Facts within a Myth

by Steve Yohe


Chicago in 1913

In November of 1913, Lewis was brought into Chicago to be given a major push by promoters Ed White and Joe Coffey. It was Ed's audition for a major national push.

On November 3, 1913, Lewis debuted at the Chicago Globe Theater on the first card of the wrestling season. He was matched in the main event with Paul Martinson, a semi-star, but someone willing to "job". In the semi-final was Charles Cutler, who was the biggest name wrestler working out of Chicago and a off and on claimant of Frank Gotch's old American title. Lewis was billed as a collage boy from Lexington, who was teaching at the University Of Kentucky and being described as the new Gotch.

Much of a pro wrestler's persona depends on the finishing hold they use. With Ed "Strangler" Lewis, he promoted himself around his one single hold more than just about any wrestler in history. His first finishing hold in Lexington was the strangle hold, due to his name, but that couldn't be used long term because it was illegal in most places. He, or the people around him, must have realized this in 1913, and Lewis started using a hold called a "neck yoke". This hold was a type of reverse nelson bordering on being a strangle hold but legal under wrestling rules. Lewis would take the hold like a front face lock and force his opponent's chin into his own chest, this cut off much of his air supply. The weaken wrestler was then flipped to the mat as Lewis skillfully applied a leg scissors and arm bar on the way down. The stunned wrestler would then be an easy pin. It seemed to be a move that required some technique, but Ed weighted only 205 pounds and was known then for his quickness and ability to move. In Chicago, the promoters claimed the young "Strangler" was "famous" for the move.

Ed defeated Martinson in impressive style[10] and remained unbeaten through out the month setting up a major match with Charles Cutler on November 26. The promoters were trying their best to promote the Cutler/Lewis match, even having the two wrestlers stage a mock fight in a downtown restaurant on November 17, a move that backfired when the press treated the event as a made up publicity stunt.[10a]

On the 26th, in a match described in the pro-Lewis press as Ed's first big test, the Strangler was defeated by Cutler. Cutler took the first fall in 1:01:30 with a cross body lock. Ed came back to win the 2nd fall with his "neck yoke" in 11:45. The last fall ended suddenly when Lewis submitted in a Cutler head scissors at 29:00. The attendance in burned out Chicago was around 1,000.[11]

Later Chicago promoters would push Cutler as world champion, but I don't think it was an attempt to turn him into a major star. I think they viewed him as a "trail horse" and were just using him as a champion to lose to the next true star, and that star wasn't going to be Strangler Lewis.

The Lewis push continued. Two days after the Cutler match, Ed got a huge write up in the Sunday Chicago Tribune with photos of young Ed using the feared "neck yoke". He gave his history and talked about his education, with most of the story made up.[12] I call this lying, but nicer people use the term "ballyhoo".

Lewis next major match in Chicago was against Gus "Americus" Schoenlein on December 29, 1913. Americus was a major national star but huge in Baltimore and had wrestled every major wrestler in the sport. Americus defeated Lewis in straight falls, pinning Ed twice after he was thrown by a "under crotch hold" in 5:10 and 50:00. The second fall saw Ed land on his head with a thud. Lewis was carried to the dressing room, unable to walk.[13]

This pretty much ended the first great Lewis push in Chicago. The Cutler match was a hard struggle but Amercus had showed superior weight (25 pounds) strength and the victory was without any excuses by Lewis. The critics claimed that Lewis was quick and strong but lacked weight at 205 pounds (without any fat to be seen) plus experience verse the top wrestlers. The next wrestler to get pushed in Chicago was Wladek Zbyszko, the younger brother of Stanislaus Zbyszko.

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  • 10 CHICAGO TRIBUNE Nov. 4, 1913
  • 10a From CATCH WRESTLING a fine book by Mark Hewitt we find that Lewis returned to Lexington to defeat a Young Olson, billed as the younger brother of feared shooter Charles Olson, but the publicity photos for the match are of the actual Charles Olsen. It's very possible that the wrestler was Charles Olsen, who was always using aliases to rip off gamblers. But I don't buy it, because Charles had wrestled in Lexington earlier in the year.
  • 11 CHICAGO TRIBUNE Nov. 26, 1913
  • 12 CHICAGO TRIBUNE Nov. 30, 1913
  • 13 CHICAGO TRIBUNE Dec. 30, 1913