Charlie Tilden’s great grandfather, Charles, was born a slave on a southern tobacco plantation. He was over fifty before he was freed at the end of the civil war and immediately came north to New Castle, where he lived for the remaining thirty years of his life, long enough to raise a son, Charles Jr—who worked in downtown barber shops and was arrested every so often for burglary, drunkenness, gambling and carrying concealed knives and razors—and to see the birth of his grandson, Commodore, who served in a Negro labour regiment in France in the first world war and died of a heart attack in 1942.
Commodore’s son, Charlie, was fourteen when his father died. A few days after Christmas the following year, Charlie broke into the Croton avenue apartment of Izora Boggs, the proprietress of Boggs Beauty Shoppe, and stole $1,700 in cash, which he had in his possession for less than an hour before he was picked up by police. Mrs Boggs did not press charges, and Charlie was spared punishment.
Charlie left high school at the end of world war two and spent five years in the navy, where he learned how to box. When he returned to New Castle, he was taken on by a local boxing promoter, Bob Latera, who touted him as a potential heavyweight champion but did not have the necessary connections to secure fights in which Charlie could display his talents. After four years, Charlie had fought in only a few competitions, so Latera sold his distribution business and took Charlie to Los Angeles on a make-or-break trip. They arrived in California just before Christmas, a quiet season for boxing. They returned two months later, having failed to book a single fight.
That summer, Charlie went to Pittsburgh to fight before a crowd of seven thousand people—his first public engagement in two years—and was knocked out in the first round of a scheduled six-round fight. Latera was furious. He told the sports writers, “He didn’t box the way he was instructed. He did not do anything right. He simply got knocked out. There is no alibi for his defeat.” He quit as Charlie’s manager and retired from the boxing world to open a car showroom.
Charlie never fought professionally again. He trained young boxers at the Shenango YMCA for a few years. After he was arrested in 1957—during the opportunistic round-up of loiterers that also netted Floyd Armstrong—he left New Castle with his brother, Commodore, to get work in Chicago. They later retired to a place near Modesto, California, where Charlie died in 1999, at the age of seventy-two.Sources: New Castle News (2 March 1898, “Charles Tilden”; 17 October 1898, “Barber Shops Were Robbed”; 1 May 1903, “Charles Tilden Arrested By Wife”; 25 May 1915, “Butcher Knife And Razor Found On Man”; 13 March 1942, “Deaths Of The Day”; 28 Dec 1943, “Hold Youth For Theft Of Money”; 7 Dec 1950, “Here And There In Sports Land”; 13 Nov 1952, “Here And There In Sports Land”; 15 Nov 1952, “Here And There In Sports Land”; 12 Jan 1953, “Here And There In Sports Land”; 18 June 1953, “Tilden Wins By ‘TKO’ In First”; 24 Nov 1953, “Here and There In Sports Land”; 15 Oct 1953, “Advertisement”; 11 Nov 1955, “Seeks Fame In California Boxing Ring”; 10 July 1956, “Greaves Wins; Tilden Kayoed”; 19 July 1956, “Surprise Knockout”; 21 July 1956, “Here And There In Sports Land”; 12 Oct 1956, “Here And There In Sports Land”; 23 Jan 1957, “Gray Teaches Boxing At Elm St YMCA”; 9 Feb 1957, “Boxers Train For Golden Glove Journey; 3 Jan 1958, “Here And There In Sports Land”; 22 April 1965, “James Tilden, 34, Dies In Roxbury”); Locategrave.com.
I love this blog.
Thanks, Jesse – a real honour to have you drop by!
Great story, as always!
The place near Modesto, do you have the name? I use to live in that area.
Thanks, Johnny. Sorry, but I can’t get any closer than “near Modesto”. Commodore and Charles are buried in the same cemetery, and it’s in the Modesto area, so it’s a safe bet that they lived nearby, but that’s as much as I can say…