Atlas Foundation Acts to Restore Yonkers Boxer’s Dignity
Donated Tombstone for Michael J. Hogan aka Shamus O'Brien
Boxing Champ Shamus O'Brien Brooklyn Eagle Feb. 15, 1916
Yonkers Favorite Shamus O'Brien
John Joseph Hogan, IV
Would You Consider Contributing to the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation?
Michael J. Hogan AKA Shamus O'Brien
More than 100 years ago a young, well-known Gaelic footballer, Michael J. Hogan of Ballinacourty, Dungarvan, Ireland, set sail on the RMS Umbria for the United States to seek his fortune. His fare, paid for by his uncle, Patrick Hogan, enabled him to venture far from the vestiges of food shortages and lingering famine to the promise of America.
Not long after his arrival in America Michael, who was born on Aug. 5, 1890, quickly settled in the city of Yonkers, where his uncle was employed by the Alexander Smith carpet factory. Then known as the "City of Gracious Living," Yonkers lies along the Hudson River on the northern border of New York City’s borough of the Bronx.
Waterford County Museum
According to a report by Eddie Cantwell, president of the Waterford County Museum in Dungarvan, Ireland, the young Irishman was "always scrapping.” Shortly after his arrival in Yonkers he learned to use his fists in a more profitable way by stepping into the ring at the Raven Athletic Club in New York City. Before long he was encouraged to make a further commitment to boxing by taking his fighting skills to an exhibition at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, N.Y. His long boxing career was under way.
Somewhere about this time Hogan assumed the boxing monicker of Shamus O’Brien. He began prize fighting regularly, most often as a lightweight. His appearance at Sing Sing in 1910 was only the first major step in a boxing career of more than 400 bouts, in many of which he was pitted against such giant competitors as the great undefeated lightweight champion Benny Leonard, welterweight champ and Hall of Famer Mickey Walker and featherweight champ Johnny Dundee. Shamus won two out of three contests against Walker in newspaper decisions.
The Fighting Hogans
In the same year, 1910, the rugged lightweight married Adelaide Saarup (variously, Searles.) The couple had seven children, Gilbert and Adelaide, infant twins tragically lost in the infamous flu epidemic of the time; John, Edward, Michael (Mitch) and William, all of whom served in World War II, where William died fighting when his ship, the Gregory, was attacked by Japanese destroyers shortly after delivering a battalion of Marines to Sabo Island near Guadalcanal; Elena (Helen) Hogan Torpey (this writer's mother) and Mary (Mae) Hogan Dropauer. A tribute to The Fighting Hogans can be seen on my blog.
Michael (Shamus O'Brien) Hogan was the son of Michael Hogan and Ellen Meade Hogan, one of five children. He was just 6 years old when his father died, succumbing to injuries when his boat capsized in a storm during an effort to rescue survivors in the tragic sinking of the Moresby in Dungarvan Bay off the shores of Ballinacourty. Of the 25 persons aboard, there were only five survivors.
Trial Horse for Young Fighters
Shamus O’Brien’s long career took him to many venues in New York, Pennyslvania and elsewhere. The handsome young fighter came to be a trial horse for up-and-coming young fighters. In his latter years his battle-scarred face and cauliflowered ears gave evidence of his long career and many hard-fought contests.
While he never achieved a great won-loss record, Shamus had gained the well-deserved reputation of a “good fighter, win or lose.”
Shamus Fight Poster on Display
According to Cantwell, “Hogan’s life story could well be scripted for a film. Indeed, his career bears quite a remarkable resemblance to some of the more popular boxing films of recent years.” The Waterford County Museum in Dungarvan, Ireland, recently installed a 1913 Shamus O'Brien fight poster as part of its new Sports display.
Shamus fought for several years in the Irish section of New York City’s Harlem and had many fights at the Raven Athletic Club where he often trained. He also had trained occasionally in upstate New York in the town of Newburgh, where he worked as a bartender, according to his son, John. He had been employed in construction work and as an iron worker at times. Shamus was an honorary member of the National Sports Alliance and a member of the Raven Athletic Club and the Billy Gray Association. He hung up his gloves in 1928, but not before returning to Ireland to win the lightweight title in his native country.
'One of the Best Bouts Ever'
Termed by the press as "one of the best bouts ever" at the local sporting club, Shamus O’Brien floored his opponent, Young Sam Langford, midway through a 10-rounder. The copyrighted New York Times piece dated Jan. 3, 1912 stated that Sam, of Mount Vernon, N.Y, was "saved by the bell" in the fifth round, but came back strong to gain a draw in the match.
Many of Shamus’ early bouts, some reportedly bare-fisted, have gone unrecorded, but records show he battled lightweight champ Benny Leonard at least three times – at least once to a “no decision.” His son, John, who followed his father’s exploits closely, said Shamus could take a lot of punishment “but getting him to go down was rare.”
On April 13, 1959 Shamus O’Brien, suffering from heart disease and arteriosclerosis, died of pneumonia in St. John’s Riverside Hospital in Yonkers at the age of 68.
