THE HARLEY-DAVIDSON MUSEUM | SPARKING THE SPIRIT OF AMERICA

Replica of the iconic Captain America chopper from Easy Rider, built by the legendary Ben Hardy at the Harley-Davidson museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. — Image by © The Selvedge Yard

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Back from a month long hiatus from TSY brought on by a monumental J. Hilburn suit launch, and capped off by a mind-blowing annual conference in Las Vegas.  My bandwidth was focused on the work front, where it clearly needed to be.  An invitation from Harley-Davidson for a guided tour of their museum with archivist and an all-around great guy, Bill Jackson, was a great source of inspiration to get back in the saddle.

Speaking to me loud and clear was the spirit of America– from the H-D founding fathers and the 10′ x 15′ shed, to the early days of the “Wrecking Crew” racing team, and the legion of enthusiasts and adventurers over the last century who have lived-out their individuality on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. The cultural impact that H-D has had on this great country is without a doubt– impressive and undeniable.

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An old Harley-Davidson dealer sign from the AMF years– the upside-down triangle from the AMF logo can be seen at the bottom, as the “AMF” letters were eagerly painted over by dealers across the country when 13 H-D executives united to buy back the company from AMF in 1981.  It was a period when Harley-Davidson’s quality and culture suffered, but the resulting acquisition of the York, PA production facility from AMF would prove to be critical to H-D’s long-term survival and growth. — Image by © The Selvedge Yard

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THE PROSE-LOVING PRIZEFIGHTER | BOXING CHAMPION GENE TUNNEY


“Normally, I could hit hard enough, 
as anyone who studied my fights might have known. But the impression was that I was essentially defensive, the very reverse of a killer, the prize fighter who read books, even Shakespeare.”

-–Gene Tunney

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A 1st generation American of Irish descent, James Joseph ‘Gene’ Tunney is ranked among the top heavyweight boxing champions of all time.  The epitome of the self-made man, Tunney was one of seven children who quit school at 15 yrs old, served in the marines (crowned U.S. Expeditionary Forces champion) during WWI, and was a lumberjack for the J.R Booth Company of Ottawa. While in Canada he kept the fact that he was a boxing champ to himself, claiming he “wanted the solitude and the strenuous labors of the woods to help condition himself for the career that appeared before him.”

Of 82 bouts, Gene Tunney lost only once, was knocked down only once (by Jack Dempsey, no less), and was never knocked out.  A thinking man’s boxer, he was known as an intelligent, defensive boxer who “treated boxing as a sweet science” and would out-point his opponents, unlike many of the sluggers (Jack Dempsey, Harry Greb, etc.) of the day.  Tunney also possessed great punching power, and could stand toe-to-toe when needed– like when he defeated Harry ‘The Human Windmill’ Greb with an unrelenting punishment of body blows that brought the brawler down.  He was reigning world heavyweight boxing champion from 1926-1928, and was also crowned Ring Magazine’s first-ever ‘Fighter of the Year’ in 1928.

1928 was also the year Tunney married his beautiful bride, Polly Lauder.  She was a wealthy well-healed socialite (related to the Carnegie family) whose father, George Lauder, Jr. was a philanthropist and accomplished yachtsman who once held the record for the fastest trans-Atlantic yacht passage ever made. Upon their marriage, Tunney promised his bride that he would quit boxing for good. True to his word, he would defend his boxing title just once more (after his rematch with Jack Dempsey) against challenger Tom Heeney of New Zealand. The couple made Stamford, Connecticut their home and raised four children together.

Gene Tunney seldom spoke about his days in the ring with his children. His son Jay, who wrote “The Prizefighter and the Playwright: Gene Tunney and Bernard Shaw,” recalled that the first time had any inkling of his father’s fame was in 1944. The family went to the rodeo at Madison Square Garden, and Roy Rogers, riding out on Trigger, announced that Gene Tunney was in the crowd, and spotlights shone on where he was sitting. “At first I thought the lights were for me,” his son, Jay Tunney said. “But then there was this huge wave of applause.” And rightly so.  Gene Tunney was a class act.

