In the 1800’s the sport of boxing, long known for its bare-knuckle prize fights of the past, was fighting a battle of its own for legitimacy. A major milestone was the issuing of modern rules in England in 1866, when three-minute rounds and gloves were made mandatory. By the turn of the century the sport was starting to come into its own with old-school boxers such as the iconic John L. Sullivan, the last of the bare-knuckle heavyweight champions who reigned from 1881-1892, becoming a memory.
The 1900’s began a new era with such fighters as James Jeffries, Bob Fitzsimmons, Stanley Ketchel, Jack Johnson, Philadelphian Jack O’Brien, Benny Leonard, Abe Atell, Tommy Burns, Tommy Ryan, Joe Gans, Fireman Jim Flynn, Sam Langford, and Harry Willis dominating the next twenty years. By the Roaring Twenties boxing was the pre-eminent sport in the United States and Jack Dempsey was as big a celebrity as there ever was.
The boxers of this early era took to the ring frequently and determining their final won-loss-tie records can be very confusing. Many states forbid ring judges from voting on the winner, so most bouts that did not end in a knockout or disqualification were given a “no-decision” – the big “ND.” As a way to combat this newspaper reporters often wrote about who they thought had won and this became an acceptable form of determining the winner of bouts that ended in an official draw. However, the so-called “newspaper decisions” did not factor in the changing of title belts. Many fights also went unrecorded so this further clouds the issue of determining a particular boxer’s actual record.
The city of New Castle, Pennsylvania, was no stranger to pugilism and local promoters put on their share of boxing events. Early events took place at various locations to include the old Opera House, Cascade Park, Centennial Field, Old Armory in the Euwer Building, Elks Lodge, Sons of Italy Hall, The Coliseum (Liberty Theater), New Castle Athletic Club (in the Lawrence Laundry building on South Mill Street), and of course at Jimmie Dime’s Gym behind the YMCA building.
The heyday of New Castle boxing was in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s in the days of the old Jolly Bowl-Castle Bowl. In early 1928 boxing promoter William E. Jolly leased some property at the corner of Grant & Sampson Streets. He erected a large outdoor wooden arena known as the Jolly Bowl, which could seat as many as 7,000 people, and held boxing bouts there every Monday night from May to December. The Jolly Bowl, which was soon heated to stage year round events, also hosted musical concerts, religious revivals, wrestling matches, and roller skating events.
The first boxing card took place on Monday, June 25, 1928, as Ellwood City native Emmett Rocco defeated former light heavyweight champion Battling Levinsky in ten rounds in the main event. The Jolly Bowl was the scene of terrific boxing until William Jolly went bankrupt and was forced to close the Jolly Bowl in the fall of 1930. The building and its contents were sold in November 1930 to boxing promoter and sports columnist Ed Fritz and events were resumed in January 1931. Boxing events resumed at the venue, renamed as the Castle Bowl, and continued there until financial difficulties associated with the Great Depression saw the facility closed for good in March 1934. The Castle Bowl was soon torn down and a Pennzoil gas station was erected at the same location.
Boxing events continued in earnest at a Grove Street facility known as “The Arena,” the converted tabernacle originally built for the Billy Sunday religious revival in 1910. Boxing smokers and other events were held there until the building, which held about 3,000 people and was owned by Stanley Shaw, was destroyed by a raging fire on the morning of Monday, December 18, 1950. The arena was a total loss and the property was sold to the Lockley Machine Company, which had a plant next door, in April 1951.
Over those years New Castle was home base to its share of skilled boxers, including the likes of Patsy Brannigan, Tony Ross, Terry Peluso, Joe Chip, Eddie Weygant, Tom McMahon, and George Perotta, but only one New Castle-based fighter, middleweight George Chip, ascended to the title of World Champion.
Jurgis Chipulonis, later known simply as George Chip, was born to Lithuanian parents in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on August 15, 1888. At some point he made his way to Madison in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, where he worked as a coal miner and a blacksmith. He started boxing professionally in and around the Johnstown area in early 1909 and soon gained the financial backing of a wealthy coal baron. Chip was soon sent up to New Castle to train with Jimmie Dime, a former boxer and renowned manager whose stable included nationally ranked boxers Tony Ross and Patsy Brannigan.
