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Ten seconds of light – mysterious beam of light shines down on body of boxer killed in ring (1913)

Ten seconds of light shining on dead boxing legend Luther McCarty

 Boxing Legend Luther McCarty

On May 24, 1913, up-and-coming boxer Luther McCarty kissed his wife and young daughter goodbye and headed from his home in Wild Horse Canyon, Nebraska to a boxing ring in Calgary, Alberta where the heavyweight hopeful would face his next opponent, Arthur Pelkey. The match would not proceed beyond the first round and the boxing world would forever wonder how good Luther McCarty could have been.  A ghostly ray of light that pierced through the roof to momentarily spotlight McCarty’s lifeless body, would be captured on film, and come to be known as the “Ten Seconds of Light”.

The last photo taken of boxing legend Luther McCarty while he was alive

The 21-year-old, two hundred twenty-pound McCarty was a heavyweight hopeful considered by many to be the greatest of all “white hope” fighters. Having never officially lost a fight, he was strongly favored to win the bout.

He left his family that day against the wishes of his wife. He had fought an unusually high number of bouts during the past week, but with the possibility of turning professional looming near, he had to fight – especially given that the affair was a charity event being held to help a local congregation buy a bell for their church. He kissed his wife goodbye and grinning at his infant daughter, told her:

“What you so happy about, your ol’ man’s about to go out there and get ‘is ‘ead beat in.”

The Luther McCarty vs. Arthur Pelkey fight

Outside the Tommy Burn’s Arena, which was really little more than an old barn commissioned for the fight, the sky was a dark, gloomy curtain – not the merest hint of sunlight lurking behind the clouds. Inside the haphazard arena, which was filled to capacity with 6,000 shouting fans, the only light was a dull glow that trickled through skylights in the roof.

Ed Smith refereed the fight that day and just before introducing the fighters, a local minister stepped into the ring to make a pre-fight announcement regarding the charity event. Various reports of what the minister said that day have circulated including the following introduction that was reported by boxing news media:

“I know you men are going to help us buy a bell for our church. Your silver tokens will buy a memento for God’s house, and it will be a credit to you on the Great Ledger. Everyone must have credit in his Ledger, for who knows whom the Great Referee will call home at any moment?”

A shower of coins flew onto the ring floor and Referee Smith and McCarty helped the minister pick up all the coinage.

The fight began and Pelkey flew in quickly sending a quick combination at the 6’ 4” McCarty that included a hard left uppercut that connected solidly with McCarty’s chin, snapping his head back, and a solid right to McCarty’s chest. A bloodless McCarty stiffened, his knees buckled, and he collapsed to the floor, arms and head dangling outside the ring.

Ten Seconds of Light

Medical personnel working on boxing legend Luther McCarty

According to legend, as the referee rushed in to issue the count, an eerie streak of sunlight burst through the skylights illuminating McCarty’s body. The shocked crowd murmured amongst themselves and Pelkey stood bewildered, staring at McCarty’s fallen body. When the referee ended the count, as suddenly as it had appeared, the sunlight instantly disappeared. The crowd was speechless.

McCarty was dragged to the dirt floor and attempts were made to revive him. After 8 minutes, with no facial damage nor bloodletting, he was pronounced dead on the scene. The fight had lasted only 2 minutes. It has been reported that the day following the fight, Tommy Burn’s Arena burned to the ground (arson was suspected).

The strange streak of light that was captured in the gloomy photo above has been fiercely debated. There exists a pre-fight and post-fight photo of the event, but the Ten Seconds of Light photo is the only known photo of McCarty lying dead in the ring. Stories circulated that the light may have been artificially added to the photo.  No other photo exists of the fight nor has there been any explanation of how the light was added (other than coincidental overexposure) to the 100-year-old picture.

Others recall that something ominous did indeed happen that day.  It is a well-documented fact that that the incident created quite a stir in the boxing world when it occurred.  Regardless, the photo would become an iconic memoir of the fight, appearing in newspapers, magazines, and on posters and taking on the memorable, and touching name, “Ten Seconds of Light”.

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