The City of Newark and close-by communities
have played host to virtually every sport witnessed by Americans,
but by far the most bizarre sports spectacle ever staged in Newark
took place in 1928: Bull Fights!
One thinks Mexico City and Madrid for bullfights—but Newark?
Unthinkable, but it did happen when I was a second-grader at Monmouth
Street School too young to remember. The reason I am able to write
about it at this late date is that I was recently given access to
the yellowed and crumbling newspaper clippings that had been saved
by the promoter of that event, and are now in the hands of his son’s
widow in the Midwest.
The promoter was Victor J. “Buddy” Brown, owner and
operator of the old Dreamland Park on Frelinghuysen Avenue from
1923 until the late 1930s. He died in 1968 at the age of 71. His
only child, a son Vic Jr., is also deceased.
Vic Brown was a promoter who ‘out-Barnumed’1
P. T. Barnum and ran many unusual and offbeat promotions, as well
as championship caliber boxing shows at his Dreamland amusement
park, which was back-to-back with Weequahic Park.
The idea of running bullfights in Newark came to Vic Brown, according
to one old newspaper account, in 1927 when he visited Tijuana, Mexico.
According to the article, written by Jerry Izenberg, and quoting
Brown, in the Star-Ledger of August 3, 1964, “I saw this great
big arena and it was filled with people inside and besieged with
people on the outside, who were begging someone to take their money.”
A year later, Brown, back in Newark at his Dreamland Park premises
set the wheels in motion for bullfights in his park in Newark.
He had contacted Sidney Franklin, who was America’s first
bullfighter, and tried to convince him to come to Newark and perform
in the arena in Newark.
Franklin turned Brown down, but, as Izenberg wrote, “touted
Buddy Brown on a Spaniard name Charlet Molena, who subsequently
helped him set up the promotion. The set-up costs involved an investment
of $40,000 getting things organized.
In a related article, written by Jim Browder of the Fort Worth
Press on January 27, 1964, I was able to pick up additional details
on the Newark bullfights as Browder quoted Vic Brown:
“I hired 40 Mexican matadors, bought a bunch of Texas bulls,
and opened to a crowd of 30,000 spectators in the rain.”
At this point, I go back to Jerry Izenberg’s Star-Ledger
description of the event’s grand opening:
Izenberg wrote: “Joe Basile’s Madison Square Garden
band oomphah-ed the processional march into the arena. They came
in glittering finery and they marched to the official box, where
Buddy Brown had a group of peachcakes dressed in traditional Spanish
Now back to the actual bullfights as described by Browder quoting
“…the bulls weren’t as wild as they should have
been and just sat down when the matadors tried to make the kill.
The show was jeered and booed that night."
“…so I got the bullfighters together and told them
we had to get more action into the show. Then I got a stick and
jabbed the bulls with turpentine."
“That made the bulls so furious the matadors couldn’t
handle them. After three weeks, one matador was dead and the other
39 in the hospital."
“Every night the bullfights ran, the SPCA had me arrested.
I’d pay the $100 fine and keep right on running the show."
“It was a financial success.”
After the show had ended, Brown sold the bulls to a local slaughterhouse,
Leo Schloss, Inc., at Astor Street and Avenue C.
Another aged newspaper clipping provided evidence as to why the
sport of bullfighting was never repeated in Newark: In 1930, the
City of Newark passed a law prohibiting bullfighting.