Check it out, babe:
While we were on vacation with my parents, my dad shared a rare story from his childhood. Our conversation somehow meandered into pro-wrestling and the old man told me a story about going to a wrestling match with his old man. I don't know much about my dad's dad. My dad speaks about him fondly, though rarely. I know he worked for a railway company in Boston but not much beyond that. I don't even have a good sense of what he looked like, truthfully. I'm not even sure how old my dad was when his dad died.
But in 1945, my dad was about 13 years old and his dad took him to a pro wrestling match at the Boston Arena. It's something I never knew we had in common.
Some of my favorite memories of growing up are going to the Boston Garden to watch the WWF when they came to town. I remember rooting my heart out for The Junkyard Dog and Hillbilly Jim. When Jake "The Snake" Roberts turned on The Ultimate Warrior-- I never saw it coming. I believed in Hulkamania, but I didn't think anyone would ever slam Andre. I remember my dad rooting along with my brothers and me and I remember my mother rolling her eyes at the nonsense. She would often read a book during the matches, which I always found reasonable. It's a sport for dumb boys. Dad was and is an incredibly smart man and I know now that he had seen behind the curtain, but he played along anyways.
When he was a boy, he saw Frank Sexton fight Steve "The Crusher" Casey for the Heavyweight Championship of the World. Ever since he told me about that event, I've been stuck on it. It's a pinball, bouncing around in my brain and lighting up every bumper it hits with a bright light and a loud "ding". I wonder if his dad understood the ruse-- it wasn't a more well protected secret back then. I wonder if my grandfather played a part to enrich the experience for his son in the same way that my dad did. Did he boo the bad guy and root for the good guy and look at his son (my dad) and smile when the hero raised his arms in victory? Or I wonder if maybe he was just a guy who had been working in a train yard and hauled his kid along to "the fights". Maybe he thought it was "real". Maybe he got drunk and thought he could take on the Champ. "That Frank Sexton doesn't look so tough," maybe he said. Maybe he fought a guy in the parking lot while my pop watched, afraid.
My dad could answer some of those questions if I asked them. But some of them are lost now. Besides, it's much easier to dig for information on Google than it is to ask personal questions of my father.
"The Crusher" is pretty well covered out there. He was an Irishman who made a name for himself as a rower in a time when one could apparently make a name for them self as a rower. The only other rowers I've ever heard of are the guys who Zuckerberg ripped off in "The Social Network", and they sure as shit don't look like Crusher. But Steve Casey was already a world-class athlete when he came to the States from Europe in the 30's and he quickly rose to prominence as a wrestler.
He was ruggedly handsome in the sort of way that was appropriate for a tough guy in the 30's. I found some records of him wrestling in Texas as far back as '32, but his career really took off when he made it to Boston. He was an Irishman wrestling Dorchester, and he quickly became a folk hero.
A lot of articles claim that he was undefeated. Most of them were published in the local newspaper from Sneem, Ireland (his hometown). There, they put up a life sized bronze statue of "Crusher" Casey.
Another article recounts a story from his younger days, when he was ploughing a field in Ireland. His draught horse dropped dead from exhaustion so Casey picked up the yolk himself and kept working the soil. There were no witnesses to the event, per se, but I'm not prone to doubt the reporting of a bunch of drunken dirt farmers.
A more well documented story comes from after his career in the ring ended. He opened a bar in Boston aptly named "Crusher Casey's" after retirement. Six guys came in to rob the place and the Crusher fought them off, taking a bullet in the back in the process. He didn't lose a dime from the register.
There's even a song about him:
There is far less information available about Frank Sexton. He was from Ohio and he wrestled in the early territories of Pro Wrestling. Along with some of the legendary names-- Orville Brown and Lou Thesz-- he would travel with the National Wrestling Association across cities like Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland. Hardscrabble towns. They would often wrestle for up to 2 hours at a time.
Sexton was a big, handsome guy. He was younger than Casey. They won and lost the American Wrestling Association World's Heavyweight Championship to each other several times in Boston in front of a few thousand people. My dad and his dad were among them.
I decided to put this poster together before my dad and I even finished our conversation. I looked at a few event posters from the 40's so that I could get the look just right. A few very simple fonts in a simple style and structure. Some basic illustrations that could be lithographed. The crucial information to get a Mick from Dot to haul his kid out for the night.
This piece isn't quite done yet, but it's close. There are a few minor visual edits I want to do, then it's on to it's next life. I think it will become a silk-screen soon. I'd like to print a few by hand and post them up on some telephone poles around town.
I think I ought to send one home to dad as well.