Former World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Marciano was 35 when he visited Amsterdam for two public appearances on Sunday, November 9, 1958. Born Rocco Francis Marchegiano in Brockton, Mass., Marciano won 49 consecutive professional fights, 43 by knockout. He held the title from 1952 to 1956, defended it six times and retired undefeated.
St. Michael’s Holy Name Society invited Marciano to Amsterdam for what was called a sports smoker. St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church, now a Buddhist temple on Grove Street, was one of Amsterdam’s traditionally Italian-American parishes. Marciano arrived late Sunday morning and was dinner guest at the home of Tony Romeo, who was co-chairman of the event along with restaurateur Frank “Jiggers” DiCaprio.”
A police-escorted convoy took the champ to the Tryon Theatre on East Main Street that afternoon, where a few hundred excited youngsters asked questions and posed for photographs.
Then the Rock left Amsterdam for awhile. Apparently he had been flown in by private plane and tried to fly back to his native Brockton for a brief appearance that afternoon. Weather posed a problem and the plane never made it to Brockton. Marciano returned to Amsterdam about 7:15 p.m. for the dinner in his honor at St. John’s Hall on Fourth Street, today the Elks Lodge.
The Rev. Joseph C. Beck of St. Michael’s Church presented Marciano with a hand-carved statue of the Infant of Prague. Vito Torani gave the champion a carpet from Carpetland.
Amsterdam Mayor Thomas Gregg talked of his own boxing exploits. Gregg said in his last fight he was knocked out of the ring without even touching the ropes. Also on hand was former boxer Bob Pastor, then living in Saratoga Springs, who lost two bouts to Joe Louis in the 1930s.
Amsterdam was a boxing mecca in the late 1930s and among local boxers attending Marciano’s talk were “Sailor” Barron, Frank Marcellino, “Measles” Rocco, “Pinky” Palmer and “Duke” Duchessi, father of current county legislator and former mayor John Duchessi, Jr.
Sports columnist Bob Wischmeyer of the Recorder gave a glowing account of Marciano’s speech before a crowd of 400 men, “His countenance clouded when he recalled his victory over Joe Louis on October 26, 1951. ‘I didn’t especially want to fight Joe,’ he told the enrapt audience, ‘but he was a stumbling block and I had to, I was 28 years old and I had to go places fast. I was happy to knock him out. But I was sad to see him end up that way and I was sorry I was the one who had to do it.’ ”
Attendees could have their pictures taken with Marciano for a dollar. Sam Vomero, who attended the event, said he always regretted that he did not get his photo taken.
Praising the devotion of his wife Barbara, Marciano said, “Honestly, fellows, as sure as I stand here now, that’s the reason why I retired and why I won’t come back — because of my wife.”
However, within a year of his Amsterdam talk, Marciano considered a comeback after Ingemar Johansson won the heavyweight title. But after a month of training in 1959, Marciano decided against fighting again.
The eve of Marciano’s 46th birthday found him as a passenger in another private plane bound for Des Moines, Iowa, where he was to give another speech. A surprise birthday party was planned. The Cessna 172 encountered bad weather that night, as had the plane Marciano was in the day of his Amsterdam speech. This time, August 31, 1969 the plane carrying Marciano crashed while attempting an emergency landing in Newton, Iowa. All three people on the plane were killed.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or firstname.lastname@example.org.