A true rags to riches story, how a Belfast man, Richard Kyle Fox, went from journalism to fight promotion to rubbing shoulders with presidents and aristocrats.

Standing on the roof terrace of his recently opened publishing house at Franklin Square, Lower Manhattan on May 24, 1883, Ireland's Richard Kyle Fox witnessed the opening of The Brooklyn Bridge.

As the festive nuptials between Manhattan and Brooklyn proceeded, the millionaire's decision to send out 10,000 invitations to his palatial new building ensured that many of New York's dignitaries were afforded a unique vantage point from which to witness this "wire wedding" extravaganza.

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Though President Chester A. Arthur could not avail of Fox's hospitality on this occasion due to his ceremonial engagements, he did find time to give a special salute by "doffing his cap repeatedly to the cheers that resounded from the gay and festive sporting palace."

Who was Fox and how had he achieved such eminence?

Police Gazette building (Lives and Battles of Famous Black Pugilists, 1890).

Police Gazette building (Lives and Battles of Famous Black Pugilists, 1890).

Richard Kyle Fox  - "rags to riches"

Born in Belfast on Aug12,1846, Richard Kyle Fox truly was the epitome of that "rags to riches" narrative popularized in many a Horatio Alger novel.

Before arriving at Castle Garden immigration station (now Castle Clinton) in 1874, Fox's formative years were spent as an office boy at the Banner of Ulster newspaper and later as a debt collector for the Belfast News-Letter.

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His background in the publishing industry in the Old World served him well as he almost immediately found employment. Following a brief period at the Commercial Bulletin, Fox secured a full-time position at the then-struggling National Police Gazette, a weekly newspaper which was mainly concerned with exposing rogues, racketeers, and all things nefarious.

Purchasing the National Police Gazette

Such was the Irishman's impact at the Police Gazette's advertising department, he was able to relieve the owners of their debt-ridden rag within a year in lieu of wages owed to him.

Now at the helm, Fox doubled the pages to 16, began printing on eye-catching pink paper, and targeted young men who frequented Gotham's myriad of barrooms, brothels, and barbershops.

The Fox journalistic doctrine was simple:

"Tell your story in three paragraphs at most; if you can't tell it in three, tell it in two, and if you can't tell it in two, get the hell out of here!"

National Police Gazette, June 6, 1891

National Police Gazette, June 6, 1891

 

Fox's breakthrough occurred in 1880, following his decision to cover the much anticipated pugilistic contest between Tipperary's Paddy Ryan and Joe Goss of England. The fight, in which Ryan was victorious, created an unprecedented demand for the Police Gazette, and the accompanying woodcut illustrations of the event afforded those unable to travel to the illegal prizefight at Collier's Station, West Virginia a unique journalistic experience.

Prizefight promotion

Subsequently entering the surreptitious world of prizefight promotion, the young publisher eventually encountered a young braggadocious Bostonian by the name of John L. Sullivan. Sullivan and Fox's less than cordial relationship, supposedly ignited by the former's refusal to accept the publisher's hospitality at Harry Hill's notorious Bowery entertainment establishment, ensured an evidently convenient discord, as both men profited handsomely from the publicity.

Becoming the biggest boxing promoter in the United States by pitting opponents against Sullivan, sales of Fox's Police Gazette increased rapidly. The practice of awarding championship belts was popularized by Fox, including the famous Police Gazette Diamond Belt. Other belts included Jack "nonpareil" Dempsey's middleweight belt, Jack McAuliffe's lightweight belt and Ike "Belfast Spider" Weir's featherweight championship belt. For his contribution to the fistic phenomenon of the late 1800s, the publisher was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1997.

In addition to the Police Gazette's boxing coverage, the prescient publisher also promoted all manner of athletic contests including wrestling, weightlifting, baseball and many peculiar feats of human endeavor; most notably, the exploits of French-Canadian strongman Louis Cyr and famed Irish-American wrestler William Muldoon. Annie Oakley, the famed female sharpshooter from Ohio was extremely proud of the medal awarded to her by Fox.

In 1896, he sponsored Frank Samuelsen and George Harbo's successful crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in an eighteen-foot rowboat. In all, Fox is estimated to have donated almost $1 million in trophies and medals.

"Titillating woodcut illustrations"

Not confining his publication to sports, Fox's Gazette was teeming with titillating woodcut illustrations of Gilded-Age beauties, voluptuous Victorian ladies, and many of the leading stage soubrettes of that era.

The popular French stage actress Sarah Bernhardt on the cover of the Police Gazette, Sept. 11, 1880

The popular French stage actress Sarah Bernhardt on the cover of the Police Gazette, Sept. 11, 1880

It was for the gratuitous nature of these illustrations that Fox came to the attention of Anthony Comstock (1844-1915), United States Postal Inspector and founder of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice.

"These weekly illustrated papers are staunch, well-constructed traps of the devil, capable of catching and securely holding the mind and heart of the young until they yield a ready service to the father of all evil," wrote the Connecticut native in 1883.

Comstock had Fox prosecuted on many occasions but this only resulted in increased interest and circulation for the wily Belfastman's weekly. 

Fleet Street and aristocracy

As the 1800s drew to a close, Fox was spending more and more time at his new offices in London's Fleet Street. He became a popular figure amongst Britain's aristocracy and was made an honorary member of the infamous Pelican Club. When Hugh Lowther, the extravagant Earl of Lonsdale required a lightweight carriage for his much-anticipated race against Lord Shrewsbury in March 1891, Fox had one specially shipped-over from New York.

Richard Kyle Fox died on Nov. 24, 1922, at his home in Red Bank, New Jersey. He was interred in an elaborate, Egyptian-themed mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York. His beloved National Police Gazette, once the most popular perusal wherever men gathered to escape the confines of Gilded-Age propriety, had long been imitated and succeeded by the larger daily newspapers of media moguls such as William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer.

Fox's Police Gazette went bankrupt in 1932 and changed ownership many times before it eventually ceased publication under the ownership of Canadian publisher Joseph Azaria in 1977. The Police Gazette building, once one of the most impressive buildings in New York, had been demolished a decade earlier; the ornate railings were fortunately salvaged by Pop-Art aficionado Ivan Karp and were later donated to the Brooklyn Museum by the William and Marian Zeckendorf Foundation.

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