Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Key to Might and Muscle - (Circa 1926) - Chapter 10 - (Part A) - Famous Men of Might and Muscle - By George F. Jowett

To me the rim of the horizon was always full of mystery, and as maturity claimed me, I longed eagerly to solve its hidden meanings for myself. It seems but yesterday that I heard my mother croon, "A Wednesday babe wanders far away," and I, in my childish faith, would ask her what I would be when I grew to be a man. My star of destiny rose at birth on the wanderers' trail, a path I followed for so many years. Now, as I look back, I can see in the gleam of bivouac and campfire, on veldt and prairie, little gatherings of restless, wistful men. I loved to listen to the lives of others as they lived their battles over in the tales they told. The lumberjack's shanty, the soldier's bivouac and the sailor's galley, each is a sacred spot, and so is the little club room off the gym, where the strong men have gathered for years and then passed on, leaving their appointed place to be filled by others of a younger generation. Does history repeat itself? I do not know; it always seems new to me. However, we all like to listen to it. The audience may be the same, drawn by a common appeal that is handed down. To us, the call of the strong man, the man of iron, is the spark that ignites our enthusiasm. We are all interested in the deeds of the modern strong man, but the deeds of the mighty men who in other days wielded Vulcan's rod, still claim our greater attention. So it will always be. The man of today will be the hero of tomorrow. His deeds will remain to thrill others, just as the deeds of the mighty iron men of a past decade continue to thrill us. So, gather around comrades, old and young, while I tell you some of the stories of men of might and muscle, I have known and heard of, and may my recitals interest you as much as the telling interests me.

I am not going to stick to any set form. I am just going to narrate to you the incidents as they come to my mind, in my own rambling style, to let you glimpse some of the characteristics of the famous strong men, their personality and good fellowship. So you can smile more steadfastly, in the realization of the fact that once a man is strong, no matter where you place him. Looking into his life we will see the evidence of his mighty strength in many difficult phases. No man can say a man is really strong unless his strength will prove itself under all circumstances. Our common sense knows that. Place any other man in the same circumstances I shall narrate and he would prove himself a physical pigmy. The strongman who obtains his strength from bar bell training, and who took to tossing iron for his particular sport, is still the monarch of strength athletes. No other method can give the same thews, or convey the same inspiring message to those who seek the domain of health and strength. Years ago, after the French Canadian giant, Louis Cyr, had forsaken the stage to take charge of his saloon in Montreal, thousands of his admirers continued to pay homage to him. They constantly patronized his saloon so they could claim friendship with this iron king. They listened to him tell his stories, but always with a hope and a watchful eye to see him perform some feat which to was common-place, but to others impossible. It was no uncommon sight to see Louis carry a huge cask of beer off the drayman's wagon on his one shoulder. What was a three hundred and twenty pound cask to him, even if it was terribly awkward to handle. He could grasp it by the chines and lift it from the wagon to the pavement, and then toss it to one shoulder, or throw it back on the truck, according to the need, without registering any sign of exertion. It was all in a day's work to him, but one feat he often performed to draw the patronage as a part of his business routine. Yet, he always performed it in an off hand way, that made him appear to be indifferent to any effect the feat had upon the spectators. They still talk about it in the old haunts, and it is a story worth telling,

Cyr would be reclining on the serving side of the bar and while he was in the midst of his conversation with his patrons, he would be approached by his wife dressed to go shopping. With the interrogative " Louis," she would announce her presence. Knowing what she wanted, the ponderous giant would neither withdraw his gaze or stop in his speech, but would lower his right hand in a nonchalant fashion, upon which his wife would sit. As gently as a child he would lift her over the counter, and as gently deposit her on the other side without a break in his speech. Madam would be examining her purse during the unusual journey and would then pass on as calmly as thought she had made the trip in a modern elevator. Showmanship par-excellence was exhibited by both in this extraordinary feat, but can you imagine the amount of strength that was involved? Although she did not weigh much over a hundred pounds, yet it meant that he curled her weight on the flat of his hand, and passed her over the counter in the manner of a hold-out and with no visible effort. It was a terrific feat of strength, which when performed, was a source of delight to all who witnessed it.

