By Jay Apperson
September 28, 2000
And here, in the barroom at Art Donovan's Valley Country Club, is ... a pair of Civil War medals? A letter from Teddy Roosevelt? A turn-of-the-century cigarette card of a bare-knuckled boxing champ?
Many who have attended wedding receptions or dinner dances at the club's stately manor house leave there remembering its bar, where a bounty of sports memorabilia fills nearly every inch of wall. Now, Donovan and his wife are looking for a permanent, public home for their copious - and somewhat surprising - collection.
"Sooner or later we've got to sell the place. We can't go on forever," Donovan, 76, says of the club, explaining why he and wife, Dorothy, are in negotiations to keep the collection intact by donating it to the Babe Ruth Museum.
While emphasizing that the Towson-area country club is not actively being marketed, Donovan says he's been fielding offers for years, adding: "If the price is right, they can have it."
Babe Ruth Museum officials say they have met with the Donovans with an eye toward eventually displaying the collection at a planned expansion in a renovated Camden Station.
"The addition of an Artie Donovan wing off a Colts exhibit would be a lot of fun," says Mike Gibbons, executive director of the Babe Ruth Museum. "Three generations of athletic prowess within a family is a unique and compelling story that we'd love to tell."
When you talk about three generations of Donovans, that's where the rough-riding Roosevelt comes in. For that matter, that's where one of sport's legendary showdowns, the Louis-Schmeling title bout of 1936, comes in.
While many know of Art Donovan as the big lug who shone first on the football field and later as a television personality, some may not be aware that his father was a famed boxing referee. Still fewer know that the football star's grandfather won a middleweight title while fighting in the 19th century - and gave boxing lessons to the nation's 26th president.
On a paneled wall in the club's bar is a cigarette card depicting a young Mike Donovan, Art's grandfather, who, in the tradition of the era, fought bouts lasting as many as 90 rounds. The card shows him in the classic put-up-your-dukes bareknuckle boxer pose, shirtless, with handlebar mustache.
On the same wall is an invitation to a 1905 White House reception. A typewritten letter from Roosevelt, with the salutation "Dear Mike," expresses sympathy upon the death of his wife.
A clipping from a 1913 magazine describes how Roosevelt was New York's police commissioner when he met Mike Donovan, and quotes Roosevelt: "Afterward, I got to know him well, both while I was governor and while I was president, and many a time he came on and boxed with me."
Mike Donovan's son, Arthur Donovan Sr., was a boxer and referee who worked many of the sport's biggest fights. In the bar is a poster promoting the 1936 heavyweight title match between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling at New York's Yankee Stadium. A framed, black-and-white photo shows Louis knocked to one knee, while Donovan seems to direct Schmeling toward a neutral corner.
There's plenty of Arthur Donovan Jr. and Colts material as well. Bronzed football cleats. A picture of the 1958 championship team. A huge oil painting of Donovan standing, gladiator-like, beneath the stadium lights. Of that, he says, "That's my head on somebody else's body. I was never that ... thin."
Nearer to 80 than his number 70, he remains a salty so-and-so. All this football memorabilia is dismissed with an expletive. If he was coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, who seemed to lose heart Sunday while being whipped by the hometown Ravens, "I would've made those [expletive] walk home."
He angrily disputes any suggestion that he and his wife are in a rush to sell the club they've owned since 1956. Yes' the Towson Elks talked to him about buying it, but the discussions ended up a waste of his time.
Then, another, softer side. He says he found himself home alone the other night, watching a sports channel rerun of the Louis-Schmeling fight. He got "goose pimples" watching his late father work.
And when asked about his favorite piece of memorabilia, he points to the Civil War medals. His grandfather earned them as a teen-ager fighting for the Union.
Donovan nods his head.
"He was," he says, "a real tough man."
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