The Unconventional Boxing Instructor

Professor Yoerger with Trixie – “the dog with the mind of a child” and Skippy.

By Ed Wendell | projectwoodhaven@gmail.com 

George Yoerger’s future was set when a muscular stranger with a handlebar mustache walked on to his farm in East Norwalk, Connecticut and inquired about renting the family’s barn.

“I’m John L. Sullivan,” the man said, introducing himself. “I’m champion of the world.” The legendary Sullivan, aka The Boston Strong Boy, was the first heavyweight champ. He spent the next few months training on the Yoerger farm, and young George soon knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.

Inside the ring he was a tough fighter, but his true calling was outside the ring, where he became a well-respected boxing and self-defense instructor. At the turn of the century, he moved to Brooklyn with his wife Minnie and opened a gymnasium at Broadway and Myrtle which was an almost immediate success. Dubbing himself “Professor” Yoerger, he lured in customers with the promise:  “Six lessons free if you hit me on the nose!”

But while he was busy training pupils how to box, Minnie began to get cozy with one of his friends and the neighbors began to talk. One approached Yoerger with these suspicions and one night he and two private detectives burst into their apartment and found his friend hiding in the bedroom.

Yoerger sued his friend for $100,000 for alienation of affection and the trial made scandalous headlines for several months.

He returned to the headlines several years later when a small gang of thugs tried to rough him up for some money and a blue diamond he had in his possession. They failed to see the flaw in their plan and the Professor of boxing whipped the bunch of them and called the police. Another public trial followed, and Professor Yoerger was hailed a hero.

Professor Yoerger Ad for his services (with his picture).

Later in life he met a much younger woman and they fell in love. The woman was Florence Lott, whose family was among some of the earliest residents of Woodhaven, many of whom are still buried in the Colonial Era Wyckoff-Snedicker Family Cemetery (on 96th Street in Woodhaven).

They moved into Lott’s family home on Lott Avenue (named for the family, and today known as 76th Street), a few hundred feet south of Jamaica Avenue, where it still stands today.

Yoerger semi-retired from the boxing profession and closed the gym in Brooklyn (though he opened a small private gymnasium in the backyard of his home in Woodhaven). Since training was still in his blood, he embarked on a second career – training dogs. He started his training with his own dog, Trixie, who he would take out for paid exhibitions.

Trixie’s most popular trick was to sit at a table, open a menu, select a meal, go through the motions of eating and when finished, wiping her face with her paw.

Trixie was advertised as the dog “with the mind of a child,” and with each public appearance, his renown as a dog trainer grew, and this business flourished as well. He was commissioned to write several newspaper articles giving owners advice with their dogs and his fame was such that he and Trixie were asked to take part in a dog show at the Jamaica Arena to help raise funds for the Helen Keller Free Clinic.

Helen Keller herself attended the show and it was said that she affectionately pet many of the hundreds of children and their dogs that took part in the show. She told one reporter that if she was to be granted but a single split-second of sight that she would choose to see “a child and its dog.”

Florence Lott, the Professor’s 2nd wife and a member of one of Woodhaven’s most prominent early families.

In his later years, Yoerger added fencing, trick pistol shooting, and diamond appraising to his activities, also finding time to found the Long Island Society of Magicians. In 1949, Professor Yoerger (by now in his 80s) appeared on television, providing commentary for live bouts being broadcast from the boxing arena at Ridgewood Grove.

Professor George Yoerger would pass away in 1951 shortly after his 84th birthday (his young wife Florence would outlive him by over twenty years, passing away in late 1973).  He had a long, remarkable life, and it’s even more remarkable when you discover the fact that he was deaf his entire life.

Professor George Yoerger was a colorful character and you can learn more about him and other interesting people from our community’s rich history at twice monthly meetings of the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society (at Neir’s Tavern, 78th Street and 88th Avenue, at 7 p.m. on the 3rd Monday of every month and on Zoom at 8 p.m. on the first Tuesday of every month. Email us at woodhavenhistory@gmail.com for more information and to get on our mailing list.

