‘How Ali became Ali’: legendary boxer’s childhood home turned into museum

Originally published in The Times

As a boxer he became larger than life, his swaggering braggadocio making the name Muhammad Ali famous around the world.

But soon, fans will be able to see behind Ali the icon and get a glimpse of Cassius Clay, long before the cheeky Kentucky boy grew up to become the undisputed champion of the world.

The legendary fighter’s childhood home in the city of Louisville is being turned into a museum, allowing tourists and devotees to step back in time to the place where Ali, then known by his original name of Cassius Clay, lived with his brother and parents.

The small, pink-painted home will open from 1 May, once nine months of repairs and redecoration are completed. The developers have gone to great lengths to put the house back to how it was when Ali lived there, studying old photographs and spending more than $300,000 on the project.

George Bochetto, a Philadelphia lawyer and one-time Pennsylvania state boxing commissioner, said that he wanted the house to feel like nothing had changed since 1955.

“You walk into this house … you’re going back to 1955, and you’re going to be in the middle of the Clay family home,” he said. Bochetto co-owns the house and has led the restoration work. He has also bought the home next door to turn into a welcome centre and gift shop.

“We’re trying to demonstrate where it all began,” Bochetto said of the home, where the former boxer’s family lived from the late 40s until the early 60s. “How did Ali become Ali?”

Ali took his first steps towards greatness in the Louisville home, beginning with bouts of shadowboxing with his brother Rahman. Even then, the famous Ali humour was in evidence.

Rahman recalled how when the pair were in bed, his brother would tie a string to the curtains so he could move them at night, scaring the younger Rahman into believing ghosts were inside the bedroom.

As he walked around the nearly-complete museum, Ali said it was perfect. “It’s just like my boyhood,” he said. “The only things missing are Dad and Mom. Otherwise, it’s perfect.”

The home won’t cover Ali‘s later boxing exploits – he moved out of the house in 1960 when he went to the Olympics as an amateur fighter – but Bochetto said it should still inspire new generations.

“You don’t have to be from any particular neighbourhood, any particular kind of house,” Bochetto said. “You can be from anywhere and you can become great… And this is a living monument to just that.”
Originally published in The Times.