Preservation Coalition commemorates Corbett St. Patrick’s fight | NevadaAppeal.com

Preservation Coalition commemorates Corbett St. Patrick’s fight

Amanda Hammon

Nothing could be more natural on St. Patrick’s Day than corn beef, a love of Irish and anything green.

Mingle a little history and a bit of legend, and the mix creates the perfect Carson City St. Patty’s celebration.

The Carson City Preservation Coalition is hosting a historical St. Patrick’s Day gala commemorating one of Carson’s most memorable St. Patrick’s Days, the infamous Fitzsimmons/Corbett prize fight of 1897.

March 17, 1897, was the culmination of months of controversy that threw Nevada into the national spotlight. In January 1897 the Nevada Legislature made prize fighting legal in Nevada – making Nevada the only state to allow such events. The first legal event drew heavyweight champion Gentleman Jim Corbett to Carson City to spar with the middleweight champion from Australia, Robert Fitzsimmons.

The Morning Appeal, predecessor to the Nevada Appeal, devoted extensive coverage to the event, calling it the “battle of the century.”

The fight drew crowds from across the country and they in turn brought money and life to a state in economic decline.

“Carson City was the liveliest place you ever saw for weeks before the event and days after,” historian Phillips Earl said.

Corbett told Appeal reporter Nellie Mighels Davis the day before the fight, “You can tell the public that I will win. I am as certain of it as I live.”

Fitzsimmons was equally confident, saying “I will win, don’t make any mistake. This victory is as certain as the sun.”

The fight was held where the Carson City Sheriff’s Office now sits in an arena built especially for the event. Fitzsimmons, it turns out, was right. He defeated Corbett in 14 rounds.

The fight was a pioneer in boxing history, Earl said. It was the first legal fight in a state, the first championship fight to use boxing gloves (most previous fighting was done bare-knuckled) and the first fight filmed. Mighels Davis wasn’t the first female reporter, but having a female reporting on a controversial sport most considered brutal was certainly daring, State Archivist Guy Rocha said.

“Boxing was extremely controversial,” Rocha said. “It was a very brutish sport and it was very much about men. The women you found there were those of questionable character.”

Rocha said the fight was the first regulated industry in Nevada and set the state as a “pioneer in an era where people were talking about prohibition” of most vices.

“Nevada was trying desperately to generate money and attention,” Rocha said. “It captured the nation’s attention. People asked, ‘What is Nevada doing? Why would they legalize this brutal sport?’

“Nevada’s attitude at the time was , ‘People are going to do it, why not regulate in and make money from it?’ You can’t prohibit human vice, but you can regulate it. Nevada has set a precedent with so-called vices.”

A short movie clip of the fight survived 103 years and will be shown at the coalition fund-raiser. The clip is not only the first fight ever filmed, but also the first piece of Nevada film work, Rocha said. It is owned by Genoa resident and Nevada photo collector Ron Bommarito who loans a copy of the original for historical events.

Carson resident Susan Ballew will do a Chautauqua presentation of Mighels Davis. Attendees can also sing along to traditional Irish tunes set to piano music.

Earl will detail the history of the famous fight. Rocha will also be on hand to discuss its significance to Carson City and Nevada as well as do some “myth-busting” about the fight in relation to some Carson legends.

The event will be Friday at the Brewery Arts Center. The Preservation Coalition is interested in buying a historic home to establish a Carson City museum and home for the coalition. The money will help that cause.

A $15 donation includes admission to the events, a corn beef and sauerkraut sandwich and soda. Green beer will be available for $1.50. There are about 100 tickets available. Call 882-0916 for ticket information.

If you go:

What: Carson City Preservation Coalition St. Patrick’s Day fund-raiser

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Where: Brewery Arts Center, 449 W. King St., Carson City.

There is a $15 donation for the event which includes a meal. Call Mary De Felice at 882-0916 for ticket information.