Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Johnny Mulligan, July 17, 1982

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:01 - Getting settled in Philadelphia

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Partial Transcript: Okay. So you arrived in Philadelphia then in 1922?

Segment Synopsis: Mulligan arrived in Philadelphia in 1922, settling in West Philadelphia, while feeling shocked to see tall buildings. He had no acquaintances in the city. He initially stayed at a hotel in West Philly and received advice on how to get settled, what to do, and where to go.

Keywords: Bed and breakfasts; City Hall (Philadelphia, Pa.); West Philadelphia; West Philly

Subjects: Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.

00:02:27 - Dancing career

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Partial Transcript: You were, you were entertaining then soon after you arrived in the city?

Segment Synopsis: Mulligan started performing as a dancer at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Broad Street, eventually dancing throughout the city. He danced Irish dances, the "real digs and horn pipes," accompanied by a band. Typically, such "highland gatherings" featured young girls dancing. Mulligan usually danced at Irish gatherings. He remembers not making much money so he looked for work and tried to hire an agent but the agent would not represent an Irish dancer.

Keywords: Highland Fling; Irish dancing; Knights of Columbus Hall (Philadelphia); Scottish dancing at the Devon Horse Show; Scottish dancing at the Scotch Games; Scottish jig

Subjects: Dance; Employment

GPS: Knight of Columbus Hall
Map Coordinates: 40.0456, -75.0262
00:07:04 - The Mulligan family radio show on WPEN

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Partial Transcript: Then when my sister came over, now, and I was on radio. We had the four of us, we had the Mulligan Family. Now if you want to get this on tape it's okay.

Segment Synopsis: During 1930-1931, Mulligan's family appeared regularly as the "Irish Merrymakers" on a WPEN radio show that aired after "Amos 'n' Andy" on Saturday nights. Mulligan's wife played the accordion, Mulligan and his sister danced, and his brother sang Irish songs. They booked shows after the weekly radio show, leading to late nights out. He enjoyed entertaining crowds and traveling to different engagements. He remembers how his sister got a job in New York, but Mulligan's wife and his brothers did not want them to travel so they just decided to stay in Philadelphia.

Keywords: Amos 'n' Andy; Mulligan family; The Irish Merrymakers; WPEN Radio

Subjects: Bands (Music); Music--Performance.; Musical families; Musical groups.

00:12:08 - How Mulligan got bookings in Philly

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Partial Transcript: And I entertained in Philadelphia.

Segment Synopsis: Mulligan remembers playing shows at clubs all over Philadelphia, in neighborhoods including West Philly, South Philly, Manayunk, Woodside Park, Roxbury, and East Falls. He received calls inquiring for bookings. Mulligan remembers that WPEN hired him to entertain audiences at Woodland as "special entertainment," rather than amateur hour.

Keywords: Bryn Mawr (Pa.); Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania; East Falls (Philadelphia neighborhood); Jack Stake- Mulligan Family announcer; Manayunk (Philadelphia neighborhood); Roxbury (Philadelphia neighborhood); WPEN Radio; Woodside (Philadelphia neighborhood)

Subjects: Bands (Music); Music--Performance.; Musical families; Musical groups.

GPS: Woodside Amusement Park
Map Coordinates: 40.0012, -75.2151
00:15:08 - The start of Mulligan's boxing career in Philly

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Partial Transcript: How soon after you came to the city did you start boxing?

Segment Synopsis: Mulligan started boxing training soon after his arrival, at a gym at 6th and Vine Street. He recalls training at a new location at 13th and Vine Street in the Tenderloin District, where light heavyweight champion of the world Tommy Loughran also trained. He ran along East River Drive, then trained with partners--boxing, punching bags, skipping rope, and doing calisthenics. He remembers that it wasn't long after he started training that he got his first fight in South Philly, and then started fighting at the Cambria Athletic Club.

Keywords: 13th and Vine Street (Philadelphia, Pa); 6th and Vine Street (Philadelphia, Pa); Benjamin Franklin Bridge; Cambria Athletic Club; Delaware Bridge; East River Drive (now Kelly Drive, Philadelphia, Pa.); Tenderloin District (Philadelphia, Pa.); Tommy Loughran--former light heavyweight champion

Subjects: Boxing matches.; Boxing.

GPS: Cambria Athletic Club
Map Coordinates: 39.991, -75.123
00:18:39 - The four Mulligans boxing in Philly

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Partial Transcript: I was looking for a really a good job, and when I was playing soccer, et cetera, I went back, I was hired with the soccer to go to play with an Electric Storage Battery.

Segment Synopsis: In addition to boxing, Mulligan played professionally in a soccer league. Once known as the "fastest gun in the west" he boxed at the Cambria Athletic Club, in Atlantic City, and Lansdale. For years, he held the record with five consecutive wins at the Cambria. Other Philly boxers included “Swat” Jimmy Mulligan from Kensington, Bobby Mulligan from East Falls, and Robert Mulligan from Upper Darby. Johnny Mulligan was known as “Scotty” Johnny Mulligan, boxing as a lightweight and featherweight.

