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The Amazing Story of the One Man Gang Middle Finger Photo

Thirty years ago I attended a World Wrestling Federation card at the Duluth Arena … because that’s something teenage boys did in 1987. I went with a group of friends that included Barrett Chase, who co-founded Perfect Duluth Day 16 years later. Seated directly behind us was a complete stranger. Eventually, the three of us ended up in business together … if you count goofing off on the internet as “business.” I certainly do.

As far as wrestling cards go, this one was pretty mediocre. “Macho Man” Randy Savage was in the main event, which was enough to make it worth the twelve bucks or whatever it cost to get in. A number of other well-known wrestling names were on the bill — Honky Tonk Man, Killer Khan, Junkyard Dog, Sherri Martel, Koko B. Ware, Dan Spivey — but the Macho Man was unequivocally the legend in the room.

Years later, all memory of who won or lost those wrestling matches faded. Barrett and I would end up going to five WWF cards in Duluth during a one-year timeframe spanning May 1987 to May 1988. Those events became mostly mashed together in our brains, but we could somewhat distinguish them by remembering main event matches or which other friends came with us to the shows.

These days there are websites that list the complete results of those cards, unraveling the forgotten history. Something else has brought those memories back to the surface in recent years: shoeboxes of blurry old 35mm and 110 cartridge photos shot on cheap cameras. That’s how the One Man Gang, a guy in a Pabst beer cap, and a sign with a middle finger drawn on it would travel through time to connect Barrett and I with the stranger seated behind us. Lend me your attention span for two more paragraphs of background and I swear the previous sentence will soon make sense.

In 2009, Barrett and his partner in the Perfect Duluth Day enterprise, Scott Lunt, were looking to grow their website in new directions. They brought in three additional partners: Brian Barber, Cory Fechner and yours truly. Barrett and I had known each other since elementary school, and we came to know Scott and Brian mostly through working at the Ripsaw newspaper circa 1999 to 2002.

Barrett and I went to high school with Cory, but we didn’t spend a lot of time with him then and didn’t know him at all when he attended a different middle school, back when the wrestling matches were in town. We got to know Cory when I met and married his cousin Stephanie many years later, and that’s what led to the business partnership. Barrett eventually moved on, however, leaving PDD in 2015 and taking a position at the Duluth News Tribune.

And now we get to the heart of the story. One day in 2010, I pulled out an old shoebox containing a bunch of photos Barrett and I shot in the 1980s, including some from the various Duluth wrestling cards. Among them was a glorious shot Barrett took of George Gray, the grappler who at the time was billed as the One Man Gang.

Grey is at the right edge of the photo, on his way to the ring. At center frame is a guy in a Pabst hat, himself appearing to have just snapped a picture. In the background to his left is a sign with an illustration of a hand with a protruding middle finger.

I posted the image on Perfect Duluth Day under the headline, “From the Photo Archive: One Man Gang wrestling in Duluth on Oct. 8, 1987.”

PDD readers got a chuckle out of it, a few people commented, someone claimed to know the guy holding up the sign, though he’s not visible in the photo. All in all the result was an above average blog post.

In 2015 Duluth band Giljunko used the image as cover art for a cassette release of live recordings titled Group Sounds, giving it some added notoriety. PDD also received a request in 2014 for the rights to use the image in a pro wrestling history book, but we never heard whether the book was ever published or if the image was used in it.

Then, more years passed. Cory’s mother needed help moving and we came across several boxes of her old photos. One of them contained some shots Cory took at the One Man Gang wrestling card.

I was the one who happened to be poking through that box. At first I came across photos of various other wrestlers — Sivi Afi and Brady Boone, Special Delivery Jones, etc. —and I thought to myself, “huh, Cory went to one of those old wrestling shows.”

It wasn’t much of a coincidence Cory was at an event Barrett and I attended. Thousands of people were at those wrestling matches. But then I came across something eerie. It was a stunningly similar photo of the One Man Gang.

I was only a little surprised at the discovery, until I studied it closer. Cory’s photo is lit up by a flash from another camera. And on the right edge of the image is that very camera. Cory had been sitting directly behind us and captured the exact moment Barrett had taken his infamous photo.

Let me spell this out for unmistakable clarity: Two guys who didn’t know each other at all stood five feet apart 30 years ago and snapped a photo of the same thing within a single second of each other, then 22 years later owned a website together and eventually a mutual partner came across both of their photos in different shoe boxes.

Coincidence? Yes. But a damn fine example of one.

Now I’m just waiting to see the photo Pabst-hat guy shot. I think I’d like to go into business with him.

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