea of Flammarion’s way with words can be found in the Augusta Rice Stetson translation of his novel Uranie. In Chapter 3, describing the protagonist’s fanciful flight across several other worlds, Flammarion portrayed a moment among human-like creatures with glowing eyes:

On another globe which we crossed during the night […] human eyes are so constructed as to be luminous, and shine as though some phosphorescent emanation radiated from their strange centres. A night meeting comprising a large number of these persons presents an extremely fantastic appearance, because the brilliancy, as well as the color, of the eyes changes with the different passions by which they are swayed.

Imagine that night, with a cool breeze up there above the hustle and clamor of Paris, that “marvelous dream-creature” turning wildly in her shimmering silks before the crowd. The lights of the city below like Flammarion’s fantastic night meeting of glowing eyes, watching the tower and the sky beyond. It was a moment, a pause.

June 28 was less than a week away.

[The New York Times, edition published 6/23/1914, via Newspapers.com]

American Found Dead in Paris: The Mysterious Death of Henry Collett

It was a small but intriguing notice, published in several northeastern papers on February 27, 1914. The New York Sun’s item was cabled to the paper, not taken from a wire service. In the Sun’s brief account, a modern reader might scent a lover’s quarrel gone wrong. The more worldly New Yorker of 1914 may have assumed the same. The Sun’s article:

Man Found Dead In Room, His Companion Being Sought

Special Cable Dispatch to The Sun.

Paris, Feb. 26–Henry Collett, an American ship’s officer, 30 years of age, employed on the Hamburg-American liner Cleveland, was found dead in his room in a hotel here to-day. Death had been caused by a revolver shot. Mr. Collett arrived here from Marseilles on February 22 and hired a room at a cheap hotel for himself and an eighteen-year-old boy named Dubois. Tho man and boy made so much noise at the hotel last night that the landlord ejected Dubois. The latter called at the hotel early this morning and left shortly afterward.

At 11:30 o clock Collett was found dead in his room. The police are looking for Dubois.

The same day, the New York Times published its own item. It was the same story, but different.

From the New York Times, published 2/27/1914
From the New York Times, published 2/27/1914

Papers would put out morning and evening editions well into the 20th century (I can recall one of the 2 papers published in my hometown running two daily editions in my lifetime). The variation between the Sun’s possibly prurient tale and the Times’s less tawdry but sad story of Mr. Collett’s death being a suicide may have had more to do with when the papers went to press.

The Times story caught my attention for the headline. I was further drawn in by “In the pockets of the dead man were a letter bearing the name ‘Henry Collett, Worcester, Mass.’ and seven francs…”

I’m from the south but live in Worcester and threadbare as the tie was, I was still curious to know whatever else I could about the man who died in that Paris hotel.

I couldn’t really satisfy my curiosity the way I wanted, but I did find out a few things about a man named Henry Collett who lived in Worcester at the right time and was the right age.

In the 1910 Census, a Henry Collett in the right age range lived at 199 Hope Avenue in Worcester. He lived with the Mallett family and was listed as the head of household’s single brother-in-law. Collett was employed as an operator at a screw factory. He’d been born in Massachusetts, but his parents were French Canadian. Worcester’s population grew a great deal in the 19th and 20th centuries from Canadians crossing the border seeking better jobs.

I pass that address on Hope Avenue on a regular basis. It’s along the route to my kid’s school. At the end of Hope a traveler can follow the roundabout to the right and end up on Webster Street.  Hope Cemetery is on Webster. Dedicated in 1852, it is the final resting place of luminaries such as poet Elizabeth Bishop the father of rocket science, Robert H. Goddard.

Part of me wants to find out if Henry Collett was taken from his shabby hotel room on Rue Aux Ours about 100 years ago and put in the hold of another ship. If he made it back to Worcester, and perhaps to Hope Cemetery. It seems improbable, but you never know.

Was it really suicide? A single man in his thirties traveling the world, partying too much with an 18-year-old frenchman… questions there, too. What really happened, Henry, before the war came and erased questions about so many things with gigantic questions we still ask today?

If Henry Collett is in Hope Cemetery I have unanswerable questions to ask his headstone.