Hoosick Falls, New York, 13 October 2018
We traveled today to this picturesque if rundown town some 200 miles north of New York City, with Paola Uzcudun, granddaughter of the Basque heavyweight boxer Paulino Uzcudun (1899-1985). “The Basque Woodchopper” spent a good part of June, 1929, training here for his championship fight again Max Schmeling, which was scheduled to take place at Yankee Stadium on Thursday, June 27, 1929. Uzcudun himself charmingly describes his time upstate in his 1934 memoir, Mi vida:
I was assigned a training camp in Hoosick Falls, a town in New York State, several hundred kilometers from the big city. I went there, accompanied by a veritable regiment of journalists and the best sparring partners I’ve ever had in my career. Those who haven’t been in the US have no idea what these training camps are like for the big names in boxing; the main goal is to drum up good publicity for the bout, not so much to allow the athlete to get as ready as he can. A reporter from each one of the region’s major newspapers, sometimes from each one of the country’s major papers, resides for two, three of four weeks at the training camp, sending daily reports on what the boxer has done over the last 24 hours. And when they have no news to report, well, of course, they just make something up.
Hoosick Falls was the town where Mr. Carey was born. Carey, a millionaire [who had recently become the President of Madison Square Garden…] wanted his little home town… to become well known throughout the United States. And for that reason, of course, nothing seemed better than setting up in Hoosick Falls my training camp. I must say, the place chosen for my preparation was truly delicious, even though it was out in the middle of the countryside, it was close to town, and offered all kinds of comforts. I would go to town each day during my stay at the camp, and the people treated me to all kinds of things. The city government, recognizing that it owed to me the growing popularity that Hoosick Falls was enjoying –every day people who had never dreamed of going there were showing up– named me an “adoptive son” of the town, which delighted me. Everyday, caravans of my admirers from hundreds of miles all around would come to Hoosick Falls to watch me working out; on Saturdays, dozens of Spanish friends would come from New York to spend Sunday with me. Artists, journalists, poets, men and women of all ages were constantly visiting me, and some of them would keep me company for several days. Guitars sounded left and right, and the mellifluous voices of professional singers delighted me for hours. Has even composed a song in my honor, which all of my friends would sing together in unison. But during the last days of my stay at Hoosick Falls, the happiness of the first days disappeared from me, it completely abandoned me. Because I knew that I was doomed to be defeated by Max Schmelling.”
The estate that housed Paulino and his retinue burned to the ground in he 1980s; little is left of what the Basque woodchopper would have seen and experienced almost 90 years ago. But for Paola, the visit was, nonetheless, poignant:
“I never thought I would actually visit the places that I’ve seen in family photos all these years.”
“It was exciting to have the chance to visit and walk along some of the very same streets and roads of the town where my grandfather trained for his fight against Schmeling, and to imagine the afternoons he spent surrounded by inhabitants of Hoosick Falls who
didn’t know him, but who were thrilled to meet this famous boxer in this little town in the middle of nowhere. I imagine them enjoying the time they spent with him while he trained for fights they would later hear about on the radio or read about in the press. They probably couldn’t spell or pronounce the name Uzcudun, but this fun-loving Basque helped put “Hoosick Falls” into the big bold letters of newspaper headlines. The house where he trained isn’t there anymore, but it all somehow came back to life for me today, and I almost felt like I caught a glimpse of my grandfather’s golden and contagious smile in this town that once welcomed him with such joy and warmth.”