Waterloo, Iowa might just be the center of the wrestling universe. The city lives and breathes wrestling. The President’s Hotel, now an apartment complex, was the birthplace of the National Wrestling Alliance, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg in Waterloo. This city loves wrestling at all stages: high school, college, Olympic, and pro. Waterloo is the hometown of Dan Gable, a man considered by many to be the greatest wrestler of all time and one of the greatest sportsmen of the 20th century. It is also home to the museum that bears Gable’s name: The National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum.
The name is quite a mouthful, but the museum, which doesn’t look all that big from the outside, is just as jam packed as the name it bears. Located just up the street from the old President’s Hotel, the Dan Gable Museum is a shrine to wrestling’s past and present. The museum pays homage to the champions of NCAA wrestling and Olympic wrestling (including Indiana University’s Billy Thom) as well as the legends and icons of professional wrestling. It is dedicated to preserving the past while inspiring wrestlers at all levels for the future.
The pro wrestling wing of the museum features an impressive number of rare artifacts going back to the days of Frank Gotch and George Hackenschmidt. A trunk belonging to Gotch is on display in the gallery near Lou Thesz’s robe and title belt.
You’ll see robes belonging the multiple generations of the Henning family and the legendary Tiger Man, Joe Pesek. A marble statue with a fascinating backstory that once belonged to Thesz sits in the same gallery as does one of three death masks made of the original French Angel, Maurice Tillet. Modern fans will also find a spinner belt signed by John Cena, the singlet worn by Kurt Angle when he won a gold medal with a “broken freakin’ neck,” and the signature black and pink jacket once worn by Bret Hart.
The Dan Gable Museum has exhibit areas devoted to Olympic wrestling, NCAA wrestling, and the history of wrestling itself, starting with one wall dedicated to the legendary confrontation between Jacob and an angel in the book of Genesis. Other highlights included several posters for the Barnum and Bailey “At Show” wrestling exhibitions, some beautiful original art work paying tribute to the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame inductees, and this unique artifact from Brock Lesnar’s pre-WWE days as an NCAA champion in Minnesota.
The Dan Gable Museum is more than just a place to learn about wrestling. They also host clinics on a weekly basis in the Dan Gable Teaching Center, an area they plan to expand in the coming year. The museum has $1.7 million dollars in planned renovations now starting, including interactive exhibits in the pro wrestling wing. Museum director Kyle Klingman gave me a quick tour of the storage area where even more amazing wrestling artifacts are waiting their turn to be put on display in the galleries above.
If your summer plans are still flexible, here’s another reason to plan a quick trip to Waterloo: the museum is hosting their second annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony in less than two weeks. Special guests for the July 20-22 festivities include Jim Ross, Shelton Benjamin, Chuck Taylor, B. Brian Blair, American Alpha, Sabu, Paul Orndorff, Magnum T.A., Larry Henning, Baron von Raschke, J.J. Dillon, Gerry Briscoe, and the museum’s namesake himself, Dan Gable.
The National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum is located in Waterloo, Iowa, and is open Monday through Friday from 9 AM to 5 PM. For more information visit their website or find them on Facebook.
Yes, it’s off the beaten path. Yes, it’s out of the way. Yes, it’s absolutely worth the effort. I know I’ll be back again soon.