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 honoring its most famous citizen with a bronze statue to be placed in Bicknell Park. The unveiling ceremony is set for this summer.
All wrestling fans are invited to be a part of wrestling history by making a donation in exchange for their name on a brick or a bench. 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 Frank Gotch and the great legacy he left behind.”
Jeff Adams, an artist from Mount Morris, Illinois, was selected from several sculptors bidding on the project and began work in October. The statue will be unveiled in special ceremonies on July 4. In addition, the Humboldt City Council recently voted to name the street in front of the park Frank Gotch Boulevard and the signs are already up.
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 wrestlers 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 on which the statue stands. Bricks are still available for a donation at the following levels:
• $125 for a state champion brick (your name on a 4 inch by 8 inch brick in the 6 outside rows of the landscape design);
• $250 for a national champion brick (your name on a 6 inch by 8 inch brick in the next 4 rows in the landscape design);
• $500 for a world champion brick (your name on a 8 inch by 8 inch brick in the first 3 rows next to the statue).
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. A spotlight will illuminate the statue at night.
Gotch was undefeated during his seven-year rein (1908-1915) 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 is 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, 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org) for further details. Donations are tax deductible to the extent offered by the law.