By David Hughes
TERRE HAUTE — It’s too late for Christmas, unless you’re already planning for 2009, but John D. Wright’s new book “The Terror of Terre Haute” would make a great gift for anyone who appreciates boxing.
Or for anyone who appreciates the colorful history of Terre Haute.
I can relate to this book for a couple reasons.
First, its subject is 1920s world bantamweight champion Bud Taylor, a determined fellow who overcame horrible tragedies in and out of the ring to become Terre Haute’s most accomplished boxer ever.
When I covered Terry Ray’s rise through the cruiserweight ranks in the 1990s, Taylor’s name often came up because he was the only previous Terre Haute-born world champ. So I was somewhat familiar with Taylor’s achievements before I started reading this book a few weeks ago.
Second, I have known the author since the mid-1980s and I can vouch that he is passionate about digging up little-known facts to make a story come to life.
For the past four years, Wright — a longtime boxing fan and former sportswriter who works in the Tribune-Star’s news department — would periodically stop by my cubicle to offer updates on the progress of his research.
In his spare time, Wright vigorously sought new angles to make the book more informative and more entertaining. Successfully tracking down a Taylor relative or former friend somewhere in the country to provide background on the boxer’s up-and-down life brought a smile to his face.
I sometimes wondered if Wright would ever finish the book after he had put so much effort into it. Then last month, Dog Ear Publishing released it.
If you’re still thinking, “I’ve never heard of Bud Taylor,” and you live in the Terre Haute area, you should become familiar with him. He’s worth the time.
Without spoiling the must-read parts, here are a few tidbits about Taylor and 1920s boxing that jump out from Wright’s book:
n From 1900 to 1915, Taylor’s family had seven different residences, all centered about 10 blocks northeast of downtown Terre Haute in the neighborhood of Liberty and Tippecanoe avenues.
n At age 10, Taylor was forced to deal with the unexpected death of someone close to him and a funeral was conducted at the family’s home in the 1600 block of Locust Street.
n Growing up on the poor side of town, Taylor’s small stature would have made him a target for older, predatory boys and “he may have learned to use his fists out of fear or humiliation.”
n During an era when boxing was not legal in every state, Taylor turned pro at 16, despite his mother’s disapproval.
n Taylor’s boxing style was that of a stalker, “always willing to take a punch for the opportunity to throw one.”
n As 1920 ended, the undefeated Taylor’s contingent of followers had swelled to encompass members of the community from all walks of life. In Taylor, Terre Haute citizens felt a special attachment that may have only been surpassed by Larry Bird’s basketball heyday that started at Indiana State University in the late 1970s.
n With no Internet or televisions available in the 1920s, thousands of fans often gathered outside the Tribune Building in the 700 block of Wabash Avenue to hear someone yelling round-by-round results from a megaphone out the window for Taylor’s significant out-of-town bouts. (Thanks to big-name heavyweights like Jack Dempsey, boxing soared to its height of national popularity during this time.)
n Married three times, Taylor supposedly did little talking to family members about the two fighters who died after grueling bouts with him.
n After hanging up his gloves, the 5-foot-6 1/2 Taylor tried different jobs and gained considerable weight — surprising because he was so dedicated to his training and diet when he boxed. He died of a heart attack at 58 in 1962.
n According to Wright’s research of official decisions and newspaper accounts, Taylor’s 11-year pro career ended in March 1931 with 118 wins in 166 bouts. In 2005, the International Boxing Hall of Fame inducted Taylor as one of its newest members.
Although there are plenty of hardcore boxing details to satisfy pugilistic purists, Wright creatively sprinkled in descriptions of Taylor’s personal struggles, the city of Terre Haute and the national boxing scene. At times, the book painted such a vivid picture that I felt as if I were living in the Roaring Twenties and hoping Taylor would get his long-awaited title shot.
“The Terror of Terre Haute” can be purchased for about $20. Paperback copies are available at Baesler’s Market, Pacesetter Sports, Waldenbooks and BookNation in Terre Haute, on Wright’s Web site at budboxer.com or on many online bookstores. Also, if you’re within the Terre Haute city limits, you can get a signed, hand-delivered copy by calling Wright at (812) 229-4250.
Give it a read. You won’t be sorry.
Just ask Terry Ray, whose grandfather and former Terre Haute mayor Ralph Tucker was a friend of Taylor’s.
“It’s a very well-written book,” Ray said. “To me, it hit home because of the ups and downs Bud Taylor had and his strong will to succeed in the sport.
“I really enjoyed it. It’s one of those books where if somebody from Hollywood took a look, they could make a movie out of it.”
David Hughes can be reached by phone at 1-800-783-8742, Option 4, or at (812) 231-4224; by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.