It was under Dime’s tutelage that hard-hitting Chip, standing 5’7’’ and usually fighting at around 159 pounds, quickly gained a reputation as a rising contender in the middleweight class. By 1910 he started fighting primarily in Pittsburgh, where he tangled with the talented Albert “Buck” Crouse six times in the next year or so. Chip branched out throughout 1911-1913 by also taking bouts in Ohio, Indiana, and New York.
Chip gradually worked his way up the ranks and finally, on October 11, 1913, he would get a title shot in Pittsburgh against undefeated middleweight champion Frank Klaus. Promoters gave Chip little chance of victory against the German-American champ in the bout held at the Old City Hall building. Chip arrived in terrific shape though after a knockout of Tommy Gavigan in Akron, Ohio, just two weeks prior.
Chip pursed Klaus from the beginning and it was evident the champion was in for a long night. Klaus was battered and blooded in the sixth and as he attempted to strike back in the same round this is what the New Castle News said transpired, “… as Klaus prepared to lead Chip cut loose with a deadening right which fell flush on Klaus’ jaw. The Pittsburger was literally swept to the ropes where he clung limp and helpless, his head going back and his blood smeared countenance presenting a ghastly sight. His seconds dashed cold water on his back and he seemed to revive. Referee Miller counted off five and Klaus arose, apparently fully recovered. He started toward Chip again and was met with a left swing to the jaw and a right cross to the nose which put him down and out for the full count. Chip was waved to his corner. When the knockout came, there was 33 seconds unexpired time in the sixth round…The knockout was decisive. It required nearly 15 minutes to revive the beaten man, while his condition was far from normal for more than one hour after the incident. After he regained consciousness, Klaus wept bitterly as the result of his first reverse.”
Chip, as the new middleweight champion, was lauded as a hero back in his adopted hometown of New Castle. Though usually referred to as hailing from Pittsburgh or by the nickname of the “Madison Miner,” it was after this fight that Chip finally started gaining notice as residing and training in New Castle.
Chip defended his title a handful of times, including defeating Klaus again in January 1914 when the referee stopped the fight in the fifth round. Chip’s reign was shirt-lived as he was knocked out in the first minute of a bout against the light-hitting Al McCoy in New York City on April 7, 1914. It was an unexpected and surprising result, especially since Chip was just filling in for his younger brother Joe Chip – who was sick. Joe Chip, also in Jimmie Dime’s stable, had recently battled McCoy to the 10-round no decision just six weeks prior and this was to be their rematch. Everyone was shocked by the result and the New Castle News reported this, “McCoy was as much surprised as Chip when the knockout punch was delivered. He stood trembling in the ring as Chip was counted out and when someone yelled at him, “You’re champ now,” he replied “The ____ I am.” Chip was ever gracious in defeat and said McCoy got the better of him.
The Jewish-American McCoy, the first southpaw to ever hold a world championship, went on to defend the title many times during the next three and half years. However, most experts consider his title reign unremarkable as he survived on simply going the distance and chalked up few victories.
The mild-mannered Chip, unfazed by the fluke loss, returned to the ring and hoped for an eventual rematch. He was also married on Wednesday August 4, 1915, to New Castle native Katherine Sullivan, during a ceremony that took place in St. Mary’s Catholic Church. They settled into a home at #108 Philips Place and eventually had four children including William C. Chip, a future Naval Academy graduate and senior Marine Corps commander during the Vietnam War.
He received rematches against McCoy in April 1915 and January 1916, but despite knocking McCoy down twice in each bout the champion survived on a no decision each time. In October 1915 Chip had the first of his four bouts with the aggressive-minded Harry Greb, the so-called “Pittsburgh Windmill” who ascended to the middleweight championship in 1923 and is considered to be one of the top boxers of all time.
Jimmie Dime took his stable, including Chip, Patsy Brannigan, Joe Chip, and Babe Picato, on a tour of Australia in the latter half of 1916. In Sydney, on September 30, Chip took on the heralded Australian middleweight champ Les Darcy, but lost by knockout in the ninth round to the twenty-one-year-old Aussie. Chip rebounded with a win about five weeks later, when he defeated Art Magril in Melbourne.
