Jon Soto, one of the hard-working volunteers at the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in Amsterdam, New York, made a simple post yesterday to Facebook, with a lonely-looking photo, but it really struck home: “That’s all she wrote… Farewell.”
My trips to the PWHF were an annual event, and often a highlight of my year.
So many memories come flooding back as I reflect on those adventures, saddened by the knowledge that the PWHF is moving to Wichita Falls, Texas. It’s a bigger city and in the long run it will be the right move, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t leave a void in my life here.
Toronto is about five hours from Amsterdam, which is just off the I-90 interstate, which would take you to Albany in another 45 minutes further eastbound. It’s a straight shot, really, though the time to get there was always dependent on the border crossing, usually in Buffalo.
I was fortunate to find many different travelling partners to the Hall of Fame induction weekends, which usually fell over the Canadian Victoria Day holiday.
Some quick recollections:
- The time Stacey Case and I were turned around at the border because the Mexican wrestling masks he had to sell didn’t have proper paperwork, having come from Mexico to Canada and now trying to (illegally?) enter the States. He’d paid only a tiny amount for them in the first place, so they weren’t especially worth a lot, compared to the couple of boxes of my books in the trunk. We decided not to chance it and try to sneak them over, and dropped them for the weekend at Big Anthony’s, the old motel/restaurant complex run by Clara Parisi and her daughter Ida. So we had a nice visit there too. Of course, the next border guard just waved us through essentially.
- One time, I went down with Roger Baker, and he let me drive his car. He always commented about how fast I drove, which was actually more of a comment on how slow he usually drove than how fast I was going. Roger, then in his 70s, was like a kid in a candy store at the PWHF, since he’d seen so many of the wrestlers in their heyday.
- We once took Ross Hart, who’d flown in from Calgary to Toronto, and drove him to and from the PWHF. I learned that not all the Harts dislike me. The other thing that sticks with me, oddly, was him commenting on the graffiti in our alley, and explaining how it not getting it repainted in Calgary could result in a fine. Who knew? SLAM! Wrestling’s Blaine van der Griend was along on that trip and he was quiet as a churchmouse.
- Andy Stefanides and I, along with Jian and Page Magen, have run six fundraising dinners for the PWHF here, called Titans in Toronto. Andy’s the son of former wrestler Ali Bey. We did a couple of the early trips together, and went down with “The Missing Link” Dewey Robertson. Man, those were adventures. Dewey, with his huge, bulbous nose and his constant sniffling, and his desire for fried chicken.
- In the Before They Were Stars department, my buddy Arda Ocal, now known as Kyle Edwards in WWE, went on a couple of PWHF trips with me. On one, it was me, the Toronto indy wrestling standout Hornet and photographer extraordinaire, Andrea Kellaway. That was definitely one of the trips with the most wrestling talk in the car, including that name game where you have to name a wrestler whose name starts with the last letter of the wrestler you just named. Arda was working at The Score at the time, right in downtown Toronto, and we were worried about traffic in rush hour on a holiday weekend, but evidently everyone went north to the cottage, because it was a quick trip down to Buffalo.
- Andrea Kellaway probably deserves a whole column of her own, as she has taken some of my very favourite photos from the PWHF induction weekend, and was involved in some of the greatest stories — some of which aren’t really printable here. It’s always flattering to me, and probably unsettling to her, when people ask if she’s my wife. On one trip, we stopped in to see Johnny Barend on the way back, near Rochester, and that was a wonderful couple of hours too, including a peacock. There were disappointments, too, with Andrea, like when she politely declined the request by Tony Atlas to stand on him in her shoes — now that would have been a great photo!
- Speaking of my wife (no, not Andrea!), Meredith deserves kudos. We did the trip when the PWHF was in Schenectady, NY, and then to Amsterdam. Neither town offer what you might call, hmm, excitement. She’s a good woman for doing that. One trip, we did the highway that parallels the I-90, and just took our time, stopping where we wanted — that was pre-parenting days.
- The last couple of years, with our son, Quinn, in the picture, we’ve tied the PWHF trip into something bigger. One year, Meredith, Quinn and I kept going after, hitting the opening weekend of the Six Flags Lake George amusement park and venturing up to Lake Placid too. Quinn and I have hit the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown twice, and the Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastoga, once. Another trip, we ventured southeast to Springfield, Mass., and the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame … which was almost as impressive as Tom Burke’s own personal wrestling museum in town! Whenever we could, we visited friends along the way and sought out interesting things to do, and craft beer to try (for me, not him).
As for the PWHF weekend itself, man, I could go on and on, but here are a couple of moments that stick with me:
- Sitting at the bar with Jack Brisco and his wife Jan, just shooting the shit. Awesome.
- Bruno Sammartino recognizing me by name when I got off an elevator.
- The massive dogs that Lisa the Adjuster and Roy Haynes always had with them.
- Ted Gordienko’s outfits.
- Don Leo Jonathan and his long-lost half-brother whom he hadn’t seen in decades.
- Being there when Penny Banner, perhaps the sweetest person I’ve ever met in wrestling, get her induction ring. She actually sent Quinn a gift when he was born. Miss you Penny!
- Gene Kiniski was a throwback to another era, a wonderfully entertaining giant of a man. His son, Nick, is hilarious, and had learned how to roll with his dad’s punches.
- There were the meals, sitting with Paul Orndorff or Baron Mikel Scicluna, or at the banquets, often stuffed like sardines into a venue not quite big enough for the attendees. Speaking of big, I still remember the HUGE chicken parmiagiana one year, when the banquet got bumped to the local high school when the venue it was supposed to be at closed.
- You could always count on “The Destroyer” Dick Beyer to be there, selling his masks and bobbleheads, and telling a story at the induction ceremony that veered off topic, only sometimes getting back to the point. His wife, Wilma, is a gem, and his kids, Kris and Kurt, had become friends too.
- Learning upon arrival that Randy Savage had died and quickly getting memories from the collected stars.
- Gaining the friendship and trust of Irish Davey O’Hannon, JJ Dillon, and others through the years.
- How intimidating Stan Hansen still is; by contrast, how sweet Barbara Goodish, widow of Bruiser Brody is.
- Finally meeting Dotty Curtis, widow of Don Curtis, on the elevator as we were about to leave.
- Wandering through the PWHF with “Mr. Wrestling II” Johnny Walker, and just listening to him tell his stories about everything he saw.
- Tony Vellano, the man behind the PWHF, telling me how the area around Dewey Robertson’s artifacts seemed haunted.
- Lewis Curry, “When’s your birthday?” A Baltimore native, Meredith and I played him Gram Parson’s “Streets of Baltimore,” which he’d never heard before.
- Shuhei Aoki. I’ve written about this Japanese superfan, who left us far too early, but if he was there, we hung out.
- And then there’s the bar time. Damn, I might miss that most of all. Especially those miscreants who taught Quinn to chant “one more beer” when I wanted to call it a night. They know who they are. You’re a bad influence, Pam, Pat, Bert, Frank.
Phew. That’s a lot of emotion right there. Even looking back through the old photos, with so many friends and wrestlers no longer with us, was a roller coaster.
Without hesitation, I can say that the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame is in good hands with Cowboy Johnny Mantell, his amazing wife “K” and the new shepherds of wrestling history in Wichita Falls.
It’s a long, long trip to get there. I’ll make it one day, but it just won’t be the same as my adventures to Amsterdam, the year’s best road trip.
- November 19, 2015: Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame announces Class of 2016 — and move to Texas
- Previous SLAM! Wrestling Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame coverage
- Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame website