Charley Freeman

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  • Name: Charley Freeman
  • Alias: Yankee Goliath, New World Goliath, American Atlas
  • Nationality: American
  • Born: Michigan?
  • Died: 1845
  • Height: 6' 10½"

According to the September 1931 The Ring magazine (pp. 22-23, 42):

Freeman was discovered in 1841 by Ben Caunt, who was touring the United States after beating Nick Ward for the English Heavyweight Title. Caunt witnessed Freeman performing astonishing feats of strength: lifting four barrels of flour placed one upon the other, bending a horse-shoe, and raising a 450-pound barbell over his head with one hand.

Caunt convinced Freeman to go back to Europe with him "with the object of giving entertainments in the circus, and on the stage, and engaging in one fight." (Freeman had never fought before.) Before they came abroad, Caunt "began to flood Europe with ballyhoo"--such as claiming that Freeman was "champion of the world," 7-foot 3-inches tall, and turned 25 somersaults in succession.

Once reaching England, Caunt booked Freeman in exhibitions at the music halls and the vaudeville stage, keeping public interest in the "Michigan Giant" alive through stage appearances and newspaper columns. On their opening night at the Queen's Theatre in Liverpool, a "tremendous turnout" created a sensation. So did their debut in London. "Caunt's house in St. Martin's was jammed with the curious. Naturally they were much surprised when they found that the publicity had misrepresented the facts and that Freeman was not so big as he had been painted."

But Freeman was an accomplished acrobat. He gave thrilling exhibitions of "an astounding number of somersaults in succession" (at least 23 in a row), jumping from a standing position over a rope stretched at a height of 5 feet 5½ inches, and an extraordinary sprinting ability. He could broad-jump 21 feet 4 inches (unheard of in those days). He could ride two horses "at one time while holding a man balanced with his arms above his head as the horses galloped around the ring. He was a marvelous rider, his cowboy stunts gaining him considerable applause. From his first appearance to his final stage bow, he was a hit. Every night, no matter where he showed, the house was a sell out."

But soon Caunt's ballyhoo and jeering that British heavyweights were all scared of Freeman "served to arouse British ire." A challenge was issued to Freeman by Johnny Broome of the Rising Sun house in Picadilly to fight a "novice" of his choosing for a side bet of $500. "It was then that Freeman personally let the cat out of the bag by declaring that fighting was not his business and that he had not come to England for the purpose of engaging in fisticuffs,... but since a challenge was issued, he felt honor bound to accept it."

Freeman.Perry.jpg

The "novice" turned out to be William Perry, who had amassed a fine record over five years. They fought 6 December 1842, with Perry being 140 pounds lighter than his opponent. The bout lasted 70 rounds and 84 minutes "but the damage was ludicrously small." Perry would rush in, deliver one blow to the body, and then drop. The fight, having started late, lasted well into the night until the referee could no longer see what was going on. All agreed to stop the fight and resume the next day. But, owing to police and other interference, it was not resumed until two weeks later, December 20. By then Freeman's weight had ballooned to 348 pounds, and he "had also increased his fighting knowledge through a special, systemic training." Perry "flopped" every time Freeman's round-arm swing came his way. After 39 minutes of "burlesque," Perry dropped without getting hit and the stakes were awarded to the American. Freeman never fought again, although "his backers induced him to keep up a standing challenge to the world for some time."

Freeman eventually became unpopular in Britain, due to his being a stingy "tight wad," although he was making considerable money on his acrobatic skill. "Drink finally caused Freeman's death. He was lured to go the pace and when repeated colds, caught from his carelessness and recklessness, produced lung trouble, this great, big fellow had no more stamina left to resist the attack on his constitution and he died from pneumonia. His huge frame soon dwindled away with the loss of 150 pounds and he passed away in Winchester Hospital in 1845, a victim of 'wine, women and song.'"

When John Heenan was in England, he caused a monument to be placed on Freeman's grave.