On the day Puerto Rican super-featherweight strapholder Alberto Machado was born -- Sunday, Sept. 9, 1990 -- newspapers across America carried a most unusual story involving the fighting city of Philadelphia.
A day earlier, around 7 a.m., the contents of a postal service truck from New York City was being unloaded onto a conveyor belt in a bulk mail facility in Philly's northeast (#Rocky) when one box -- sent from France to an address in Chambersburg, PA -- fell off and split open.
The disgorged contents?
Some empty bottles, "military-style" leggings, a couple packages of cookies, a mess kit, and -- wait for it -- 19 grime-caked grenades and an artillery shell believed to date from World War I.
Oh, and the munitions seemed to be live -- some of the grenades still had pins in them.
As you might expect, the facility was immediately emptied -- workers were barred from the site for three hours -- and the vintage materiel was confiscated -- by hand -- by the Philly bomb squad, which set off the gunky goods in a controlled blast elsewhere ("a disposal site").
The leader of the bomb squad had the surname of "Garrison."
The lieutenant -- Gene Zelcs -- who helped explain all this to the press so that it could even be mentioned in the papers on the day of Machado's birth was a native of a small Latvian town on the border with Russia who'd so assimilate the Philly way of life he'd write Eagles on his forehead in green marker on the day of their Super Bowl win in 2018 (#ImmigrantsForTheWin).
How this cache of French fighting paraphernalia came to Philly in the first place remained a mystery only for a day or so. On the 10th, Machado's second day alive, a self-professed collector of Great War items stepped forward in Chambersburg to explain himself.
Under the front-page headline "Cookies, grenades don't mix," in the Public Opinion newspaper of Chambersburg, Richard Keller said a French fellow collector was supposed to send him just non-incendiary goods -- he'd asked for the leggings and mess kit and biscuits -- but nothing more.
"I'd be crazy" to do otherwise, he said, adding that in "France, they are used to that stuff (undetonated bombs) being scattered all over the place."
Uh, yeah, right...sure.
As the incident was being investigated by a slew of domestic authorities -- including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms -- Ronald Reagan was back in Germany examining what remained of the Berlin Wall he'd urged Gorbachev to tear down and Pizza Hut was opening its first two stores in the Soviet Union.
Less known but retrospectively equally entertaining, given the crazy coincidence at play, was the simultaneous birth and neonatal nursing in Puerto Rico of Alberto Machado, the now 28-year-old boxing champ whose nickname I've heretofore intentionally omitted:
He's ranked third at super-featherweight by Boxrec.com (although you could argue he could be first or second) and will take on the 44th-best man at the weight Saturday night in Indio, California (and live on DAZN). Of course, the bout promises to be a terrible mismatch -- one that won't help us at all sort who belongs atop the 130-lb. rankings -- same as the other super-featherweight scrap Saturday -- second-ranked Gervonta Davis against the dude designated 36th, in Carson, California (and on Showtime).
Obviously, the most sensible match -- and therefore the one we ain't seeing -- would feature the two versus the three -- Davis-Machado -- not only for the hierarchical clarity it'd deliver but because Gervonta Davis, with his own nickname, so nicely suits this odd mail mishap narrative:
Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, on the left, where Machado was born, and the Letterkenny Army Depot, where would-be explosives-recipient Richard Keller worked.
Though the intersection of army, explosive and the Illadelph may be more artifice than must-know-info in this case, it recalls a man who really did unite all those things in a single story -- the late David Bey -- the '80s heavyweight who was Philly-born, took up boxing in the Army and was dubbed "Hand Grenade Hands" by the always-bombastic Don King.
Bey, who challenged Larry Holmes for the title in '85 and is a member of the lost generation of heavyweights King pushed around rather than truly promote, passed away far too young in a construction accident two years ago -- he was working as a pile-driver -- at the age of 60.
Career highlights: Bey knocked out Buster Douglas in his pro debut; defeated Greg Page in just his 14th fight (of course, King promoted both sides); and long before Adelson or Wynn erected anything resembling the Vegas Strip in Macau -- five years before Portugal turned over the peninsula to China -- Bey won his final fight there , by TKO, in 1994. Not incidentally, here's the NY Times' 2001 introduction of the area to its readership:
"'I would never bring my children here,' said Ho Man-tong, a footloose Chinese businessman, as he emerged bleary-eyed from the blackjack tables in the Hotel Lisboa."
RIP, Hand Grenade.
And now a return to the crazy war collectibles story for a no-less-strange post-script.
Richard Keller, the man to whom the artillery and cookies were sent, worked at Letterkenny at the time of Machado's birth and the above clippings -- a Pennsylvania facility that serviced US Army defense systems.
By the middle of the '90s, though, he was retired from that gig and still amassing a collection of military gear-- his goal being the creation of a museum. In that effort, he wound up buying vintage goods from a man who turned out to be a thieving former curator of the Smithsonian's WW I aviation collection. You really can't make this shit up.
The two Pennsylvania men ultimately helped the FBI track down the lying trickster, who was sentenced to six months in jail and ordered to pay a 20k fine.
Meanwhile, if you wanna read a sad-yet-hopeful story on Tank's tough Baltimore childhood and his promise to Al Haymon not to eff up a promising career after a couple of unfortunate recent episodes, definitely check out the also-aptly-named Lance Pugmire's recent LA Times write-up.