A Look Back at Newark's Most Bizarre Sports Event -- and the Man Behind It

by Nat Bodian


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 costumes.”

Now back to the actual bullfights as described by Browder quoting Brown:

“…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.


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