MINSTREL SHOWS (c. 1889)
In this photo Billy Irwin, pictured at far right, looks to be only about twenty years old. He was born in 1869 so this photo was taken probably circa 1889. As prize fights came to be legal and held out in the open oftentimes the matches were held in theaters as part of an overall program of entertainment. The picture of Billy Irwin above is most certainly a memento of his participation as a gymnast in minstrel shows.
Evidence of Billy Irwin’s participation in Aspen Minstrel shows can be gleaned from his scrapbook. On December 21, 1898 (see ticket stub below) Billy Irwin participated in a sparring exhibition with Young Corbett and according to the Aspen Daily Times dated December 22, 1898: “The gymnastics closed with a 3-round sparring exhibition by Young Corbett, champion lightweight pugilist of Colorado and Billy Irwin, a local lightweight of considerable note. This was particularly interesting and the contestants closed the third round with honors about equally divided. It was no slugging match, but they were simply sparring for points.”
Then in another minstrel show article (undated) from Billy Irwin’s scrapbook it states (excerpts): “The popularity of the Henry Hi minstrels was demonstrated last night by the fact that although this was a rendition of a former entertainment, the house was nicely filled. The athletic carnival by Messrs. Sullivan, Pinger and Irwin was a fine exhibition of science and strength.” It can be gleaned from Billy Irwin’s scrapbook what such an “athletic carnival” entailed: “D. A. Sullivan and Leo Pinger displayed remarkable strength and strategy on the mat… Then came the athletic fetes under the direction of Leo Pinger… Horizontal bars, trapeze, etc. furnished the necessary facilities for operation and the audience at once recognized the fact that careful training and good management had preceded the performance.”
Below is a copy from Billy Irwin’s scrapbook of a ticket to the minstrel show. The sparring exhibition advertised on this ticket was the three round match between Young Corbett and Billy Irwin which took place December 21, 1898.
MINSTREL SHOW NEWSPAPER CLIPPING