The Legend of Masked Superman I

hans_schnabelIn 1940 a man by the name of Masked Superman took the Allen Athletic Club in Louisville by storm. His dirty tactics and roughhousing drew the ire of the fans who hated him so much, they turned up in larger and larger numbers every week, hoping to see him unmasked.

In early 1941 Masked Superman was unmasked by Orville Brown. The man beneath the mask was Hans Schnabel, the son of German immigrants, and a native of New York state. Schnabel was no stranger to the Louisville fans. He had made numerous appearances for the Allen Athletic Club beginning back in 1935. But the run he had in 1940 and 1941 was so successful, he launched a steady parade of masked wrestlers that would continue throughout the Allen Club’s history

Schnabel was born Herbert Moeller in Rye, New York in 1908. His parents had two sons, Fritz and Otto, who were both born in Germany. Their mother died shortly after young Herbert was born, a victim of the flu epidemic that struck New York in 1910. The family moved to Connecticut not long after Herbert’s mother passed.

Herbert contracted Polio at age 8. The disease affected both his legs, but his right leg suffered the worst. It was a long recovery for the young man, and brothers Fritz and Otto would pull him around town in a wagon for the next two years. Herbert slowly learned to talk again, but he was left with a club foot. He eventually fully from the disease and his right leg returned to a normal position, but he was always self-conscious about his legs. He wore sweats throughout his career as a result.

Herbert took a job in a factory as a teenager before embarking on a new career as an auto mechanic with his brother Fritz. They opened a garage in Connecticut and were very successful, but Herbert dreamed of two things: seeing the country, and wrestling. When Fritz saw the money that was possible in pro wrestling, he too took an interest, and the brothers decided to leave the garage for what they hoped would be a more lucrative future.

When the time came to choose a ring name, Fritz and Herbert decided to honor their mother by adopting her maiden name, Schnabel. Herbert chose to work under his childhood nickname Hans, and together, the Schnabel brothers broke into the wrestling world.

During the early 1930s the Schnabels worked for promoter Jack Pfefer, wrestling mainly in New York and Ohio. In 1936, Hans was offered his first shot at the World Heavyweight Championship, but shortly before the match, Hans became so ill, he had to withdraw. Dave Levin took his place and won the Title on a disqualification.

Later that same year, Fritz and Hans left for a tour of South Africa. When they returned to the United States, they were joined on the road by brother Otto. Otto had a tag partner from Denver who wrestled under the name of George Schnabel, but was no relation.

Schnabel worked in Louisville during the late 1930s and had his highly successful run as Masked Superman during 1940 and 1941. By the late 1940s Hans and Fritz were working for promoter Fred Kohler in Chicago as well as several promoters on the West Coast.

By the early 1950s Fritz was ready to get out of the business. He was 45 years old and didn’t have the desire Hans had to continue. Fritz came to Louisville before hanging up the trunks in 1951 for a one night stand as a masked wrestler named Big Red. He appeared once more in a tag match with Bill Longson, looking for revenge against the man who unmasked him, the mysterious “Mr. X.”

With his brother gone, Hans teamed up with his long time friend Lou Newman and wrestled as the Iron Russians. He also worked with another famous mask, “The Zebra Kid” George Bollas.

In 1952 the Masked Superman story came full circle for Schnabel in an interesting way when he appeared on television with TV’s Superman, George Reeves. Schnabel appeared in the episode “No Holds Barred” playing a wrestler working for a crooked promoter. The life long heel did the job at the end of the show for the Man of Steel.

Hans Schnabel’s final match, according to his son Phil Moeller, was in May 1960. Hans Schnabel retired at the age of 52 after a career spanning 26 years. He wrestled all across the United States, Hawaii, South Africa, and Japan. The young boy who suffered a devastating bout with Polio overcome life’s hard knocks and become one of professional wrestling’s greatest heels.

Hans Schnabel passed away on July 2, 1980. He is buried in Chatsworth, California.

The Brief History of the Columbia Wrestling Club

IMG_1740The Allen Athletic Club was the premiere wrestling promotion in Louisville for 22 years. Founder Heywood Allen and Francis McDonough had the contacts to bring in the best talent and a strong sense of what kept the fans coming. Week after week, Allen and then McDonough filled the Columbia Gym on Tuesday nights with fans eager to see their favorite local and national stars do battle.

In the fall of 1948 McDonough moved the Allen Club from the friendly confines of the Columbia Gym down the street to the Jefferson County Armory, now known as Louisville Gardens. McDonough ran every other week in the Armory, trading the weekly pay day for a chance to draw larger crowds, but the move left a vacancy and an opportunity for a new challenger.

In March of 1949, Kentucky Athletic Commissioner George S. Wetherby issued a one year license to the Columbia Wrestling Club, a new wrestling promotion that would fill the vacancy in the Columbia Gym. The man behind the Columbia Club was D.A. “Red” Fassas, a native of Lexington who had run the Lexington Athletic Club for three years.

Fassas promised fans that he would “the best heavyweights and junior-heavyweights in the business to Louisville.” He delivered on his very first show on March 25 with a main event featuring NWA champion Orville Brown and a show-stealing bout between Don Evans and Tug Carlson.

Fassas ran a handful of shows that spring featuring the likes of Don Eagle, Karol Krauser, Martino Angelo, and “Big Jim Wright” before announcing that the Columbia Wrestling Club would go on hiatus for the summer, citing the heat and lack of air conditioning in the Columbia Gym. There were promises of more shows in the early fall and even rumors of a merger with the Allen Club, but the Columbia Wrestling Club never resumed operations.

It appears Fassas did stick around Louisville in some capacity though not as a promoter. He applied for and received a liquor license for the Columbia Wrestling Club in May of 1949, but in 1953, he was indicted for selling liquor to minors. He was fined $30, and his license was suspended.

The Allen Club returned to the Columbia Gym in the fall of 1949. In 1950 they were not only running weekly shows but broadcasting live on WHAS-TV every Tuesday. When the Allen Club reached its fifteenth anniversary in the summer of 1950, Courier-Journal sports editor Earl Ruby noted hat the promotion had welcomed more than 800,000 fans and outlasted seven other wrestling promotions since its inception. As successful as they had been the first fifteen years, the glory days were still ahead for the Allen Club.

New Hope for Louisville Gardens?

1101130843There’s a lot of buzz about the Louisville Gardens and a “hidden treasure” I discovered when working on Bluegrass Brawlers.

The treasure is a Kilgen pipe organ installed just above the stage area inside the Gardens. The pipe organ is also a one man band, with percussion and brass instruments incorporated into its workings. It’s a priceless treasure that, until recently, was in danger of being lost forever due to neglect of the building.

This week, both the Courier-Journal and WFPL radio ran stories about the building, the organ, and an effort to save them both. Click on the hyperlinks to read what they had to say.

Originally built as the Jefferson County Armory, the Louisville Gardens began hosting pro wrestling in 1913. Ed “Strangler” Lewis was one of the very first to main event inside the building. He was followed by a host of world champions and trail blazers including Charlie Cutler, Americus, Stanislaus Zbyszko, Wladek Zbyszko, Joe Stecher, Orville Brown, Bill Longson, Lou Thesz, Mildred Burke, Buddy Rogers, The Sheik, Fritz Von Erich, and Bobo Brazil.

During the Memphis years it was home to Jerry Lawler, Bill Dundee, Dutch Mantell, Handsome Jimmy Valiant, Jimmy Hart, Jim Cornette, and the Fabulous Ones. Louisville Gardens also hosted many of the WWE’s biggest legends before they were stars, some with Memphis and others with OVW. Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, The Undertaker, Kane, Stone Cold Steve Austin, the Rock, John Cena, Batista, Brock Lesnar, and Randy Orton all worked the Gardens on their way to the top.

Andre the Giant wrestled there. Bobby “The Brain” Heenan had his in-ring debut in the building. Bret Hart had his last successful WWF title defense before the Montreal Screwjob in the building. That same show was also Brian Pillman’s final PPV appearance before he passed away.

And yes, believe it or not, Andy Kaufman stepped into the Memphis ring inside Louisville Gardens.

Louisville Gardens is a beautiful building with an incredible history. The building and the organ are treasures that deserve to be preserved and enjoyed for years to come. Here’s hoping the Gardens has not seen the last wrestling match inside those hallowed halls.

Click here to view some photos of the organ on the Bluegrass Brawlers Facebook page. And please give the page a like while you are there!

It all happened in Louisville

BluegrassBrawlers-coverWhat era of Louisville wrestling do you remember best? Are you one who remembers the good ol’ days with Jerry Lawler, Bill Dundee, Handsome Jimmy Valiant, and the rest of the Memphis crew? Were you one of the few but proud who supported the Poffos back in the early 80s? Or are you one of those already missing the good ol’ days of OVW with Cena, Lesnar, Orton, and Batista?

Louisville’s wrestling goes much deeper and further back than OVW and Memphis. Louisville is the place where:

A female circus wrestler issued an open challenge and took on a local man to prove wrestling was not fake – in 1880!

A Zulu prince wrestled a bull on New Year’s Day in 1909.

Ed “Strangler” Lewis was given his famous moniker when he showed up two weeks late for a booking in 1913.

Orville Brown lost his world title to a surprise masked man in 1941, the only major title change to ever take place in Louisville.

A man wrestled an alligator and got married in the same ring, all in one night back in 1947.

Teenage Bobby Heenan made his in-ring debut and was burned by a fan’s cigar, all for a $5 pay off.

Jeff Jarrett and Dutch Mantell battled in a ring set up inside Whitney Hall at Kentucky Center for the Arts in front of a classical music crowd.

And lest we forget, just a few miles north of Louisville, CM Punk battled for 93 minutes against Chris Hero. This after having a 41 minute tables and ladders match that brought the house down.

Bluegrass Brawlers: The Story of Professional Wrestling in Louisville, tells these stories and so many more. It’s a must for fans of wrestling history and proud Louisville natives who enjoy hearing some great tales of their city’s history.

Order now on Amazon.com.