A Family Story Delivers a Knockout Punch

Paul Everett Combs, about 1937

I never really knew my dad’s dad; he died just a few months after I turned two years old. There are a few recollections in my head of him; more impressions of him in my head than memories. However, I have pictures and stories. Boy, do I have stories.

Growing up, there were several stories my grandmother would tell over and over again. The more outrageous or “wrong” a story was, the more likely she was to tell it, repeatedly. One of those stories was my grandfather’s boxing loss in Chicago in 1936 that kept him from going to the Berlin Olympics. I loved the story; she always had a flare for the dramatic, but as I got older I wondered what else there was to the story.

Paul Combs was a Golden Gloves boxer in the 1930s, before he settled down, got married, raised a family, and got into politics. My grandmother would tell how he fought his heart out, the crowds cheered, and he won the fight on points. However, the judges gave the match to the other fighter who was better known, and some thought his opponent was the shoo-in for a win in Berlin. The crowd booed the judges, and people told grandpa for decades later how he was the best boxer they ever saw. (My dad even has an autographed photo of Jack Dempsey refereeing one of his fights.)

A few months ago I found a box of old newspaper clippings from my grandmother. In the box I found three small blurbs from 1986 looking back at what happened to locals 50 years before. Lo and behold, they were about my grandfather. Two, dated April 4 and April 30, were about local matches he had in southern Indiana. One was about Chicago:

“March 8, 1936: Paul Combs, Washington’s only boxer of any worth, Friday night came close to achieving his ambition – that of winning the Chicago Golden Gloves Tournament in the bantamweight class. Combs fought his way through three rounds and went undefeated, earning a bid in the final. But Johnny Brown of Chicago outpunched Combs in the three round fight and was ruled the winner. Combs was quite popular in Chicago, and after the close bout when the decision was announced, the judges were booed thinking Combs should have been declared the winner.” (Printed in the Washington Times Herald, Saturday, Mar., 8 1986)

Well, it seems part of the story was true, and not embellished too much! I even found mention of him on a site about Johnny Brown. I also found an article in The Pointer of Riverdale, Ill. from Mar, 17, 1938, about a man named Frankie Kainrath, who my grandfather beat in the Golden Gloves tournament in 1936, but lost to in 1937.

Then I found it! I found the proof in the Milwaukee Journal from Mar. 7, 1936. It stated in the article “Kenosha Boy Gloves Champ” how the winners of the tournament qualified for the Olympic trials that year. There was grandpa’s name, coming in second in the 118lb. class.

I am really getting into this newspaper hunting, and I am beginning to wonder what else I could dig up.


Family Tree Firsts is an ongoing blog series featuring newbie genealogist Shannon Bennett of Locust Grove, Va.


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2 thoughts on “A Family Story Delivers a Knockout Punch

  1. What a great family story and that photo of your grandfather is priceless!

    I am really enjoying your blog and the articles you post here at this site. Your family stories always leave me wanting more!

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