STEVE LAMONETIN: TALES OF WRESTLING
By Steve Frangos
Published in The National Herald, October 28, 2017
I am excited to announce that The National Herald has given Hellenic Genealogy Geek the right to reprint articles that may be of interest to our group.
Steve Lamonetin was one of a generation of early Greek wrestlers who toured the United States. Beginning in the very early 1880s, professional Greek wrestlers were to be found, in ever growing numbers, all across the nation.
Lamonetin, known in one newspaper account after another as the “Terrible Greek,” wrestled in a host of venues and circumstances. Lamonetin met challengers in opera houses, on vaudeville theater stages, in local parks or fair grounds, along carnival side show midways and elsewhere. During this early era wrestlers were rarely paid for their attendance. Rather the winner of the wrestling bout received a percentage of the money gathered by the event, known as the purse, as well as side bets.
For our purposes here Lamonetin can well serve as your average Greek wrestler from this generation, winning and losing bouts within a specific region of the country. Published news accounts place Lamonetin moving among Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana, and Pennsylvania to wrestle a host of opponents. In 1911 and again in 1915, Lamonetin also worked as a carnival wrestler both of which toured the southern states. Yet, all in all, the real back-story here is the life Lamonetin and all the others wrestlers of this generation lived. The mandatory traveling from town to town, the daily regime of training, proper eating, resting and then the actual matches.
While this early generation of Greek wrestlers were certainly not opposed to winning and holding wrestling championship titles it is clear that they were for the most part focused on their earnings and/or potential earnings. Aside from the purse or percentage of the receipts for any given wrestling bout side bets were not only placed but often the only circumstances under which particular wrestlers would participate. In various newspaper accounts one often reads of “sponsors” or “supporters” of specific wrestlers. These were individuals and small collectives who, aside from the individual wrestlers, would place their own bets on the individual matches. Side bets could be anywhere, with anyone, for $10 to $500 or more. This, at a time, when one dollar to three dollars a day were common wages for the average worker.
Massive as Lamonetin appears in his newspaper photographs – even at 6' 1” and at a trim 204 lbs. – he was far from a thoughtless brute. Lamoniten is frequently described, in the public press, as a “scientific wrestler” who simply out-maneuvered his opponents (Fairmont West Virginian April 21, 1911; April 26, 1911). Although Lamonetin was identified as a Spartan in various news accounts little else about his ethnicity or private life see discussion (Fairmont WV, Sept. 22, 1909).
Reading through news accounts Lamonetin always claimed to be most comfortable as a catch-as-catch-can wrestler, also known at the time as American-style. Although Lamoniten would meet other wrestlers observing the Greco-Roman style regulations he always spent extra time training in that specific form. Unexpectedly, Lamoniten also prided himself as a long-distance runner. Reporters, and local citizens would frequently visit professional wrestlers during their training sessions. Newspaper accounts of their individual training efforts were clearly meant to build anticipation for upcoming bouts.
At this time wrestling bouts were most often three fall events. The wrestler who subdued his opponent at least twice won the overall match. Again, generally speaking, such matches took approximately one hour. There was a referee and for varying reasons matches could be postponed, delayed or stopped. It was around this time that wrestling matches also began to feature timed rounds as in boxing.
Between 1909 and 1915, Lamonetin met a host of established and up-and-coming young wrestlers.
Notably in 1909, Lamonetin wrestled Nick Nolte champion title-holder for the state of West Virginia (Fairmont WV Sept 29, 1909). “Lamonetin and Nolte worked very fast. Lamonetin won the first fall and the second one went to Nolte. In the third Steve was getting stronger as the wallowing on the floor progressed. He pinned the shoulders of the Wheeling man to the floor with a hammer-lock hold. The work was clean. The bout was for a
Massive strongmen wrestlers like Lamoniten, were often the first modern Greeks rural Americans ever saw
side bet of $500 (Fairmont WV Oct 1, 1909).” News accounts before and after this match are unclear if this was a title match or not. Lamonetin also wrestled and in various matches overcame Walter Bonecki, who was also, for a time, the West Virginia state title-holder. But again, I can find no published account reporting that Lamonetin was that state's champion..
The Clarksburg public press credits Lamoniten has holding “the belt for the best wrestler in the city for a number of years (Sunday Telegram (Clarksburg WV) May 30, 1915).” Between 1909 and 1915, Adam Erbe, the German Oak, is often identified as the WV title holder and was a wrestler Lamoniten met many times and whom the Greek beat on various occasions (Fairmont WV April 15,1911). But, once again, it is still to be determined if Lamoniten ever held the West Virginia state title.
Aside from Nolte and Erbe Nolte, between 1909 and 1915 the Terrible Greek met a host of opponents including but were certainly not limited to Paul Bowser, Charley Hickman, Paul Keyser, Fred Kindberg, Ole Oleson, John Stanton, Al Thomas and many others.
Lamonetin always sought to please his many fans. In the summer of 1915, Lamonetin was living in Clarksville West Virginia. “Steven Lamonetin, the terrible Greek wrestler of this city threw, Ole Oleson, the Swedish champion twice in less than twenty minutes at Norwood Park Monday night. The match was so short that it disappointed many of the spectators so Lamonetin would give ten dollars to any in the audience who could stand before him for fifteen minutes. Fred Kindburg, of Grafton, was in the audience and accepted the offer but Lamonetin disposed of him in short order (Daily Telegram (Clarksburg WV July 6, 1915).”
Lamoniten was also a carnival wrestler. In 1911, Lamonetin is reported to have been with the Welder Amusement Company (Portsmouth Daily Times (Ohio) May 4th). Then, again, in 1915 Lamoniten signed with the Dye Brothers Greater United Shows as that season's wrestler/strongman. Few realize today how important the touring “athletic shows” were to small town America (Sunday Telegram Clarksville, WV, March 28, 1915). Long before any of the electronic media we now use on a daily basis individuals who had never left (and in all likelihood would never leave) their small towns looked forward to the strange sights, sounds and individuals common to the carnival/circus midways. Among the acts seen along any midway was the strongman who bent steel bars, held full-grown men in chairs above their heads and snapped chains wrapped around their massive chests.
These midway strongmen also used to wrestle local men. Cash was always involved. Sometimes the strongmen offered a fixed among of money if the local man remained undefeated for a fixed period of time. With virtually every such match side betting took place. According to the professional wrestlers who appeared as carnival wrestlers this was the hardest kind of contest. To begin with professionals, such as Lamoniten, very often had to carry the local man through the match without getting hurt themselves. Ending the match in seconds, which would have been no problem for a professional facing an amateur, would not only be an extremely disappointing contest—the excitement necessary for of side-betting could not take hold if the contest ended quickly.
Massive strongmen wrestlers such as Steven Lamoniten, were often, quite literally, the first modern Greeks rural Americans ever saw. If we are to understand the written history of Greeks in the United States then we must come to terms with how successive generations of Americans have viewed persons they identified as Greek. And this being the case the overall history of Greeks in the United States since the 1870s must take into account these dedicated Hellenic Athletes of old.