The city of South Milwaukee is now home to a statue of a professional wrestler, which is pretty awesome.
And fitting, given that the wrestler, Reggie “Da Crusher” Lisowski, was known as “The Man Who Made Milwaukee Famous.” His gimmick wasn’t too far from his real life – Lisowski grown up in the area, working as a bricklayer and a bouncer before turning to wrestling. As Da Crusher, he kept in shape hoisting kegs of beer down by Lake Michigan, or dancing the polka with “Polish dollies.” He smoked cigars, belittled his opponents as “turkey necks,” and bellowed a lot. A tough, proud, unpretentious Polish-American, one who wasn’t never afraid of a beer*, a good time – or, if necessary, a fight.
If you’re not a longtime wrestling fan, you might not know much about Da Crusher, but the wrestlers you do know of know him. Once, in semi-retirement, Da Crusher teamed with Hulk Hogan himself, and while his partner was both the most recognizable pro wrestler in the world and the world heavyweight champion, Da Crusher did most of the talking, getting the Hulk to join him in chomping a cigar down to the bit and singing “Beer Barrel Polka.” Hogan, who, after all, was supposed to be a role model to The Kids, had to walk back his Crusherisms as the interview went on. “I’m worried about if we drink that beer,” he told his partner, “we better be careful on those Harley-Davidsons, man!” Da Crusher just kept yelling. Both of them knew who was in charge.
The idea of a statue in Da Crusher’s honor started with a wrestling fan in southeast Wisconsin. Chris Smith wanted to make sure the local star, whose heyday came before wrestling’s TV-fueled push into the mainstream in the 1980s, wouldn’t be forgotten. Smith’s online funding campaign raised enough money for a statue and then some, so he decided to put the rest of the money toward a statue dedication event, which turned into a two-day festival called CrusherFest.
Judging by the turnout, Da Crusher isn’t going to fade away anytime soon. CrusherFest drew more than 10,000 people over two days, including me. It was loud, raucous and very, very fun. Lisowski’s kids were on hand to thank the fans for remembering their dad, and Crusher’s longtime partner Baron Von Raschke paid tribute to his former partner in character, talking about how great it was to put the Iron Claw on villains like Jerry Blackwell before Da Crusher let loose with his patented Bolo punch. And then the Novas, a band who’d channeled Da Crusher’s gravelly voice for a hit single, played the song live!
There was lots of food, lots of beer, and a long line of people waiting to get their picture taken with the new statue. A guy in line near me who was clearly a wrestling fan laughed when he saw all the chairs set up for the VIPs at the dedication. “It’s really a shame,” he said, “there are all these steel chairs and no one’s picked ‘em up and hit anybody with ‘em.” Pretty sure Da Crusher would have raised a beer to toast that idea.
South Milwaukee’s mayor told me he hopes CrusherFest becomes an annual event. Judging by the turnout, they should be able to make that happen.
*It should be noted that Da Crusher’s longtime tag team partner, Baron Von Raschke, said that while the character’s love of beer was well known, Reggie Lisowski wasn’t much of a beer drinker outside wrestling. He preferred wine. Say it isn’t so!