Pre-war cards take all shapes and sizes, covering, well, just about anything. In cataloging somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,500 sets for this site, I’ve seen some really strange stuff.
One, recently, was too strange not to share.
The 1937 Wolverine Gum set was a joint promotion of sorts. Classified in the American Card Catalog as R21, these cards were distributed inside packages of Wolverine Gum. The cards promoted Ripley’s Believe it or Not, a media entity that promoted strange facts. The enterprise was started with Robert Ripley, who first introduced snippets in a syndicated cartoon series before the idea later spread to books, radio, and short films/television.
A strange fight
True to its name, the Wolverine Gum Ripley’s Believe it or Not set focuses on some odd stories. While the set is mostly a non-sports issue, a pair of cards feature boxing. One card focuses on the legendary John Sullivan while the other is of a much more obscure fighter.
This fighter named Young Bruno was from Moundsville, West Virginia. The card shows a sensational picture of Bruno lying face down with the caption, ‘Dead Man Wins a Fight!’
As the card describes, he was in a boxing match against a man named Earl Bridges. Bruno was cruising along in the fight and on his way to victory. Unfortunately, Bridges landed a massive blow, not only knocking Bruno down but, ultimately, killing him.
Bruno obviously was not going to get up. However, the punch occurred only a few seconds before the bell to end the fight. Thus, the referee’s count never reached its conclusion as the round ended first.
As Bruno had won every round to that point and was never actually counted out, he won the fight.
Is this real?
My first instinct was to check to see if this indeed a real occurrence. After all, similar pre-war cards were created with less credible sourcing. One is the 1934 Carreras set, another Believe it or Not issue. This set crossed my path as it includes a football player who was said to have set a record for most consecutive field goals. While many cards in that set are myths, that story actually seems legit.
The boxing story checks out as well. Many newspapers, including the Daily Iowan in 1939, were fascinated with the story and offered a brief account of it.
Of note here is that the fight occurred in June 1930 but many newspaper accounts of it were mentioned in 1931. Why the delay? Well, Bridges actually had to stand trial and face charges in front of a grand jury for the death. But he was ultimately acquitted and the result of the trial was likely a reason for the story running later. And while this fight occurred in 1930, these cards were not printed until several years after that.