Tour Locations | Unholy Toledo Tour: Gambling and Gangsters in the Glass City
Dempsey Willard Fight | Bay View Park
Coming up on our right is Bay View Park, the site of the Jess Willard-Jack Dempsey world championship bout held on July 4, 1919. This was the biggest sporting event, or perhaps, the biggest historical event, ever held in Toledo.
This was the site of an 80,000 seat octagon-shaped stadium made of Michigan white pine and labeled the biggest in the world. The New York Sun called it “the greatest stadium ever built.”
On the day of the fight, the temperatures reached 114 degrees. Champion Jess Willard outweighed challenger Jack Dempsey by 60 pounds and was half a foot taller yet Dempsey battered the champion to a pulp. He knocked Willard down seven times in the first round. In the end, Dempsey was declared the winner after Willard failed to answer the bell for the 4th round. The challenger had left the champ with multiple broken ribs, a broken jaw, and four missing teeth.
Back in the day, the promoters claimed less than 20,000 attended the fight because of the oppressive heat but they were probably padding their pockets by keeping the gate numbers low. Modern estimates put the crowd at 50,000. Whatever the size, it was a thirsty group. They went through 3,000 gallons of lemonade, 96,000 bottles of pop, and 200,000 bottles of near beer.
Here's my favorite part of this story, in his bio, Dempsey recalled standing in the ring waiting for the fight to start and seeing Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson collecting weapons from tough guys in the crowd. Apparently, Masterson was in town to cover the fight for the New York Morning Telegraph, Earp was brought in for security and had asked his old friend to help out. What a story! Right here in Unholy Toledo!