EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 28, 2013

Exhibit shows Lawrence's storied boxing history

By Yadira Betances
ybetances@eagletribune.com

---- — A piece of Lawrence’s legendary boxing history is now on display at Pizza King.

Christine F. Lewis of Andover came up with the idea for the exhibit when she saw a photograph of Andy Callahan, a World War II hero who was also a boxer. But when she went looking for more information about him, she came up empty-handed.

”When I started doing research, I didn’t realize Lawrence had this important boxing history,” she said.

Lewis approached John Sapienza, the owner of Pizza King, who was more than happy to lend his newly renovated walls for the exhibit.

”I thought, ‘Why not boxing?’ ‘Why not a show that shows another part of the city’s history?” Sapienza said. “I’m very happy we did it because I’ve learned about the city and its history.”

Lewis has been researching the history of boxing in Lawrence for the past five years. She said Lawrence’s boxing heydays were from the 1920s to the 1960s, although the sport took a big hit during the Depression.

The 19-panel exhibit spans two of Pizza King’s walls at 29 Salem St.

It includes black and white photographs of boxers Henry “Bud” Janco, who trained in the US Navy. In 1927, Janco won the U.S. Scout Fleet Featherweight Champion.

Also included are brothers Angie, Michael and Danny Tardugno, who were the most famous boxing family in Lawrence. Michael won a NCAA scholarship to both Georgetown and Columbia and became a lawyer after his years as a boxer. In 1933, Angie won the Bantamweight National Championship and Danny also became a professional.

Other parts of the exhibit include those of promoters like Billy Bell and Josiah “Cy” Brown; boxing licenses, featuring the name, ethnicity, occupation of each boxer.

There is also an aerial photograph of a boxing match at O’Sullivan Park that attracted 12,000 fans; tile coasters of Mike Surkis, with his biography on the back and newspaper articles on the possible legalization of bookies in 1937 as well as the Turdugno brothers. One panel shows the Morris’ Blacksmith Shop at 15 Broadway, where the World Lightweight title fight took place in 1887.

”Through the lens of boxing, you can get a glimpse of history and gives you a sense of what life was like,” Lewis said.

She worked with Louise Sandberg, archivist at Lawrence Public Library and staff members at the Lawrence History Center, boxers’ family members and boxing collectors.

“Boxing was one of the most prominent sports in Lawrence and having good boxers brought excitement to the city and drew more attention to it,” said Amita Kiley, assistant to the director at Lawrence History Center.

“The more popular the sport became, it energized the town and peeked an interest in it,” Kiley said.

Kathy Flynn said boxing was so momentous in Lawrence, William Wood, owner of the American Woolen Company, held a boxing match at his Andover estate which was attended by affluent men and women.

“Boxing was a way for an ordinary person to pull himself out of the mill; a way of getting out of poverty with their athletic ability and have some kind of real life,” Sandberg said.

She said Italian, Irish and Jewish immigrants who settled in Lawrence became involved in boxing as gyms opened in the city.

One of them was Salvatore Michael Saccuzzo, whose boxing names were “Sarko” and “Sarkis.”

“I’m very proud of him,” said his son, Ronnie Saccuzzo. “The exhibit is beautiful. I’ve seen it and will be going back with my daughter and other family members. It’s wonderful that someone could take the time to put this together.”

Sarkos made history when he only lost five times in 86 fights. He fought such world champions as Benny Leonard, Kid Chocolate and Jack “Kid” Berg.

”He was a very modest man. He never brought it up or bragged about it,” son Ronnie said.

Saccuzzo lent Lewis a scrapbook that one of his father’s friends made for him. He often looked through it with his daughter and grandson. In his den, Saccuzzo has a portrait of his father in a boxing stance.

”He had a good career,” Saccuzzo said, adding his dad fought in Puerto Rico as well as Madison Square Garden and won two world championships as well as a National Guard Lightweight Champion in New York.

Saccuzzo said his father was an active member of the YMCA where he worked with boxers and after he quit the sport, he was an avid fan.

”He follow it and always picked a winner,” Saccuzzo said.