Wrestler Saves Drowning Priest

     George Baptiste spent about twenty years serving as St. Louis’ resident all-around athlete before taking over the company, Baptiste Tent and Awning, founded by his father Alexander Baptiste.  Besides plying his trade as an occasional but accomplished professional wrestler, Baptise was a powerful swimmer.  On August 11, 1900, Baptiste used his swimming skills to save another St. Louisan from drowning.


George Baptiste, St. Louis Wrestler and All-Around Athlete

     Father T. J. Mora, of St. John’s Church at 16th and Chestnut Streets, decided to relax before holding Sunday services on August 12th.  Father Mora often swam at the Natatorium.  Being a Saturday night, only a few swimmers were present.  Fortunately for Father Mora, one of the swimmers was George Baptiste.

     Father Mora swam the length of the pool several times before resting for a few minutes in four feet of water.  He began to swim a few more laps, when he experienced a cramp and started to sink.

     George Baptiste was swimming underwater but heard Father Mora’s cry for help.  Baptiste quickly swam towards Mora, whose face was turning purple due to swallowing water.

     Baptiste saw Father Mora was only a few yards into the deep end of the pool.  Baptiste gave Father Mora a shove, which sent him ten yards back towards the shallow water.  A second shove put him in the shallow end, where Baptiste picked up Father Mora under the arms and rested him on the wall of the pool.

     Father Mora quickly recovered and was able to perform his regular Sunday duties at St. John’s Church.  Father Mora was the fourth swimmer Baptiste is recorded as saving from drowning.  Baptiste’s powerful swimming led to his marriage in October 1899 to an equally powerful swimmer, the former Miss Nellie Kyle of Milford, Connecticut.

     Baptiste and Miss Kyle swam together in Connecticut for several summers before he married her on October 12, 1899.  Mrs. Baptiste lasted in St. Louis about three weeks before homesickness led her to abandon her husband and return to Connecticut.  Baptiste reluctantly filed for divorce citing spousal abandonment.  Baptiste would marry a second time to a lady named Lillian, who was his wife at the time of his death.

     George Baptiste was born in St. Louis on September 19, 1864 to Greek immigrant Alexander Baptiste and his wife Marie.  Alexander lived to be a 100 years old and passed away in 1919.


5519 Hebert Street – Courtesy of Geo St. Louis

     George would take over his father’s company while continue to compete as an athlete including wrestling professionally until his early 40s.  Baptiste was one of two wrestlers, who took on George Hackenschmidt, when he visited St. Louis in 1905.

     George Baptiste passed away on December 1, 1938 at 74 years of age.  He and his wife Lillian lived at 5519A Hebert Street in the Wells/Goodfellow neighborhood of St. Louis.  The two-family flat built in 1924 is still standing but a Land Revitalization Authority (LRA) property.

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The Philipsburg Mail (Philipsburg, Montana). January 12, 1900 edition, p. 6

The St. Louis Republic. August 14, 1900 edition, p. 5

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