LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) - Back in the early 1900s, Mary Hauck was a widow trying to raise five children, likely too preoccupied to stop two of her sons from drawing all over the walls of a snug third-floor room in their Second Street home.
When the boys took a pencil to the walls, one of their favorite subjects was their older brother, Leo, a well-known boxer. The “Lancaster Thunderbolt,” Leo was known for his devastating left triple-jab during his career, which later landed him in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
More than 100 years later, the walls of that room still bear Hauck’s kid brothers’ large pencil drawings of him: Hauck striking a boxing pose, Hauck knocking out a towering opponent and even a diapered Hauck, captioned as “the coming lightweight champion of the world” by one of his brothers.
Also on the walls are a bunch of the brothers’ other artwork: goofy cartoons, jokey family drawings and even what looks like maybe somebody’s spelling list, all remarkably preserved and untouched.
Just this month, Leo Hauck’s youngest son -?now 80 - and one of Hauck’s grandchildren saw the drawings for the very first time, climbing two steep, narrow staircases to get to the room in the brick rowhouse on the west side of Lancaster.
“Well, I’ll be a son of a gun,” said Joe Hauck, a gray-haired, retired glass factory worker, as he first gazed on the drawings of his late father. “You have to understand. A world champion boxer was in this room.”
Joe Hauck’s daughter, Lori Irvin, 54, of Lancaster Township, said, “It’s amazing. It’s just like time stood still.”
The viewing happened courtesy of one of those “only in Lancaster” moments that involved a series of shared connections that tied two families, finally bringing them to this moment.
The house in the 600 block of Second Street was owned from 1859 to 1920 by a man named Jacob Frey, according to deeds at the Lancaster County Recorder of Deeds office.
Sometime in the early 1910s, Frey evidently rented the house to Leo Hauck’s mother, Mary.
Around that time, in 1911, Leo Hauck got married, at the age of 23, and moved out of the house. By that point, he already was well into his storied boxing career, which was catalogued in a family scrapbook.
Starting as a flyweight at the age of 14, the 5-foot-8-inch boxer fought successfully in every weight class up to heavyweight. Hauck, who later went by Leo Houck after a promoter misspelled his name, fought world champions such as heavyweight Gene Tunney and was scheduled to fight heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey at the Fulton Opera House in 1921, but Dempsey never showed.
His ring exploits enthralled his younger brothers Johnny and Frankie, both now deceased. The two began copying pictures from their brother’s scrapbook onto the walls of the third-floor room, according to a 1960 Lancaster Newspapers clipping about the family.
The boys were good artists. Their drawings are lively and well-rendered.
One drawing, captioned “Houck smothered Yi in the Sixth,” shows a smaller Leo Hauck beating up on a startled-looking, much larger Philadelphia boxer named “Young” Erne, who went by the nickname “Yi Yi.”
Also drawn on the walls is a depiction of Hauck’s promoter, Lou Derlacher, and the diamond stickpin he frequently sported. But the boys didn’t stop at boxing depictions.
Johnny listed his favorite schools: Franklin & Marshall, Yale and Cornell. He also apparently was the artist who drew comical, charming headshots of characters named “Enoch Pickleweight” (a comic strip character of the day), “Hubby Timekiller” and “Mrs. Grouch.”
One of the boys mischievously drew pictures depicting his sisters. Catherine was drawn as a cat. Mary was drawn as an elephant, from the rear.
Joe Hauck cleared his throat as he peered at it, noting, “She was a big woman.”
Down at the bottom of one wall is a list, probably written by someone sitting or lying on the floor, of what looks like spelling words: cat, rat, dog, log.
And then there is this misspelled plea to the older brother, who by then was making some money as a boxer: “Leo, please bye mother a home.”
The Haucks rented the Second Street house for only a few years. After they moved out, the home changed hands a few times, according to deeds, until it was bought in 1958 by Leona and Simon F. Groff Jr., who had two children, Simon III and Mary Lou.
Now Mary Lou McDonald, the Groffs’ daughter, 63, remembers the third-floor room with the quirky drawings, which her mother used mainly as a storage space.
Her brother had the third-floor bedroom next to the room and was entranced by the drawings. He extracted promises to preserve them from his parents and later his sister, who acquired the home from her parents’ estate after their death.
McDonald rented out the home about a year ago, instructing tenants not to disturb the drawings, in accordance with the wishes of her brother, who died in May, at the age of 65.
After she acquired the home, relatives began encouraging McDonald to find out more about the drawings, which she knew little about other than they depicted a famous boxer from Lancaster.
It’s a small world.
Here’s where the Lancaster connections began to come into play. Early this year, Lori Irvin, on behalf of her dad, submitted a photo to LNP for a historical feature called “Lancaster That Was.” The photo, taken around 1950, showed local boxing greats of that time and the accompanying story mentioned Leo Hauck.
McDonald saw the feature in the paper and called LNP, looking for a way to contact Hauck’s family. Valerie Marschka, LNP editorial assistant, answered the call.
Fortunately, Marschka attended Lancaster Catholic High School and later worked with Irvin, and was able to put McDonald in touch with her.
When Irvin and her dad finally got together with McDonald this month at the Second Street home, they chatted on the sidewalk, before going inside to look at the drawings.
Irvin discovered that she had coached McDonald’s daughter in field hockey and now works with her as a teacher at Elizabeth R. Martin Elementary School on Wabank Road.
Joe Hauck was the youngest of his father’s seven children, and was just 13 when his dad died in 1950, at the age of 61, following a second career coaching boxing at Penn State University. A memorial to Leo Hauck stands in Buchanan Park.
Two of Leo Hauck’s other children survive: daughter Peggy Moyer, who is 100, and son Eddie Hauck, who is 94, both of Lancaster. Neither made the trip up the stairs to see the drawings, but Irvin took plenty of photos for her aunt and uncle.
Boxing continues on in the extended Hauck family. One of Leo Hauck’s great-grandsons, Johnny Fiorill, 21, of Lancaster, boxes at Lock Haven University.
It was fascinating for the Haucks to uncover a part of family history that was waiting for them, all these years, hidden away in an attic less than a mile from where Joe Hauck lives.
“I was like, wow, that’s interesting that there would be pictures and no one ever talked about them,” Irvin said.
“Boy, oh boy,” her dad said, as he wandered around the small room, amazed. “How about that.”
Information from: LNP, https://lancasteronline.com
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