POETRY & PROSE
Five Minutes of Hell with Harley Race | Thomas Crone
Nipkow Disc (1883) | Greg Ott
Rural Rhetoric | L.A. Ramsey
Knees Knock | Brett Underwood
American History | Matthew Webber
Chris | Jennifer Woods
Sound of St. Louis | Kerry Zimmerman
SOUND Photos | Dana Smith, L.A. Ramsey, and Jane Linders
Five Minutes of Hell with Harley Race | by Thomas Crone
As a child, Sunday mornings meant scrambling under the kitchen table with a glass of milk and a blanket. From there, I’d peer at the black-and-white television in my family’s kitchen, taking in, alternately, both Channel 30’s “Western Theatre” and Channel 11’s “Wrestling at the Chase.” From years of viewing the latter, the voices of announcer Larry Matysik and color man Mickey Garagiola were well-known to me, as they deadpanned their descriptions of the action recorded just a few miles away, in the spartan studios of KPLR.
Years later, watching a documentary on the old show, I heard eight-time world’s champion Harley Race discuss his glory days in St. Louis, when he and other wrestlers would pour into Gaslight Square after a night of work at Kiel Auditorium. Deep into a book-length project about the Square, I simply had to call the former champ to ask him more.
But in ringing his Eldon, MO, wrestling school, I somehow didn’t expect the man himself to pick up the phone, his gravelly tones immediately recognizable to me, as if an old friend were on the other end of the line. My heart jumped into my throat and through a couple minutes of unsuccessful questions, I couldn’t remove it from that place.
Reading the notes now – or, more painfully, listening to the tape – I realize how awkwardly this went. And because Race never signed off on a waiver form, the piece never appeared in the book. At the risk of reliving one of my life’s weirdest moments, here’s the transcript, the only missing element being that wholly unique, deep, scratchy voice in mid-Missouri.
What was the wrestling scene here like during that period?
I know St. Louis was at the heart of wrestling in the nation.
During the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, we were wrestling out of the Khorassan Room at the Chase Park Plaza. And what that meant was that people were dining in a fine dining atmosphere, as we were wrestling in the ring. That was all a part of that era.
When were you heading into Gaslight Square?
This was in real early 1960s.
What was the appeal of the place to you?
I enjoyed the outdoor atmosphere. It was like being on a mini-Bourbon Street of New Orleans.
Did people know you in Gaslight?
And how did fans treat you? Was it different in that time
Oh, sure, they recognized me. At that point in time, I wasn’t a big star in St. Louis, by any means. I was just wrestling, in and out of there. But the reception was always real nice.
Did you head out right after your matches? And did you go
with other wrestlers, or those close to the scene?
The majority of the time, there were a couple of us. We were generally headed back to Kansas City and we took our time getting back and hung around there.
Well, I thank you for the time.
That’s okay. Was it Blake?
Well, take care, buddy.
Thomas Crone is an editor for 52nd City. His photoblog is on flickr.