Chip desired a rematch against Darcy but it was not to be. In fact Darcy’s bout with Chip was the last of his short-lived career. In late October 1916, Darcy, in defiance of forced military conscription in Australia, fled to the United States to continue his boxing career. Darcy had trouble securing fights as he was essentially blackballed due to the manner in which he left his homeland during the time of the Great War (World War I). A return bout with Chip was arranged to take place in Youngstown, Ohio, in late April 1917 but it too was called off. Darcy, who applied for U.S. citizenship and volunteered for the U.S. Army, suddenly fell ill in late April and died of pneumonia in Memphis, Tennessee, on May 24, 1917. His remains were returned to his native Australia where he was – and still is – lauded as a national hero.
Chip continued fighting back in the United States and Canada for the next five years, including hard-fought bouts against the likes of Willie Loughlin, Tom Gibbons, Mike Gibbons, George “Knockout” Brown, and Jack Dillon. Chip, like other boxers of the era, struggled to make ends meet at times. He worked part time as a laborer in the freight house of the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) and also started refereeing boxing matches as well.
Chip’s boxing abilities slowly started to decline and he retired from the ring in late 1921 – though he may have had a fight or two in early 1922. Chip kept himself in fighting shape and according to reports he entertained several comeback attempts over the next few years. He did become a well respected local boxing referee, took part in a few exhibitions against old foes, and helped train and spar with local heavyweight Emmett Rocco for a time. He also owned and managed a billiards parlor on South Mercer Street, which came under scrutiny in the late 1920’s due to alleged gambling activity.
During the tough times of the Great Depression he worked as a laborer with the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and in 1937 he went to work for Penn Power in West Pittsburg as a watchman. On August 13, 1952, a few weeks before he retired for good, he suffered a tragic loss as wife died after a short illness. Chip settled into retirement until his own life ended tragically in November 1960.
On Friday, November 4, 1960, while walking on Route 168 east of the city, Chip was struck by a vehicle when he apparently tried to cross the road. He was rushed to the New Castle Hospital (later St. Francis Hospital) where it was determined he suffered a broken neck and two broken legs among other injuries. He hovered near death until he passed away on the morning of Sunday, November 6. Chip was seventy-three years old. A viewing was held at the Meehan Funeral Home on Monday and Tuesday and a memorial service was conducted at St. Mary’s Catholic Church at 10:00am on Wednesday. He was subsequently laid to rest in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Union Township, where many of his family members are also interred.
Over the years New Castle had its share of title contenders, but George Chip remains the only boxer from the city to be recognized as a major world champion.
To read about one of Chip’s earliest fights in 1909 click on: CHIP MADE GOOD SHOWING ARTICLE. To read about Jimmy Dime and his stable of fighters in March 1911 click on: DIME’S FIGHTERS IN GOOD CONDITION ARTICLE. To read about Chip defeating Jack Abbott in October 1911 click on: CHIP STOPS ABBOTT ARTICLE. To learn more about how Chip hammered Jack Gorman in December 1911 and altered an upcoming card in Youngstown, Ohio, click on: JACK GORMAN ARTICLE. To read an early 1912 article mentioning how Chip was not receiving proper credit for his victories click on: FAIL TO GIVE GEO CHIP PROPER CREDIT ARTICLE. To read about Chip training with Billy Papke and Tom McMahon in September 1912 click on: TRAINING ARTICLE. To read about Chip’s thrilling victory over Frank Klaus in October 1913 click on: CHIP SCORES KNOCKOUT ARTICLE. To see a question and answer column in which a New Castle News reader asks why Chip is called the Madison Miner click on: NICKNAME ARTICLE. To read about hard-hitting brother George and Joe Chip both injuring their hands in early 1914 click on: INJURED HANDS ARTICLE. To read about Chip explaining how he lost the title belt to Al McCoy in April 1914 click in: CHIP TELLS HOW IT WAS ARTICLE. To read about Chip bragging about being