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Remembering The Akron Armory

by Dale Pierce While gathering data for my Wrestling in Akron book that will be on the stands this summer from Arcadia Publishing, I dug up a great deal of material on the old Akron Armory, once located a few blocks above Main Street in downtown Akron. The only remnant still standing in relation to this demolished structure would be the guardsman statue that once greeted visitors to the arena.   Though wrestling, along with the natural guard training, was the main happening at this location, other events were held as well. These included campaign rallies, boxing, concerts and trade shows. There were some Masonic ties as well, for the old Masonic Temple was just a short distance away. Freemasons evidently came in droves when the Shrine Circus was in town and held sway   at the Armory, in spite of the cramped performing space. The wrestlers too, drew an audience that included lodge members, though never as an official lodge function. After all, several Masonic brothers did perform at this arena over the decades. Most notable of the wrestlers coming into Akron, who were also lodge members, would have been Whipper Watson out of Canada. Both during his World title reign and beyond, he was a regular on the Ohio circuit. He died several years ago from a heart attack, but not before seeing his son (not a lodge member) enter to pro ranks as well. Another regular on Akron cards would have been the late Baron Gattone, a strongman from Argentina who was also a preeminent Mason. A powerhouse known for his feats of strength as well as his grappling skills, Gattone traveled the world and would frequently visit lodges around the globe when his schedule allowed. His son became a wrestling announcer and also a lodge member, now making his home in New York. Athol Layton was another popular wrestler who was a member of one of the Canadian lodges. He was seen quite often on Akron cards as part of a larger circuit that included Toronto, Detroit, Columbus, Dayton, Canton and Cincinnati. Wild Red Berry was seen both at the Armory and other venues in the Akron area, becoming a hated and vociferous manager after retiring from active competition. Known by the less intimidating real name of Ralph Berry outside the squared circle, the man made a fortune as a “bad guy” in the game. Articulate far beyond much of his audience, he would use extravagant words, quote from great works of literature and even throw in some Masonic jargon now and again, in his promotional interviews, insulting both the fans and opponents. This brought the people out, hoping to see him lose and when it didn’t happen they came back again, filling the building once more, where the process was repeated. Outside the ring and his villainous role, Berry was a respected family man. He died in Kansas while drinking a glass of milk on his porch (Berry shunned alcohol) after a round of golf. The wrestling came to an end in the 1970s, after longtime promoter Walter Moore won big in the lottery and headed for Florida. The Armory would survive a few more years after him, but fall into such disrepair it was deemed time to build a new armory elsewhere and let this one be torn down. The finish came in the early 1980s. Now only the memories remain.

 old fashioned wrestlers.2

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