BOOK REVIEW: THE NOTORIOUS JOHN MORRISSEY

In-person or online visitors to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, NY can find the name John Morrissey (February 12, 1831-May 1, 1878) included in the list of “pioneer” inductees, a bare-knuckles champion.  Morrissey’s name can also be found in the historical rolls of elected members of the U. S. Congress and the New York Senate.  In July and August, thousands of racing fans flock to the racetrack he founded, Saratoga Race Course, located near his adopted American hometown of Troy, NY.

James C. Nicholson, Ph.D. has written a book that cogently (149 pages) explores these and other facets of the remarkable life of John Morrissey (The Notorious John Morrissey, University Press of Kentucky, 2016).

Without revealing too much content, Dr. Nicholson’s book narrates how an Irish boy from County Tipperary (home today to Coolmore Stud) immigrated to the United States with his impoverished and dysfunctional family and rose from illiteracy (he learned to read adequately only after his wife taught him) to become a huge success as a champion boxer, casino entrepreneur, promoter of a regatta that was the forerunner of modern-day NCAA sports competition, politician, and founder of arguably the preeminent racetrack in the United States circa 2016.

Dr. Nicholson’s interesting, informative, and well-written book takes you back to a time long ago when Morrissey engaged in brutal and illegal boxing matches; joined and later turned on William “Boss” Tweed and his corrupt Tammany Hall operation; tangled with the sadistic William “Butcher Bill” Poole and his “Know-Nothing” cohorts in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen; and rose to a position in life that enabled him to attend General Ulysses Grant’s inaugural ball and partner in business deals like Saratoga Race Course with such 19th century captains of industry and pillars of high society  as Cornelius Vanderbilt, William Travers, and Leonard Jerome.

If you travel to Saratoga Springs, NY, you can’t miss passing nearby to places started by Morrissey, most notably the Canfield Casino and the Saratoga Race Course.  You will likely go by the Adelphia Hotel on Broadway, where Morrissey completed his rags-to-fame story when he died at age 47.

Copyright © 2016 Horse Racing Business

James C. Nicholson is the author of two previous books–The Kentucky Derby:  How the Run for the Roses Became America’s Premier Sporting Event and Never Say Die:  A Kentucky Colt, the Epsom Derby, and the Rise if the Modern Thoroughbred Industry.

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