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boxed-outTen Seconds of Light

A Mysterious Beam of Light Shines down on the Body of a Boxer Killed in the Ring

 As the referee began the count, a beam of light encircled Luther… the referee declared ‘Ten … you’re out!’

The shaft of light suddenly vanished … and Luther was dead

“Calgary’s new Manchester arena was packed to the rafters with fight fans, the air thick with hubbub and cigar smoke as the city basked in the spotlight of the boxing world. No one was more excited than promoter Tommy Burns, the famous former world champ who had moved to Calgary in 1910. Here was the slugfest he knew would put the city on the map: Canadian brawler Arthur Pelkey versus Luther McCarty, a handsome, fleet-fisted Nebraska boy touted as the next “Great White Hope.” Spectators and sports writers travelled from near and far to attend. A $10,000 purse and a potential title shot were on the line.

What happened in the ring the afternoon of May 24, 1913, would indeed change fortunes, but not as expected.”

On May 24, 1913, up-and-coming boxer Luther McCarty kissed his wife and young son 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 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 and infant son goodbye.

Ruby McCarty had married Luther in the winter of 1907 in Hitchcock Nebraska, following a blistering courtship. She had succumbed to his chiselled features and granite-like physique; and bore him a son in the summer of 1908. Luther laboured for twelve months as a floor sweeper in a grain factory, before embarking on a career as a professional boxer. His earnings in the ring outweighed his factory wages by a large margin, but he was paying a price.

Luther sparred more than 400 three minute rounds during the following April, often against heavier opponents. One sparring partner would step out of the ring and another would step in.

Twenty fourth of May 1913, Luther kissed Ruby then placed his hand gently over her lips. He picked Jimmy up and blew a raspberry on his cheek, evoking a giggle from him.

‘Wha’are yerso ’appy about, yer ol’man’s goin’ out ter get ’is’ead beat in agen.’

Jimmy hugged Luther’s legs and exalted, ‘This is your happiest night Daddy, I love you.’

‘Ge’yerself terbed, and mind yer Mother.’

Luther sat on the dressing room table, legs dangling and gloved hands covering his face. The nagging pain at the side of his head only subsided when he closed his eyes and submerged his head into his gloves.

Dressing room door opens, referee declares, ‘Ready to go, two minutes to introductions.’

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.


Trainer’s voice, ‘let’s go Luther, this is the big one … we need this one, let’s go.’

Luther’s hooded head hung low as he was guided along the aisle, trainer’s hands gripping his shoulders. Searchlights swivelled around the stadium, cutting a swathe of light through the cigarette and cigar smoke. Luther attempted a dance on his toes, but his feet merely shuffled to the apron of the ring. He flicked his head back to remove his hood, as he stepped between the second and third ropes into the ring.

He felt a strange hurt, as if a steel band was being tightened around his forehead. Six thousand muffled voices blanketed Luther’s thoughts, as he mumbled to himself, ‘I nee’thiswon, Rube’n jjimmy nee’thiswon … thisis the larsswon.’

The bell rang four times. The referee ordered, ‘Touch gloves and come out fighting!’

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.

McCarty had dropped to the canvas unconscious and never rose.

Luther McCarty suffered no facial damage that night, no blood letting, nor the pain of 6oz gloves tearing his face apart.

The first punch killed him.

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 then crowd booed, believing the fight was fixed. It wasn’t. McCarty had died of a brain haemorrhage. It was likely caused by a fall from a horse a few days earlier that his managers had kept secret from sports writers. Writers and fans alike agreed the strange ray of light only illuminated the spot where McCarty lay dying–and nowhere else in the ring.

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 exist 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 exist 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”.


Luther McCarty had his life, and his potential as a heavyweight fighter, cruelly cut short. Known as ‘The Fighting Cowboy’ McCarty was a ‘white hope’ during the latter part of Jack Johnson’s reign as World heavyweight champion. There were many whom considered McCarty, not only the best of the infamous ‘White Hopes,’ but a future heavyweight great in his own right. Unfortunately, McCarty died before he was given the chance to prove just how good he could become.

