Monday, August 25, 2008

From the proposal for Old Smoke: A Tale of Pugilism, Power and Politics

Morrissey’s is the quintessential 19th Century American tale of pluck and perseverance. Born into poverty in Ireland he literally fought his way to the American dream of wealth, power and popularity. He was involved in the iconic events and institutions that shaped the country and still haunt our imagination—the immigration of the Irish, the gangs of New York, bare-knuckle boxing, the California gold rush, Tammany Hall politics and the birth of the gambling industry. By the end of his life he had made a fortune and had been a two-term United States Congressman and state senator. When he died, all the state offices in New York closed for the day and flags were flown at half-mast. 20,000 mourners attended his funeral.

How it started

John Morrissey stumbled into my life one day while I was doing research for my monthly column on the history of Columbia and Dutchess Counties (NY) called "History Happened Here." Morrissey won the title of "Champion of America" in 1853 in the hamlet of Boston Corners located in the far eastern corner of Columbia County and abutting Massachusetts. I wrote a little something on the fight in October of 2006 and forgot about it.

Several weeks after the piece ran I received an email message from a reader asking whether I would consider writing more on the subject. His father had been a big Morrissey memorabilia collector and apparently had reams of information. Somehow the two of us never connected and as the months passed I once again let Morrissey drift from my mind. But he never totally left.

One early morning I woke up and told my wife that I was going to write a biography of Morrissey. She thought it was a great idea and with her behind an idea it will see the light of day. So here we are.

This blog is probably as much for me as for anyone else interested in Morrissey, history, sports, politics, gangs, horse racing or the process one goes through while trying to gather these various sundry and vastly different areas into a coherent narrative.

You can plan on finding a journal on my day to day research for the book as well as interesting tidbits and side notes not directly related to Morrissey, but that I find too interesting, funny or weird not to include.