When you work on a book about events from 60-80 years ago, there’s always a nagging worry in the back of your mind you’ve got it wrong. In writing the book Louisville’s Greatest Show, all I really had to go on were the newspaper clippings I found online and a few scattered memories left by fans. I was fortunate enough to get in touch with Dr. Allen McDonogh, son of Louisville promoter Francis “Mac” McDonogh, and get his perspective on the golden age of Louisville wrestling, but I never was able to find anyone who was there in the seats, just as a fan.
Today, one of those fans found me. His name is Jim Oetkins, and out of the blue, he called to give me a pat on the back and an “Atta boy” for bringing back some of the greatest memories of his adolescence.
Now 79 years of age, Jim was thirteen years old when he experienced wrestling at the Columbia Gym in 1951. His father got tickets to the Tuesday night shows through a connection at work, and wrestling became an almost weekly ritual.
“I remember seeing it live, and watching on TV with Jimmy Finegan calling the action. I remember all the ads you put in the book from the weekly papers. I worked as a paper boy for the Courier-Journal back then, and if I missed a week, the first thing I’d do Wednesday morning when I got my stack of papers was flip to the sports section to see who won the night before.
Jim shared a funny story about two men sitting in front of him one night during a bout between the hated German Hans Hermann and long-time Louisville stalwart “Wild Bill” Longson.
“One guy turns to the other and says, ‘Hermann’s gonna destroy your guy Longson!’ The other says, ‘You wanna make a bet on it?’ He pulled out his wallet and started flashing twenty dollar bills. The other guy leaned in and whispered, ‘You know it’s all fake, right? They aren’t really wrestling for real!’ But his friend wouldn’t have any of it. He kept pushing his pal to put some money on the line!”
Jim thanked me again for the trip down memory lane, promising to put the book in a prominent place on his bookshelf. I thanked him for one of the greatest compliments I could ever receive on a book like this one. It was my honor and pleasure to tell the story of this long-lost history.
Louisville’s Greatest Show is available in paperback and on Kindle. Go to Amazon.com to order your copy today.