from New Castle in June 1914 click on: BRAGGING ARTICLE. To read about Chip being married in August 1915 click on: MARRIED TO LOCAL YOUNG LADY ARTICLE. Despite McCoy holding the title belt Chip was still considered the premier middleweight in January 1916. To read an article about that fact and details of Chip’s accomplishments click on: MIDDLEWEIGHT TITLE ARTICLE. To read about Dime and his boys failed to acquire passports before leaving for Australia in July 1916 click on: DIME’S PARTY FINDS FRIEND IN AUSTRALIA ARTICLE. To read about Chip talking about his loss to Australian champion Les Darcy click on: DARCY WAS THE BETTER MAN ARTICLE. To read about a proposed rematch between Chip and Darcy to take place in April 1917 in Youngstown, Ohio, click on: DARCY SIGNS ARTICLE. To read about Chip and other New Castle boxers expressing their regrets on the death of Darcy in May 1917 click on: HELD DARCY IN RESPECT ARTICLE. To read about Chip and other famous boxers holding side jobs to support themselves in 1918 click on: M’MAHON IS DETECTIVE ARTICLE. To read about the birth of Chip’s third child (William) in July 1919 click on: CONGRATULATIONS ARTICLE. To read about Chip promoting boxing events with the Moose Lodge in 1921 to benefit the Margaret Henry Home for Children click on: CHILDREN’S HOME TO BE AIDED ARTICLE. To read about a ceremony held to honor Chip upon his retirement click on: RETIREMENT BANQUET ARTICLE.
George Chip traveled to San Francisco in the summer of 1914 to take on Fighting Billy Murray, who was on a reported unbeaten streak of forty-nine straight victories dating to January 1912. Chip knocked him out in the fourteen round of their first meeting on July 4. According to the New Castle News their lopsided rematch on September 30 ended like this, “The end came after one minute of fighting in the fourth round. Murray cleverly ducked a right swing and clinched. When the referee broke them Chip swung with his right but missed. Before Murray could get away from Chip’s range the latter sent a left flush on the jaw and Murray went down and out.” The photo above shows Chip returning to his corner after that sequence. Full Size
Bob Mann #
Prior to WW2 boxing was held at the Arena on Grove St, later the arena was taken over by Lockley Machine Co and used for weapon component manufacture.
Douglas Cavanaugh #
Hello! I’m writing a book on the history of boxing in Pittsburgh, of which several New Castle fighters played a big part. I would like to use a few of your photos if that’s OK? I’m especially interested in the pic of Dime with the Chip bros and Tom McMahon. I’m starting with a website first. Full credit will be given to you of course, including a link to your website.
I hope to hear from you!
Did you ever come across any pictures of the Haggerty brothers out of the Willows Club in Lawrenceville Harry was best friends with Greb and fought on his undercard 6 times.
dominic Lemma #
My grandfather , Jack Burke, fought out of the Willow AC . I would be interested in any information or pictures any one has . I have a picture of my grandfather in the ring with Dempsey and with a group of Willow. Thank you, Dominic Lemma
Steven Smith #
First of all, great website. I am researching the fight career of my grandfather, Pat Smith, who fought out of Akron, Ohio. I could use any and all details you may have. I found many interesting articles by signing up on Newspapers.com. Anyway, my grandfather fought at the New Castle Bowl against KO Kitts on March 16, 1931. Sam Cohen was scheduled but apparently ducked the fight. My grandfather stood in for him and fought to a draw. Pat Smith was reported in the New Castle paper to have over 115 fights. He fought Fritz Otto on March 30, 1931, as well. Otto, for some unreported reason, was DQ’d in the first round. I need more info, if you have it. Thanks for your help and keep up the good work. Steven Smith, Akron
Jim Chill #
I remember meeting Mr. Chip in my father’s car. My father was great friends with George Chip Jr. I was only ten years old but remember well my father telling me to shake hands with the world champion. He also told me to look at his hands and wrists and how large they were. Great memories.
Glen Gray #
Charley Burley was from Bessemer. My Dad, Ray Gray, fought him in Pittsburgh. Ray was from New Castle. http://boxrec.com/en/boxer/9953 Many Boxer Historians or Fans are familiar with Charley Burley. He is legendary to other pro boxers.