A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from July 12, 2004
Witness (1998): Washington Post writer Shirley Povich
No one would help me to find living witnesses. No one in New York City and no one in New Orleans. Many people who could have contributed to this story are now dead.

The New Orleans stablehands were "boys" in the 1920s, Fitz Gerald tells us. Are they still alive? Did they have sons or daughters who they discussed this with? I asked the mayor of New Orleans ("the Big Easy") and the New Orleans Times Picayune for simple help--which would never come.

John J. Fitz Gerald had a brief marriage, but had no children. After this story made "Dear Abby" in 1997, I was contacted by David Fitz Gerald, a nephew living in New Jersey. He could not provide any additional details.

Pat Lynch (a track writer on the New York Journal-Aemrican, now deceased) was the oldest track man that the New York Racing Association could put me in touch with. Lynch knew about Fitz Gerald and "the Big Apple." Ironically, Lynch originally sent me on the wrong track in 1991. Fitz Gerald "couldn't write his own name," Lynch said.

John J. Fitz Gerald has a brother, James, who wrote for the Washington Post. Maybe the brother was still alive, or had children who were still alive? I wrote to the Washington Post and boy, did I get a response!

Shirley Povich -- the father (yes, it's a man's name) of television talk show host Maury Povich -- began writing sports for the Washington Post in 1923. He was inducted into the sportswriters section of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. He died on June 4, 1998, age 92. At age 90, he was kind enough to write this:


Dear Mr. Popik,

My name is Shirley Povich, and I joined The Washington Post in 1922, first as a city room reporter and then sports writer, sports editor and columnist. I am now ninety. Ostensibly I retired in 1974, but it seems I have been behind in my work every (sic) since, having written a column for The Post last Sunday.

You letter to The Post asking if perchance if perchance anybody here had knowledge of James V. FitzGerald, it was referred to me.

I am pleased to tell you that I worked for James FitzGerald as a reporter in 1922-23 and then became a sports writer. He was then city editor. May I say, too, he was my great benefactor. I was directed to The Post's city room to find a job in 1922 when this bewildered 17-year-old was suddenly racognized and hugged by Mr. Fitz Gerald, who was the city editor. He knew me as a boy in Bar Harbor, Maine, when he came there to play golf with the publisher, Edward B. McLean, for whom I caddied, and on occasion I cadded for Mr. FitzGerald. He adjusted my hours so I could attend Georgetown University. I knew he used to be a sports writer, but am not certain that he ever became Managing Editor, if so, briefly, but we were good friends and I had great admiration for him. I recall that he later did public relations for Georgetown.

I was aware, too, of his brother, John (we called him Jack) FitzGerald, who was probably the finest racing writer of his time (N.Y. Telegraph,) and I encountered him often at the tracks.

Like James V., Jack FitzGerald was also very literate and a cut above the other racing writers of that era. His Big Apple Column was so well known and well-read. Unlike James V. he was a rotund chap and a fine story teller who was not averse to bellying up to a bar.

I find it most fascinating that he was responsible for affixing Big Apple to the Big Apple. On my next visit to the Big Apple I will take delight in strolling the southwest corner of 54th and Broadway and contemplating the story of Jack FitzGerald and his new immortality.

I trust that some of this information has been helpful to you.

Sincerely,
(Signed)
Shirley Povich

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityThe Big Apple1920s: John J. Fitz Gerald and the N.Y. Morning Telegraph • (0) Comments • Monday, July 12, 2004 • Permalink