Dexter Park and Max Rosner to be Honored in Street Renaming

 

 

The stadium at Dexter Park was built in 1923 and played host to many of the greatest players in Major League Baseball and the Negro Leagues, and was the site of the first night game in baseball, 5 years before the Major Leagues. It also played host to Boxing, Wrestling, Football, Soccer, Polo and in the 1950s it was home of Stock Car racing. 

By Ed Wendell
From playing host to many of the greatest players in Major League Baseball and the Negro Leagues, to being the birthplace of the great innovation of Night Baseball, there is a lot for residents of Woodhaven in to be proud of when it comes to Max Rosner and Dexter Park.
Both will be remembered fondly this Saturday, July 1st, at 11 a.m. when the corner of Dexter Court and 86th Road, where the box office of the old stadium used to sit, will be renamed in Max Rosner’s honor, with the Rosner family in attendance.
In 1892, a young man named Max Rosner immigrated to the United States from Hungary. He eventually settled down in Woodhaven, opening a Cigar Store on Jamaica Avenue near Forest Parkway that would operate very profitably for many years. He also became a resident of Woodhaven when he bought a home on 76th Street.
If that was all that Max Rosner ever did, it would be an American success story. But Rosner was no ordinary man, and his success story was far from ordinary.
As a newcomer to this country, Rosner became enamored with baseball, which was a relatively new sport at the time. He watched the local teams and eventually tried out and played shortstop for a semi-pro team.
In time, Max Rosner took over as manager of the Bushwicks, a Brooklyn-based team that played frequently at Dexter Park in Woodhaven, Queens.

Shortly after immigrating from Hungary, Max Rosner became a fan of baseball, playing shortstop for a local team and then becoming a manager. Here he is (top center) with the Paramounts in 1903; they played at Morgan and Metropolitan Avenues in Brooklyn. He would soon become manager of the Bushwicks, who played at Dexter Park here in Woodhaven.

In October of 1922 Max Rosner and partner Nat Strong purchased Dexter Park and the Bushwicks from the Ulmer Brewery for $200,000. Ulmer Brewery had been forced to cease operations due to prohibition.
Dexter Park became the home field for the Bushwicks and for the Brooklyn Royal Giants, one of the top teams in the Negro Leagues.
They began immediately to improve the ballpark, building a new concrete grandstand which increased the capacity to 13,000 (6 thousand individual seats and bleachers which accommodated 7 thousand people).
The playing field itself was one of the largest in the United States. The distance from home plate to the centerfield fence was a whopping 450 feet and only the legendary Hall of Famer Josh Gibson was able to hit one over it.
The newly remodeled stadium opened nearly 100 years ago, on April 15, 1923.
Over the years, Rosner was also well known in Woodhaven for his charitable contributions.  Numerous times, Rosner donated the use of Dexter Park for benefit games to raise funds for charities, including a series of games which helped construct a new building for Jamaica Hospital.
Rosner was famous for being the first one at the ballpark every morning, often to the chagrin of his groundskeepers. He was such a beloved figure to the residents of Woodhaven that he soon became known, even in the press, as Uncle Max.
Under his ownership, Dexter Park was a prime source of entertainment for residents in Woodhaven and the neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens that surrounded it. Dexter Park wasn’t just a home for baseball; Dexter Park also hosted Boxing, Soccer, Football, Polo (with horses) and in later years, Stock Car racing.
Every year, once the Major League Baseball season was over, legendary ballplayers such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Dizzy Dean would come to Woodhaven to play ball.
And over the years, legendary players from the Negro Leagues like Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige played right here in Woodhaven, years before the color barrier would be broken in Major League Baseball by Jackie Robinson.
Dexter Park was also famous for the introduction of night games, a full 8 years before it was adopted in the Major Leagues.
Although it was initially seen as a fad or a novelty, night baseball proved to be so popular with fans that in years to come, day games became far less frequent. Today, the majority of baseball games are played at night.
Major League baseball on television hurt many semi pro teams, the Bushwicks included. Rosner shifted gears and converted Dexter Park for Stock Car Racing. Eventually, the crowds dwindled and after Rosner passed away, the park was sold and demolished, and new homes were built on the land.
These days, many residents of Woodhaven (themselves immigrants to this country like Rosner himself) are unaware of the existence or history of Woodhaven’s stadium. We hope you will come out to honor this important piece of Woodhaven’s history.

