Apter claimed I wasn’t a real fan unless I had toured the “only legitimate professional wrestling museum in the world,” which happens to be Bud Carson’s Pro Wrestling World.
As one of only seven people in North America who possesses “WWE Crush Hour,” I scoffed at “Wonderful Willie’s” challenge and vowed to cement my fandom by strolling past pillars of framed autographs for an hour.
Forgive my skepticism, but after squinting at dozens of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” figurines at Pizza Brain, the supposed largest collection of pizza memorabilia on Earth, I learned that “museum” is a relative term. With numerous shops in the Northeast such as George’s Cards and Collectibles and Prof. Ouch’s Bizarre Bazaar selling vintage wrestling merchandise, I doubted Pro Wrestling World offered anything more than a Mordecai action figure.
Well, Bud Carson proved me wrong.
Stretching across the top floor of the Merchant’s Square Mall, Bud Carson’s Pro Wrestling World displays 50 years’ worth of gimmicks splashed against the walls. Sandman’s Singapore cane, Dusty Rhodes’ polka dot onesie, Rikishi’s thong strap, cowboy hats, original championships, ring boots – you name it.
The time machine never stops as you turn left into Carson’s store, bumping into mountains of autobiographies, VHS tapes, magazines, DVDs and toys.
I almost pulled a muscle whipping my wallet out to buy Gordon Solie’s Championship Wrestling Trivia Game, a true collector’s item and surefire secret weapon for the next round of suplex quizzo.
The only question I couldn’t answer was, “Who is this Blackbeard of Wrasslin’, and how has he gathered all of these treasures?”
“My dreams were to become a professional wrestler and have my own baseball card store,” Carson said. “I trained for a couple years in the early ‘80s while I was in the Marines, performing on small shows at flea markets and tiny gymnasiums. Dominic DeNucci referred me to Ron Shaw, who taught me a few things, but then wrestling had to take a backseat so I could provide for my family.”
Juggling a variety of odd jobs including roof truss construction, Carson adjusted his priorities, switching his passion to mere hobby in order to raise his family.
However, an accident in 1996 changed his life forever.
“I was working in a foundry in Kutztown, Pa., and lost my left arm after it got stuck in a machine,” Carson said. “So I used the money I received to buy a house, educate my children and finally open my baseball card store.”
Carson’s tragedy quickly spawned wrestling fans’ nirvana.
“In the late ‘90s, there was Stone Cold Steve Austin and [New World Order] and [Extreme Championship Wrestling], and wrestling was at its hottest point in history,” Carson said. “I decided to turn over the baseball card store into a wrestling superstore and searched through flea markets and yard sales for memorabilia. When people found out I actually buy this stuff, they cleaned out their attics and basements, and I gave them a fair price.”
Open Fridays through Sundays from noon until 5 p.m., the megastore also sells merchandise via eBay.
“Action figures always do very well for us because the loose ones are inexpensive and still in good condition,” Carson said. “DVDs are dropping off because of YouTube and Netflix. Believe it or not, VHS sales are still steady because the WWE still has not converted some old tapes to DVDs.”
In addition to diehard fans, legends of the squared circle have stopped by Pro Wrestling World for autograph sessions about once a month for the past 15 years. Bruno Sammartino kicked off the tradition and a proverbial Royal Rumble of guests have followed, including the Bushwhackers, “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka, Sunny, Iron Sheik, Paul Bearer, Spike Dudley and more.
“I’ve been pretty lucky to have all my favorites growing up actually come to the store,” Carson said. “Ivan Koloff, Magnificent Muraco … once these legends show up, their eyes go big and bright. By the time the signing ends, they offer a pair of trunks or boots sitting in their closet to be displayed, which is really an honor for me.”
On Feb. 22, Bill Carson’s Pro Wrestling World will host perhaps the hottest free agent in sports-entertainment: A.J. Styles.
Although Carson remains grateful to have showcased many of his heroes over the years, one name would mean a lot financially, as well as personally.
“I like John Cena because he is good for the kids,” Carson said. “But WWE is very strict about having their employees come to the store, and they’re also very expensive.”
As rumors persist regarding WWE’s construction of a Hall of Fame building, Carson said he believes a future tag team could be beneficial for fans.
“We’re just in the infancy stages of what this thing can be,” Carson said. “If the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in Amsterdam, N.Y., wants to come on board, I’m pretty sure Vince McMahon might lend a hand as well. Whether they make an offer or not, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing because this is a labor of love. I just love it when I hear somebody come in and say, ‘Hey, you’re bringing back memories of watching with my father.’”
You wouldn’t expect an institution honoring such an international phenomenon to sit in Allentown, Pa.
Yet, Carson refuses to budge from his home.
“Come check the museum out for a couple hours, maybe spend a couple hundred bucks in the store, then head to the Sands Casino or an IronPigs game or a hockey game,” Carson said.
On the drive home, I got lost on a snow-covered back road and cursed Apter once again.
But if I had to hitchhike to North Philly, I would have done it proudly as a true wrasslin’ fan.
John Corrigan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.