Fighter’s Heaven near Deer Lake hosted a burial ceremony for a 50-year time capsule at the former training camp of professional boxer and heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali.
The time capsule preserves the life and legacy of Ali, said Mike Madden, owner of Ali’s training camp, Fighter’s Heaven, since 2016.
“Today is exciting. We’re burying a time capsule,” said Madden who hopes his sons Jesse and Jack will open it in 50 years. “It’s a milestone. We’re here during the weekend of Ali’s passing. It was six years ago that he passed and 50 years ago that he trained here.”
Fans and friends of the famous boxer gathered at Fighter’s Heaven on June 4 to witness the burial of a compilation of stories showing 50 years of history at the training camp, from its establishment in 1971 to its restoration and present day museum.
Ali’s former personal aide and driver Harold Hazzard Sr. of Philadelphia said Ali treated him like a brother, not like an employee. He traveled with Ali for nine years, including to the training camp.
“I enjoy coming here all the time. It brings back a lot of memories,” said Hazzard.
The time capsule is a beautiful idea and preserving Ali’s legacy is very important, he said.
“There’s a lot of people who admire him. All of this is beautiful,” said Hazzard, gesturing to the camp around him.
Fighter’s Heaven tour volunteer Lynda Pollack-Schiffer, of Orwigsburg, is passionate about the training camp. Some of the memorabilia in the time capsule includes her father, Bernie Pollack, since he was involved at Fighter’s Heaven and worked with young boxers. Her father, a friend of Ali’s business manager, Gene Kilroy, sold the Deer Lake land to Ali for the camp.
“I’ve been here since the very beginning of the training camp when it was originally built,” she said.
What made Ali special was he was kind to everyone, she said.
“He was every man’s man, which I think is phenomenal. That’s why we’re celebrating him. That’s why there’s such a wonderful legacy about him.”
What Madden has taken upon himself to do for the world to preserve this legacy is phenomenal, she said.
“I am in awe that he is as passionate as he is about it. We all want to try to keep it that way from years to come. It’s important to us,” said Pollack-Schiffer.
One Ali fan, native New Yorker Joshua Ince who currently resides in Reading, was really excited to be spending his Saturday at Ali’s former training camp, visiting for the first time after a co-worker invited him.
Ince was particularly interested to learn that Ali painted the names of his opponents on large boulders that still sit around the property outside the gym at Fighter’s Heaven.
“I’m definitely taking a picture of all of these rocks because I’m standing on history right now,” he said. “This is awesome.”
Ali built Fighter’s Heaven while seeking a secluded place to train after attracting significant media attention when he returned to boxing in 1970. The camp included eight log cabins for his support personnel, a mosque, kitchen and a gym where he trained for numerous fights, such as the Rumble in the Jungle in 1974 and the Thrilla in Manila in 1975.
After his retirement from the ring, Ali sold the camp in 1997 to George Dillman of Cumru Township who then operated the Butterfly & Bee Bed & Breakfast until selling the property to Madden following Ali’s death in 2016.
When Madden learned that Ali’s former training camp was for sale, buying Fighter’s Heaven was a calling for him to educate the public about Ali’s life.
“We’ve been restoring the camp for six years now,” said Madden. “We want to share what we’ve done and share the memories, legacy and lessons of Muhammad Ali.”
Fighter’s Heaven is a museum that is open to the public for free tours.
“We’ve got Muhammad Ali’s training camp; it’s alive and well,” said Madden. “This is unique to the sporting world and it needs to be preserved; his lessons, his attitudes and his outlooks on things. If he were still around and could speak… some of the things going on in our society, I think he could bring some clarity to it.”
The goal of the museum is to share the life of Ali.
“We’re just trying to keep his life, image and legacies alive,” he said.
Visitors can tour the gym, cabin and mosque all restored to how it would have been set up during Ali’s training at the camp. Displays include historical photographs and videos of Ali as well as videos featuring Ali explaining his spiritual ideals.
“We try to let Muhammad Ali speak for himself and he sure lived a life worth celebrating,” said Madden, “history worth passing on to future generations.”
While thanking volunteers and the many supporters, Madden shared a discussion he had with his late father, legendary Hall of Fame football coach John Madden.
Talking about a photo of his father with Ali, Madden asked him if Ali was smiling. Of course, Ali was smiling.
“He’s smiling because we’re going to have a hand in preserving his history,” said Madden.
“Well, somebody’s gotta do it,” shared Madden of what his father said.
“I took that as him giving me the green light,” said Madden. “Dad loved history.”
Community Initiative Award
Madden said the time capsule is a unique opportunity to preserve history.
The heritage time capsule is part of a Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office Community Initiative Award presented to Fighter’s Heaven in 2019. The time capsule burial was postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re really excited that Mike Madden’s team here at Fighter’s Heaven have organized this day to bury their time capsule, which is one of the items that we gave them in recognition of being one of our 2019 Community Initiative Award winners,” said Shelby Splain, education and special initiatives coordinator for the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office. “They have really done an outstanding job to preserve this really important historic place in not only Pennsylvania history but sports history and American history.”
The award recognizes the hard work and dedication of organizations, municipalities, agencies and individuals whose work embodies the theme of the statewide historic preservation plan. Recipients have demonstrated the value of preserving iconic places and community landmarks through their ownership and stewardship.
“The time capsule is an unusual award but we felt that it itself sends a message that it isn’t intended to sit on a shelf but can help the awardees foster further preservation accomplishments through community-based programing like they are doing here today,” Splain said. “It’s something that can remind future audiences about why it is important to preserve historic places that tell all of our stories.”
Jeff Julian, a Muhlenburg Township photographer and Fighter’s Heaven volunteer, filled the time capsule with newspaper and magazine articles, historical photographs of Ali and memorabilia related to Ali’s former training camp.
“It was great,” said Julian of photographing Ali in 1978 at the camp. “I had just bought a second-hand camera and I thought this would be a good place to shoot. I knew Ali was up here. I just fell in love with the place. Ali was really accommodating, the greatest subject in the world (to photograph).”
Ali had invited Julian and his girlfriend — later wife — to his cabin to look at his photographs.
“He gave me the confidence to pursue photography more,” said Julian, who went on to study photography and became a professional photojournalist, including photography of boxing for 15 to 20 years.
Legacy lives on
Mick Stefanek, Fighter’s Heaven manager, said the legacy of Ali continues because of the camp’s renovations and restoration. He hopes visitors that day walk away with a true appreciation of who Ali was and what this camp meant to him.
The Fighter’s Heaven mission statement reads, “Through the preservation and restoration of the training camp in Deer Lake, create a destination that will, for decades to come, remind some, and educate others, about the remarkable and inspirational life of Muhammad Ali.”
“So we’re here to keep the life and legacy of Muhammad Ali alive through providing this camp open to the public for free,” said Stefanek.
Free tours are available by appointment Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.
For more information, go to fightersheaven.com.
Source: Berkshire mont