It is a well known fact Louis was an enormous gourmand, and his old show partner, Horace Barre, who retired a few years before Cyr, could keep him company at many of his feasts. These orgies were the cause of the death of both men. Many claim that the Bourgeaux jailor was stronger than Cyr, but it is hard to say, as both were Goliaths in strength. One of the outstanding feats of Barre's career, and one which he performed on three occasions, was that of walking the length of the gymnasium with a bar bell that weighed twelve hundred and seventy pounds on his shoulders. Twice he carried the weight in Montreal and once he duplicated the feat in Professor Attila's gymnasium in New York. Some time ago I was talking to the wife of the late professor, and we naturally fell to discussing Louis Cyr and Horace Barre. Madam Attila remembered quite well when the huge French Canadian made the astounding lift. We laughed as we recalled the quaint superstitions that obsessed poor Barre. If things were not just so, you might as well try to move the Woolworth Building, as poor superstitious Horace. He was full of signs and omens, and was forever crossing himself. Both he and Louis were good, honest hearted souls. Their life requirements were simple and they always had a smile for every one; I never heard of either having any enemies.

Carl Moerke, reminds me of Cyr, in build, except that Cyr was a much bigger man. Carl is only five feet two inches and weighs two hundred and twenty pounds, but his bulk for his height can be compared with Cyr's. Moerke is also tremendously strong. If you want to give yourself an idea of what his capabilities are, ask yourself what you could do with one of the steel rails that lie on a railway track. Perhaps you do not know much about them, but the next time you see the men laying railroad rails, see how many men it takes to carry one. No wonder he can do a deep knee bend with nearly six hundred pounds. When he was visiting me, I saw him snatch a bar bell of one hundred and sixty pounds overhead with one finger. Not off the floor as you might imagine. First he stood erect with the weight hanging at arms' length on his finger; then with a quick knee bend he took the weight to arms' length overhead. He is not lacking in the real stuff, and I have often had the pleasure of seeing this for myself; neither is his fellow country man and old opponent Henry Steinborn.

One time I met four German athletes who had been interned in the same prison camp as Henry, in Australia. They told me that for a weight they had sawed a tree trunk in two and connected the two pieces together with a long rod. That was their bar bell, and such as you can imagine was some weapon. In that prison camp there were thirty men who could lift three hundred pounds overhead, which was the weight of this improvised bar bell. Some days only four could lift it. For a while they could not imagine what was wrong, until Henry got stumped. He became sore and after a great fight he got the weight overhead. Out of curiosity they weighed it, and found that instead of weighing three hundred pounds, it weighed three hundred and seventy-five pounds. It started them guessing. Then they got the answer. It had rained incessantly for two or three and the timber had become water-logged, and a few days later when it had dried out, it weighed three hundred pounds as before. However, whenever there was a heavy dew or a shower, the wood absorbed it, which was the reason why the majority were so often stuck. Henry claims that was what made him a lifter, although the method of progression was not the sort that most of us would care much about. Yet, it must have been funny to see Henry get sore at his bell.

Talking about getting sore, can you imagine the even-tempered Warren Lincoln Travis getting sore? He did once. He was giving an exhibition down in New England, and at the entrance of the show he had his diamond belt and some other trophies on display. He had hired a man to watch them, but Warren forgot to hire somebody to watch the watcher. The result was, the caretaker of the trophies beat it with the whole outfit, which is worth a snug fortune. Did Warren camp on that guy's trail? OH! boy, he didn't wait for a train. The spirit of Achilles was in his heels, and he was travelling faster than any train. But, the best Travis could do was to locate the pawn shop where the smart boy had hocked the goods. Warren wept for joy when he grabbed his cherished possessions, but the thief got away. Lucky for him, for if Travis had ever got his hands on him, it would have been the parting of ways, as Warren would have distributed him to the four winds. However, Warren still remembers it and is willing to laugh with you over the escapade.

