Top Wrestlers of the 1930s
and the Pojello Mystery
When Wrestling Heritage counted down the Top Overseas Stars of the 1930s we placed Lithuanian heavyweight Karl Pojello at number two, second only to Jack Sherry.
The friendship Karl formed with Atholl Oakeley during Oakeley's 1931 American tour led to Pojello, by then an American citizen, arriving in Britain on 11th November, 1932. For the remainder of the decade he never seemed to be away, though he did return to the United States on occasions. Pojello was an old timer, a man with immense experience, and just the sort vital to establish professional wrestling in Britain in the 1930s where there was a shortage of home grown talent.
Pojello was, by all accounts, a class act, a man with a huge repertoire of holds who could move swiftly around the ring. His skill had been learnt as an amateur in St Petersburg after he had moved there from Lithuania. He was Russian Greco Roman champion and was a successful international wrestler by the age of twenty. He was conscripted to the engineers division of the Russian Army as the Great War took hold across Europe. After the war he continued to wrestle as an amateur and seems to have turned professional in 1920, or thereabouts. Wrestling took Karl to Siberia, Manchuria, Indo China and Japan. In 1923 he set sail from Japan for America, settling in Chicago and taking American citizenship. By January 1924 Pojello was wrestling in Chicago and travelled extensively across America during the 1920s,also serving for eighteen months as an athletic instructor in the U.S. Army. In February, 1928, he defeated John Meyers to win the world light heavyweight championship.
Damning praise from the New York Sun in February, 1935, "Where Pojello is at fault is in lack of color, meaning he is no actor. He doesn't even sound good. He goes altogether too seriously about his job. His face does not register pain and the gamut of emotions dramatically, nor does he inject the correct sound effects. Worse still, he is too good in mat technic."
Oakeley claims that it was whilst he was in America that Karl made plans to come to Europe and promote wrestling in France. Oakeley, who had returned to Britain and was making serious headway as a wrestling promoter persuaded his friend to come and work for him. Pojello's victory over Jack Pye at Nottingham in November, 1932, was reported as ".... an outstanding revelation of scientific wrestling."
Karl Pojello wrestled in Britain spasmodically between November, 1932, and August, 1939, our earliest and last recorded contests both being defeats of Jack Pye. Between times he was one of the finest wrestlers in Britain with victories over all the top stars including Bulldog Bill Garnon, George Clark. Padvo Peltonin and the Black Tiger by two falls to nil. In February, 1933 Karl beat Germany's Heinrich Froehner at Nottingham in the sixth round to win the European Heavyweight Championship. Froehner had taken the title from Oakeley some six weeks earlier.
Whilst Karl brought so much credibility to British wrestling we would be amiss were we to omit one shadow. On 20th May, 1938, the Daily Mirror devoted their front page to the news that mud wrestling had come to Britain. At the end of a regular wrestling bill Karl Pojello faced Manuel Garcia in a ring filled with clay that was covered with crude oil and sprinkled with soot. The audience were reported to have enjoyed the occasion, having paid 12s 6d (62 ½ p) for the privilege of being splattered with mud, unless they had paid an extra 9d for a paper cape. It was not Britain's finest moment.
With war on the horizon Karl returned to America in August, 1939, accompanied by his protege Maurice "The Angel" Tillet. Pojello continued wrestling until the mid 1940s and later concentrated on training and management. Karolis Pojela died of lung cancer on 4th September 4, 1954. Tillet had also been ill at that time, and maybe it was the shock of losing the man he considered his saviour that led to his own death from a heart attack only a few hours later.
That you would think would be the end of the story.
Not as far as Wrestling Heritage is concerned.
Ron Historyo uncovers a secret taken to the grave in The Pojello Mystery.
I could understand anyone who would think why write yet another article on Karl Pojello?
If you do some simple searching on the web there is lots on this man and in the main I would say pretty accurate stuff. A great legacy and the pick of all the articles is perhaps Karl Pojello - An Angels best Friend. It is part of a website deathmaskofmauricetillet-theangel. I am not going to compete with the quality of Photos of Karl; it is a definitive read.
So I don't want to re-hash it all into another format. People Know he discovered the Angel Tillett and had been a great wrestler who came to Britain in the 1930's.
Some will know that Pojello and Tillett died the same day and are buried together. Now there are two things I want to do. The first is simply to do a few highlights on Pojello's stature and a little of his visits to Britain.
And the second thing is I have a problem with that grave and the dates on it. Before we go any further anyone collect autographs? Well in the banner above is the real name.
Britain had it's Cumberland and Westmorland, It's Highland games Cornish and Lancashire Catch in the fields and out there across the Atlantic, America was ten years ahead of us.
Make no mistake Pojello was one of the big names. America was ahead of Britain with the type of wrestling we know. What has become very clear, is that at the start of the 1930s British wrestling did not have enough wrestlers. In the early years Oakeley, Garnon and Assirati went over to America to learn. Oakeley was part of a syndicate and very influential in getting wrestlers over from Europe and America and also squeezing a few more years out of some of our “catch veterans.” Many of the imports were in the twilight of their careers.
Some of these veterans were also mentors for younger adventurous men. November 11th 1932 Karl Pojello came with his young charge, William Bartush, age 24. The Aquitania from New York delivered them to Southampton.
14th November 1932 at Nottingham was Pojello's debut in England against a very young, lean and green Jack Pye who he toyed with and beat 2-0 in three rounds. Pojello weighed 14 stone and Pye four pounds lighter.
Pojello was also matched with some old veterans, Magnee for sure born in the 1880's, but it was all to demonstrate wrestling. English wrestling needed the likes of Irslinger, Boganski, Pojello, Sherman, Judson, Sherry and the likes of the Europeans Blomme, LeTaileur, Froehner, and others.
Pojello travelled to England during 1932, nearly always well matched for wrestling and was not set up to work with the powerhouses. It was really the well chosen Oakeley men used to demonstrate Pojello's considerable skills. Men like Sam Rabin and Black Butcher Johnson, and of course Van Dutz and Garnon.
In early 1934 Pojello went back and forward to France at least twice and then departed from Cherborg on the Berengaria on 4th April 1934 along with Chicago born William Bartush.
On 9th November, 1936, Pojello came back from New York to Southampton on the Queen Mary. Still working for the Syndicate he was on a Kathleen Look show at Hull on the 14th against Peltonin. Bert Mansfield Bill Garnon and The Golden Hawk (Warton Johnson) were well chosen opponents that followed. And then another great tactician Francis Gregory, all well worked shows to demonstrate great wrestling.
Massive shows featuring battles with Irslinger and at last a powerhouse in Fazal Mahomed both in 1937.
I am not going to try and give a career record for fights in England or even account for all of Pojello's movements. What I have is an appreciation of his time here and how in the late stages of his time as a wrestler he helped this country build wrestling..
Of course it was round about this time that Karl discovered the Angel, Maurice Tillett, to whom he was a father figure too, hence the gravestone. So wrestling was getting less frequent and managing was becoming the norm for Karl.
The final match I could find in British papers was a Morecambe bill in 1939. Of course the war was coming and the Angel was about to be unleashed on the States. The Angel allegedly fought 84 times in Britain. Certainly fought Assirati in 1948 at White Hart lane.
I am going to leave the skimming over of Karl Pojello's late career and come back to the title of my article, The Pojello Mystery and you the reader can judge.
September 4th 1954 Karl Pojello died of Cancer and his friend Maurice Tillett died the same day. All the newspaper reports are consistent, but they do seem to play out to the same standard template of a statement.
All reports, and there were dozens of them in the American Press stated Pojello was 61. It is my belief that Pojello was not 61. The newspapers were wrong. The headstone was wrong. I believe Karl Pojello was ten years older than stated.
Tillett who looked up to Karl was 51.Now, there are certain things in genealogy that are “Crown Copyright” and evidence has to be extracted and stated rather than copied.
So let me state my case about Pojello being 61 and born in 1883 by asking do you remember I said he came here in 1932 with 24 years old Bartush? Well in those days borders were checked properly and the ship had a log of who was going where and why. Pojello said he was 49 years old and they were staying at Golders Green in London.
That puts him born in1883, not 1893.
On the return journey Pojello is again 49.
Third piece of evidence. In 1934 when departing from Cherborg on the Berengaria Pojello said he was 51 and had his wife Olga with him age 43, heading for New York.
Fourth, in 1936 arriving on the Queen Mary he said 55 years old and a wrestler staying at the Savoy Hotel.
Fifth piece of evidence, he was in France in 1948 and departed LeHavre on the SS Marine Tiger saying he was 65 and had a home address if 1512 N Dearborn Avenue Chicago.
O.K. Five ships logs so you could say only one source. Not really. Read on.
In 1943 Pojello took part in a famous Jiu jitsu v wrestler match behind closed doors that was all over the papers. Dozens of US papers reported this and it was all about Pojello being age 60. His opponent Masato was half his age at 30. All the papers were consistent.
Do the maths and you get 1883. Can it really be that the headstone is wrong?
In 1932 Pojello would have been a veteran of 49 years of age when he came to help the Syndicate spread British Wrestling. By being twenty and not ten years older than the Angel he was so much more that father figure.
And that also would account for the opponents being also veterans of technical caliber to exhibit skills, and it would have been easy to tie up newcomers like Jack Pye.
I don't know, but it may be that powerhouses like Assirati and Doug Clark and George Clark were avoided, maybe not because of real danger, but a question of styles and what worked.
I have one more very important piece of proof and within that we can do an analysis of the early life of Pojello. The many great sources featuring Pojello's life have him born in Steigvilai in the district of Siauliai in Lithuania. I had a look at the application to become an American Citizen in 1923.
This is Karl's own declaration. He filled out the application. Professional athlete, age 39, height five feet nine and 185 pounds. Dark hair and blue eyes. Born Kovno in Prussia which is today Kaunas in Lithuania. The thing is Steigvilai is in the North and Kovno in the centre, still maybe born in one but grew up in the other. But by his own hand he stated Kovno.
Date of birth 31st January 1883. Now, the date on the stone is ten years later plus two weeks more as well.
Looks to me like the second date may have been a baptism done very quickly after birth.
Could the gravestone have been done from a faded baptismal certificate ?
Pojello had travelled to America from Yokohana in Japan on the President Madison arriving in Seattle 9th August 1923 and at the time unmarried. That was not quite all, he had travelled with another professional athlete Dimitu Mikhailovitch Mastinoff age 43. Who he was is another mystery. He was a Russian of five eleven and 265 pounds.
A third person was with them and her name was Olga Morasse born in Tobolsk in Russia, last residence Harben in China and travelled from Yokohoma in Japan on the same trip.
Olga was later applying for Citizenship of the USA and at that time the Pojello's were at 3495 Broadway New York. She stated that she and Karl Pojello had married 10th January 1924 in Chicago but gave a date of birth for Karl as 14th February 1883. (10 years and one day out from the gravestone)
The man who had the gravestone made was Pojello and Tillett's promoter, called Tamasiunas. I think Pojello's age has been lost in translation.
Olga, born 1891 in Russia died in new York in 1978.
And if that is not enough history for you You can always study the rule of Prussia. Hard Core Stuff.