An international tug-of-war tournament was scheduled for Chicago on December 7,
1891 at the Battery D Armory. There were "teams" of German (led by Dan Kolb), Welch
(led by Evan Lewis), and Canadian (led by Zorras) strongmen, plus others representing
the Irish, Italian, Scotch, Swiss, and English. There were even going to be athletes
representing the military from Fort Sheridan.
On March 21, 1892 in Chicago, Evan Lewis was to wrestle John King of Iron Mountain,
Michigan. King was the Cornish champion. The match was going to be a five-style
competition and the winner was going to receive over $3,000. Lewis trained for this
match at hishome in Ridgeway, Wisconsin and planned to wrestle at 190 pounds.
In early February 1909, Chicago Assistant Chief of Police Schuettier indefinitely banned
wrestler Raoul de Rouen from appearing in the city, citing his rough tactics, particularly
in a recent match with Mahmout. No club who promoted him would receive a permit.
C. Weston promoted in Decatur, Illinois in 1909, staging an important bout between
Frank Gotch and Challender. Fans from Bloomington, and numerous other nearby
towns were making arrangements to attended the show.
A 21-year-old Chicago woman, Sadie Currie, brought a lawsuit against champion Gotch
on November 9, 1909 claiming that the latter failed to keep his promise to marry her and
wanted $25,000 in damages. The report claimed that Currie met Gotch in Minneapolis
more than two years earlier.
Alton, Illinois wrestler George Burton was found guilty on February 1, 1911 of killing two
men with his bare hands before a jury in Edwardsville. Burton strangled both Leo Wentz
and Louis Weibrecht to death.
With the boom of interest in the Gotch-Hackenschmidt bout in Chicago (1911), ticket
scalpers boasted prices from $10 to $15, and up to $20 for better seats. Prior to the
match, all bets were called off by the referee, and Chicago Assistant Chief of Police
Herman F. Schuettler defended the actions as "customary" because the police wanted
to eliminate gambling from the "Windy City." The referee wanted to call off all bets in
case the match was a bust, which it turned out to be, and perhaps he had some inside
information when he made that particular move.
There was tremendous backlash after the 1911 Gotch-Hackenschmidt affair, with one
report claiming that "one more fiasco like this and wrestling is a dead card in Chicago."
Before leaving for New York after his defeat, Hackenschmidt offered to wrestle a quick
return match with Gotch privately for $5,000. This was on or around September 5, but
he was already scheduled to leave for Europe on September 9, not leaving much time
for the arrangements. It was also noted that Hackenschmidt had already said that he
was never returning to the U.S. after this trip. Gotch had accepted the challenge, but it
never would happen.
Ernest Kartje was a significant professional wrestler in the Chicago area during the
1910s, and trained scores of athletes in the finer points of the business. Kartje, whose
last name was often butchered by sports editors, was born in Austraia on November 12,
1882 and came to the United States around 1894. He was married to a Michigan
woman named Mary, and had a daughter named Josephine and a son named August.
In late 1912, Kartje held the Turner wrestling championship, and shined as a
middleweight. When he filled out his World War I Draft Registration paperwork, he listed
his occupation as working at the Chicago Stockyards. In the 1930 U.S. Federal Census,
his job was listed as a salesman of physical culture literature.
Empire Club promoter Joe Coffey was looking to sign a match between Henry Ordemann
and Jess Westergaard for Chicago in December 1912. Minneapolis won the rights.
Chicago Mayor Harrison was making a lot of sound about cleaning up the professional
wrestling racket, claiming that the last Gotch-Hackenschmidt match was a "fiasco."
Gotch denied it was a fiasco, saying that he trained hard, and didn't expect the match to
be so easy. Gotch also agreed with Harrison that wrestling should be "kept clean,"
according to the Sheboygan Press (Sheboygan, WI), February 22, 1913.
Because of his animosity toward big-time pro wrestling in the Chicago and his cynicism
about it, Mayor Harrison blocked a possible bout between George Lurich and Stanislaus
Zbyszko in early February 1913. Harrison reminded everyone of the "Labor day swindle
in 1911," saying that Lurich was either under management or had been under the
management of one of the promoters of the 1911 affair. Mayor Harrison also said that
"certainly no permit should ever be issued to any of the crowd which guiled the public in
the Gotch-Hackenschmidt fiasco of 1911." He stated that the Chicago public could get
along nicely with "small shows" in "halls and theaters."
