“Those boxers with the savage names did not intimidate the only woman among these brutes. The camp’s proprietor, an improbable person to run a camp for men who made their living by destroying others, was educated, a mother, a mezzo-soprano opera singer, wife of a Turkish diplomat, and personified sophistication during her years in Washington, D. C. President William McKinley and his wife considered her a best friend. Her name was Madame Hranoush Sidky Bey, but everyone called her Madame Bey.”-From Madame Bey’s: Home to Boxing Legends by Gene Pantalone
I live in the area where the boxing camp that was run by a woman resides. I visited while a boy when professionals still trained there. Over the years, I have heard a great many stories about her and the camp. The story fascinated me; an urban, iconoclast woman in politics, business, and sports in the early twentieth century when women did not run many businesses, no less a boxing camp. The contrasts between her and her clientele was stark. She came from, Constantinople (Istanbul), then moved to Washington, DC, and was friends with President McKinley, standing feet away from him when he was assassinated.
Her camp flourished as she mothered the fighters, and by the time it all ended, the town hosted 12 world heavyweight champions and 78 International Boxing Hall of Fame inductees.
Q: What challenges did you have while writing it?
Researching through so many periodicals, through many sources and being careful not to infringe on others’ copyright; I learned much about American copyright laws.
Q: What do you want readers to take away from reading your book(s)?
The contrasts of the real-life characters in the book; the woman’s ability to overcome barriers that were high for woman at the time. For the boxing part, the tremendous sacrifices these athletes indured to compete at the highest level. They were not just commodities but had a wide range of personalities; outside the ring they were personable. The woman understood their hopes and needs and provides a supportive environment for them.
Q: If you could live in the story of a book, which one would you live in?
Hemingway characters always fascinated me, so it would have to be the old man in the Old Man and the Sea.
Q: When you’re not writing what do you do?
I am in the Information Technology field, which allowed me to write many documents for computer and business systems, though the writing was of a technical nature. It’s much different writing a book.
Q: What else have you written? What else do you write?
Just the technical documents for my employment.
Q: What’s your “writer studio” like or where do you feel inspired to write?
My laptop computer, on my desk in my room.
Q: Of all the character’s you have written, do you have a favorite?
The subject of my book–Madame Bey.
Q: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer and how long have you been writing professionally?
I would not say I am a professional writer, but my book took 4 years to complete.
Learn more about Madame Bey’s and connect through Facebook and Twitter: www.facebook.com/MadameBey and twitter handle at @MadameBey.
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Here’s an excerpt!
From BEY’S TRAINING CAMP, Madame Bey’s: Home to Boxing Legends
A boxing camp rose from the rural hills of New Jersey unlike any other; a place thought unlikely for prizefighters to train. The camp, built and used by the boxers themselves, attracted countless current, former, and future world champions.They used the camp to hone their bodies and skills for upcoming bouts.
They came with ferocious names like the Fighting Marine, the Manassas Mauler, the BlackPanther, the Black Uhlan, the BrownBomber, the Ghetto Wizard, the Astoria Assassin, the Toy Bulldog, HomicideHank, and the Herkimer Hurricane. Their real names were Gene Tunney, Jack Dempsey, Harry Wills, Max Schmeling, Joe Louis, Benny Leonard, Paul Berlenbach, Mickey Walker, Henry Armstrong, Lou Ambers, Tony Canzoneri, James Braddock, Jack Johnson, and many other world champions. Many trained at the camp; others came to watch their successors and prospective competition. Following the top-rated boxers were their managers, trainers, and promoters. They had the best the sport had to offer. Managers Jack “Doc” Kearns, Joe Jacobs, and Al Weill were frequent occupants. Trainers Whitey Bimstein, Charley Goldman, and Ray Arcel had many charges there. Promoters named UncleMike Jacobs, Humbert J. Fugazy, and Jimmy Johnston came to protect their investments by making sure their boxers were in shape. One of the best promoters the sport ever produced, Tex Richard, did not go to the camp, but he made sure many of his boxers did to ensure a high-quality performance for his audience. Following them, the leading journalists came to write about upcoming bouts; it was fertile ground for sports columns. Men named Grantland Rice, Damon Runyon, Frank Graham, Jack Miley, and Willie Ratner. Celebrities, politicians, and the public followed them to watch their favorite fighters.
Those boxers with the savage names did not intimidate the only woman among these brutes. The camp’s proprietor, an improbable person to run a camp for men who made their living by destroying others, was educated, a mother, a mezzo-soprano opera singer, wife of a Turkish diplomat, and personified sophistication during her years in Washington, D. C. President William McKinley and his wife considered her a best friend. Her name was Madame Hranoush Sidky Bey, but everyone called her Madame Bey. She created a home for her boxing clientele in which they could train for their sport. If you intended to stay at her camp, you followed her rules that she expected her boarders to abide by. There was no alcohol, prohibition the law at the time; up by six; breakfast at seven; supper at five; lights out at ten; no swearing; and no women. She was strict in running her business, but had personal, matriarchal relationships with her boxers. She called them her boys.She shunned interviews and photographers until late in her life. Not wanting for accolades, she preferred to stay in the background while her boys took the spotlight.
It was a never-ending wonderment to journalists, managers, trainers, and promoters howMadame Bey could exact the finest behavior from these toughest of men. MadamBey knew people, and the fighters knew she had their best interests in mind. If someone challenged Madame Bey’s authority, the steely gaze of other boxers in the camp would meet him.
Madame Bey was an Armenian Christian, her husband, Sidky Bey, a Muslim. They met in their nativeTurkey, a country over ninety-five percent Muslim. Their romance and marriage became as unlikely as their running of a boxing camp. The two, undeterred,married despite cultural and family objections. It was one of many challenges that Madame Bey overcame. If told something was impossible, she figured a way to succeed.
Before her boxing camp, she had danced at the White House and sung in Carnegie Hall. Sidky Bey, her husband, worked as the SecondSecretary of the Turkish Legation in Washington, D.C. While in Washington,D.C., she quickly became a favorite at the Turkish consulate being the onlyTurk to speak English. She spoke five other languages – Armenian, French,Greek, Italian, and Spanish. She ran a successful Oriental rug business with her husband after they left the diplomatic corps, but her boxing endeavor she coveted the most.
Madame Bey came to know the meaning of persecution. Her Armenian people were systematically eliminated by executions, deportations, and death marches well after she had departed her native Turkey. The marches consisted of forced treks from Turkey across the vast deserts of Syria with little supplies. Most died from exposure. A report from The New YorkTimes stated, “… the roads and the Euphrates are strewn with corpses of exiles, and those who survive are doomed to certain death. It is a plan to exterminate the whole Armenian people.” It is known as the first modern genocide where an estimated one to one and half million people perished.
Instead of using these events as a source of bitterness, she chose to understand and embrace differences. Her boys took on the sentiment of their host. They were there for the sport of boxing. They sought out the help of trainers, managers,and sparring partners who would best help them prepare. The person’s background did not matter. This contrasted sharply with that which occurred around them.Newspapers printed racist, ethnic, and religious slurs without jeopardy of retribution. Jim Crow laws prevented most gifted black athletes from participating in the sports cultures. Her camp did not discriminate. During a time of deep racism, the camp welcomed anyone who wanted a secluded place to train. Race, national origin, or religious beliefs precluded no one.
Madame Bey proved her camp welcomed anyone, no matter the public opinion of any of her boxer residents. Disagreements were few at her place, and those that arose were more due to egos and higher testosterone levels than racism. Not one racist event at her camp could be uncovered in print.
The former socialite who had been with diplomats, presidents, and queens now ran a prize fighting camp known around the world. There seldom was a time when a champion did not train there at a time when only ten weight classes existed.That was unlike today where the many organizations and weight classes make a title easier to obtain. The camp had a ubiquitous presence in the sports section of newspapers. The newspapers always referred to it as Madame Bey’s,but they usually gave the location as Summit, New Jersey, instead of its actual location of Chatham Township; Summit was a larger and a more recognizable town.Conveniently, four miles from the camp, the Summit Hotel accommodated many promoters, journalists, trainers, and managers.
She saw her boys as individuals and not the brutes portrayed in the newspapers. She found that many were intellectual, sensitive men wanting nothing more than the betterment of their lives. Boxing offered that opportunity. She made a connection and positive impression on most and became a maternal figure to many.
“I have succeeded in having all my boys feel responsible toward me,” Madame Bey said,“and as a result, I am swamped with remembrances on Mother’s Day.”