Demolished house brings back memories of an old boxer

Driving around Baltimore this past summer, I noticed a trend of pulling down houses and replacing them with new ones or paving over the land for a parking lot, as Friends School recently did after demolishing a two-story stucco house that dated to the 1920s next to the North Charles Street campus.

Traveling down the 1900 block of Ruxton Road, I cast my eyes to the side, and the stately old mansion that was there when I drove by a few days earlier was gone, with a sign in the freshly graded earth advertising the site as a desirable one for a house.


What was wrong with the old one? I thought.

Imagine my surprise when I was chugging up West Joppa Road in Ruxton not long ago to see "Tough" Tony and Mary E. Puleo's quaint yellow-painted diminutive cottage being demolished.


I knew they were no longer living in the house and that a real estate sign advertising it for sale seemed to be there forever, but I was surprised to see the house being ripped down.

My friendship with "Tough" Tony went back to the 1980s, when he'd pick me up in his Cadillac cab to get me to the Roland Park bus stop so I could catch the bus to work on Saturday mornings.

Also, "Tough" Tony, whose real name was Anthony Vincent Puleo, was a fixture in his Ruxton neighborhood as the jogger who ran through the neighborhood every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's.

His eight-mile journey, which never changed, commenced when most people were rolling over in bed for one more wink of sleep.

Tony ran down Joppa Road to Bellona Avenue and then up Bellona Hill, through Woodbrook, across Stevenson Lane and Osler Drive, and back to West Joppa Road.

I wrote an article about Tony more than 20 years ago, when he was 61 and told me that he ran his eight-mile course in two hours, and that 25 years earlier, he did it in 50 minutes.

I described Tony in my story as a "cigar-smoking raconteur, ex-pugilist and longshoreman, Brooklyn brawler and self-taught piano man."

The life of this native of Brooklyn, N.Y.,'s Red Hook neighborhood was right out of the movie "On the Waterfront," as this son of Italian immigrants fought his way to prominence.


He described the Red Hook of his youth, where he learned to box and started on the road to being named the 1954 Golden Gloves winner at the old Madison Square Garden in New York, as a place "where the cops travel only in pairs and they haul at least two stiffs a week away to the morgue."

His father worked on the docks as a foreman and Tony joined him, unloading Grace Line ships. He practiced his slugging by hitting burlap bags of South American coffee in the holds of ships.

New York boxing reporters gave Tony the name of the "Rough Tough Brooklyn Body Puncher," but everyone in the neighborhood called him Sonny, as did his wife.

Tony turned professional, and when he found his manager, Dominick "The Fox" Lanza, was taking his money, he decided to quit — not an easy accomplishment when organized crime controlled boxing.

His final bout was in 1956 at Madison Square Garden, an eight-rounder against Ike Chestnut. The headlines read, "CAN PULEO PULL THE CHESTNUTS OUT OF THE FIRE TONIGHT?"

The fight ended in a draw and "Tough" Tony went home with his record of 14 professional wins.


After several mob goons made a call at his parents' home to "convince" him to go back into the ring, he declined, saying he was going back to work on the Brooklyn waterfront.

"He took my cheek, pinched it and then slapped me on the face, and that was it," he told me. "I was lucky. Some fighters wound up with broken arms and legs. I got off easy, and they left me alone."

He and his wife relocated to Baltimore in 1966.

I was sorry I had lost touch with Tony. He was a character, who played a mean whorehouse piano by ear, while enjoying a cold beer and telling visitors tales of his boxing days.

Some years ago, I heard he and his wife had moved away to live with their daughter.

Now all that was left in front of the spacious new house rising on the site was a pushed-over post with a sign hanging from it that read: "The Puleo's 1402 West Joppa Road."


I asked Paul McCardell, our intrepid Sun researcher, to see if he could find out what had happened to "Tough" Tony. He died in 1998, and Mary some years later.