Fighter Joe Gans took his swings and became boxing's first African-American champion

Joe Gans earned the respect of boxing historians who called him the greatest lightweight boxer of all time. Born in Baltimore and known as the Old Master, he fought from 1891 to 1909. He held the title of World Lightweight Champion from 1902 to 1904 and 1906 to 1908.

As a young man, Gans worked cleaning fish and shucking oysters for seafood dealer Caleb Bond at the old Fish Market on Market Place.

Gans took on Oscar “Battling” Nelson in a highly publicized contest in Goldfield, Nev., in 1906. The match went 42 rounds and the referee declared Gans the winner. He won $11,000 and opened a hotel in Baltimore’s Oldtown neighborhood, at Lexington and Colvin streets, and named it the Goldfield.

Gans, who never weighed more than 137 lbs., contracted tuberculosis. In poor health in Arizona, Gans traveled home and arrived at Pennsylvania Station in August 1910. The Associated Press issued dispatches reporting his condition along the way. He was taken by a horse-drawn ambulance to 1026 Argyle Ave., a home he had purchased for his foster mother. He died there on Aug. 19, 1910. He weighed 84 pounds.

Baskets of flowers arrived from all over; a five-foot floral clock, made of lilies and roses, recorded his hour of death: 8:08 a.m. The Sun reported: “The floral tributes were numerous and expensive … Gans was devoted to music. ‘Jesus, Lover of My Soul’ was his favorite hymn.”

His funeral attracted an estimated 5,000 black and white mourners. There were 104 hacks and three large wagons just for the flowers. After services at Whatcoat Methodist Episcopal Church, at Pine and Franklin streets, he was carried to the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Westport, where he was buried.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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