“When asked to reveal the secret to his legendary virility, Johnson replied, ‘Eat jellied eels and think distant thoughts.’ ”
“On July 4th, 1910 heavyweight boxers Jack Johnson and former undefeated champion James Jeffries met in Reno, Nevada in what has been called “the Fight of the Century”. The fight was billed as a contest for racial superiority, and Jeffries was touted by many as the “Great White Hope” who would defeat Johnson once and for all. Johnson knocked Jeffries down for the first time in his career twice in the 15th round and his manager threw in the towel. In the riots which erupted throughout the U.S. following the fight, about 25 people, mostly African American, were killed and hundreds more injured.”
I discovered the Chicago connection to this story after I’d begun the illustration. His first wife, Etta Duryea, and Jack Johnson are buried together in Chicago’s opulent Graceland cemetery, resting place of many Chicago luminaries including Marshall Field, L. Mies van der Rohe, George M. Pullman and others, though his relatively simple grave marker only displays his last name, and no other information.
Etta Duryea was a upscale socialite and like many of his women, white, which didn’t sit well with people of either race at the time. She suffered from acute depression which wasn’t helped by Johnson’s frequent womanizing and physical abuse. In 1912, she committed suicide with a revolver in the couple’s apartment.
Many thanks to my friend and sports memorabilia collector Jon Oye for scanning these tobacco cards from that era. (He has his own blog, Contemplations on Classic Movies and Music, which I highly recommend.
Coming from an era when African Americans weren’t allowed to compete with whites in any sports other than boxing (even that being a rarity), Jack Johnson, though his unmatched fighting skills and larger-than-life persona, became one of the nation’s first true media celebrities and sports superstars.