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World champion athletes — from top row, left to right; Babe Ruth (baseball), Gene Tunney (boxing), Johnny Weissmuller (swimming), Bill Cook (hockey). Bottom row, from left to right; Billl Tilden (tennis), Bobby Jones (golf), Fred Spencer and Charlie Winters  (6-day bicycle race). — Image by © Underwood & Underwood/Corbis

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August 27th, 1927, Speculator, NY — Gene Tunney, heavyweight champion of the world, who will defend his title against the former title holder, Jack Dempsey, in Chicago, September 22nd, is daily engaging in light training. He will not start heavy work until he reaches Chicago about September 1st. Here, Tunney is engaged in his favorite recreation, reading. — Image by © Underwood & Underwood/Corbis

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BANDITS’ ROOST, NYC | AND TO THINK THAT I SAW IT ON MULBERRY STREET

Jacob Riis was born the third of fifteen children on May 3rd, 1849 in Denmark. He was a carpenter by trade when he headed to the United States in 1870. Like a lot of immigrant folks, he was unable to find work when he landed on New York’s hard-scrabble streets, and sought shelter wherever he could– often spending the night sleeping on the floor in temporary police station shelters. Through perseverance and hard work Riis landed a gig with a NYC news bureau in 1873, which eventually led to him becoming a police reporter for the New York Tribune. All too familiar himself with life on the NYC’s mean streets, he made it his personal mission to use his position to become the voice for the city’s suffering poor– especially the children. Jacob Riis strongly believed that the “poor were the victims, rather than the makers, of their fate.”

Manhattan’s Lower East Side, particularly the wretched areas known as Mulberry Bend and Bone Alley were teeming with poverty, violence and disease– “The whole district is a maze of narrow, often unsuspected passage ways—necessarily, for there is scarce a lot that has not two, three, or four tenements upon it, swarming with unwholesome crowds.” Jacob Riis wrote the epic, “How the Other Half Lives, Studies Among the Tenements of New York” published in 1890 (which also featured his iconic photography) to expose the horrible truth.

In 1895, Teddy Roosevelt sought Jacob Riis out, wanting to assist him in his efforts anyway he could. Then the acting President of the Board of Commissioners of the NYPD, Roosevelt asked Riis to personally show him the daily routine of street cops. On their first outing together, they uncovered nine out of ten patrolmen totally absent while on duty. Riis wrote of this, and it got the attention of everyone at the NYPD. The two became great friends, and after becoming President of the United States, Roosevelt said of Riis–

“Recently a man, well qualified to pass judgment, alluded to Mr. Jacob A. Riis as ‘the most useful citizen of New York.’ Those fellow citizens of Mr. Riis who best know his work will be most apt to agree with this statement. The countless evils which lurk in the dark corners of our civic institutions, which stalk abroad in the slums, and have their permanent abode in the crowded tenement houses, have met in Mr. Riis the most formidable opponent ever encountered by them in New York City.”

If it were not for the tireless work of Jacob Riis, the city’s poor may have long suffered with little hope. Riis was eventually successful in having the most crowded and dangerous areas torn down and replaced with new public parks and playgrounds. The infamous Mulberry Bend and Bone Alley areas gave way to Columbus Park, the Hamilton Fish Park and a public swimming pool, respectively.

In his last dying days, Riis recounted to a friend, “Now that I have to fight for almost every breath of air, I am more thankful than ever that I have been instrumental in helping the children of the tenements to obtain fresh air.”

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Bandit’s Roost (1888), by Jacob Riis, from “How the Other Half Lives.” Bandit’s Roost, at 59½ Mulberry Street (Mulberry Bend), was the most crime-ridden, dangerous part of all New York City.

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