Baptiste and Wasem Handle Parker
In late 1902, Harvey Parker, a professional wrestler who began wrestling in 1900, travelled to St. Louis to challenge the local wrestling community. Parker may have thought St. Louis to be an easier town than “Farmer” Burns territory in Chicago and Iowa. However, Parker would discover two capable wrestler in St. Louis, George Baptiste and Oscar Wasem.
By 1902, George Baptiste was 38-years-old and towards the end of his wrestling career. Wasem, however, was in his early 20s. Wasem held the rare prize of a win over Frank Gotch, the future World Champion. Baptiste had been training Wasem since 1898.
Baptiste was the first to meet Harvey Parker. Parker offered any wrestler, who would wrestle with him at the Standard Theater, $25 if Parker could not throw him in 15 minutes. Baptiste met Parker in the first week of November 1902.
Baptiste made sure not to risk anything in this first match. Wrestling defensively, Baptiste fended off Parker’s attempts to grab him in a hold. After 15 minutes, George Baptiste took the $25 forfeit, when Parker failed to throw him.
Instead of backing out of the challenge, Parker continued on and met the challenge of former Iowa Champion Wasem. Wasem was noticeably bigger at 165 pounds.
Wrestlers, who would be lighter weight wrestlers today, were considered heavyweight wrestlers in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. A heavyweight wrestler could weigh as little as 155 pounds.
When Wasem met Parker on November 12, 1902, Wasem took the offensive and almost secured a hold on Parker twice. Parker was able to wiggle free but never threatened Wasem. After 15 minutes, Parker’s promoters were now out $50 after Wasem took the $25 forfeit.
George Baptiste told local reporters that when he met Parker the following week, he intended to throw him to prove the superiority of St. Louis wrestlers. If Parker survived Baptiste, he would have one more go with Wasem, where he would likely end his run out $100.00.
Harvey Parker was hardly a world beater, so it isn’t surprising that he could not beat Baptiste and Wasem. However, Parker may have done quite well for himself. Due to professional wrestling’s carnival background, promoters and wrestlers often pulled stunts, arranged finishes, etc. to bilk the wrestling public.
An out-of-town wrestler challenging the local wrestlers could spur unusual interest in the wrestling contests and increase the paying audience. With four engagements at the Standard Theater for 4 straight weeks, the matches, whether real or arranged, probably did quite well financially.
Most professional wrestlers of this era held day jobs and wrestled on the side. George Baptiste was a personal trainer, swimming instructor, wrestling instructor and owned an interest in the Baptiste Tent and Awning Company founded by his father Alexander Baptiste. Alexander Baptiste lived to be 100 years old.
George Baptiste continued wrestling and met World Champion Georg Hackenschmidt, when he toured St. Louis in 1905. Hackenschmidt quickly dispatched the 41-year-old Baptiste. By 1905, Oscar Wasem moved his base of operations to Omaha, Nebraska.
After retiring, George Baptiste concentrated more on the Tent and Awning Company. After his father passed away in 1919, a few months before his 101 birthday, George Baptiste took over ownership. He continued to own the company until his own death on December 1, 1938. The 74-year-old George Baptiste was born on September 19, 1864. He left a widow Lillian.
Harvey Parker wrestled a few more years before retiring and disappearing from history. However, for four weeks in November 1902, he gave the St. Louis wrestling public a villain to root against.
Sources: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 13, 1902 edition, p. 14