The Scrapbook of Joe Wolfe (1940-1954)
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So, I'm sitting at my desk, sometime in the early afternoon of a day in 2001, when this woman walks up to me.
Lucky me, I know, but that isn't where the story goes....just keep reading.
Her name was Annie, and she looked at me (in her most comely and hospitable way) and said, "John, you have a wrestling site, huh?"
I said, "Sure.....bodyslam.cc...do you like wrestling?"
She smiled in that way I have grown accustomed to seeing....that "Well, I know about wrestling, but it isn't the first thing on my plate" kind of way, but her eyes twinkled a but, and she cocked her head.
"You know, I have an uncle that is a pro wrestler...."
But she didn't say "wrestler", like, "resler".......she said "Rassler". There is a difference, you know. She was very familiar with the concept....she was a close-to-insider.
Well, I spoke with her a couple times over the past year about it, and basically placed that piece of information on the back burner of my consciousness.....hey, with two kids under the age of four, with bills to pay, a site to help run, and the like, your life gets cluttered.
So, I kicked myself when she came to me last week, and told me that he had died. Time had again taken something from me this summer, as my grandmother had gone to her reward in May. I apologized to her, and gave her my condolences, knowing all the while that I had missed an opportunity to link up with the past of this industry we all cherish.
Well, Annie came back to my desk yesterday, and handed me a treasure......and I got my chance.
It was a large, yellowing scrapbook, filled with articles about her uncle, and about the pro wrestling culture of his day.....pre-WCW, pre-WWF. This was the time that produced Gorgeous George, Buddy Rogers, Orville Brown.......and Joe Wolfe.
Joseph Henry Thomas Wolfe was born in 1902 to William and Mary Wolfe, and had 10 brothers and 2 sisters. When he was a young man (imagine this, Gen-X'ers!), he would pass the time playing gravel-lot football. He was a good Catholic man, and, by all accounts that I have seen, was generous, good-natured, amicable, and decent in every way. He worked for the railroad as a messenger boy in his younger days, and, I am told, delivered ice before the age of refrigeration.
Too young to serve in the first World War, too old for the Second (much like my own grandfather), Joe had to find his own niche...and he had examples.
From the history in that scrapbook that Annie, and the Wolfe family, had blessed me with, it looks like Joe had older relatives, and very possibly his own father (but this is conjecture....kayfabe and time have clouded this from me) were workers in the squared circle. He was called many things, Joe was. Iceman, Son of Frankenstein, The Wolfe, Jumpin' Joe.....
.....Daddy. Barbara Joe was born around 1939 or so. Don't have that info right in the book, but inferred it from the scrapbook, in a newspaper interview from 1943. She would ask him if he was..."going to get bit tonight", after seeing him get bit during one match.
He got into the sport by chance....he was asked to fill in one night in an arena, and that began his journey. His obituary tells us that he wrestled professionally for 14 years, but the articles point to a longer tenure...more like 19 or 20 years.
Joe wrestled in Columbus, Ohio....before the time of Sweet Daddy Siki and the big-time promotions that existed here. He also wrestled in Tampa, Florida, and on the West Coast.
In 1950, Joe beat "Pretty Boy" Balk Estes to win his most coveted professional title, the Light Heavyweight Championship. Now, I am looking like mad to find out which territory that was from....since a lot of those titles were renamed from show to show, and arena to arena, I may not be able to ever find it...anyone wants to help (Mr. Benaka and Gary Will, I'd be in your debt) me, feel free.
Before that, the highlight of his career may have been his 1948 match with Gorgeous George. This was a couple years before the Gorgeous One won his first World Championship, but Joe Wolfe was in the company of legends.
He worked cards with Orville Brown, Lou Thesz, and other, less known workers, like Tex Riley, Earl Malone, and Antone Leone. Of course, in a career such as his, he probably would have wrestled hundreds of different workers, from local home-town boys to nationally-known wrestlers, brought in to spur the local promotion's take at their gate. He worked with promoter Nick Gulas, and I think (but I am not certain) Al Haft. Of course, there were others, but I believe most of those names are lost in antiquity.
He did charity functions, and was recognized by Father Flanagan's Boy's Town, having been made an Honorary Citizen. The scrap book also contains him helping out the Knoxville Milk Fund, and the Columbus Hilltop Bean Dinner (he actually worked a match there).
I would say that the measure of a wrestler is his ability to work well, to help the promotion he works in, and the way other wrestlers view him. In every way, I see Joe Wolfe as a very successful wrestler, who did what was needed of him in the promotions he worked in, no matter where they took him.
However, the measure of a man is in those he touches with his person, and, it appears that Mr. Wolfe was a greater man, than a wrestler. Just by the talks and interaction with Annie, I can see that the man was decent and beloved.
This is a beautiful opportunity I have had...to look into the past, through the grand faded telescope of that scrapbook, into a different age, where a family man worked at his craft, worked it well, and managed to make a name for himself from the seat of his brow, and dedication to his calling.
I want to thank Annie Gease for bringing this to me, and to the Wolfe Family for allowing me to share it with you.
Up there, Lou, Wahoo, and George are all buying Joe a drink at the Cloud Nine Cafe, and talking shop. We'll be seeing him main-event up there someday, where all the purses are fat, and where the spots aren't missed.