Once again, wrestling in Chicago took a hit when a masked "Mystery" wrestler began to
gain steam as a top contender, only to be destroyed by an opponent, and unmasked to
be a second-rate wrestler. This event occurred in February 1915 when the Mystery was
topped by Bill Hokuff in two-straight falls and revealed to be John Freberg, angering the
crowd who'd seen the latter work preliminary bouts in the city. The Mystery's manager,
Ed White then told the audience that "this match was the only honest, square wrestling
seen in Chicago in six years. This is not excepting the Gotch-Zbyszko and
Gotch-Hackenschmidt matches." White said that he wanted to test his "theory in this way
because I wanted to take a shot at the wrestling game" by picking up a wrestler who was
"nothing more than a poor dub," putting a mask on him, and getting him over in eastern
matches. Then having him wrestle straight in Chicago, proving he was a second-class
Well known sportsman Charles Edward "Parson" Davies, who long had his homebase in
Chicago, passed away in Bedford, Virginia on June 28, 1920. He would be buried in
Chicago. Davies was a manager of fighters and wrestlers for many years.
An article in the Miami Herald on March 12, 1922 stated that "Professional wrestling,
until recently on the wane in Chicago, is becoming a rehabilitated success," and that
Alderman A.J. Carmak "said that through the aid of the commission co-operation on the
part of the promoters and introduction of a round-robin system, the sport has taken on a
new lease of life."
Chicago hosted a match between Jim Londos and Renato Gardini on April 6, 1926 and
there was some heavy controversy surrounding it. In the weeks prior, there were
several instances of note regarding Gardini in Chicago. He wrestled George Calza in
what was advertised as a finish bout, but after only one fall, the bout was called, and
Gardini was blamed. Two weeks earlier, Gardini battled Wladek Zbyszko in another
finish bout, but after Renato dropped the initial fall, he refused to continue. Officials
began an investigation, believing that this had something to do with the Stecher-Lewis
Reportedly, the Gardini-Zbyszko affair was put on by a mysterious promoter, and no one
knew the person's name. It was rumored that it was Nick Londes of St. Louis. The State
Athletic Commission wanted to make it mandatory that all promoters obtain licenses to
Incidentally, Londos and Gardini went off without a hitch with the former winning
two-of-three-falls. This left Aldermen Thomas Bowler and Joseph Smith with no
eagerness to further an investigation.
Members of the initial Illinois State Boxing Commission was selected on May 5, 1926 and
consisted of Paul Prehn, John Righeimer, and Oswald W. Hunchke. Prehn was a former
middleweight wrestler and champion. He was currently a wrestling coach at the
University of Illinois and owned several restaurants in the Urbana area. Hunchke was a
"wealthy" insurance man and Righeimer was a politician and ex-bar owner.
On July 23, 1928, Johnny Meyers was suspended for a year and fined by the Illinois
State Athletic Commission after his "disgraceful and unbecoming conduct" during his
recent match with Karl Pojello.
The Los Angeles Times (12/28/1928) noted that a major wrestling show in Chicago only
drew 1,500 fans and that the sport was on the decline in the "Windy City."
World heavyweight wrestling champion Gus Sonnenberg appeared before the Illinois
Boxing Commission in February 1929 to demonstrate his flying tackle. The effort was to
prove that it was a legal maneuver. News of this demonstration was printed in the
February 17, 1929 edition of the Boston Globe. The commission deemed it legal for
use in the state.
In early April 1929, the Illinois and New York State Athletic Commissions agreed to
"understand" each other in the formation of a working agreement. Suspensions, fines,
and other penalties that were imposed in one state would be recognized by the other.
The New York Times, on Sunday, December 29, 1929, reported that wrestling and
boxing brought Illinois a profit of $72,488.40 during the fiscal year ending December 1.
The gross receipts were $141,980.80 and expenses amounted to $69.492.40 "for
maintaining the offices of the commission and providing inspectors and officials."
On December 31, 1929, Paul Prehn married Alyene Westall of Janesville, Wisconsin at
Champaign, IL. Prehn was former chairman of the Illinois Athletic Commission. They
were to honeymoon in Florida. The marriage ceremony took place at the Alpha Gamma
Delta Sorority House.
Well known Chicago wrestling promoter John "Doc" Krone died on February 8, 1935 at
the age of 65 following an operation for a strangulated hernia. Krone had been a
promoter for three decades.
