By Elizabeth Goussetis
Years ago during the golden age of professional wrestling, people gathered in small arenas to watch strong men compete in feats of strength and sometimes comedy.
There was Frankie Talaber, a popular wrestler from Reynoldsburg. There was Whitey Wahlberg, who later owned a restaurant on Main Street after his wrestling career ended. There was Stacy Hall, who went from professional wrestling to Franklin County Sheriff. And, unforgettably, there was Wild Bill Zim.
Many a wrestler back in this golden age worked for Al Haft, a Reynoldsburg wrestling promoter and sponsor. He started out as a wrestler and became a successful businessman, operating wrestling venues all over Columbus, including a compound in Reynoldsburg at the corner of East Main Street and Hentz Road, that included a restaurant, a motel and a wrestling arena.
Many events were held at Haft’s Acre, an arena at the edge of Goodale Park. He also owned the Ringside Cafe in the Pearl Alley downtown. He was a successful businessman who was careful with money. In one photo taken for a newspaper, he is leaning back in his chair with his feet propped up on his desk, and there’s a hole in his shoe, points out his granddaughter, Regina Haft.
Regina Haft, Al Haft’s granddaughter, grew up in Reynoldsburg with the legacy of her grandfather’s colorful past.
“Old as he was, he still had those muscles, and he would flex his arm, and we would swing from them,” she said.
Al Haft ran a training camp in Reynoldsburg for wrestlers from 1954 to 1961.
“It was not to train wrestlers to be great wrestlers, it was to train wrestlers to put on a good show,” said Dick Barrett, president of the Reynoldsburg-Truro Historical Society.
The historical society hosted a display of wrestling memorabilia at its monthly open house on March 19. The exhibit was organized by Wild Bill Zim’s son, Mike Zim.
Putting on a good show was an important part of professional wrestling. Wrestlers had nicknames and sometimes stage personas, but Wild Bill Zim’s personality outside the ring was larger than life. His adventures started early, when he left home at 14 and joined the military under a false name. He was sent home, but later joined the Marines and was sent to Nicaragua, where he fell in love and went AWOL. He was eventually caught and sent home.
The Marines taught him boxing and wrestling, paving the way for future jobs as a circus wrestler, where he took on all comers by wrestling members of the audience, as a stunt man in Hollywood, and later, as a professional wrestler.
He started wrestling in the mid-1930s, worked for Al Haft, and became a popular local sports figure.
A newspaper clipping at the historical society exhibit documents when Wild Bill got a haircut for the World War II war effort, when he re-enlisted and spent another two years in the Army. Back in Columbus, he attended Columbus Art School (now CCAD) on the G.I. Bill, started a family, and continued wrestling. During his career he had more than 1,400 matches, from 1934 to 1956. Eventually Zim went to work at the county courthouse for his old wrestling pal, Sheriff Stacy Hall.
Wild Bill’s kids don’t remember much about their father’s wrestling career. His last match was in 1956, and his son, Mike Zim, was too young to remember, but Zim’s sister remembers seeing her father on television. Zim has been collecting information about his father’s wrestling career and hopes to write a book about his dad’s life as a pro wrestler. Wild Bill died in 1993, but Mike Zim started cataloguing his dad’s career a few years ago when he retired.
“He had all these scrapbooks and suitcases, I’ve had them around forever, just never paid any attention,” Mike Zim said.
Mike Zim wrestled in high school, but, “I saw how crippled he was, he and the other guys,” he said, and didn’t follow in Wild Bill’s footsteps.
Zim has a website, wildbillzim.com, and he is looking for information from anyone with memories of the local wrestling scene during the 1930s through 1950s, especially of his father.