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Harry Hill's Bar & the beginning of Pro Wrestling - Yohe

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Steve Yohe

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Location: Wonderful Montebello CA

PostPosted: Tue Jun 11, 2013 10:06 pm    Post subject: Harry Hill's Bar & the beginning of Pro Wrestling - Yohe Reply with quote

Harry Hill & Pro Wrestling in America
(Some of which is by Steve Yohe)

William Muldoom (born May 25, 1845) probably wrestled on his Belfast farm from an early age, but has fame first started around 1864 when he was a wrestling champion serving in Company I, 6th New York Regiment under General Sheridan during the Civil War. The Civil War had united a large group of American men who needed some form of entertainment and officers found wrestling to be one way to calm the bored savages. The show put on by wrestling and other sport was habit forming &, when the war ended, a need was felt in men returning to normal life. This was the beginning of pro sports in American.

After the war, Muldoom, gave up the farm, to settle in New York City. Muldoom soon found a job and at night he when to school at the Cooper Union. From 1876 to 1891, he was a member of the New York city police and founded the Police Athletic Association, having charge of the its gymnasium. Muldoom added to his income by wrestling at different local bars, that featured sports such as boxing and wrestling. For boxing matches in back rooms, a fighter could make $3 for a win or $2 for a loss. Wrestlers made even more, $7 for a win and $3 for a loss. Wrestling made more because it took longer and greater skills was needed to entertain. The classiest and most famous of these bars was “Harry Hill’s Saloon and Dance Hall”.

Harry Hill was born at Epsom, England in 1827. He was a jockey and later became a horse trainer. In 1850, he was brought to America to run a rich man’s horse farm on estates in Astoria, New York. Harry did that for two years and then moved to Manhattan to become a horse dealer. In 1954 he turned a two story grocery at Houston and Crosby Streets into a concert hall and saloon. He named the old building “Harry Hill’s Variety Theatre”. It was mainly a bar, using a dance floor to get males to buy drinks. Due to his background in racing and gambling, Harry later turned to sports as a new gimmick.

Hill has an honorable man and ran a clean establishment. He also was kind to the poor and gave money to charity. The bar closed every Sunday and Harry went to church.

The rules of the saloon was: “no loud talking, no profanity, no obscene or indecent expressions, no man is allowed to let a woman stand and everyone had to buy drinks…a lot of drinks. Not all of the women were hookers and the ones who were, were young. They also had a dress code. It was designed to be a woman’s first stop on the way to decay.

Harry Hill was also a tough guy who could knock someone down and show him the door. If deals were made in the building, the crime took place somewhere else. Of all the many vice dens in New York, Harry Hill’s had the best reputation.

Harry was also close to Tammany Hall, the Democratic political machine that ran the city.

Hill worked out with wrestlers and boxers, including Muldoom. He also ran a stable near by on Crosby Street and would hirer fighters to groom horses during the day. At night, all boxers and wrestlers ate free. A couple of nights a week, Harry would stage fights and wrestling matches at the then sports club, and he began to draw the city’s top class of people. Judges, rich merchants, bankers, politicians, mingled with the common folk of the town. Everyone felt comfortable.

The boxing and wrestling really paid off. The room was small, but the big money came from the betting and drinks sold, and not on attendance and gates. Many famous fighters worked the saloon. John L. Sullivan had a major fight in the club beating Steve Taylor and the quote: “I can lick any man in the house” started in the bar. Nell Saunders, the first female boxing champion, and black fighter George Godfrey fought there. Muldoom early New York matches took place there and other famed wrestlers used were John Mc Mahon, Albert Ellis, and the famed Collar and Elbow star, George W. Flag.

By 1867, Hill had his hand in the sponsoring of all the major fights in the city. Edison even installed some of the first electrical lighting in his saloon which attracted even more publicity for his fights and matches. In 1886, it was reported that Hill was “ at one time the best known sporting man in the United States, and up to 12 years ago the wealthiest.” I've read claims that the saloon’s take was $6,000 a day with half clear profit.

Doing so well, Hill came up with the idea of booking wrestling into a large hall. On January 19, 1880, he booked and refereed the Williams Muldoon/Thieband Bauer match into Madison Square Garden. It drew a large crowd of 4,000 fans. It was, in that match, that Muldoom won the Graeco-Roman world (American) title.

Harry continued to promote Muldoom using friends like Richard Fox, publisher of “The National Police Gazette”, and Joseph Pulitzer’s “World” , the first newspaper with a regular sports department. The wrestlers were also helped by the use of the telegraph, which spread sports news all over the country. Other wrestlers created to wrestle Muldoom in MSG were William Miller, Edwin Bibby, and Clarence Whistler.

In 1981, William Muldoom quit the police department and took his group on a nation wide wrestling tour, stopping just long enough to dry up the gambling money in each city before moving on to the next jackpot.

Harry Will continued to be a nationally known as a matchmaker of prizefights and as a referee. He also helped to create new ring rules and push innovations in boxing and wrestling. In 1889, Hill held the $25,000 purse in the John L. Sullivan (trained by Muldoom)/Jake Kilrain championship fight.

In 1886, newly elected mayor, Abram S. Hewitt, closed down Harry Hill’s Saloon. Harry claimed it was because he refused to pay for police protection, and reformer attacks. Hewitt failed to get re-elected in 1988. Bad investments brought Harry to bankruptcy and his downfall, but no one ever proved he was anything but honest. Well at least most honest than most…it was New York City.

Harry Hill died on Aug. 28, 1896. When the book “The Gangs Of New York City” by Herbert Asbury was published in 1928, Harry’s story covered three pages. In 2010, he was inducted into the Boxing Bare Knuckle Hall of Fame.

His reputation as a wrestling pioneer is nil.


“Harry Hill—Saloon Fighter’s P.T. Barum” by Fred Buchstein

“Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898” by Burrows (?)

“The Gangs of New York” by Herbert Asbury
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