Fans return to local sports bars despite COVID flare-up

Pandemic-related restrictions on indoor gatherings and hours of operation were lifted on bars across New York State at the end of May, and since then staff at local sports pubs say fans have resumed watching games and matches in social settings. Proprietors are hoping they won’t be forced into another shutdown.
“People are starting to come out more, but who knows how long it’s going to last? I have a feeling we’re going to be put in the hole again,” said James Munson, co-owner of The Village Saloon on Eliot Avenue in Middle Village. “You definitely noticed the difference when the restrictions were on. People didn’t want to go out.”
As the NBA and NHL playoffs were pushed later into the summer to accommodate their modified regular season schedules, fans were getting a reprieve from the capacity rules and curfews that made it nearly impossible for fans to gather.
“We packed the place for the Euro Cup, but the NBA Finals wasn’t as big for us this year, I think because of the two smaller market teams,” said Carlo Fortunato, co-owner of Emblem, a sports bar and beer garden with nearly 20 televisions in Williamsburg. “If the Knicks and the Lakers were in it, I think it would have been different,”
The common trend seen at sports bars is that fans have returned to watch big games, such as the NBA playoffs and major international soccer tournaments, but the after-work ritual of stopping to have a beer and watch a few innings of a baseball game appears to be paused due to the increase of people working from home.
“Baseball is not drawing a big crowd,” said Carmine Gangone, owner of Carmine & Sons, a pizzeria and sports bar in Williamsburg. “People are really not packing my bar unless it’s a big game. I’m hoping football season brings them in.”
Despite a disinterest in the national pastime, bar owners say they have also tried to diversify or tweak little elements of their establishments. Emblem is hosting multiple comedy nights in order to boost traffic on weeknights. Carmine & Sons is featuring a weekly jazz trio on the sidewalk outside their restaurant’s entrance.
The Village Saloon, under new management since May 5, focused on improving their menu when they reopened in the space formerly occupied by Mooney’s Public House. Still, several sports bar owners say the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions coincided with the time of year when many people are away on vacation.
“The summertime is a tough time to own a bar in Middle Village,” Munson said. “A lot of people go away on vacation or for the weekend, and probably more so this year.”
Sports bars with a history of showing a particular sport or team, such as New York Islanders hockey or the Ultimate Fighting Championship, saw crowds return as soon as they could.
“My crowd for MMA is back strong, but during the entire pandemic people called us to ask if we were going to show the UFC fight that weekend,” Fortunato said. “I had to tell them I wasn’t because I had to close by 11 p.m. and pay $1,000 for the fight when I was only allowed half-capacity. It wasn’t worth it for me.”
While the size of the crowds returning to sports bars has been promising, what’s concerning ownership and staff is what happens if the COVID-19 infection rate increases to the point that restrictions on bars and restaurants are reinstated.
Rosann McSorley, whose family owns Katch Astoria, a gastropub and beer garden with 64 televisions and 50 beer taps, is worried she and her staff may be required to ask patrons to wear masks. Katch drew strong crowds for the Islanders run to the NHL semifinals, but has still not returned to its pre-pandemic foot traffic or closing times.
“The mask coming back will be an issue for the bars that do not have outdoor capacity, because people will be concerned,” McSorley said. “I think our business is going to drop for sure. If we are asked to check that people have been vaccinated, that will be another issue.”

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