NewsWhistle is pleased to feature Gary Jenneke’s “This Day In History” column.
You can read the original at Gary’s THIS DAY IN HISTORY blog — or scroll down to enjoy Gary’s unique look at life’s comings and goings.
THIS DAY IN HISTORY… APRIL 4
The presentation is in a different order today because I wanted to finish with a fun story.
1853 – Tad Lincoln.
President Lincoln’s youngest son. Seldom disciplined and unschooled, Tad Lincoln had the run of the White House, disrupting cabinet meetings and charging visitors to see his father. His life changed first when his older brother and close companion, Willie, died and again when his father was assassinated. It was only then that Tad went to school and learned how to read. Tad was born with a cleft lip, had a speech impediment and was difficult to understand. He lived to only eighteen years of age, dying of tuberculosis.
President Lincoln is such a tremendous figure in American history but there seems to be so little happiness in his own family’s history.
1880 – Georg van Trapp.
Patriarch of the musical van Trapp family. His first marriage brought him inherited wealth and they had seven children. In WWI, van Trapp was a successful submarine commander in the Austrian navy, sinking 13 enemy ships. His first wife died of scarlet fever and one of his children was ill with the same disease. A governess, Maria, sent to care for that child, eventually becoming his second wife and also training the children to sing. They needed the performance income because he lost his money in a bank collapse. After Germany took over Austria at the beginning of WWII, van Trapp was offered a prominent position in the German navy, but because he opposed Nazi ideology, turned it down. Fearful this rejection might bring retaliation from the Fascist regime, the van Trapp family fled Austria and eventually made their way to America. They purchased a 660-acre farm in Vermont and made it into the Trapp Family Lodge. After the war they founded a relief fund to aid Austria. Georg van Trapp died of lung cancer in 1947.
He didn’t live to see Christopher Plummer portray him on screen. I’m sure truth and fiction collide many times over in the telling of “The Sound of Music” but what the heck, it’s still a good story.
1870 – Golden Gate Park formed.
William Hammond Hall, an engineer, prepared and presented a plan for a 1,017 acre park in San Francisco. Twenty percent larger than Central Park in NYC, it is the third most visited park in the United States. Stretching from the Haight-Ashbury district to the ocean, the park is a half mile wide and three miles deep. It features multiple attractions, including a conservatory, museum, lakes, ocean beach, natural amphitheater, and Hippie Hill.
Ah yes, remember it well for I occupied a position more than once on Hippie Hill during the Summer of Love. Now I regret limiting myself and not spending more time exploring the rest of the massive park.
1950 – Hard Boiled Haggerty wins NWA wrestling title.
There were multiple wrestling associations in multiple cities across the nation with multiple champions. Haggerty was one of them. Professional wrestling of the 1950s featured black and white television with good guys versus bad guys–the clean wrestlers against those who fought dirty and flaunted the rules. Haggerty was one of the bad guys. He growled, threatened, cheated, and gloried in being hated by the audience. Wrestling out of Minneapolis, he spent the bulk of the 1950s stomping across our TV screens. He, along with other luminaries such as Killer Kowalski, Mad Dog Vachon, Kinji Shibuya, Farmer Marlin, and the ultimate good guy, Vern Gagne.
Haggerty’s real name was Don Stansauk and before wrestling played two years of professional football with the Green Bay Packers. After his wrestling career he worked in the motion picture industry, typecast as a tough guy. His first role was in “Paint Your Wagon” with Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin.
I was into wrestling for a while but as I grew older and wiser, reached age of, oh, say 11 maybe, I saw through its orchestration and graduated to more sophisticated forms of televised entertainment, i.e., roller derby. So it must have been ’55, ’56, something like that and professional wrestling hadn’t been on my radar for a while. It was fall and we were at the McLeod County Fair. This annual fair was a wonderful time in our boyhoods. Barns, animals, displays, the midway with rides and exotic peep shows, and a grandstand show. No adult supervision and we ran wild. One thing my little group of friends was good at was embracing bad ideas. If some bad idea out was sitting around not being fully utilized, somebody in our group was sure to recognize that oversight. Breezy excelled at it, I was no slouch, Rich held his own, Mike usually urged caution, and Stan, well Stan was unequaled. The rest of us had to work at ours, but Stan’s ideas were spontaneous, creative and usually dangerously funny.
The grandstand show at the county fair that year featured a pro wrestling card. We were mingling in the crowd, Stan, myself, and one other, Mike maybe. There was a murmur of excitement as the crowd parted. Coming from a dressing room, wearing their ring attire, six mammoth professional wrestlers walked toward the grandstand. Hard Boiled Haggerty led the parade. We just happened to be standing there as they approached and I don’t know where Stan got the pen and paper from. In an obsequious, little boy voice, I heard him say, “Mr. Haggerty, Mr. Haggerty, can I get your autograph?” I immediately went on alert. This was not the Stan I knew.
Haggerty’s listed fighting weight was 285 pounds. Probably an exaggeration but still, he was huge. Dressed only in his wrestling tights, his chest was expansive, his arms and shoulders thick with muscle, muscles even ran up his neck to the back of his bald pate. He stopped, somewhat surprised. Cast as a villain he was more accustomed to abuse and even objects being hurled at him. In a gravelly voice he said, “Sure, kid.” He signed the paper and handed it back to Stan. Stan studied his autograph for a moment, then with lightning quickness tore it into little pieces and flung them into the air.
Pro wrestling is staged for dramatic effect. Maybe some in the crowd that evening thought this little scene was staged. And maybe Hard Boiled Haggerty was a good actor for as he realized what had just happened, what seemed to be true rage spread across his face. We didn’t stick around long to observe it. Laughing like little hyenas we disappeared into the crowd.
I wrote this story while face to face with the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of a highly vulnerable demographic I’m pretty much hunkered down. A cabin fever boredom, interspersed with periodic uneasiness, is the new order of the day. Reflecting on youthful silliness was a nice distraction.
ABOUT GARY JENNEKE
At various junctures of his life, Gary has been an indifferent grade school student, poor high school student, good Navy radioman, one-time hippie, passable college student, inveterate traveler, dedicated writer, miscast accountant (except for one interesting stint at a Communist café), part-time screenwriting teacher, semi-proud veteran, unsuccessful retiree and new blogger.
You can reach him at email@example.com.
The above information was sourced from the following sites and newspapers:
We’d also like to thank the following photographers and videographers for the use of their images:
* Lead-In Image (wrestling silhouettes) – kstudija / Shutterstock.com
* Hard Boiled Haggerty (video) – Keep It In The Family Productions / Shutterstock.com
* Outro (Man-In-Museum Cartoon) – SkyPics Studio / Shutterstock.com