RUMSON – The bulldog is Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School’s distinctive mascot; a great choice because the breed is known for its stamina, strength and persistence. But it’s usually not purple and white. So where did RFH’s unique mascot come from?
According to historian and longtime Board of Education member Roberta Van Anda, the story of the mascot involves a fierce young boxer from Elizabeth named Mickey Walker. During a ring career spanning 1919 to 1935, Walker won the world welterweight and middleweight boxing titles. Early in his career, he trained in Rumson.
It was June 1921 and a weekly newspaper reporter named Vincent Slavin visited Walker’s training camp in the borough to observe how the rising boxing phenomenon was preparing for his first big fight with welterweight champion Jack Britton.
“Mickey has been training hard for the past three weeks for the ‘fight of his life’ at his camp in Rumson, three miles from Red Bank,” wrote Slavin, who was the father of The Two River Times contributor Muriel J. Smith.
“Every morning at seven sharp found Walker tumbling out of the hay down stairs for his cup of tea and a few pieces of toast,” he wrote. “At eight o’clock he started on the road and with his many supporters, second, sparring partners and mascots, covered three miles through the hills of Monmouth County.”
Those “mascots” were local school boys in awe of their boxing hero, running alongside him on Rumson, Ridge and River roads.
In January 1923 Walker married Maude Kelly, a Brooklyn woman he met while she summered at her mother’s Lafayette Street house in Rumson. Walker bought his mother-in-law’s house, remodeled it, and the young couple moved in with her. He told a biographer, “I paid her nine thousand dollars, and she came with the house.”
A sports editor of the New York Evening Mail named Francis Albertanti came up with Walker’s sobriquet, “The Toy Bulldog.” By the end of the 1920s news reports all over the country were referring to the feisty fighter as the “Rumson Bulldog.” He liked the nickname, telling his biographer it was, “one of the greatest ever hung on anybody in the ring.”
In October 1934, Rumson High School played its very first football game, a 12-6 victory over Leonardo. Newspaper reports called Rumson “the blue and white,” no nickname mentioned.
Searching through the school’s The Tower yearbooks, high school librarian Linda Murray discovered that 1940 was the first year the football team was called the Rumson Bulldogs. (Incidentally, Murray said, “We’re missing only one yearbook from our 83-year collection. If anyone can donate a 1939 yearbook, I’d be very grateful.”) Apparently, around the time the new high school was built on Ridge Road, many locals recalled Walker’s training runs – his nickname was the perfect fit.
As for the purple and white colors, author Van Anda believes the high school can thank Bertram Borden. The owner of successful printing and textile businesses, Borden was also Board of Education president. Devoted to youth education, he was the driving force behind the construction of the stately new high school. Dedicated in 1936, the building was a Works Progress Administration (WPA) Depression-era project.
Bertram Borden and his wife, Mary, held a Rumson Garden Club flower show at their estate every year. He was known to be partial to wearing a purple and white Beaconsfield pansy in his suit lapels. As a tribute to its leader, the school adopted those colors in 1939.
And that’s how a rough prize fighter and a delicate flower – surely the most unlikely combination imaginable – inspired this proud community’s high school nickname and colors.
This article was first published in the Around Town: Rumson special section in the March 8-15, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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