The Phantom Punch at 50

Interactive guide to our stories, photos, audio and video | Audio: Listen to the radio broadcast from the fight | Video: Can you see the punch? | Interactive timeline of the fighters’ careers | Newspaper coverage & readers’ memories from 1965

LISBON — The signature is fading, but the memories haven’t.

Gina Mason was 5 when her father, car dealer Chauncey Crafts, brought her to Holiday Inn (now Fireside Inn) in Auburn for a peek at Muhammad Ali’s training camp.

What was designed as an educational excursion to watch preparations for the Ali title defense against Sonny Liston became a chance meeting with the champion, and a brief exchange that has endured for a lifetime.

“The bus pulled in and everybody got out,” Mason said. “I can’t remember what Ali was saying, but going back and reading about it, he was bragging. That’s what he did.

“It was loud. I remember the press was trying to get at him. He went into the building and then he came out onto a balcony.”

Crafts was a tall man for the time, more than six feet, and bold. Mason remembers him walking up to Gov. Kenneth Curtis and shaking his hand during an appearance at Oxford Plains Speedway. It wasn’t uncommon, Mason said, for her father to see people he knew while the family was on vacation in New York City or Montreal.

Naturally, with his daughter on a piggyback ride, Crafts nudged his way to the front of the line. In Gina’s hands were a pair of golden, keychain-style souvenir gloves. She believes they were purchased at a souvenir trailer in the hotel parking lot.

“He lifted me up over his shoulders. I had the boxing gloves, which we had purchased from somewhere there,” Mason said. “I lifted them up. (Ali) bent down over the railing, took them, and he signed them. That’s history.”

Ali changed his name from Cassius Clay and announced his conversion to Islam only 15 months earlier. Signatures with Ali’s new name were still a novelty.

“I remember my father referring to him even at that time as ‘Cassius Clay, well they call him Muhammad Ali, is coming.’ I don’t know if it’s super unusual, but that’s how he signed them that day,” Mason said.

Mason’s father also brought her to Liston’s public workouts at Poland Spring Inn. There are no souvenirs, although she recalls another sizable crowd and similar hubbub.

These were typical field trips for father and daughter. Gina was an only child.

“My dad was very into history. He used to take me to things when they were happening. When the presidents would come through town, often he did that,” Mason said. “We went to see the moon rocks in the ’70s. He always tried to make it dynamic, and he always tried to make it fun and important.”

The appreciation for current events and civic involvement haven’t been lost on Mason’s family. Her son, Garrett, is Maine’s senate majority leader. A cousin, Dale Crafts, is a state representative.

“Dad been gone 18 years next week. We miss him tremendously,” she said. “Even my own kids, they were 10 and 12 when he passed away, he was very big on them understanding historical type things and things that were happening in the world, and I’m very grateful for that.”

Boxing has been a relatively common thread in Mason’s life. Neighbor and restaurateur Joe Graziano, who catered her wedding, had an enormous memorabilia collection devoted to the sport. Her grandfather, Gordon Garnett, dabbled in the sport in the 1930s.

True to form, Mason has been reading about Ali and Liston in advance of the 50th anniversary of their Lewiston rematch. She celebrated the occasion by bringing out the souvenir gloves, which have been in a safe deposit box.

“I had those hanging in my bedroom the whole time I was a little girl, right up through being a teenager,” Mason said. “I’ve tried to keep them the best I could over the years, but time is aging them, just like the rest of us.”

Their awareness piqued by the popularity of pawn and auction shows, friends have urged Mason to have the gloves appraised.

“It’s something I probably need to look into,” Mason said. “I don’t know what the value is, but the sentimental value is more than anything to me.”

The Phantom Punch at 50: Interactive guide to our stories, photos, audio and video


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: