Thursday, August 11, 2022

Walking with Ghosts: A Visit to the Birthplace of the NWA

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

THE TIES THAT BIND
Waterloo, Iowa, stands as a beacon of history for both amateur and professional wrestling. It is the birthplace of the most famous and decorated American amateur and Olympic wrestler Dan Gable, and is the home of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum. The Dan Gable Museum in Waterloo is also home to the George Tragos - Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame which recognizes wrestlers with an amateur background that went on to make a substantial contribution in professional wrestling. 


The Hotel President building in downtown Waterloo, Iowa.
Photograph by Dick Bourne



Waterloo is also the birthplace of the National Wrestling Alliance, once professional wrestling's largest coalition of cooperating promoters across the United States and around the world. In 1948, Iowa promoter Paul "Pinkie" George and four other Midwest promoters met in the Gold Room of the beautiful Hotel President in downtown Waterloo and formed the articles that chartered the National Wrestling Alliance. That building, near the banks of the Cedar River, still stands today.


Park Avenue entrance into the Main Lobby of the Hotel President
Photograph by Dick Bourne



There is an ironic link tying the Hotel President to the Dan Gable Museum, and therefore linking both the amateur and professional sides of Waterloo's wrestling history. The manager of the hotel at the time of the promoter's gathering in 1948 was a man named Lark Gable, who was Dan Gable's grandfather. That unlikely connection just blows me away.


Vintage ashtray and promotional tourism flyer from the Hotel President, both circa 1940s.
Notice the hotel manager's name, Lark Gable, grandfather of legendary wrestler Dan Gable.

Photograph by Dick Bourne



THE FOUNDING FATHERS & THE CRADLE OF THE ALLIANCE

The Hotel President, on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1928 and first opened on January 10, 1929. It is no longer a hotel. It has been redeveloped as a federally subsidized apartment complex for senior citizens. Los Angeles based Huntley Witmer, the company that redeveloped the building in 2015, had the wisdom to keep the name of the original hotel, leaving the lobby largely unchanged, helping to preserve its spot in pro wrestling history, even if that history is largely lost through the sands of time.

The lobby of the Hotel President in the 1940s.
Photo from a vintage promotional tourism flyer.


The lobby looks much as it did in the 1940s, with the lobby atrium largely untouched and the wood railing around the second floor mezzanine thought to be original, standing just as it was on July 18, 1948 when the small group of Midwest promoters met there.

Lobby of the Hotel president after 2015 renovations and restoration.
Photo courtesy ApartmentGuide.com

 

That group in 1948 was led by Iowa sports promoter Paul "Pinkie" George, based out of Des Moines, who organized this meeting and hosted it as well. As a result, he is considered by historians as "the father of the NWA." George was a successful promoter in many different areas, including professional basketball, baseball, boxing, and wrestling. 

Joining Pinkie Goeroge that day in Waterloo were:

Max Clayton (Omaha, Nebraska)
Orville Brown (Kansas City, KS)
Sam Muchnick (St. Louis., MO)
Wally Karbo (representing Tony Stetcher, Minneapolis, MN)

Fred Kohler, the promoter in Chicago, IL, was part of the group but did not attend the July 18 meeting, but consented to the agreements made at the meeting by telegram. 

The group voted approval to several statutes, including recognizing one world champion, Orville Brown (who was also the promoter in Kansas City.) Brown is therefore recognized as the very first heavyweight champion of the NWA. (It's worth pointing out that the NWA traces its title lineage from Brown all the way back to George Hackenschmidt in 1905, generally regarded as the first ever professional wrestling champion.)

Sadly, there is no designation or commemoration on the site of this historically significant event that changed the course of pro-wrestling history. I would imagine that not a single person living or working in that building today has any clue of that history. Hopefully, I'm wrong.

WALKING WITH GHOSTS
While attending the 2022 Tragos-Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame Induction Weekend, I took the opportunity to travel just across the Cedar River to see and photograph the Hotel President. I wanted to get inside if possible, but my first attempt made late one evening proved futile, as all the doors were locked. The next day, I, along with my buddy Matty Montcalm made a second attempt and this time we were able to enter the lobby and make our way up a side staircase that led to the second floor mezzanine and the entrance to what remains of the original Gold Room, where the promoters met in 1948.

Standing in the Gold Room, looking out through the doors across the mezzanine
into the atrium of the Hotel President lobby.

Photograph by Dick Bourne


 

As we entered that room, walking through the large wooden doors, I will admit I got cold chills, thinking about those five men gathering in that very place and making agreements that would literally change the course of professional wrestling history. it was a cool moment.


COMING UP NEXT
In my next story in this series, I'll take look at the professional wrestling card that took place later that same evening at historic Electric Park in Waterloo. It was attended by the group of promoters who earlier that day formed the National Wrestling Alliance, which made the local news.

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Special thanks to Tim Hornbaker and his book "National Wrestling Alliance"

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Poster: Mulligan and Rhodes Headline Roanoke

by Jody Shifflett
Mid-Atlantic Gateway Contributor

This event took place back in February of 1977 at the Roanoke Civic Center and featured a very stacked card!

The main event and featured a great battle between two tough Texans, Blackjack Mulligan and Dusty Rhodes. The second main event was a battle between Wahoo McDaniel and The Masked Superstar. But I can’t help but believe it should have been Ric Flair vs Wahoo, but Flair was out with gallbladder surgery at this time. 

Another match featured fan favorite Mighty Igor against Kim Duc. 

The lineup was great this night and also a young Randy Savage was on the card. I would loved to have been there! Great coloring on t he poster, with a 7:30 start time.


Saturday, August 06, 2022

Back to the Future: Crockett & Schiavone on the WTBS Set

David Crockett and Tony Schiavone

Starrcast promoter Conrad Thompson had a replica built of the World Championship Wrestling television production set, nearly identical to the one used in the Techwood Drive studios of WTBS in Atlanta during the Crockett TBS years of 1985-1988. 

The replica set was used for photo-ops involving Crockett, Schiavone, and the Four Horsemen, as well as the backdrop for Crockett and Schiavone to call the big PPV event "Ric Flair's Last Match."

Nobody adds the special nostalgic Mid-Atlantic/JCP touches to events quite like Conrad Thompson. I wonder if this would fit in my basement??

Friday, August 05, 2022

Remembering Peggy Lathan: The First Lady of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling

On the occasion of Peggy Lathan being honored at the "Night to Remember" banquet at the Gathering in Charlotte on 8/5/22, we thought we'd revisit our tribute to "the First Lady of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling" that appeared on the Mid-Atlantic Gateway in the days following her untimely death in 2021. 

We're thinking of Clay and Tommy tonight, as well as Jean and all of Peggy's many friends, as they honor Peggy at the Gathering.

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Remembering Peggy Lathan: The First Lady of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling
by David Chappell
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

Peggy Lathan never wrestled a match for Jim Crockett Promotions, she never cut a promo on the set of the Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling television show, and she never refereed, booked or ring announced a Mid-Atlantic bout. But the shadow she cast over the enduring legacy of the Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling territory is every bit as profound as all of those that did.  

When I received the news that Peggy had passed away yesterday, it was as if time just stood still. Many of you that are reading this knew Peggy, or at least knew of her. For those of you that didn’t have the pleasure of knowing Peggy, to know her was to love her. As I was embarking on my lengthy commute to work early yesterday, I had deep thoughts of Peggy and her dad come over me and the health issues they were battling. I remember the exact time and stretch of I-95 I was on when those thoughts rushed over me. I later found out that same time was the time Peggy was found unresponsive in her home. Coincidence? Perhaps. But I think not.

Peggy Lathan and David Chappell

It's not an exaggeration to say that the Mid-Atlantic Gateway as you see it now would not exist, or at the very least would not have flourished as it has for twenty-one years, without the behind-the-scenes assistance of Peggy Lathan. I was told by Peggy that the first time we were “together” was at a show in Hartwell, Georgia when I was there to interview the Masked Superstar, Bill Eadie, for the Gateway. Peggy recognized me at that show from a photo or two of myself that was on the Gateway, the site that Dick Bourne and I created in 2000 still being very much in its infancy then. Peggy in later years scolded me for not talking to her at that show. My first instinct was to tell her that I didn’t know who she was at that time, so why would I just come up and talk to her out of the blue? I’m glad I didn’t argue that point with her, as I soon came to learn that Peggy never met a stranger. Even being a lawyer who argues for a living, that’s an argument I would have lost.

When I got to know Peggy, I discovered a wresting sister that matched my unbridled love of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling. We both worked in the legal field that provided us many common experiences, but Mid-Atlantic Wrestling was our unbreakable bond. While we were at the geographical extremes of the Crockett territory, me living north of Richmond, Virginia and Peggy residing southwest of Greenville, South Carolina our passion for Crockett wrestling crossed the many miles between us. I was immediately drawn in by Peggy’s bubbly personality, her infectious smile and laugh and that incredible Upstate South Carolina drawl! But more so I was captivated by her unique relationship with Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling.

Peggy would often tell me that we both had the “sickness,” another way of saying our love for Mid-Atlantic Wrestling was a bit on the extreme side. But my experience as a Mid-Atlantic fan back in the day couldn’t have been more different than Peggy’s. I admired my wrestling heroes from afar, never daring to have any real contact with these larger-than-life icons other than watching them on TV and seeing them from a general admission seat on Friday nights at the Richmond Coliseum. 

In contrast, Peggy would tell me about her weekly front row seats at multiple Upstate South Carolina venues, and her friendships with the wrestlers and their families! Friendships that continued long past the demise of Jim Crockett Promotions. And the stories she could tell. My eyes must have been as big as saucers as I hung on every word of Peggy’s Mid-Atlantic tales! But Peggy was far more than a mere storyteller to me and the Mid-Atlantic Gateway.

When the young Gateway started to gain its footing in the early 2000s, many of the “boys” were intrigued by the site but skeptical of our motives. Many would openly opine that we wanted to make money off them by talking to them. Peggy Lathan came to the rescue. I soon learned that when Peggy “put you over,” you needed no further stamp of approval from anyone within the business. Many early interviews that I did on the Gateway, were as a direct result of Peggy vouching for our site and its sole purpose being to preserve the rich history of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling. 

Never having the gumption to seek out my Mid-Atlantic heroes back in the 1970s, Peggy did it for me about thirty years later. Peggy ingratiated me with such Mid-Atlantic icons as Johnny Weaver, Rip Hawk, Paul Jones, Don Kernodle, Ivan Koloff, Tommy Young and Ole Anderson just to name a few. Many of these icons became dear friends of mine, and the interaction I was able to have with my wrestling heroes is something that means the world to me. To this day, I have trouble comprehending that those friendships happened. One thing is for sure, they wouldn’t have happened without Peggy.

Along those lines, my all-time favorite memory involving Peggy occurred at one of the early Charlotte Fanfests. With Peggy’s help, the legendary Rip “The Profile” Hawk had become a cherished friend of mine who I was able to interview for the Gateway and kept in close contact with. Rip got booked for that Fanfest and was flying into Charlotte for two days at the most. While Johnny Weaver was not coming to that Fanfest, he worked for the Mecklenburg County, North Carolina Sheriff’s Office close by. Peggy and I co-conspired to try and get Rip and Johnny, arch-rivals in the 1960s and early 1970s, together for the first time in decades!

Suffice it to say, this reunion between Johnny and Rip was not an easy one to pull off logistically. At times it felt like Peggy and I were trying to put together a summit for two superpower leaders, and in a manner of speaking that’s exactly what we were doing. At least superpowers in the world of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling! After several fits and starts, Johnny and Rip were united over breakfast near the site of Fanfest. The sight of Rip and Johnny seeing each other after decades was worth all the effort Peggy and I put in and much, much more. Not only did I get to see two Mid-Atlantic legends reunited, but thanks to Peggy, two of my wresting heroes turned friends.

Several years after that I had the occasion to visit Peggy and her mom and dad when they toured Washington, D.C. and I made the trip up from Richmond. Peggy was a devoted daughter to both her parents, and that was never more on full display when both her parents had serious health issues befall them in recent times. That day in northern Virginia the love between all three of them was in full display. I still remember Peggy’s mom extolling the virtues of “Skins" hot dogs down their way during that visit. And Helen, I promise you I will eat several in your memory before all is said and done!

Dick Bourne and Peggy Lathan

During the intervening years and right up to Peggy’s passing, she was a selfless and invaluable asset to me and the Mid-Atlantic Gateway. Peggy came into possession of a treasure trove of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling audio cassettes from the mid-1970s and she immediately gave them away to Dick Bourne and me for use on the site. She has provided us many photos and other memorabilia in addition to authoring numerous articles for the Gateway. She helped edit and proof several of the Mid-Atlantic Gateway books. When it was announced that Dick and I were going to be included in the 2016 Hall of Heroes class, predictably Peggy was the first one to call and offer her congratulations.

Life is fleeting, and that was proven again yesterday with Peggy’s sudden and unexpected passing. In recent years my connection with Peggy was not to the level it had been previously, and I regret that. A lot of miles separated us, but anyone that knows me knows I’m not adverse to long road trips. I have a cell phone that’s pretty much an appendage to my body with calling, texting and emailing capabilities. It’s often said we need to let important people in our lives know how much they mean to us while they are alive, because they could be gone tomorrow. Today is that “tomorrow” for Peggy and me, and I hope she knew how much I loved her. I believe that she did. 

The professional wrestling fraternity is unique, and it’s an extended family that defies any neat definition or categorization. While we all come from every background imaginable, we are tight…very tight. And today we collectively mourn Peggy’s passing. And while Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling was a business, it was a family-run business. The fans meant a great deal back in the day, and with the advent of the Internet we fans have come together now as we couldn’t in earlier times. Every gathering of Mid-Atlantic fans from now on will have an unimaginable gap in it, but Peggy’s memory will burn brightly for all of us. Thank you, my wrestling sister, for all you did to bring untold hours of Mid-Atlantic Wresting joy to my life. We’ve lost an incomparable Jim Crockett Promotions super-fan, but Heaven has received a Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling angel like no other.

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Tuesday, August 02, 2022

Another Trip Around the Sun

 

We wish our good friend Bob Caudle all the best on this anniversary of his birthday! 

You were, are, and will always remain the BEST PART of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling.

It was great to see Bob looking so good Sunday night, opening the Ric Flair pay-per-view show on the big screen at the Civic Auditorium in Nashville. And special as well to hear him close that show with his signature "so long for now."

You're the greatest, Bob!

Monday, August 01, 2022

The 2022 Tragos-Thesz Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame

Photo by Joyce Paustian / Slam Wrestling

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway 

"Is this heaven? No, it's Iowa."
           - from the film Field of Dreams

What a wonderful night at the 2022 George Tragos - Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame Induction Banquet at the Waterloo Convention Center in Waterloo, Iowa. I was very honored to receive the James C. Melby Award for Journalism and to have the honor to stand on stage with three of the great legends in pro wrestling history: Trish Stratus (Tricia Stratigeas), Jim Ross, and Mike Rotunda.

The James C. Melby Award is named for Jim Melby, a professional wrestling historian, writer, magazine editor, and publisher in the 1960s-1990s. The award recognizes excellence in professional wrestling journalism and historical preservation.

Stratus was the recipient of the prestigious Lou Thesz Award, given to someone within the pro wrestling industry for outstanding public service. The award is named for Lou Thesz who was the legendary multi-time world heavyweight wrestling champion from the late 1930s -1960s. The Tragos-Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, which he helped found, is named for him and his trainer, George Tragos.

Jim Ross was the recipient of the inaugural Gordon Solie Award,   Ross has spent a lifetime in various roles in professional wrestling including referee, broadcaster, producer, and talent coordinator. He was a right hand to Vince McMahon in the WWE in the 1990s and 2000s. As a broadcaster for nearly four decades in Mid-South Wrestling, WCW, WWE, and currently AEW, he is beloved by fans around the world, and is largely considered wrestling's most famous broadcaster ever. The award is named for broadcasting legend Gordon Solie of the 1960s -1990s. Solie is best remembered for his many years as host of Championship Wrestling from Florida and the nationally telecast Georgia Championship Wrestling during the territory era of professional wrestling.

Mike Rotunda was the sole inductee into the Tragos-Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame for 2022. Rotunda was a champion amateur wrestler at Syracuse University and a top pro wrestler in the 1980s-1990s during the territory years in Florida, the Mid-Atlantic, and then later during the national expansion era with WCW and WWF (WWE.) After retirement from the ring, he worked as an agent and producer for the WWE until 2020.

Dan Spivey received the Frank Gotch Award, but was unable to attend the 2022 induction ceremony. The Frank Gotch Award is given to a professional wrestler who brings positive recognition to professional wrestling through work outside the ring. It is named in honor of professional wrestler Frank Gotch from Iowa native who became one of the best-known athletes in the world during the early 1900s.

The Tragos-Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame is located within the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum in Waterloo, IA. The Hall honors wrestlers with a strong amateur background who have made an impact on professional wrestling.

The organization holds a big Induction Weekend every July, attended by past hall-of-famers and award winners, current and retired pro-wrestlers, and fans from all over the country. Fan events are held at the Dan Gable Museum (which houses the Tragos-Thesz Hall of Fame),  a local wrestling event is presented, and a big banquet with the awards and induction ceremony finishes the weekend at the Waterloo Convention Center. 

The Dan Gable Museum is named for Dan Gable, a native of Waterloo, Iowa, who is America's most famous wrestler and considered one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. The museum houses the Glen Brand Wrestling Hall of Fame of Iowa, the Alan and Gloria Rice Greco-Roman Hall of Champions, and the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame.

On December 8, 2020, U.S. President Donald Trump awarded Dan Gable with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Please consider supporting this great organization. For more information visit The National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum website. Come visit the museum during the annual Tragos-Thesz Hall of Fame Induction Weekend  - - and bring a friend!

Originally published 7/25/22.  Relocated to August 2022 Updates.

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The Mid-Atlantic Gateway remains on a summer publishing hiatus, other than updates related to the Tragos-Thesz Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame induction weekend.

Related links:

Tragos/Thesz Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame Announces 2022 Melby Award Winner
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

Dick Bourne announced as 2022 Melby Award winner
Slam Wrestling | Posted by Greg Oliver | Dec 30, 2021

Visit to the Tragos-Thesz Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame
by Andy McDaniel, with lots of photos

National Wrestling Hall of Fame   |   Dan Gable Museum