|Picture of Whitey Caldwell taken shortly before his death.|
Many have told me he could run faster, hit a baseball farther, throw a ball faster and longer, and out-wrestle and out-fight anyone else. At his widow Nancy's funeral, the preacher doing the service said, "Everyone wanted to be Whitey. Even when he was a teenage high school sports star, grown men wanted to be Whitey."
Before Bristol was "Bristol Baby" with NASCAR, before The University of Tennessee was drawing 100,000 people for home football games, and before NCAA and pro sports filled the air waves, the local sports heroes and TV celebrities were pro wrestlers. Whitey was not just a star; he was THE star.
Whitey started wrestling as a teenager at the Kingsport Boys Club. In 1956, a local boxing promoter and independent (outlaw) wrestling promoter named Buddy Russell ran a card at the Kingsport Civic Auditorium. The event drew a large crowd, not for the boxing, but to see two young kids and future legends from the Boys Club take their first steps into a ring. It was not long before the two were working for Mickey's established office out of Kingsport. It has been legend that Whitey was not interested in becoming a full-time pro wrestler. He told Baarnes that the only way he would turn pro is if Baarnes let his childhood friend Ron Wright start also.
|Don Wright, Whitey Caldwell, and Ron Wright Kingsport Boys Club 1950s|
|Paper Clipping Nov 30 1961 Kingsport, TN|
There are very few pictures of Whitey and even less video. Thanks to Nancy Caldwell a few minutes of film of Whitey has survived. Even better it's vs. Ron. Below is the only known footage of Whitey from a match in November. 1962. (I know video says October I've got to fix that.
Did you know that Whitey and Ron were not only Tag Team Partners in 1967 but they also were the Kingsport Version of The Southern Tag Champions? Below is a rare picture of Ron and Whitey Together in Greeneville, TN.
Whitey was tragically killed October 7th 1972 on his way home to the Colonial Heights section of Kingsport. Where he had just built a new house for him and his family near Warriors Patch State Park. He had did Knoxville TV in that after noon. Then wrestled in Morristown TN at the famed Tally Ward Building that night.
Interstate 81 had not been built yet so Whitey left Kingsport and came up 11e to Greeneville and was planning on getting on highway 93 in Greeneville then up to Fall Branch and then take Fordtown Road to Colonial Heights. That was the fast way back then. Whitey's was hit head on just a mile before Geeneville at 11:10pm by a young man name Beecher G. Dunn who was driving at a high rate of speed and was trying to pass cars when he met Whitey in a curve.
|The crash scene the morning after you can see skid marks and how Whitey tried to miss being hit.|
Whitey was taken to a hospital in Greeneville then rushed to the Johnson City Trauma Unit where he dies at 2:15am. This was before all night news stations, the internet, or social media. Most everyone found out of Whitey's death when they saw it on the front pages of newspapers around East Tennessee.
|Whitey's car the morning after the crash.|
He was seen on TV just hours before his death. A packed building cheered him on in Morristown. Went home talking about him and woke to find out he had died. His death was a shock and heartbreaking to everyone who knew him or was a fan of his. The day of his funeral stores in Kingsport closed. People lined the streets to pay respect as his procession came by.
I've also been told over the years that John Cazana was crushed by Whitey's death. The two were great friends and John along with everyone else's hearts were not into Wrestling like they were before Whitey passed. It's also been said John would have not sold Knoxville in 1974 to Ron Fuller if Whitey was still alive and business was as usual.
There are so many what ifs. I sure history would be very different if Whitey lived longer. How? I have no idea. Times were changing with TV and how wrestling was presented. No matter what changes that would have came. I know somethings that would have remained the same. Whitey would have always been over and seen as a Superstar here. He would still have been loved. He would still have given back to his profession and fans. He still would have been well liked and respected by the other wrestlers.
Whitey is still considered the most loved wrestler ever in this area. This is attested by the fact that to this day, 45 years after his untimely passing from injuries in a car wreck, fans still visit his grave and leave flowers. How do I know this? Because I am one of them. He is buried in The Garden of David at East Lawn Cemetery on Memorial Blyd. in Kingsport. Several of my family members are buried around him.
Thank you for reading. I would love to hear your Whitey stories. Also if you have any pictures of him I would love to seem them as well.
If you would like to know more about Whitey, Ron, Bill Canny, or wrestling history in this area. Check out my book and DVD on Kingsport history. You can get them on the right hand side of the page.
Sinner saved by Grace, Pro Wrestler