Read more Chattanooga History Columns
- Gaston: Paul John Kruesi was Edison's right-hand man
- Robbins: The old Richardson's house and the Civil War
- Gaston: James Williams was a man of the world
- Raney: Mason Evans, the 'Wild Man of the Chilhowee'
- Gaston: The legacy of Adolph Ochs endures
- Martin: Ed Johnson said, 'I have a changed heart,' the day before his lynching in Chattanooga on 1906
- Thomas: The inventiveness of Judge Michael M. Allison
- Moore: Chattanooga's first Chinese community
- Summers, Robbins: Chattanooga's Tuskegee Airman - Joseph C. White
- McCallie: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 says so!
- Gaston: John McCline's Civil War - from slave to D.C. parade
- Raney: Exploring Chattanooga businesses in the Green Book
- Elliott: Remembering the Freedmen's Bureau in Chattanooga
- Gaston: Nancy Ward was a beloved, respected Tennessean
- Martin: Prohibition - the noble experiment
- Elliott: 'A shameful, disgraceful deed': The destruction of the Sewanee cornerstone
- Gaston: Robert Cravens was ironmaster, Chattanooga area's first commuter
- Robbins: Dr. T.H. McCallie's Christmas 1863
- Robbins: Journalist writes of a trip to Missionary Ridge in 1896
- Summers, Robbins: Mine 21 disaster - gone but not forgotten
- Elliott: Collegedale incorporates to avoid Sunday 'blue laws'
- Gaston: 'Marse Henry' Watterson's journalism fame began in Chattanooga
- Robbins: Orchard Knob battle recalled in 1895
- Elliott: Chattanoogans joined in an 'orgy of joy and gladness' on Armistice Day, 1918
- Thomas: Noted service, speakers are marks of Rotary Club of Chattanooga since 1914
- Summers and Robbins: Remembering noted Tennessee author North Callahan
- Raney: 'I auto cry, I auto laugh, I auto sign my autograph'
- Gaston: Sequoyah's alphabet enriched Cherokees
- Robbins: A look at Sam Divine's life during the Civil War
- Robbins: Memories of a Confederate nurse
- Robbins: More notes from Bradford Torrey's 1895 visit to Chickamauga Battlefield
- Robbins: Journalist in 1895 details visit to Chickamauga Battlefield
- Elliott: Telephone exchange firebombing was distraction for grocery store robbery
- Gaston: Worcester brought Christ's message to Cherokee at Brainerd Mission
- Robbins: 1896 travel diary: 'A Week on Walden's Ridge'
- Gaston: Elizabeth Strayhorn, WAC Commandant at Fort Oglethorpe
- Robbins: The history of the Friends of Moccasin Bend National Park
- Moore: Do you own a Sears Roebuck home?
- Summers and Robbins: Camp Nathan Bedford Forrest in World War II
- Gaston: Hiram Sanborn Chamberlain remembered
- Elliott: Daisy the center of tile, ceramic manufacturing in Hamilton County
- Gaston: FDR inaugurates the Chickamauga Dam
- Summers, Robbins: Interned WWII Germans had it easy at Camp Crossville
- Elliott: A war correspondent on Lookout Mountain
- Gaston: Chickamaugas finally bury hatchet in Tennessee Valley
- Gaston: Chickamaugas in Chattanooga
- Robbins: The history of the Riverbend festival
- Raney: Sadie Watson, the first woman elected in Hamilton County government
- Moore: Remembering Chattanooga's Hawkinsville community
- Elliott: Welsh coal miners transformed Soddy after the Civil War
- Gaston: Chattanooga's best-kept secret
- Elliott: Cabell Breckinridge loses his horse
- Raney: Martin Fleming is the people's judge
- Gaston: The amazing career of Francis Lynde
- Martin: Hamilton County's Name Sake: Alexander Hamilton
- Summers, Robbins: The crosses at Sewanee
- Bledsoe: The fiery truce at Kennesaw Mountain
- Moore: Talented architect's life cut short by tragedy
- Rydell: Chattanooga's place in soccer history
- Robbins: Tennessee Coal, member of the First Dow Jones Industrial Average
- Raney: In the barber chair
- Lanier: Becoming the Boyce Station Neighborhood Association
- McCallie: John P. Franklin: Living history among us
- Barr: Chattanooga's first railroad: The Underground Railroad
- Summers, Robbins: Charles Bartlett was a Pulitzer Prize winner, Kennedy confidant
- Rainey: 'We have seen it'
- Elliott: Feinting and fighting at Running Water Creek and Johnson's Crook
- Gaston: The Spring Frog Cabin at Audubon Acres
- Raney: Wauhatchie Pike was moonshine motorway
- Robbins: Oakmont was home of venerable Williams clan
- Summers and Robbins: Rebirth of the Mountain Goat Line
- Elliott: Bad investments led to Soddy Bank failure in 1930
- Summers and Robbins: Pearl Harbor attack left football behind
- Gaston: Jolly’s Island namesake had long ties with Sam Houston
- Return Jonathan Meigs, Indian Agent
- Moore: Did you know about St. Elmo's other two cemeteries?
