City of Humboldt to honor Frank Gotch with a statue in park

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011 | Wrestling

HUMBOLDT, Iowa – The hometown of world wrestling champion Frank Gotch, one of the nation’s best-known athletes in the early part of the 20th Century, is making plans to honor its most famous citizen with a statue to be placed in Bicknell Park. The park occupies the site where Gotch trained for his most important match.

The project is being run by a not-for-profit organization called the Frank Gotch Statue Committee.

“Frank Gotch was arguably the top athlete in America in the 1908 to 1915 era,” said co-chair Steve Reimers, a lifelong resident of the city located in the northwestern part of the state. “Frank brought great recognition to this town and to all of Iowa. Many of us feel it is time to pay a special tribute to Gotch and the great legacy he left behind.”

Bicknell Park was the site of Gotch’s training camp prior to his epic match with George Hackenschmidt, known as The Russian Lion, on September 3, 1911, in Chicago. Gotch set up camp by the small bluff on the Des Moines River and spectators flocked to watch the world champion in training. Sports reporters from around the nation converged on Humboldt the month prior to the match. One reporter estimated that one day there were nearly 2,000 fans down by the park watching Gotch train.

The camp consisted of a large ring, handball courts and an area for wall pulleys and punching bags. Several of the top wrestler in the world came to the camp at various times to serve as workout partners for Gotch. His training was supervised by Farmer Burns, considered the greatest professional wrestling instructor of all time.

Bicknell Park was donated to the city in 1920. The project will include a brick walkway around the pedestal the statue stands on. The statue will be made of bronze and stand eight-foot tall, depicting Gotch in a familiar pose with hands on hips while attired in a wrestling uniform. It will be placed on a two-foot high pedestal, with accompanying information on his career and life in Humboldt.

Gotch was undefeated during his seven-year rein as world champion and won his last 88 matches in a row. He owned a considerable amount of land in Iowa and Minnesota and was active in the community in a variety of ways. He was part owner of an automobile dealership in Humboldt and served on several civic boards. He was even being considered to star in a movie in Hollywood and the Republican Party of Iowa was looking at him as a possible candidate for governor in 1920.

But Gotch fell ill in early 1917 and died on December 16, 1917, at the age of 39, of kidney failure. His death was front-page news all around the nation and an estimated 2,000 people attended his funeral. He is buried in a large mausoleum in Union Cemetery, two miles west of town.

According to the author Mac Davis, in the book 100 Greatest Sports Heroes, Gotch was a bigger star than any boxer or baseball player. “As the idol of millions in the United States, Canada and Mexico, Gotch made wrestling a big-time sport in his day. Babies had been named in his honor, as had buildings, toys, farm implements and a hundred other things. The word ‘Gotch’ was a synonym for quality and strength.”

The statue committee is comprised of various members of the Humboldt community, as well as two noteworthy “outsiders.” Frank Gotch III is the grandson of the legendary wrestler and currently lives near Austin, Texas. He has agreed to serve as an honorary member. Mike Chapman is one of the nation’s leading wrestling historians and the author of 22 books, including three on Gotch. One of them, Gotch: An American Hero, has been purchased by Empire Film Group in Los Angeles and is under development as a major motion picture.

“We are delighted that the grandson of Frank Gotch and a well-known historian are helping us with the project,” said Reimers.

Other members of the committee are Ron Wasoba, former Humboldt High School wrestling coach, who is co-chair; Tonya Harklau, former executive director of the Humboldt Area Chamber of Commerce; Maurey Abens, Chad Beaman, Jana Bratland, Ken Bratland, Kent Clendenen, Todd Lee, Phil Monson and Bruce Reimers, a former NFL football player from Humboldt who played in a Super Bowl as a member of the Cincinnati Bengals.

“In an effort to make this project all inclusive, we are reaching out to the citizens of Humboldt, and also to wrestling fans across the state and the entire nation,” said Wasoba. “Frank Gotch helped created a strong interest in wrestling in America in the early 1900s. We believe many fans across the nation will want to be a part of this effort to honor his memory and his impact on the sport, both amateur and professional.”

“I think part of the reason this is such a wonderful project is because Frank Gotch had a very powerful love of this community,” said Chapman. “After he became world champion, many promoters and managers tried to get him to leave Iowa and move to the big city. But he never was tempted. He told them he was born an Iowa farmer, was raised an Iowa farmer and would die an Iowa farmer. And he was true to his word.”

There are various levels of support offered to donors, beginning at $125 and going up to $3,000, and beyond. Anyone wishing more information should contact the Frank Gotch Project, c/o Friends of the Park, PO Box 247, Humboldt, Iowa, 50548, or call Tonya Harklau at 515-332-3285 (or harklauj@goldfieldaccess.net) for further details. Donations are tax deductible to the extent offered by the law.

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