Keywords: "Fastest gun in the west"; "Scotty" Johnny Mulligan; "Swat" Jimmy Mulligan; Bobby Mulligan; Cambria Athletic Club; Championship of the Northeast; Featherweight class (boxing); Lightweight class (boxing); Robert Mulligan

Subjects: Boxing matches.; Boxing.

GPS: Lansdale Boxing Club
Map Coordinates: 39.9448, -75.1649
00:21:52 - Popularity of boxing in Philadelphia in the 1920s and 1930s

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Partial Transcript: Was boxing a big sport in Philadelphia back in the 1920s?

Segment Synopsis: Mulligan recalls that boxing was a major sport in Philadelphia during the 1920s. The Phillies and the Athletics played baseball, but there were only 8 teams in each league, so boxing had little competition. He recalls that boxing clubs attracted up to 8000-12,000 spectators to matches.

Keywords: 11th Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Athletics; Benny Bass (boxer); Broad Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Cambria Athletic Club; Lou Tangler- professional; North Light Boys Club; Philadelphia Athletics; Phillies; Recitera; The Hayes Boys (boxers); Tommy Loughlin

Subjects: Boxing matches.; Boxing.; Sports

00:26:10 - Cambria boxing matches in the 1920s

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Partial Transcript: Did you hold any titles, Johnny, in the city? I know in Scotland you held, you held 3 titles, right?

Segment Synopsis: Mulligan recalls fighting "Swat" Jimmy Mulligan for the championship of North Philadelphia, beating him twice. Mulligan mainly boxed in Philly, specifically at the Cambria, known as a "blood pit," at Somerset and Lehigh in the Kensington neighborhood. Spectators wanted to see blood and were a "good fighting crowd." He talks about some of the famous fights in Philadelphia, and how one could fight your way up in the boxing community. He says that "if you could fight in the Cambria, you could fight anywhere in the world."

Keywords: "Swat" Jimmy Mulligan; "The blood pit"; Cambria Athletic Club; Kensington (Philadelphia neighborhood); Kensington Avenue (Philadelphia, Pa.); Somerset (section of Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia); Somerset Avenue and Lehigh Avenue (Philadelphia, Pa)

Subjects: Boxing matches.; Boxing.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.

GPS: Cambria Athletic Club
Map Coordinates: 39.991, -75.123
00:33:09 - Memorable fights against "Swat" Jimmy Mulligan

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Partial Transcript: What, what was your most memorable fights in the city?

Segment Synopsis: Some of Mulligan’s most memorable fights were with “Swat” Jimmy Mulligan, a great fighter and hard puncher. Mulligan notes that the crowd helped him beat him, because Mulligan listened to what the crowd told him to do. Mulligan's manager never said much to him, just gave him water and towels. [Mulligan and Dr. Hardy are walking down stairs] He attempts to show Dr. Hardy how to dry yourself off with a towel, like in a boxing match.

Keywords: "Swat" Babe Ruth; "Swat" Jimmy Mulligan; Boxing spectators

Subjects: Boxing matches.; Boxing.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.

00:37:00 - Ethnicities of boxers in Philly

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Partial Transcript: --you fight any "colored" boxers?

Segment Synopsis: Mulligan remembers fighting Kirim, the lightweight champion of Australia, stopping him in three rounds. Mulligan says that few African Americans boxed locally during his day, and does not recall any black boxing clubs in Philadelphia. He remembers that there was one African American boxer in Kensington that was very good. However, in the 1930s, more African Americans boxed, because they needed to make money during the Depression. Mulligan recounts that Jewish and Irish men dominated boxing, with a few Italians.

Keywords: African American boxers; Great Depression; Kirim; Lightweight champion of Australia

Subjects: African Americans--Social conditions.; Depressions--1929; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Race relations

00:40:17 - Playing industrial league soccer

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Partial Transcript: What was--what would be a typical purse--pay for a, for a fight back in the twenties at the Cambria?

Segment Synopsis: Mulligan recounts that the typical pay for boxing a match in Philly was between $150-200, a good living even after paying the manager. He shares that he did not approve of club "operators" who paid a boxer $25 a week, but could make you fight 3 or 4 nights a week, "like you were machine." Rather than box for a club operator, he took a job playing center forward on an industrial soccer team for Exide [Electric Storage Battery Company]. He didn't have to work in the company if he didn't want to; he only had to play soccer. They trained at Crescentville and played Sunday games against Budd's, Wilson Homes, Disston, and other regional companies.

Keywords: Boxing clubs; Budd Company; Crescentville (Philadelphia neighborhood); Disston Saw Works; Electric Storage Battery Company; Exide (Electric Storage Battery Company); Industrial League; Industrial sports teams; Soccer; Wages; Wilson Homes

Subjects: Boxing matches.; Boxing.; Employment; Sports