McCarty was born on March 17, 1892, in Driftwood Creek, Nebraska, and started boxing professionally in 1911. Standing 6′ feet 4” inches, McCarty was fast for a man of his size, and had a sound technique, along with a good jab, and a knock-out punch. Despite his comparative inexperience and youth, McCarty made impressive strides during his short, but meteoric career, that began in 1911. In this short space of time, McCarty defeated notable name fighters such as, Jeff Clark, Carl Morris, Jim Barry, Al Kaufman, Fireman Jim Flynn, Al Palzer, and Frank Moran. McCarty also drew over 10 rounds with the future World heavyweight champion, Jess Willard.

Eight minutes after the fight, and still laying on the ring’s canvas, McCarty was pronounced dead. Pelkey reportedly broke down and wept when told of McCarty’s death. Manchester Arena, burned down the following day, likely as a result of arson in protest of the fight.
Four days after the controversial fight, professional boxing was officially banned in Alberta. Pelkey and Burns were charged with manslaughter, but the charges were later dropped. A coroner’s jury eventually ruled that McCarty’s death was determined to have been from a brain haemorrhage, probably brought on by a fall off his horse a few days before. While they were exonerated, the lives of Pelkey and Burns were changed forever. Burns left Calgary and became an evangelist preacher. Legal troubles from the incident bankrupted Pelkey. He kept fighting, but only for the money, and he didn’t win much after that. Some suspected he was pulling his punches.

What began as a sensational exhibition ended in tragedy. A 21-year-old rising star was dead, a legend’s reputation was once again tarnished, a top notch contender was ruined, and Luther McCarty’s untimely end delivered a death blow to professional boxing in Calgary.

Pelkey reportedly was never the same after the McCarty incident. He lost the white heavyweight title to Gunboat Smith on New Year’s Day 1914 at Coffroth’s Arena in Daly City, California, via a T.K.O. in the 15th round of the scheduled 20-round bout.

What might have been for Luther? Top contender? Definitely, he already was one. Heavyweight Champion? Possibly. Nat Fleischer thought he was the best of the “White Hopes.” McCarty was only 21 when the tragic loss to Pelkey took place. Had he lived, filled out, developed and gained experience, he may well have defeated Jack Johnson and been fighting Jess Willard on July 4, 1918.

McCarty began fighting in 1911 at age 19 and developed rapidly. He fought until 1913 when the fatal incident ended his life and career at Calgary’s Manchester Arena. During this time, he had 25 bouts and scored 16 knockouts. In a three months’ span, shortly before his death, he knocked out three leading heavyweights of the time – Al Kaufman, “Fireman” Jim Flynn and Al Palzer. Others of note he defeated during his career were Joe Cox, Carl Morris, Jim Barry and Frank Moran. Luther was recognized as the “White Heavyweight Champion” with his win over Palzer on January 1, 1913 at Vernon, California.

McCarty handled himself like a natural fighter and showed all the qualifications of a top notcher, although in the crude form … expected in view of his inexperience.

Luther McCarty was big and strong and considered by most boxing experts as the best of the ‘White Hopes.’
McCarty was a natural athlete and that athleticism gave him exceptional agility for that era. He was very patient, had good balance and loved to mix it up. Moreover, he was a good puncher who had a lot of stamina, strength, and a great chin. His competitive fire and athleticism gave him an advantage over most of his opponents.
Despite being relatively short on experience he was well disciplined and poised.
Once he got the upper hand on an opponent he didn’t let them off the hook. After his victories over Al Kaufman, Jim Flynn, and Al Palzer, his potential seemed unlimited.
Unfortunately, we’ll never know how great he could have been because of his untimely death at age 21.

It is difficult to rate McCarty on an all-time scale because of the premature end to his fine career. However, he boxed in a time when the talent was outstanding and he was considered to be among the best. Had he lived to gain experience and develop physically, it seems likely that he would rank with the all-time greats in the view of most boxing people.

He was a combination of speed, cleverness, gameness and hitting ability. Immune to punishment, loving the lust of battle, gifted with every physical requirement.

Ironically, McCarty’s nickname was ‘Luck.’

Death of Luther McCarty: Ten Seconds of Light | Historic Mysteries

BoxRec – Luther McCarty

Luther McCarty | Calgary Herald

The Boxing Glove: On This Day: Luther McCarty: The Fighting Cowboy …

the sad story of canada’s great white hope, arthur pelkey – wrights lane

Ten seconds of light – mysterious beam of light shines down on body …

Luther McCarty – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Pittsburgh Press ..Fated Luther Mccarty Rated As Best White Hope .

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