On Sunday, July 10, 2011 my wife and I were travelling back to Ontario after vacationing in Nova Scotia. On our return trip we travelled through the states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. There were three reasons for this: 1) It is less total distance than actually just staying in Canada; my wife wanted to shop at Target and some craft stores; and I wanted to go to the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum in Amsterdam, New York.
I am not quite sure in hindsight what my expectations were in attending. I pictured some kind of distinct building in an industrial area I guess. I expected there to be some exhibits that might be interesting, particularly in reference to someone like Whipper Billy Watson who always holds a special place for me as my Dad's favorite childhood wrestler that he always talked about. All in all, I figured that it should be o.k. but could be disappointing.
Being able to visit the PWHF blew away my expectations. My GPS machine took us right into the middle of downtown Amsterdam which is essentially part of the larger Schenectady, New York area. I saw a store-front and was expecting something small as a result. We walked in and I spoke to Tony who was volunteering there for the day and was a complete gentleman and unbelievably friendly. He is the deputy commissioner for the New York State Athletic Commission and one of the most devout wrestling fans I have ever met. And to my surprise there was absolutely no charge for admission, just the request that you sign in and accept mailings and updates from them which I would have wanted regardless.
We were there for an hour-and-a-half in which time I could not even come close to examining all of the memorabilia that was in the facility. The main floor had several outfits from wrestlers such as Bam Bam Bigelow and Mick Foley. One very surprising addition was Foley's original hand-written notes for his famous books. there were press photos all over the place including a section for female wrestlers from the days of Mildred Burke, June Byers and Nell Stewart. This was of particular interest to me as I had recently read the Mildred Burke biography.
We went upstairs and encountered multiple rooms with more show posters, press photos and obscure memorabilia than I could process, much less list here. There were numerous items regarding Don Leo Jonathan and I learned that he worked as an oceanographer and deep-sea diver after his wrestling career and was also a quick draw champion with a time of 4/100ths of a second.
There are a number of pieces in the museum from the 19th century. There are a number of old title belts including the Vermont Heavyweight Wrestling Championship. There is series of still photos of the 1911 match between Frank Gotch in Comiskey Park in Chicago. I saw a number of copies of the Police Gazette covering pioneer wrestling days. There are old wrestling posters, such as one for a show headlined by Lout Thesz vs El Medico, in which it is noted that there is a "colored section" reminding us of the ugly days of segregation. This lead me to ask if there was any Sputnik Munroe memorabilia and sure enough there was.
Probably my favorite thing was a collection of two photographs of Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis, Missouri. Both were panoramic views, with three photographs lined up with each other to show a view of the entire arena. The first was from 1944 and was from a show headlined by "Wild" Bill Longson vs. Warren Bockwinkle (Tony looked at my wife and said "He's Nick's Dad") as well as a 1946 show headlined by Longson vs Buddy Rogers. Both photographs were taken from one end of the arena and Tony pointed out that the entire arena was looking directly at the camera, including everyone in the ring. I don't know if words can do it justice but it was pretty amazing.
Another interesting piece is a painting by 1970's wrestler and Superstar Billy Graham friend Steve Strong. The painting was of Ray "Thunder" Strong (who is credited with inventing the dropkick)delivering a dropkick to Buddy Rogers with Arnold Schwartzennegger looking on in the background.
If you are a fan of any era of wrestling there is a ton of stuff to see. My wife became fascinated with Earl McCready when she learned he was Canadian and kept finding his picture throughout the museum. And to show how much her life has changed in the five years she has known me, she actually did utter the words "Oh look honey, it's the Von Erichs!!!"
I highly recommend a visit to the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum if you are going to be anywhere near the area. If your knowledge of wrestling stretches back to William Muldoon or you consider Mick Foley to be an "old" wrestler, you should be able to find something to enjoy and learn a lot. I am definitely planning on attending the Toronto dinner in the fall and possibly even the New York inductions next year. I told Tony that I plan on challenging The Destroyer to arm-wrestle me and Tony said "Well don't do that with Danny Hodge." A life with such options is a good life indeed.