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Archive for April, 2010

Q & A with Author George Schire

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Layout 1  Minnesota’s Golden Age of Wrestling: From Verne Gagne to the Road Warriors is a fun and fascinating history of the glory days of old-school professional wrestling in the state. Author George Schire has been a longtime fan, and a writer and columnist for national wrestling publications, as well as a ring announcer. Today he shares with the Press some inside stories of the Golden Age. Schire will also discuss the book and sign copies at Barnes and Noble, Har-Mar Mall, Roseville, on Thursday, May 6, at 7 p.m.

Q: So many wrestling fans across the region remember gathering around the TV Saturday nights (or Sunday mornings) to watch All-Star Wrestling. Early broadcasts date back to the 1940s.  But fans could see wrestlers in live matches at arenas around the state. What were some of Minnesota’s favorite venues?
A:  Professional wrestling matches were held at city civic auditoriums (the Minneapolis Auditorium and St. Paul Auditorium, for example) and also the local National Guard armories in cities throughout Minnesota. But “spot shows,” as they were called, were also held in VFW and Legion halls and even in high school gyms.

Q: Seems like spectators could be the most dangerous folks in the arena. Did any wrestlers ever get hurt by a local who took the event a little too seriously?
A: Wrestlers will always tell you that sometimes it was the fans they had to fear most. There were always incidents of a fan charging the ring in an attempt to attack a bad guy, or attempting to attack wrestlers as they went to and from the ring. Dr. Bill Miller, who wrestled as “Mister M” in the Twin Cities, was once hit by a two-by-four piece of wood that opened a heaGeorge with Big K, Hennig, and Vachond wound and required several stitches in the dressing room.

Q: We tend to remember the most famous wrestlers, and each of us have some of our favorites. You talk about so many in the book. Who were your favorites as a boy and teen growing up?
A: Since I was always interested in the inner workings of the business and how matches were worked, I tended to be a fan of the heels (the bad guys)—Doctor “X” and Harley Race, to name two of them. If a heel was successful with his act, he was able to put fans in the seats, and the more fans, the more money there was to be made.

Q: When new talent was “discovered,” how had they typically come to be part of the circuit?
A: Verne Gagne’s Minnesota territory emphasized that wrestlers have a solid amateur wrestling background, and so many times those amateur wrestlers would seek Gagne out for their professional training.  But word of mouth was common, too. Many times a guy would be recommended to Gagne (and other trainers) to get his start in the business.

Q: How did wrestlers develop their body types? That is, what do you know of their conditioning routines?
A: Unlike today’s overdeveloped muscle heads, wrestlers of the Golden Age often relied on some weight lifting, running, and various isometric exercises to keep themselves in condition. But remember, most wrestlers would work matches 300 to 365 nights a year, and so oftentimes those 30- to 90-minute workouts in the ring were sufficient to keep them in what Harley Race called, “Mat Shape.”

Q: Wrestlers were real people, after all. Did any of them have surprising off-ring careers? Any interesting post-wrestling vocations or hobbies?
A: Most wrestlers of the Golden Age who were the high-profile stars did not have outside professions while they wrestled. But once their careers were over, it wasn’t uncommon for some of them to get into businesses unrelated to wrestling altogether. Larry Hennig became a successful real estate broker and auctioneer. Baron Von Raschke had a teaching degree and taught school after his wrestling days. Dr. Bill Miller (Mister M, mentioned earlier) was a veterinarian and practiced for many years. Dick Beyer (Doctor “X”) became a high school wrestling coach after his days in the ring, and Nick Bockwinkel developed a career selling life insurance and annuities.  Many other ex-wrestlers owned bars and restaurants or dry-cleaning businesses, and some went on to serve in law-enforcement professions.

(Photo courtesy the author: Big K, Schire, Hennig, and Vachon, 1991)

It’s Rhubarb Season!

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Bundt Cake Bliss book coverThe St. Paul Farmers’ Market is open and offers, among other things, spinach, lettuces, asparagus, green tomatoes (my favorite), and, of course, rhubarb.

For a change from the typical rhubarb pie or cobbler, try this delicious recipe for Rhubarb Pecan Bundt Cake from Susanna Short’s Bundt Cake Bliss. Secret ingredient=cardamom.

The University Avenue Project

Monday, April 26th, 2010

The University Avenue Project Vol. 1More than three years in the making, acclaimed photographer Wing Young Huie’s University Avenue Project will launch Saturday, May 1, with a special day on University Avenue and a twilight projection of more than 450 powerful images chronicling life along St. Paul’s most vibrant thoroughfare.

Presented by Public Art Saint Paul, the University Avenue Project will be the largest public art exhibition in the United States this year–transforming six miles of the avenue from the KSTP tower to the state capitol into a gallery both monumental and intimate.

On launch day, Wing’s photos will appear in more than seventy streetfront building venues along the avenue, clustered in “nodes” at several intersections. In addition, the first in a series of large-scale murals will appear on the sides of selected buildings.

Wing and project volunteers will be at various nodes on the avenue from 5:00 to 6:30 p.m. to greet the public and offer information on the project.

As part of the celebration, everyone is invited to spend time on the avenue and dine at one of its many restaurants before the day’s centerpiece event: the 8 p.m. projection of more than 450 photos on a giant outdoor screen at the “Project(ion) Site,” 1433 University Avenue. The projection will be accompanied by a specially commissioned soundtrack of recordings from Twin Cities musicians.

At the Project(ion) site, signed copies of The University Avenue Project Vol. 1 will be available for purchase from 7 to 9 p.m. The book is the first of two volumes chronicling the project, published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press.

