August 15, 2004
Stories galore at Hart House farewell
By JASON CLEVETT - SLAM! Wrestling
CALGARY - Hundreds gathered at the Hart Mansion in Calgary to share memories and say goodbye to 50 years of history. For many it was a first chance to walk through its halls and visit the famous "Dungeon." Others took advantage of the opportunity to share stories, see friends, and walk through the house one final time.
Alison Hart had put a great deal of effort into creating displays dedicated to the house and family history, and took delighted groups through tours of the house, describing the boys and girls rooms, the library, and the many other parts of the 22-room house that she and her eleven siblings grew up in.
Meanwhile a few current Dungeon trainees put on exhibitions in the Dungeon and a ring set up on the lawn adjacent to the house. It was a very real look at exactly what young wrestling hopefuls go through in their early training as they slammed and suplexed each other to the mat.
Highlights of the afternoon also took place in the Dungeon. Former Stampede star 'Cowboy' Dan Kroffat held court in front of a rabid group of fans who seemed in awe of their surroundings and Kroffat. A skilled storyteller, Kroffat told tales of his experiences in the Dungeon and with Stu Hart.
"Stu loved Cadillacs," he laughed. "He bought a nine-seat Cadillac limousine and was so proud of it. He paid $10'000 for it, it was a beautiful car and we drove up to Edmonton. Stu had a tradition after the Saturday night matches we would go to a Kentucky Fried Chicken place and Stu would buy the chicken. Everybody ate all the chicken, and to see the car next day was to believe he had the car for 20 years. There were chicken bones and skins and grease all over the seats and the floor. It depreciated from about ten grand to two grand in one night."
Chicken also brought about memories of Andre the Giant.
"Andre ate 16 pieces of chicken. I will never forget his voice saying 'I love de chicken.' He had finished his, I had a box of four pieces and by the time I ate my four he had all 16 eaten. He would put a whole drumstick into his mouth and pull out the bone. He loved beer too, or grape pop. He loved girls but they were all scared of him, I'm not going to take that story any further."
Keith Hart, who arranged the fundraiser for the "King of the Mat" amateur wrestling tournament, also took questions from attendees. When asked about when Stu stopped training, the answer proved Stu's toughness.
"It was 1991 when he got hurt. He was 76 at the time and he tore his quad (the same injury that put Triple-H and Kevin Nash on the shelf). He thought it was a minor injury, so although he did it in February he didn't have it looked at until August. He had to go down to a ditch to get the mail, and he would complain, 'I keep falling on my ass.' He finally went to the doctor because 'My wife keeps getting mad at me for wrecking my pants."
A big part of the day was reminiscing about Stu and his impact on his family and the sport.
"You could tell when he had a new move because he would invite you up for Sunday dinner and feed you turkey until you were so full you could hardly breath, and then say 'I've got something I want to show ya.' He'd get you down here and the turkey would be bursting out your eardrums and he would laugh, and make you fart," said Keith Hart. "It wasn't the Dungeon to him it was just a gym. The boys started calling it the Dungeon because it was frightening to them, but for my Dad it was a room of enlightenment."
It had to have been hard for Keith's four sisters Alison, Ellie, Georgia and Diana to keep boyfriends, as frequently Stu would bring them down to the gym to show them a thing or two.
"He manhandled Jim Niedhart, his lips were blue. It was embarrassing to see a football player like Jim, who was one of the strongest men in America and his head was between his knees, he was crawling off the mat throwing up. He cried and begged for mercy. My Dad never threw a punch, it was deliberate, you could have played waltz music to it," said Keith.
After taking questions Hart then got an evil glint in his eye and offered to demonstrate some moves. While fan Wes Wetanko was brought onto the mat, Harmony Oakley actually asked Keith to stretch her.
"It's been my dream to be stretched in the Dungeon, and I knew if I didn't take advantage of this opportunity then I would regret it for the rest of my life." Oakley said. For Wetanko, who was subjected to a "crooked legscissors" he may not have volunteered, but the discomfort was worth it.
"When he twisted my neck I felt it pop," he said. "I'll be feeling that tomorrow but I had fun." It's been a few years, but Wetanko had been to the house before and returning brought back a flood of memories. "Walking into the kitchen, the pleasant smells just took me back. There's a lot of memories here for a lot of people, it's sad to see it go."
Keith even kept looking at me like a cat eying a mouse. Fortunately this time I got away with just locking up with him and batting around. Still, I took advantage of the chance to thud into the mat one more time before saying goodbye.
All to soon the day turned into evening and fans departed the house, most for the last time, with a day of memories they won't soon forget. They know that Stu and Helen Hart may have passed away, and the house may no longer be Hart Property, but their legacy will live on in the memories of fans, and the skill of the performers that have walked through the hallowed halls of 435 Patina Place, the Hart Mansion.
Jason Clevett is from Calgary, Alberta and considers it an honor to have visited Hart House on several occasions.