- Summers: Orme - Marion County's almost lost community
- Davis: Spooky revival at Sharp Mountain in 1873
- Robbins: The story of Longholm
- Raney: Women labored to help the U.S. win World War I
- Even in the city, the 'wheel' changed everything
- Murray: Confederate dilemma after Chickamauga
- J.B. Collins — Newsman extraordinaire
- Robbins: The Story of the Lyndhurst Mansion
- Chattanooga artist and wife lost on the Lusitania
- Chattanooga History Column: Battelle, Alabama and the Battelle Institute
- John Ross, a founder of Chattanooga
- Hamilton County casualties in World War I
- Chattanooga Power Couple
- 'Somewhere in France'
- The Ray Moss family
- Battery B from Chattanooga
- Ulysses S. Grant, Clark B. Lagow, and the Chattanooga Bender
- Songbirds Museum Timeline
- Hamilton County World War 1 roster
- The Soddy Girl and the Memphis Belle
- Blues icon Bessie Smith was the Empress of Soul
- Women's Army Corps at Chickamauga
- Emma Bell Miles' life at the top of the 'W'
- The Tivoli Wurlitzer is one of Chattanooga's priceless assets
- Chattanooga in struggle for freedom during Civil War
- October 1918, Chattanooga paralyzed by Spanish flu epidemic
- Eli Lilly and the Ditch of Death
- One hundred years ago, Chattanooga goes to war
- The legacy of Anna Safley Houston
- Harriet Whiteside was ahead of her time
- Southern Adventist University
- Chattanooga native's writings aided Civil Rights movement
- Zion College, Chattanooga's only African American College
- The North Shore's hidden past
- Mayme Martin -- Businesswoman and community leader
- Thomas Sim's epic struggle for freedom
- Top of Cameron Hill was price of rerouting interstate
- Cameron Hill has rich history
- Temperance movement included Harriman university
- The sweetest music this side of Heaven
- Conquistadors at Chattanooga
- Chattanooga and the 'General'
- Chattanooga's first Thanksgiving, 1863
- Chattanooga's greatest flood caught city unaware
- Opening the Cracker Line
- European trip in 1900 enlightens Sophia Scholze Long
- Sophia Scholze Long spoke out when others were silent
- Little South Pittsburg and its big silent movie stars
- Lot attendant recalls hottest job in Chattanooga
- Chattanooga's Forest Hills is final resting place for known, unknown
- Burritt College -- Pioneer of the Cumberlands
- Chattanooga's nicknames trace city's evolution
- The 25th annual meeting of the Tennessee Press Association
- Clemons Brothers Furniture Store
- The Short Life of the USS Chattanooga
- Ellen Jarnagin McCallie lived a truly remarkable life
- Dr. Jonathan Bachman was a revered city father
- Second guessing the Confederate failure on Missionary Ridge
- Nancy Kefauver, ambassador for the arts
- William Gibbs McAdoo kept his Southern roots
- Chattanooga's Secretary of the Treasury
- Howard Baker remembered as a statesman/photographer who snapped history
- Tivoli's last picture show
- The history of one of Chattanooga's oldest businesses
- Chattanooga's roller derby skaters
- Myths of Coca-Cola in Chattanooga
- Chattanooga's neighborhood grocery stores
- The tale of the Scottsboro Boys
- The people's history of Chattanooga
- Howard School is Chattanooga's reminder of Reconstruction
- Elevator operator, painter, mystery man: meet Rice Carothers
- Raulston Schoolfield made enemies amid his rise to power
- Website lets users peer into Chattanooga's past
- The flood of 1917
- Chattanooga's 'wickedest woman' buried at Forest Hills
- History of Cummings Highway
When Chicago sports promoter Leo Seltzer invented the banked oval track sport of Roller Derby in 1930, he created a popular source of entertainment that competed with wrestling for local sports fans.
