Updated Thursday, April 21, 1 pm*
George Washington Salvadore of Edgartown was the world’s third-ranking welterweight boxer. Described as “rugged” and a “hoofer” measuring less than 5 feet, 9 inches, he was often referred to in the national press as “the Portuguese Welterweight.” The youngest of 11 children of Azorean immigrant Antone Salvadore and his wife Mary, George was born and raised on the Great Plains of Edgartown at his parents’ farm. But as the Brooklyn Daily Eagle wrote, “Ever since he was a kid in rompers, George could make his feet talk.”
Salvadore got his chance at fame in the summer of 1928, when more than a thousand spectators showed up in Oak Bluffs to watch the first of a series of professional boxing matches on Martha’s Vineyard, run by the Antler’s Club at Dreamland Rink. Salvadore’s first professional match ended in a knockout as he sent veteran boxer Johnny Mello of Fall River to the mat.
More than a few Vineyard boxers began professional prizefighting runs during this brief era, like welterweight Henry “Heck” Benefit of Edgartown (known as the “Katama Wildcat”), a group of tough Oak Bluffs boys named Billy “Young” Randolph, Jack Macey, Augustus Amaral, and Jimmy Jerome; and Bob Waller of Edgartown. But none came close to Salvadore’s fame. He soon became a “name” fighter, featured on bills across the country and drawing thousands of fans.
Salvadore’s career spanned 123 bouts, including 48 wins (19 KOs), 35 losses, and 10 draws. As the Depression deepened and interest in hosting professional boxing on the Vineyard waned, he moved to Houston, and then to San Francisco. In 1936 he was taken under the management of Joe Gould, best known as manager of heavyweight champion Jim “Cinderella Man” Braddock, whom Salvadore traveled the country with. (Braddock and Gould were played by Russell Crowe and Paul Giamatti in the 2005 biopic “Cinderella Man.”)
On Dec. 12, 1938, at National Hall in the Mission District of San Francisco, Salvadore was matched with the welterweight champion of China, Andre “The Hammer” Shelaeff, an undefeated 18-year-old Russian sensation who had arrived in the U.S. just four months earlier. Both men fought hard that night, neither were knocked down, and Salvadore ultimately won on a decision. Shelaeff returned unaided to his dressing room, but then collapsed. He died later that night at the hospital — cause of death: “brain concussion.” Salvadore was charged with manslaughter, but was soon exonerated by a coroner’s jury.
It was Salvadore’s last fight. He hung up his gloves and never fought again.
*An earlier version of this story reported that another Vineyard boxer was Bob Walker of Edgartown. The boxer’s name was Bob Waller.
Chris Baer teaches photography and graphic design at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. He’s been collecting vintage photographs for many years.