About two weeks ago we began a search
through Harlem for Sam Langford, the old Bos-
ton Tar Baby. Inquiries up and down Lenox and
Seventh Avenues in bars and grills, cigar stores,
newsstands and drugstores failed to turn up a
lead. Zoot-suited youths accosted on street cor-
ners invariable looked blank and asked, "Who
he?" A dozen times we were told positively that
Sam was dead.
This is the man competent critics said was the
greatest fighter in ring history, the man the champ-
ions feared and would not fight, the man who
was so good he was never given a chance to show
how good he really was. You'd think he'd be a
hero to every youth in Harlem.
Sam is not dead. We found him at last in a
dingy hall bedroom on 139th Street. He was just
sitting there on the edge of his bed listening to
the radio. That is all there is for Sam to do now,
for he is old and blind and penniless. The
women who admitted us said Mr. Langford's
room was the third door down a corridor so dark
you had to feel your way. Sam stood up when
we entered and fumbled for a string attached to
a pale bulb in the ceiling. There was a look of
surprise on his flat, broad face.
"You come to see me?" he asked with wonder
in his low melodious voice. Sam has been sitting
there in the dark for a long time and there have
been no visitors. It took him some time to under-
stand that this was an interview and there would
be a story in the paper.
"What you want to write about old Sam for?"
he said. "He ain't no good any more. You ever
see me fight?"
We lied to Sam, said we had and that he was
the greatest we ever saw. That seemed to please
him mightily and he laughed loud. Anyone who
never saw Sam in the ring is bound to be sur-
prised at his height. He is only 5 feet 6 1/2 inches
and yet at 165 pounds he brought down such
giants as Jack Johnson, Harry Wills and the
towering Fred Fulton. His short legs, long arms,
great shoulders and wide girth give him a curi-
ously gnomelike appearance. All of his 210
pounds now seems to be above the hips. But he
is a gnome with a prodigiously broad flat nose,
a cauliflower ear and an immense amiability.
Sam receives a few dollars a month from a
foundation for the blind. It is not enough but he
makes it do. His days are all alike. He raises early
and two small boys lead him to a restaurant for
breakfast. He is back in his room by one o'clock
and then he just sits in the dark until late in the
afternoon when he goes out to eat again.
This would seem to be a dreary existence, but
Sam never was addicted to thinking or to brood-
ing over his fate in the days when they told him
he was lucky to get fights at all, and he does not
brood now. We have been led to believe by what
we had read that this stepchild of fistiana was a
stupid man who had been plucked clean by the
thieves and then thrown out to starve. A child
of the jungle, they used to call him.
It was therefore a surprise to find that Sam is
not stupid. He is even intelligent, though ignorant
by the world's standards. He never went to school
a day in his life and certainly he is a simple crea-
ture, almost childlike. His memory is good, he is
an excellent mimic, and you would go far to find
a more interesting storyteller.
And all the stories Sam tells are amusing ones.
He will not be drawn into telling the other kind.
He remembers them, but if you ask him about
the old days when he was given the business by
all and sundry he chuckles and tells another
funny story. He laughs all the time he is talking
and his laugh is so infectious, his face so expres-
sive, you forget he is blind. When he tells his
stories and laughs he seems almost a happy man.
There is no drop of hate in his soul for anyone.
Sam said he was born March 4, 1886, in Wey-
mouth, Nova Scotia, but that is just a date he
thought up. He admits he doesn't know, and
since he was fighting before 1900 he probably
is in the middle sixties. He asked about his old
friends among the boxing writers and said be
sure to get in that he remembered them and sent
his greetings. He said he didn't want anybody to
feel sorry for him.
In a way Sam is right. His joviality and cheer-
fulness in adversity envelop you in sadness but
he does not inspire pity. He has somehow
achieved the feat of rising above it with simple
"Don't nobody need to feel sorry for old Sam,"
he said. "I had plenty good times. I been all over
the world. I fought maybe three, four hundred
fights and every one was a pleasure. If I just had
me a little change in my pocket I'd get along
"Chief," said Sam Langford yesterday, "this
gonna be the best Christmas I ever had. Maybe
you could put it in the paper."
What Sam wanted to convey to all his
thousands of friends the fact that he is happy and
that he understands quite well that it is they who
have made it possible. He has a simple faith in
the power of the press and he believes that if it
is in the paper everyone will see it.
Sam's faith is justified. It is almost a year now
since his story was told in this newspaper. At
that time Sam was blind and penniless and hun-
gry and he was very lonely indeed. Now he is a
man fixed for life so that he never again will be
hungry. His friends to the number of several
thousand sent money for him, and this money,
gathered into a fund, was used to take care of
Sam modestly as long as he will live.
Many of these friends never have seen Sam.
That is one of the remarkable qualities. You do
not have to know him to be his friend and know
the kind of man he is. But Sam's friends did not
just contribute months ago and then forget that
Christmas was coming. Sam wishes this column
to acknowledge, besides greetings by mail, the
A fine guitar, three boxes of cigars, two of
which were purchased by GIs in post exchanges;
a pair of gloves, a bottle of gin, several neckties,
an anonymous gift of $5 which he is to buy
the best Christmas dinner he can find; a quantity
of hard candy, of which someone remembered
that he is immensely fond; and various other
items good to eat at Christmas time.
All of these things Sam had around him last
night. He had friends around him, too, and there
will be friends with him today. A year ago Sam's
total wealth was twenty cents. With it he bought
a meager breakfast and then he sat the day out
on the side of his bed, all alone. No one came to
see him, for no one knew he was there. He had
been a great man in his day, the famous Boston
Tar Baby, the greatest fighter of them all, but
now he was long since forgotten, believed by
many to be dead.
But this is another Christmas Day. He is not
alone any more, his dingy room is gay with
Christmas decorations, a candle burned in
it last night. His belly will be stuffed with turkey
and fixin's today and he will play his guitar and
sing and he will laugh. To hear Sam laugh and
sing is one of the most profound Christmas ex-
periences a man can have.
He cannot see the decorations or the candles
light, but they make a very great difference to
him. Sam is by no means a religious man in the
conventional sense, but we were wondering last
night how many men there are who understand
so well as he the real meaning of Christmas.
Sam wants all his friends to know that he
is happy today and we would like them to know,
too, that he is the most completely happy man
we have ever seen. Not many are able to be com-
pletely happy. For most of us there always are
reservations of one kind or another. But not for
Sam. He is like a child in the enjoyment of his
presents and the remembrance of his friends. He
is celebrating Christmas in that spirit.
"You see that bottle, Chief?" he said last night.
"If you come back here on the Fourth of July
it'll still be some in it. But tomorrow I'm gonna
have myself a couple of good belts. Oil myself
up some for a little geetar playin'. Boy! Listen to
that thing talk. She shore talk sweet, don't she?"
"You tell all my friends I'm the happiest man
in New York City. I got a geetar and a bottle of
gin and money in my pocket to buy Christmas
dinner. No millionaire in the world got more
than that, or anyhow they can't use any more.
Tell my friends all about it and tell 'em I said
God bless 'em."