Wrestling at The Aud: from The Hulk to Gorgeous George

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Hulk Hogan is going to be in Buffalo this weekend, and had some nice things to say about Buffalo Wrestling and the fans here. Steve Cichon has more from the Hulk and wrestling’s glory days in Buffalo.

Hulk Hogan is making an appearance at the Nickel City Con at the Convention Center this weekend, and he spoke with Mark Ciemcioch at The Buffalo News about his times in Buffalo.

He has great memories of wrestling in Buffalo, and like so many of us, Hulk Hogan has great memories of Memorial Auditorium.

Hogan traveled to Buffalo many times during his career, even having knee surgery here. He particularly enjoyed working the old Buffalo Memorial Auditorium before it closed in 1996.

“I had some great matches in there,” Hogan said. “I’d hit people with a punch in the middle of that ring, and it sounded like a cannon would go off. The whole crowd would go along with it, (chanting) ‘Boom, boom!’ It’s a great wrestling crowd, a great city and a (I have) lot of fond memories of Buffalo.”

Hulk Hogan on ‘Hulkamaniacs,’ Buffalo and his biggest comeback yet

Wrestling, of course, goes way back in Buffalo– to big Friday Night sell out crowds through the 30s, 40s, and 50s, first at the old Broadway Auditorium (now “The Broadway Barns” and the home of Buffalo’s snowplows), and then Memorial Auditorium when it opened in 1940.

“This was a shirt and tie crowd,” said the late Buffalo News Sports Editor Larry Felser, who remembered when Wrestling at the Aud was one of the biggest events in Buffalo.

“Not that many people had TV sets back then,” remembered Felser in 2001. “People were crowding into Sears and appliance stores to try to see this thing on TV, because the place was sold out.”

And with all those big crowds, there was no wrestler who could draw them in like Gorgeous George.

“When Gorgeous George would wrestle, they’d pack the Auditorium for this guy,” said Felser.

“The Human Orchid,” as George was known, was the first modern wrestler, said retired Channel 7 sports director Rick Azar, saying he “changed the face of professional wrestling forever.”

As someone who called himself “Hollywood’s perfumed and marcelled wrestling orchid,” it’s clear that George knew how to make sure he set himself apart.

“He had an atomizer, and he’d walk around the ring with perfume, supposedly fumigating his opponent’s corners,” said Felser, who also remembered his flair for marketing outside the ring.

“His valet drove him around in an open convertible around Lafayette Square, and he’s got a wad of one dollar bills, and he was throwing money to people. It was a show stopper. He landed on page one. TV was just in its infancy then, but they were all over it. It was like World War III. That’s how big a story it was.”

Gorgeous George is credited with ushering in the Bad Boy era of sports– and even inspired Muhammad Ali, who told a British interviewer, “he was telling people, ‘I am the prettiest wrestler, I am great. Look at my beautiful blond hair.’ I said, this is a good idea, and right away, I started saying, ‘I am the greatest!'”

See some photos of Gorgeous George and read more about his career:
Buffalo in the ’50s: ‘Gorgeous George’ arrives in Buffalo, perfumes his room
Buffalo in the ’50s: Gorgeous George brings showmanship to the Aud

Torn-down Tuesday: Looking east from Lafayette Square in 1937

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The address is still familiar 78 years later, but there’s not much from this December 1937 view of Lafayette Square that survives.

Buffalo News archives

The very top of the Soldiers and Sailors monument in the middle of the square is visible in the lower left corner.  That, and the Hotel Lafayette — the Clinton Street wall of which is visible on the right side of the photo — are the only easily seen remaining structures in this photo.

When the Romanesque-Revival old Central Library was opened in 1887, it was said that “no library in all the land is more nobly housed.”  By the 1950s, however, the old building was seen as leaky, cold and difficult to adapt for new technology.  The current Central Library replaced the 1887 building in 1964.

Most, if not all, the buildings visible behind the library and Hotel Lafayette are gone. Most that survived into the ’60s and ’70s were torn down to make way for the never-built Elm-Oak corridor expressway. By the 1980s, modern bunker-like government buildings were built on the vacant blocks between Oak and Elm. The Lafayette Theatre building was torn down in 1972 to make way for a parking lot.

The triangle in the background of the wider view photo, where Broadway and William come to a point, is now occupied by a gas station.

 

Buffalo in the ’60s: Rocket belting around Lafayette Square

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

To most Americans, the thought of a man flying around with a rocket pack on his back seems like something from 1960s science fiction.

The people of Buffalo, however, are more likely to remember the Bell Rocket Belt as science fact.

Buffalo News archives

Throughout the mid-’60s, Wheatfield-based Bell Aerospace took dozens of opportunities to show off the hydrogen peroxide-powered device that the company was initially developing for the U.S. Army.

In October 1965, Bell engineers took the belt pack into downtown Buffalo, and News cameras were there to capture the flight in front of the Rand Building and around Lafayette Square.

Office workers looked out the windows in amazement, while folks outside on the sidewalk — including a police officer and women in headscarves — took in the flight with a combination of awe and distress over the noise the rocket pack made during flight.

The Bell Rocket Belt worked — but it was limited by two key drawbacks. One, flights couldn’t last longer than 21 seconds, and two, there was no way to land safely if the device failed mid-flight.

In the end, military brass tagged the Bell Rocket Belt as “spectacular toy” more than an efficient transportation device, and development was scuttled.