This Northern Michigan Border Town Once Hosted Smelt Wrestling
If you were in the border communities of Menominee, Michigan, and Marinette, Wisconsin, consider this Saturday Night's Main Event. The twin cities hold an annual Smelt Festival and wresting in the fish was once a premier event.
The festival was a springtime celebration held on the banks of the Menominee River, which divides Wisconsin from Michigan's Upper Peninsula. From 1941, here's a description of the festival from a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources magazine article:
The smelt run in greatest number at night, and from 9 p.m. until midnight all Marinette is festive. The Interstate Bridge is closed to traffic, every foot is crowded with poles, flashlights, machines for lifting the seines, and baskets full of shining fish. The riverbank is a blaze of light from bonfires. Barkers yell their wares, fireworks light the whole sky, and beer flows freely. The festival reaches a climax with the crowning of the Smelt Queen.
This image is from the 1939 festival and was captured by the forerunner to today's Wisconsin DNR, the state's Conservation Department.
The tradition of smelt wrestling went back decades in the community. This newsreel footage shows a battle royale in smelt. From the descrption from Resuters/British Paramount Newsreel says it all:
USA: Wisconsin: Marinette:
General view filling ring with smelts / start of free-for-all wrestling match / men wrestling among smelts / man throwing handful of smelts in audience / General view bout..wrestlers throwing smelts / men wrestling & putting fish in each other's face / crowning winner with fish.
United States of America; Bizarre Items; Sport
Background: Wrestlers in free-for-all in ring filled with fish.
The Interstate Bridge in Menominee is one of 24 bridges that connect Michigan and Wisconsin. Nearly everyone thinks of the Mackinac Bridge as the way into Michigan's Upper Peninsula without realizing there are two dozen water crossings. Check all of them out: