The Champ vs. the Human Orchid… it happened in Louisville. Thesz and George met on November 27, 1954 at the Jefferson County Armory (now the Louisville Gardens).
Thesz and George split the first two falls, but George refused to come out for the third fall while a “physician” examined George’s injuries. The unidentified medic said he believed George could go on, but George was reluctant. He finally decided to go to the ring, but as he was making his way to the ring, referee (and LPD homicide detective) Ellis Joseph was already raising Thesz’s hand, declaring him the winner.
Earlier in the evening, “The Mask” defeated New Albany native Stu Gibson via DQ, Sonny Meyers drew with Johnny Valentine, and Billy Blassie defeated Sgt. Buck Moore. 4200 attendance.
Below is the Saturday newspaper ad for the big event, plus a page from a notebook kept by then-teenage fan Jim Oetkins, recording the results from the night.
Today is the 39th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s passing. It’s fitting to mark his passing here on a wrestling blog with an eye to Louisville because I just learned the story of how Elvis came to do his first public concert in Louisville.
In 1955 Elvis came to Louisville to play a private corporate function. There was little fanfare for the King of Rock n Roll that year, but when he returned a year later, the whole world knew who Elvis was.
Elvis was booked at the Armory (the future Louisville Gardens) for two shows on November 25, 1956. Tickets cost only $2.50 for this monumental show, and numerous shops around town were giving tickets away as an incentive for buying just about anything.
Of course Elvis’s impending arrival was not without some concern and controversy. Concerned about the city’s youth, the Armory box office did its best to make sure no minors bought tickets without an adult companion, and the Chief of Police assured the public that Elvis’s famous hip gyrations would not be tolerated.
Elvis was an absolute smash, and the Courier-Journal ran a front page story on the show the following day. The only thing missing from the story was the name of the man responsible for the show. Frances Mcdonogh, owner of the Allen Athletic Club wrestling promotion, was a personal friend of Col. Parker, and that connection allowed him to promote the biggest concert to date in Louisville.
There’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.