The “At Show” was it’s short name for “Athletic Show”. They presented wrestling and boxing challenge matches. In it’s day it was one of the most popular shows on the midway. This might be where today’s wrestling got it’s start. It was all about getting an audience totally angered over the dirty tricks the wrestlers would do to each other to win a match and it would build excitement for their next event. They presented a show of  strength and showmanship. These wrestling matches would grind through the night as long as there was a tip. There was side betting on who would win and lose. “Shills” in the audience that would place a bet with onlookers. The “shills” knew who was going to win in advance.  This money was later cut up by the wrestlers. In the smaller towns this was another way to make money in addition to the sale of tickets sold on each of the wrestling events. There was a blow off after each 20 to 30 minute match. Most important was planning and control over who would win or loose,  and each wrestler knew how to play to the rowdy audience. Good guy vs the bad guy….this kept the tip usually all night. Notice inside the tent there is a match going on as a tip is building in front. Once you got the towns folk in a carefully controlled frenzy and there was a massive crowd,  they would lift the side wall to allow others to see the event from behind the crowd. This made it a sweet tip for the next night of wrestling and more money could be made on side betting. Those that were in the back of the crowd would be first in line for the next evening’s show.  Doc was a wrestler himself and a pro I might add. His “AT SHOW” was small, and only carried 3 pro wrestlers.   When a larger carnival “At Show” would book a big city, they would plant one of their wrestlers in that city a month in advance. This “plant” was usually a likable, strong, farm boy type. The young fellow would make a lot of friends at the local bars and if available find a job at a store or market where by he could meet a substantial amount of people that were not inclined to be at bars such as home makers and merchants.

 

The show came into town and opened up for the fun seekers. As you may have already guessed, the wrestlers were on the bally platform taunting the midway crowd with challenges that they could whip any man in town. The young farm boy made sure that he was in the crowd that was being built up in front of the bally platform. He made a few remarks back at the wrestlers only to heat up things, then he would politely leave. He and his new found friends would casually walk around the midway only to return to the “AT” show. This time he accepted a challenge and then someone would come up with the idea of having a sum of purse money for the winner. Of course one of the wrestlers shouted out, “we will put up two hundred dollars, will you  town folks match it?” Like clock work they gathered up the money needed. The tip grew and grew, side betting began. Then a giant of a man stepped into the ring and waited for the young man to enter. Within minutes the young unknown boy pinned the pro wrestler to the ring mat. Someone in the crowd would yell “the boy is the winner.” Now all the while the pro wrestler was screaming  “I want a rematch” and he got a rematch each night and without failing the young man was the winner. Each night the crowd got larger and the stakes got higher as well. On the last show night things changed. The young man complained of not feeling too good and didn’t really want to go into the ring saying he was afraid he would lose. This of course was an alibi. The more he complained the more his fans would encourage him. “You can do it” they would say….”Just one more match”, “one more win”……. IT WOULD NEVER HAPPEN. The young farm boy would lose. It was the heavy betting and the build up for the sting. When it was over, all bets were paid to the show and the fixer took care of any heat. It was all out and over. The show moved on to the next town. The young man one day disappeared from the town, all thought from shame. Three weeks later he returned to the show. This type of “At Shows” existed in the early 1930′s & 1940′s.

 

Doc Capell’s show ran a clean “At Show” and only put on exhibition matches. The more aggressive style of carnival “At Shows” do not operate any more …at least not on a carnival or circus. The name of the Athletic Show in above photo is unknown to me. The story is true as told to me years ago by an old “At Show” wrestler…. who was that young man.

 

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