Sunday, March 12, 2017

Hell’s Acres at RJHS

In the 19th century, a tiny hamlet in the southeastern corner of Columbia County was a known as a lawless, controversial territory. Some called it “a den of thieves.”

Today, Boston Corners is a quiet hamlet nestled up against the Taconic Mountains. It’s probably one of the last places on earth you’d expect to host a championship prizefight. Yet that’s exactly what happened more than a hundred years ago when John Morrissey bested James “Yankee” Sullivan in a 37-round bare-knuckles bout.

Due to the violent nature of the sport, boxing was illegal in most places. However, Boston Corners offered some advantages that hindered the local constabulary. For one, its mountainous terrain made it difficult for police to find the village, bad for Commonwealth of Massachusetts law enforcement but ideal for illegal activities. Yes, Boston Corner was part of Massachusetts in those days. It was particularly favored as a handy place to dye racehorses stolen from Saratoga so that they could be raced incognito on Long Island.

On Sunday, March 12, at 2 pm, the Roeliff Jansen Historical Society Museum in Copake Falls will host Rich Rosenzweig, a drummer and screenwriter who divides his time between Hillsdale and New York City. Rich will give an overview of the scandalous prize fight and several related events that inspired his screenplay adaptation of the local cult classic novel, “Hell’s Acres.”

This gritty tale concerns the capturing of legendary horse thieves, the “Black Grocery Gang,” during the world’s first great boxing championship bout in 1853 between Yankee Sullivan and John Morrissey. Rich will also show a 10-minute clip, or “teaser trailer,” for the screenplay, which he shot and produced in Hillsdale and Boston Corners last year. Rich will share the riveting history behind the no man’s land that was Boston Corners, aka the “Wild East” of its day.