From the 1930s to 1973, competing teams from Chicago, California and other parts of the country would fill Memorial Auditorium each year on their weekly tours.
Joan Weston, aka the "Blonde Bomber," "Blonde Amazon" and "Golden Girl," was a member of the San Francisco Bay Bombers and recognized queen of the Roller Derby during the era. A talented athlete in several sports, the 5 foot 10 inch, 165-pound blonde skater loomed over the smaller participants on the roller derby circuit. She replaced Annie "Big Red" Jensen as the Bay Bombers captain in 1965.
The racers mixed athletic skills with rough-house tactics including tripping, hair pulling and throwing opposing players over the ring rails of the oval track, attracting contact-oriented fans in the traditions of wrestling and stock car racing.
The bitter rivalries created among star skaters such as Weston and villain "Demon of the Derby" Ann Calvello further stimulated fan interest. The feuds in the ring often became personal. Blue-collar beer drinking fans throughout the country made Roller Derby a leading spectator sport.
Aroused audiences would retaliate against Calvello and other villains on both teams by throwing objects at the skaters during the contest and attacking them as they left the ring. What Seltzer invented as a relatively tame competition changed into a more violent sport when sports writer Damon Runyon helped rewrite the rules that increased violence - and attendance.
Most matches included illegal kicks and punches that sometimes exceeded the theatrical and resulted in serious injuries. Twisted arms, knee injuries, broken collarbones and loss of teeth were common.
Most of the female skaters had nicknames. The most prominent were Midge "Toughie" Brasham and Loretta "Little Iodine" Behrens.
W.C. Fields, Mickey Rooney, Cary Grant, George Burns, Gracie Allen and Eddie Cantor were movie stars who held reserve box seats at Hollywood's Pen Pacific Auditorium in 1953. The Los Angeles Braves attracted a crowd of 60,000 fans in a Rose Bowl match.
Few know that Chattanooga was represented in the roller derby by Betty "Little Red" Boyd and others as a member of the Jersey Jolters. In December 1944, Boyd participated in tryouts in Chattanooga with future Hall of Fame member Mary Lou "Lulu" Palermo of Chicago, who in 1946 married fellow skater Bob Satterfield. Their daughter, Donna, at age 2, traveled with her mother to matches across the country.
Palermo recently related in a telephone interview that Chattanooga always opened the yearly Roller Derby season on Dec. 26. She surmised that the Scenic City was chosen because of its role as a railroad hub with lines to all points of the country. After Chattanooga the teams took the train to Houston and Fort Worth, Texas, and then to Florida for the winter season.
Palermo related that skaters prominent in roller derby from Chattanooga included Red Smartt, Betty Boyd, June Brock, Robby Burns, Edith Branum, Peggy Smalley, Rita Bush, George Bolt, and Jack Wilson.
Many of the skaters have passed, but survivors have a reunion each May in Las Vegas.
Recognized male stars joining the Roller Derby in Chattanooga in 1947 included Ken Monte and William "Red" Smart, who two years later became captain of the Chicago Westerners. He was crowned Roller Derby "King" in 1955 and skated in the All Star Team from 1954 to 1959.
Roller Derby in 1946 became one of the first sports to be televised. While black and white television helped to prolong the life of the bank track derby, the sport eventually succumbed to skater's strikes, the gasoline crisis in the 1970s and increased operational costs. The original Roller Derby league had its last match on Dec. 3, 1973.
Before the league's demise, Leo Seltzer's son Jerry moved the Los Angeles team to the San Francisco Bay area, where he later syndicated the sport to 120 television stations throughout the nation.
Although the sport has seen some rejuvenation with women's flat track games, it has failed to acquire the prominence that it held in the days of the National Roller Derby. Chattanooga now has a women's team, the Chattanooga Roller Girls, that practices two days a week at the Orange Grove Center on Derby Street and plays its home games at the Chattanooga Convention Center.
Jerry Summers is an attorney at Summers, Rufolo & Rodgers. For more visit Chattahistoricalassoc.org.