Copyright ©2012. All rights reserved by the author
courtesy of the New York Public Library,
image ID: th-20952
Moral reformers considered Hill's saloon a hotbed of vice and debauchery --a portal to the gates of Hell and a well-known resort for criminals and prostitutes. In his obituary, The New York Times (August 28, 1896) described Hill's saloon as a gathering place for "the most desperate and criminal persons of the city."
A refusal to pay for police protection, reformers' attacks, and bad investments in friends, hotels and steamship lines contributed to his bankruptcy and downfall. Hill told a reporter, "Yes, the police, coupled with bad land speculations, I made broke me." He added, "Vice can't prosper forever. If I never allowed fast women in my theater and kept within excise hours, the police could never get the chance to break me, and I would be a millionaire today. Mind you, I never wronged a man or woman, financially otherwise in my life." Contemporary accounts describe him as personally honest.Hill's story is little-known today, which is unfortunate as his contributions, especially to boxing and wrestling, helped change the way prizefights were conducted, fighters trained and matches were refereed. Several newspaper accounts described him as "...at one time the best known sporting man in the United States..." and one who "...figured in all the important boxing matches of that day." Hill was also ranked as one of the nation's best boxing referees. He used press coverage to promote his fights and saloon, and make lots of money. In 2010, the Bare Knuckle Hall of Fame inducted Hill for his role as a boxing promoter.
Hill backed several fighters. In the fight between "Mike" McCool and "Joe" Coburn he had charge of McCool and secured trainers for him. He held the $25,000 purse in the fight between Sullivan and Paddy Ryan, in Mississippi City, near New Orleans.
Fred Buchstein has been a writer and editor at the New York Daily News and The Cleveland Press, a public relations executive, and an adjunct professor of journalism and public relations at several Cleveland universities.