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Potomac Books


Shelby's Folly, Shelby's Folly, 0803226551, 0-8032-2655-1, 978-0-8032-2655-5, 9780803226555, Jason Kelly, , Shelby's Folly, 0803230036, 0-8032-3003-6, 978-0-8032-3003-3, 9780803230033, Jason Kelly, , Shelby's Folly, 080324004X, 0-8032-4004-X, 978-0-8032-4004-9, 9780803240049, Jason Kelly, , Shelby's Folly, 0803268017, 0-8032-6801-7, 978-0-8032-6801-2, 9780803268012, Jason Kelly, , Shelby's Folly, 0803268025, 0-8032-6802-5, 978-0-8032-6802-9, 9780803268029, Jason Kelly

Shelby's Folly
Jack Dempsey, Doc Kearns, and the Shakedown of a Montana Boomtown
Jason Kelly

2010. 238 pp.
23 illustrations
$26.95 t
2012. 240 pp.
23 illustrations
$16.95 t

In 1923, not long after oil had started gushing from northern Montana fields, real-estate sales in nearby Shelby were declining, dimming the little town’s prospects of becoming the “Tulsa of the West.” Then the mayor’s son dreamed up a marketing ploy: offer to host heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey’s next fight. What began as a publicity stunt soon spiraled into a civic drama unlike any Montana had ever seen—or ever would again. Shelby’s Folly tells this story in full for the first time.

Against the background of boom-and-bust Montana history, the folly of Shelby’s would-be promoters unfolds in colorful detail. It took months to persuade Dempsey’s conniving manager, Jack “Doc” Kearns, to sign a $300,000 contract. With less than two months before the July 4th fight, the town still had no stadium and no accommodations for tens of thousands of expected fans. Jason Kelly describes the promoters’ desperate measures and their disastrous results, from the first inkling of the idea to the bitter end of the fifteen-round boxing match. Shelby residents identified with the underdog challenger, Tommy Gibbons, who went toe-to-toe with the champion in an atmosphere crackling with tension. Nerves were so frayed that a holiday firecracker exploding in the arena sent shockwaves of fear through the crowd. A soap opera of financial intrigue and chicanery, Shelby’s Folly chronicles how Big Sky ambition and the scheming mind of Doc Kearns collided to produce one of the most preposterous series of events in boxing history.

Jason Kelly is an associate editor of the University of Chicago Magazine. He is the author of Mr. Notre Dame: The Life and Legend of Edward “Moose” Krause.

"Jason Kelly's Shelby's Folly is a highly entertaining slice of American history using Jack Dempsey’s July 4, 1922, heavyweight title fight versus Tommy Gibbons as a backdrop for brazen American optimism, small town politics, and snake oil salesmanship."—Richard Arlin Stull, ARETE

"Mr. Kelly, in his second book, tells this story in a highly entertaining fashion with great detail. . . . The book is a fine read, even for those who know the story well."—David Crisp, Billings Outpost

"[Shelby's Folly is] a great story of a town prostituting itself to sport—and one that has been repeated many times since."—D. R. Danbom, Time Out for Entertainment

"The University of Nebraska Press has published a simply marvelous book by author Jason Kelly detailing the tale of a little-known Montana mining town trying to break into the sporting world big leagues by promoting a heavyweight championship fight featuring the immortal Jack Dempsey."—John Rinaldi, USA Boxing News

“Enjoyable. . . . Mr. Kelly writes sympathetically, not mockingly, of Shelby, and he has a proper appreciation for the brazen roguery of Doc Kearns, whose greed and manipulativeness made the fight possible—and doomed Shelby’s self-promotional hopes.”—Bill Kauffman, Wall Street Journal

"Shelby's Folly is such fun to read. Kelly builds toward the fight with insight into the backgrounds and personalities of Dempsey and Kearns, Gibbons, the Shelby town leaders, and the web of fight arrangers and their negotiations."—Ken Robison, Montana, The Magazine of Western History

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