In the heart of South Milwaukee, they finally unveiled a statue saluting a famous son – the legendary wrestler Reggie Lisowski, also known as “Da Crusher”!
Larger than life – and larger than most people – Reggie “Da Crusher” Lisowski was born in South Milwaukee in 1926 and, though he played high school football, actually began training to wrestle professionally when he was just 13. His working class roots made him especially popular in Wisconsin; in his obituary after he passed in 2005 The Washington Post reported him as “a professional wrestler whose blue-collar bona fides made him beloved among working class fans for 40 years.” Similar to the longtime Schlitz beer slogan, he was also frequently referred to as “the wrestler who made Milwaukee famous.” He drew huge crowds during his peak wrestling days with the AWA – American Wrestling Association – and frequently teamed up with Dick the Bruiser. Yes, this led to a “crusher” and a “bruiser” – no sugar-coating it here.
As noted in many bios for Reggie, “Crusher was successful as a solo wrestler, winning the AWA World Heavyweight Championship three times, the first time unifying it with the Omaha version of the World Heavyweight Championship on July 9, 1963, in a match where he defeated Verne Gagne. He was skillful at cutting promos, as he would brag about his “100 megaton biceps” and offer to pummel “da bum” he was facing in the ring with ease, and he often delighted in calling opponents “turkeynecks.”His most quotable and famous phrase though was: “How ’bout ‘dat? When asked how he trained for a match, he’d claim he ran along the waterfront in Milwaukee carrying a large full beer barrel over either shoulder for strength (and longtime AWA announcer Rodger Kent often noted that by the end of the Crusher’s training run, the beer was gone), and that he’d dance polka all night with Polish barmaids to increase his stamina. Although much of Crusher’s popularity came from the idea that he was a big beer drinker, in actuality, he never drank beer, and according to Baron Von Raschke, he actually preferred wine.”
The legend extended to music, too. In 1964, the Minneapolis-based garage rock band The Novas wrote a song dedicated to him called “The Crusher”, with lead singer Bob Nolan imitating the raunchy voice of Crusher Lisowski (and his trademark yell at the beginning of the record). The tune, which included the lyrics “Do the hammer lock, you turkeynecks!” was popular in the upper Midwest and made it to #88 on the national Billboard chart. It was later covered by The Cramps on their album Psychedelic Jungle, and has long been a staple on the Dr. Demento Radio Show. The song has received a resurgence of popularity in recent years, as David Letterman has often played it on his late-night talk show. The Ramones released a song entitled “The Crusher”, paying tribute to Lisowski on their last studio recorded album, Adios Amigos.
After Lisowski died in 2005 (in South Milwaukee), talk began of saluting the legendary local with a statue. It took 14 years for it to happen; the unveiling ceremony took place on June 8, 2019 in a plaza that also holds South Milwaukee’s original train depot and hosts a weekly farmer’s market in season.
The bronze statue of “Da Crusher” was designed by Milwaukee-based artist Thomas Holleran. It’s life-size and quite detailed, right down to the wrinkles in his forehead and the keg of beer he’s carrying.
Every June, South Milwaukee holds “Crusherfest,” a festival saluting the man, the sport, and the city’s ties to both. The festival includes
You’ll find “Da Crusher” at 1101 Milwaukee Avenue, just a block west of Highway 32 in downtown South Milwaukee. Highway 32 here is also part of the historic Yellowstone Trail with good proximity to Grant Park, one of the crown jewels in the Milwaukee County Park System with beautiful trails, cliffs, and great beaches along Lake Michigan.