Copyright 2007 by William A. Mays, Proprietor
|Cock Fighting as a Parlor Pastime
But Fox didn't just promote boxing. There was hardly a competitive endeavor imaginable that escaped his notice. The Police Gazette sponsored everything from bicycle endurance feats to duck-egg eating contests. Thousands of championship and commemorative Police Gazette medals, belts, and trophies were produced and awarded. With its influence already felt in so many facets of today's mass communication, the Guinness Book of World Records can also find a direct ancestor in the Gazette. Such was its interest in top achievement in a wide variety of human activities. For these, the Police Gazette served as the paper of record. Richard Fox promised readers the Gazette could settle any dispute when it came to questions of a sporting nature.
The National Police Gazette lasted for 132 years, publishing from 1845 to 1977, and produced 5,000 issues–one of the longest runs in American periodical history. Its heyday was the Fox years, from 1878 to 1922, with its greatest impact occurring in the first half of that remarkable run. The impact was so great that people alive at the time spoke of the influence the Gazette had on them years afterward. Franklin P. Adams, the famed newspaper columnist and Algonquin Round Table member, said "Women and Crime–that magic front-page partnership... interested and thrilled me.... Yes, I used to stare at those pictures, and so did all the boys that I knew." Thomas Edison was said to have been a regular reader. Irving Berlin wrote a song about it called "The Girl on the Police Gazette." Later, Tom Wolfe would say of the Gazette that it was the only contemporary chronicler of "a style of living that was not so much the opposite of High Victorian Gentility as its underside: namely, the world of the Sport, or the Sporting Man ... who led The Sporting Life ... the uncultivated macho dandy whose love of sport had nothing to do with the High Victorian ideal of "athletics" and everything to do with, simply ... the eternal gamble against Fate ... who would bet on anything and was therefore willing to turn loose all the minor vices (gambling, lechery, gluttony, profanity and blood sports) that were kept leashed in the social sphere above him." In movies, cartoons, and even into the television era, when a character needed to be depicted reading a shocking magazine, it was usually the Police Gazette. And it still makes appearances today, being featured in the new "Sherlock Holmes" movies starring Robert Downey, Jr., and in 2013, Richard K. Fox was portrayed by veteran actor Gil Bellows in the Quebec blockbuster about the life of famous strongman Louis Cyr.
Not satisfied with resting on the success of his weekly, Richard Fox's publishing house branched out into books. Titles ranging from Coney Island Frolics to Mysteries of Mormonism to Lives of the Poisoners to The Bartender's Guide to The Life of John L. Sullivan flew off of his presses and into the hands of eager readers.
In 1883, flush with the huge success the Gazette was experiencing under his leadership, Richard Fox built a new headquarters on the corner of Dover and Pearl Streets in lower Manhattan, right alongside the Brooklyn Bridge. It was a grand building. Tall for its time, it rose eight stories above street level and overlooked the approach to the bridge, which also opened to the public that same year. Ornately decorated with small statues and gilded fire escapes, the building was crowned with a large clock visible to every commuter as he or she made their way back and forth to Brooklyn. It was the first impressive building commuters or travelers encountered coming across the bridge. And the big clock at the top became an iconic landmark–as iconic a landmark as Richard K. Fox had wanted his Police Gazette to be in American popular culture.
Officially 338-344 Pearl Street, the building stood at an intersection once known as Franklin Square. Today, the site has no building on it. Dover Street now runs through what would have been the half of the building facing the bridge–the street shifting after the addition of traffic ramps serving the bridge. The remaining half of the building's site is taken up by a tiny park that's now used as a dog run. But this was the place. It was there that brilliant, ambitious minds developed the illustrated news magazine, the celebrity gossip column, the newspaper sports page, the pin-up magazine, humorously ironic news coverage, and brought an entire professional sport into respectability. It left an indelible imprint on generations of American men, not to mention the characters in James Joyce's greatest novel. The building that stood there was a showpiece; it appeared in brochures promoting New York City the way the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building do today. There is a commemorative marker at the spot where the Police Gazette building once stood. It tells us not one word about the National Police Gazette. In spite of the tremendous influence Richard K. Fox and the Police Gazette had on American popular culture, today, at the location of their most magnificent successes, there's not even a clue they had ever existed.
"We offer a most interesting record of horrid murders, outrageous robberies, bold forgeries, astounding burglaries, hideous rapes, and vulgar seductions in various parts of the country.... The whole country swarms with hordes of English and other thieves, burglars, pickpockets, and swindlers, whose daily and nightly exploits give continual employment to our police officers, and whose course through the land, whatever direction they may take, may be traced by their depredations."
–The National Police Gazette, 1845, the year of its founding
About the NPG continued...