A young boy pleaded with his father Friday evening to buy a Mexican-wrestler mask as rain-soaked crowds inched toward the ring at the Jaffa Shrine.
"Can I get a mask? Please?" he said before trying a few on.
For young Altoona wrestling fans, Friday night's "pro wrestling supershow and fanfest" featuring Bret Hart was a new treat, hearkening back to the days when professional wrestlers stopped frequently in the city during cross-state tours.
Mirror photo by Paul E. Singer
Rick Sabella of Philipsburg hands a pen to Bret Hart so he can sign a belt for his collection. Thousands gathered at the Jaffa Shrine Center on Friday night to watch the professional wrestlers battle it out.
"We don't get a chance to come to Altoona too much anymore," said The Patriot, a veteran fighter selling gear in a stars-and-stripes mask. "This place has some great history."
He paused when a fan, slurring his words, demanded he stand up, saying: "I want to see how big you are."
The Patriot politely declined.
"This place is famous," he continued. "Millions of years of wrestling history. I was here three or four times."
The fans, whose sogginess and grumbling turned to excitement as they warmed up inside, hailed the classic wrestlers' visit as the return of a years-old piece of popular culture.
"They're from back in the day, before it got ridiculous," Nick Benjamin of Altoona said. "It brings back a lot of memories of watching WWF and WCW before Sunday school."
Canadian star Bret "The Hitman" Hart and his partners - "Mouth of the South" Jimmy Hart and Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart - were all set to appear Friday. The trio fought together in the mid-to-late 1980s, the golden age when many in attendance first watched professional wrestling.
Songs by Journey and Kenny Loggins blasted from loudspeakers as fans, awaiting the first fight, chugged beers and discussed their favorite historic wrestlers.
"We came to see The Hitman," Bill McDowell of Altoona said, sitting just a few rows from the ring. "I'm a die-hard. I've been watching wrestling since I was 8 years old."
At the suggestion that the younger generation might not be familiar with the 1980s and '90s stars at the Jaffa Shrine, Daniel McDowell, 11, offered a quick correction.
"I know Bret Hart," he said through a mask.
For 5-year old Gage Carnell, Friday night's fights would be his first ever - and while his favorite wrestlers are more contemporary than those in attendance, relatives said he's the next generation in a long line of wrestling fans.
The crowd at the Jaffa Shrine was dotted with youngsters, many attending with fathers who lived in the World Wrestling Federation's heyday, when Altoona shows were a regular occurrence.
"The kids love wrestling," The Patriot said. "There's nothing like it. Football, basketball - there's nothing like professional wrestling."