Until I made the visit to Humboldt's Bicknell Park on a recent Saturday, I had no idea who Frank Gotch was.
In the time since my visit, I have done a little bit of reading and have come away impressed. It turns out that this Humboldt native is arguably one of the most important and influential athletes of the 20th century.
I'm always glad to discover a little bit of Iowa history and I am delighted to see that this notable Iowan is now remembered in a beautiful park along the Des Moines river Humboldt. This particular park happens to be the same place where he trained ahead of becoming the world heavyweight wrestling champion in 1908.
Unfortunately, he only lived to age 40 and died in 1917.
According to research, "Gotch was the first American professional wrestler to win the world heavyweight free-style championship, and is credited for popularizing professional wrestling in the United States. His reign as World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion (from 1908 to 1913) is one of the ten longest in the history of professional wrestling. He became one of the most popular athletes in America from the 1900s to the 1910s. Pro Wrestling Illustrated described Gotch as "arguably the best North American professional wrestler of the 20th century".
That's some significant praise.
The City of Humboldt has a page about the statue on their website and I happen to like this quote that they have on there. He seemed like a pretty proud but humble guy. "It is gratifying to me, of course, to hold the undisputed world's title. I am glad it is held in America, glad that I brought it here. But I mean my life to be more than a mere wrestling exhibition. I expect to be an Iowa farmer all my life, and make my life worth something. I hope that every year may find me a little better man in some way than I was the year before. I want to be a good citizen and a helpful, useful man."
Gotch has been dead for over 100 years but this native son, who grew up on a farm just south of Humboldt, is still remembered in a very nice way in Bicknell park. The town unveiled the eight foot tall bronze statue, which stands on a three foot tall pedestal, in 2012. I would encourage you to read more about the monument, Frank, and his accomplishments.
When I arrived, the park had been blanketed with some fresh snow. However, the statue, with the backdrop of the mighty Des Moines River, makes for a very picturesque remembrance.
The base has a number of plaques that give you a bit more history about Frank.
It's hard to make out in this photo, but apparently Frank is famous for a "toe hold" move.
There's other benches around the statue that were donated by community members.
The park itself has some great history and I appreciate that there is a plaque describing it. It is nicely done.
The bandstand, as noted, is still standing. It too has a historical plaque on it.
I'd love to know what's underneath...what's behind this downstairs door?
I went up the steps and found some benches along the walls and some nice views.
There are some other elements in the park, including what appears to be something that can be used to build a fire.
I spotted some playground equipment and lots of other space that I'm sure, during warmer months, would offer plenty of room to roam.
It's fitting that all of this is located on Frank Gotch Blvd.
I am glad I learned about Frank Gotch and that this famous Iowan has a proper monument to his significant successes and contribution to wrestling as a whole. These days, tens of thousands of high school youth are wrestling all over Iowa and the United States and Frank Gotch was one of the pioneers that helped pave the way for that in America.
Next time you are in Humboldt, stop by this very scenic park. It's all quite lovely.