Funeral Wends Through Getty Square
Services were held by the Flynn Funeral Home on Ludlow Street in Yonkers. Hundreds of friends, family and admirers paid their respects to the “Yonkers Favorite” for three full days before a funeral cortege of dozens of cars slowly proceeded through Getty Square in Yonkers to St. Joseph’s Cemetery on Truman Avenue. Shamus had specifically requested the route through downtown Yonkers, where he was a familiar figure to local residents. He was a communicant of St. Peter’s Church, where a Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated, and St. Joseph's Church, where he was married. St. Peter's is located at the corner of Riverdale Avenue and Ludlow Street. St. Joseph Church is on Ashburton Avenue, both in Yonkers.
Shamus O’Brien’s great great grandson, John Joseph Hogan IV, great grandson of Shamus’ son, John, is following in his famous relative’s footsteps. Young John is among a handful of Hogan kin still living in Yonkers and has been boxing under the auspices of the Yonkers Police Athletic League. He recently participated in the Long Island Amateur Boxing Championships and boxed in the 2011 Golden Gloves. John has inherited the fighting spirit of Shamus and considers himself an aggressive pressure fighter. He is the father of Valerie Isabella; father and daughter are among the last of the Ballinacourty Hogan’s living in Yonkers. The Hogan name is indelibly tattooed on his shoulder: ‘Hogan IV.’
Michael J. Hogan AKA Shamus O’Brien was this writer’s grandfather. My grandmother, Adelaide Hogan, was estranged from her husband throughout the nine years that I lived with her in Yonkers, from 1942 to 1951. Shamus and I occasionally met each other in Getty Square in those days when he would invariably take me into Nedick’s and dig deep into his pockets for some coins to buy his grandson an orange drink and a hot dog.
When one of my daughters discovered a boxing poster touting a match headlining Shamus O’Brien (opposed by Yorkville Lightweight champion Eddie Smith) my family pride led me to search for further information about him. As a result I have written about him in my blog and, along with other relatives, have attempted to put together a family tree. My growing curiosity led me to search for information about Shamus. It took me some time to find the location of his gravesite – at St. Joseph’s Cemetery – and to visit the Truman Avenue, Yonkers, location to pay my respects.
It was devastating to me to discover that Shamus O’Brien’s grave sat alone among hundreds of graves with no markings whatsoever. His plot is merely a patch of grass between two gravestones. The “Yonkers Favorite,” the pride of the City of Gracious Living of the early 20th century lay in his grave unnoticed -- forgotten by all. The shouts, the cheers, the victories, the defeats and the memories of bygone days now silent, now gone.
Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation
In my revery, I sought the help of the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation, a New York-based community service organization that provides financial, legal and emotional support to individuals and organizations in need. The Foundation was founded in 1997 by boxing trainer and commentator, Teddy Atlas, to honor the memory of his father whose practice and good deeds are legend in Staten Island. Since its inception, the Foundation has worked to ease the burden of the less fortunate by helping to preserve the dignity of deserving people.
Immediately recognizing the plight of Shamus O’Brien, the Atlas Foundation has stepped in to right the wrong that took place so many years ago. The Foundation has moved to restore the dignity of this bygone boxer by acting to obtain a tombstone that will properly mark his grave and restore the dignity he deserves. The organization has initiated efforts to coordinate plans with other interested parties, including the Ring 8 Veteran Boxers Association of New York, to conduct an appropriate memorial.
Shamus O'Brien Memorial Fund
The Foundation has established a Shamus O’Brien Memorial Fund to allow friends, family, boxing fans and proud Yonkers residents to contribute by sending their checks to the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation, Shamus O'Brien Memorial Fund, 543 Cary Ave., Staten Island, NY 10310. It is my privilege to be among the first to contribute.
Boxing fans may also consider contributions to Ring 8 VBA, which also does a great deal to benefit and celebrate the boxing community and is also lending its support, expertise and talent to the restoration of dignity for Shamus O'Brien. Ring 8, The NYS Veteran Boxers Association, c/o The Waterfront Crabhouse, 2-03 Borden Ave., Long Island City, NY 11101.
Update: Yonkers Dedicates Shamus O'Brien Tombstone
Dozens of friends, relatives and Yonkers officials braved 103-degree temperatures on Friday, July 22, 2011 to pay tribute to Michael J. Hogan, a native of Dungarvan, Ireland, who gained fame in his adopted city of Yonkers nearly 100 years ago as lightweight boxing champion Shamus O'Brien.
The tombstone dedication was officiated by Monsignor George Kuhn of St. Joseph's Church who offered prayers and blessed the stone.
Yonkers Mayor Philip A. Amicone and New York State Assemblyman Mike Spano were on hand to pay their respects to Shamus, who was well known during his fighting days -- which spanned 18 years from 1910 to 1928. Mayor Amicone further honored Michael J. Hogan in a formal Proclamation.
Many friends and relatives gathered together after the ceremony at Rory Dolan's Irish Pub in Yonkers.
The 1913 boxing poster below became available to me a few years ago after my daughter, Catherine, noticed it on the wall of Archie Moore's Restaurant at 188-1/2 Willow St., New Haven, Conn. The restaurant, which has been in business for more than a century, has no connection, surprisingly, with its namesake, the famous light middleweight. Of course, I rushed to the restaurant for dinner, anxiously inquiring of the owner, Bob Fuchs, how the poster featuring my grandfather happened to be displayed in the dining room. As it turned out, the owner's grandfather, "Irish Paddy," was one of the fighters in the preliminary fights. I retired from The Hour newspaper in 2000.