Last week when The Bronx Chronicle received an email with the subject line: “New York Rangers Season Kick-off in The Bronx,” we were intrigued. When we realized it would be celebrated at Woodlawn Cemetery, our managing editor scratched his chin then felt his face break into a wide grin. Spooky but brilliant marketing nonetheless.
Rain fell on and off during the celebratory event this past Friday at the gravesite of George L. (“Tex”) Rickard. Tex Rickard, the founder and first owner of the New York Rangers and manager of Madison Square Garden, is interred among an impressive roster of notable people at historic Woodlawn Cemetery.
Last season, the community relations team at Woodlawn ramped up their outreach in view of the Rangers’ amazing Stanley Cup playoff run. “People were leaving hockey pucks at the gravesite. We investigated and embraced it. We are trying to change the perception of the Cemetery,” said Brian G. Andersson, Woodlawn’s community outreach director.
Cemetery Executive Director David Ison and Tex Rickard’s grandson, Joe Halperin.
Cemetery Executive Director David Ison welcomed everyone and a wreath was placed a the gravesite with the help of Ranger veteran team members, NHL Hall of Famer Rod Gilbert and Stanley Cup champ Adam Graves.
Gilbert and Graves joined Rickard’s grandson, Joe Halpern, his wife and young daughters. Joe Halperin in placing a memorial wreath at the graveside, Rickard’s grandson, has been very supportive of Woodlawn’s efforts in reaching out to the media and fan base.
Members of the Fordham Prep Varsity and Junior Varsity Ice Hockey teams also participated in the tribute and to kick off a new winning season. The junior hockey players had an inspiring chat with the affable Gilbert, who teased them with quips in his French-Canadian accent.
The captains of the Fordham Prep hockey teams carried the memorial wreath to Rickard’s graveside along with Gilbert and Graves.
During last season’s amazing playoff run, Rangers fans would come by Rickards grave leaving all sorts of totems, from pucks to Rangers placards, respectfully placed next to the gravestone.
Allan Reese, a Woodlawn (the neighborhood, not the cemetery) resident and die-hard NY Rangers fan numbered among the faithful who trekked to the Rickard grave during the 2014 playoff run.
“I came out here during the playoff run. I said a little prayer. Ironically, when I my Mom was sick in the hospital and I couldn’t get down here. Sure enough, they lose, said Reese.
Reese acknowledged that he got involved through social media after seeing Brian Andersson’s post on the Blue Shirts United Facebook page.
He promised to keep the faith going and hopes to be back at Woodlawn in June. The Rangers finished second in their conference last year.
According to Wikipedia, Tex Rickard was the leading promoter during the 1920s and he has been compared to P. T. Barnum and Don King. Sports journalist Frank Deford has written that Rickard “first recognized the potential of the star system.”
The New York team was called “Tex’s Rangers” because he was a former Texas sheriff. He was also a premier boxing promoter, cattleman, a oil man and a builder. Tex Rickard was sort of “Donald Trump” before there was a Donald Trump.
Rickard’s grandson shared that his grandfather refereed the infamous “Great White Hope” bout between the African American heavyweight boxing champ Jack Johnson and Jim Jeffries. “Jack Johnson said, he trusted Tex to call a fair fight.”
Despite the wet conditions, it was a great day for New York Rangers fans and a great, if not unusual, way to kickoff a hockey season. Visitors are welcome every day to stroll through Woodlawn Cemetery. For more information, call 718-408-5600.
Note: This post was updated to correct the story’s title.