A former wrestler known as "Tiny" Timothy Baskin tried to get into the Army in December
1941 at Chicago, and claimed to know jiu-jitsu, but was rejected because he stood 6'7"
and weighed 250 pounds.
On December 12, 1946, Circuit Judge Harry M. Fisher in Chicago dismissed a suit
brought by promoter Fred Kohler in his attempt to get the Illinois State Athletic
Commission to allow him to bill his matches as contests and not exhibitions. Fisher told
Kohler to request a commission hearing to decide the matter instead of it being ordered
by the court.
The Associated Press carried a wrestling story out of Joliet, IL in newspapers on May
14, 1950. The villainous Ivan Rasputin was smashed on the head with a wrench by an
"irate fan" during a show on May 12. Rasputin needed four stitches to close the wound.
59 year old Harry Westelius was arrested for the deed and charged with disorderly
conduct. Rasputin had been at Joliet Catholic High School for a match against Walter
The need for the talent seen on the DuMont Television wrestling program shown around
the country every Saturday night gave Fred Kohler immense power throughout the
wrestling industry. The reason why? Because he signed the wrestlers he featured on
the DuMont show to exclusive contracts. Thus, he made money as the wrestlers went
out and appeared in NWA member territories. Legally, Kohler wasn't allowed to be the
promoter, booking agent, and the manager of wrestlers, so one of the jobs given to his
young protege Jim Barnett was to fill that important role.
On October 20, 1953, the Illinois State Athletic Commission announced that Hans
Schmidt would not be allowed to use his German gimmick in the state. After receiving a
number of complaints from German citizens and groups, the Commission ordered
Schmidt to appear before them and Commissioner Livingston Osborne wanted to find
out Schmidt's real name and nationality. There it was revealed that Schmidt was not, in
fact, born in Germany, but in Montreal. The German "act" was a gimmick thought up by
An article in the June 22, 1958 edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune by Jeanne Franke
featured information on the wrestling career of Richard B. Craddock of Park Forest, who
at 44, had competed in more than 2,600 professional wrestling matches. He was
originally from Alexandria, Virginia and began wrestling before he was a teenager.
Craddock trained with Jim Londos at the Washington, D.C. YMCA, at one point, and
Everette Marshall. The article stated that Buddy Litchfield, a former middleweight
champion, was also a coach. In 1933, Craddock reportedly won the middleweight
amateur title, and took the advice of Joe Turner to turn pro. He became known as "Earl
Craddock," because it was similar to Earl Caddock. Craddock's last pro match occurred
in September 1954 at Chicago. Craddock disliked many aspects of modern-day
wrestling, including women's grapplers, saying it was "unladylike." The article stated
that Craddock was "officially listed as the winner in 2,224 of his 2,638 professional
Notably, back in November 1952, Craddock planned to run professional wrestling shows
in the basement of St. Irenaeus church weekly in Park Forest, along with Vincent Healy.
On August 6, 1953, Sam Muchnick of St. Louis mailed a letter to Harry Newman, the
promoter in Springfield, IL, and told him that he thought he was a "splendid promoter."
Apparently Newman thought Muchnick didn't like him, and Muchnick cleared that
assumption up. He wrote "that I wish we had a man like Harry Newman in our territory
because of his conscientiousness, his hustle and his ability." He then went on to talk
about various Illinois towns in which his office was booking into and what territory
belonged to who. Muchnick admitted that he wanted to book East St. Louis, Wood
River, Alton and Hillsboro, and had previously worked in Centralia. Newman put on a
show in Vandalia, and Muchnick complained about it because he felt it was too close to
St. Louis to stage a big show - but Newman had backing of the Illinois State Athletic
Commissioner Joe Triner, who then asked Fred Kohler to book the affair. Kohler did so,
Muchnick said that he didn't want to be seen as the bad guy in this situation and wanted
to work out clearer territorial boundaries at the Chicago convention of the NWA over
towns in Southern Illinois. He also admitted that "I would just as soon concentrate on the
St. Louis promotion and forget about the booking office and other towns."
The December 15, 1961 edition of the Edwardsville Intelligence (Edwardsville, IL)
included a UPI story out of East St. Louis regarding the former chairman of the Illinois
State Athletic Commission Paul Prehn. Prehn "gave himself up before the U.S. marshal
in regard" to an 11 count indictment charging violations of the Securities and Exchange
Commission regulations. Prehn was released after posting $3,000 bond.
Research by Tim Hornbaker
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