“It has taken the hard work and good will of many people in the community to pull this together, inspired by Wing’s vision and images,” said Christine Podas-Larson, president of Public Art Saint Paul. “Through all of our efforts, we’ve created something important for the city of St. Paul and for public art in the United States.”

For more information, visit

Tales of an Ice Palace from the Inside Out

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

phpTn0BZTEarlier this week, Cathy Wurzer, host of MPR’s Morning Edition and author of Tales of the Road: Highway 61, interviewed historian Annette Atkins about the life and works of African American architect Clarence W. “Cap” Wigington, who was the lead designer in the office of St. Paul’s city architect from the 1920s through the 1940s.

Wurzer and Atkins, who is a professor of history and the author of Creating Minnesota: A History from the Inside Out, met at the Wigington Pavilion on Harriet Island and had a lively conversation about Wigington’s work (the Highland Park Water Tower is Atkins’s favorite) and his remarkable achievements—including designing Winter Carnival ice palaces. Read more about him in Cap Wigington: An Architectural Legacy in Ice and Stone by David Vassar Taylor and Paul Clifford Larson, which features lovely color reproductions of some of his drawings.

Wurzer is seeking suggestions for further history topics. What untold Minnesota history tales would you like to hear explored on the radio? Send her an e-mail ( or message via Twitter (@CathyWurzer).

Congrats To Our Two Minnesota Book Award Winners!

Monday, April 19th, 2010

I Go To AmericaCOVER: Opening GoliathCongratulations to Joy K. Lintelman, author of “I Go To America”: Swedish American Women and the Life of Mina Anderson, for winning the Minnesota Book Award for General Nonfiction, and to Cary J. Griffith, author of Opening Goliath: Danger and Discovery in Caving, for taking top honors in the Minnesota category!

The University Avenue Project

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

From May 1 to October 31, 2010, Wing Young Huie’s University Avenue Project will transform St. Paul’s University Avenue into a six-mile gallery. Hundreds of photographs will be exhibited in store windows and on buildings along the route, from the state capitol to west of Highway 280.

Commissioned by Public Art Saint Paul, Wing has spent the past three years photographing the dizzying diversity in neighborhoods connected by this central corridor in the midst of one of the highest concentrations of international immigrants in the country.  From old world to developing world to modern world, this jammed stretch of storefronts, big-box retailers, blue-collar neighborhoods, and burgeoning condominium communities collectively reflects the colliding and evolving American experience. 

At the University Avenue Project’s center will be a spectacular projection site where images will be shown nightly on billboard-sized screens, accompanied by prerecorded music by local musicians from an array of genres and cultures.

The Minnesota Historical Society Press will release two titles in conjunction with the exhibit. The first volume will be available May 1, and the second, August 1.

Celebrate the Great Outdoors

Friday, April 9th, 2010

If Minnesota’s recent spring weather has you thinking ahead to summer at the lake–putting in the dock, upgrading your fishing gear, connecting with friends and family on Memorial Day or the Fourth of July–this weekend’s Lake Home and Cabin Show at the Minneapolis Convention Center is just the ticket for further inspiration.

If you go, look for Chris Niskanen, author of Prairie, Lake, Forest: Minnesota’s State Parks, who will tell of “Adventures in Your Back Yard: The Inside Story of Minnesota State Parks” and sign books today at 6, Saturday at 4, and Sunday at 11. Stop by to say hello–and to think about how your spring and summer plans might include an outing or two at sites around the state.

Lordy, Lordy: Look Who’s 40!

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

phpqjW4sdNot only is this Saturday, April 3, the 40th birthday for the iconic First Avenue, but Mayor R.T. Rybak has declared Saturday to be First Avenue Day (see text of the Proclamation, displayed below). To learn more about the infamous music scene in the Twin Cities, read the award-winning article by Patty Dean, “PunkFunkPopRock” from the Minnesota History journal archive.



WHEREAS; First Avenue is celebrating forty years as an independent music venue; has been committed to fostering art, music and entertainment excellence, from the avant-garde to the mainstream; and
WHEREAS; First Avenue transformed an old bus depot into an international icon and the premier downtown danceteria and music venue in the Twin Cities; and hosted performances by Joe Cocker, R.E.M, Ike & Tina Turner, Motörhead, Modest Mouse, Beck, B.B. King, GWAR, Beastie Boys, Pavement, Wu-Tang Clan, Iggy Pop, U2, Wilco and more; and
WHEREAS; First Avenue is committed to continuing its historical role as a testing ground and launch pad for local artists including Prince, The Replacements, Hüsker Dü, Morris Day and the Time, Soul Asylum, Atmosphere and other Rhymesayers artists, The Hold Steady, Trip Shakespeare, The Jayhawks and many others; and
WHEREAS; First Avenue has held fundraising events benefiting both local and national charities; provided Thanksgiving dinners for those without; and is constantly finding ways to give back to the community; and
WHEREAS; First Avenue holds countless unforgettable memories; has amplified legendary guitars; has been famously featured in Purple Rain; and has continually provided nights of wild dancing on its legendary dance floor; and
WHEREAS; First Avenue has been recognized as one of the best places to see live performances by music fans worldwide; has captivated millions of customers and has welcomed bands in the tens of thousands; and has even made a couple exceptions to its “no stage diving” rule to accommodate yours truly.
Now, therefore, I, R.T. Rybak, Mayor of the City of Minneapolis, do hereby proclaim Saturday, April 3rd, 2010 to be