The only time Apollon, the French giant, could ever be made to show what he could really do, were when he was sore. In his act he used to appear in a prison scene. It was an epic. The stage was shrouded in darkness with the back curtain reflecting the fitful lights of a stormy night. The pale moon appeared from behind a cloudy crest, as it silhouetted the prison in grim foreboding lines. Clearly, the high railings cast their shadows; then suddenly a tall figure wrapped in a long cloak which failed to conceal the powerful lines beneath rushed from the cover of the prison walls and flung himself at the heavy iron rails which separated him from freedom. Grasping a rail in each hand, he pulled and tugged until they were forced wide apart to form an aperture through which he leaped to the front of the stage, as the music crashed into a triumphant march, and the lights went on revealing the Herculean features of Apollon, the idol of France. After each performance, the railings had to be taken to the blacksmith to be straightened. One of the excursions almost proved disastrous to our hero. The blacksmith, thinking he was doing Apollon a good turn, thought he would see how hard he could temper the rails to prevent them from bending. He was only too successful. That evening Apollon came on to do his stuff, but to his surprise the bars refused to yield. Now this big son of Gaul was always considered lazy, and when he married., the law of opposites prevailed. He won for himself a very small bride, but what she lacked in size she certainly possessed in temper; and by all accounts, madame was the real Omphale to this Hercules. Seeing him make no impression on the bars, she thought he had developed another of his lazy spells, and from the wings she stamped her tiny feet and tongue-lashed her bigger half to make him exert himself. Struggling with all his might, he was able to spread the rails wide enough to squeeze himself through. Utterly played out, he was unable to continue with his act and was obliged to leave the stage. His ponderous arms had swollen inches larger with the great exertion, until they resembled columns of twisted steel. It would have been an impossible task for another, and I feel that none of the iron twisters of the present time would have made the slightest impression on the bars that evening. This giant was idolized for many years in France and is considered by the French one of the greatest of strong men that ever lived, which I do not doubt. His right name is Louis Uni, and he commenced lifting weights in a circus when he was only a very young boy. At the present time he is about sixty-five years of age, but unfortunately in 1913 he was badly injured in his act pulling against two automobiles, and this injury afterwards made him a cripple. He was reported to have been killed, but it was later found that he was living in retirement in Paris, where he now is. Some claim the feat was not genuine, as they do not believe it possible to pull against an automobile, but they are mistaken; for if the driver shifts into high gear to start the machine, a powerful man can stall the car. The stronger a man is, the longer he can sustain the pull, and he is capable of handling a heavier machine. Probably what happened was one of the drivers went into low gear and stayed there, which was worse than if both had gone into low gear. Apollon was fifty-three when this happened and crippled as he is today, at sixty-five, he could make a lot them take a back seat, just like George Hackenschmidt did in Vienna a couple of years ago. Here was a man who radiated a personality very different from that possessed by most strong men. He loved to dress well and was always a model of fashion. When he broke Sandow's One Arm Press record, he took more pride in the faultlessly tailored pair of pants that his patron solemnly presented him, in view of the audience, than in the expensive gold medal given to him to commemorate his splendid lift. It was the way George disposed of his opponents when wrestling that amused everybody. His colossal strength enabled him to pitch his adversaries around, like baseballs. At the time he was going strongest, the song of the day was "In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree." Some bright boy composed a parody on it, which my friends used to always make me sing as my contribution at any of the athletic feasts I attended. It went like this, "When Hackenschmidt grappled with me, he pulled like the roots of a tree. He gave me a punch, where I just had my lunch, and he mixed up my dinner and tea. Well I had no choice, don't you see, 'cos he had the half nelson on me. And he made such a wreck, at the back of my neck, that he punctured my old apple tree." Those were the happy days, when life seemed to be full of laughter and happiness.

At the same time, Arthur Saxon was dazzling the world with his matchless strength, and when I hear that it is claimed that the Bent Press was a trick lift, I get a wonderful laugh. Particularly, when they try to measure Arthur's strength by that lift. When any one claims that Saxon was not mighty, he only proves his own ignorance. Take the Bent Press, his specialty from him, and see what he could do. For instance, who ever lifted his sack of flour? Nobody. Wherever he went, the finest huskies tried their best, but no matter how they tried, their strength was never equal to the task. But look how Saxon handled it. He certainly employed no elaborate method to lift it. To my knowledge he used a perfectly natural method that anybody who tried could use, but his method of lifting the sack of flour was entirely hopeless for others to try. Simply straddling the three hundred and twenty pound sack of flour he interlaced his fingers beneath the center, and with one heave, he had the bulky object to his chest, changing his grip as the sack arrived at the shoulders. Then overhead it went. The jolly miller was just as useless on that stunt as the store clerk. Shape, size or balance of an object never seemed to bother Saxon. Why look at the way he handled that barrel of beer, which weighed over three hundred and ten pounds.. Grasping it by the chimes, he could tear it off the ground to arms' length overhead and hold it there, despite the roll of the beer which made it difficult to keep the balance. I never heard of a drayman,-who is always good at handling kegs and barrels-handling anything like the weight contained in that cast of beer in such a manner, and Saxon gave every one the same chance. If they could lift it, they could have it, but like the sack of flour, no one ever got it. Even more marvelous was the manner in which he snatched the plank overhead. This plank of wood weighed one hundred and eighty pounds. He would stand it on its two-inch edge holding it with only the grip of his fingers and thumb. In one movement, it went aloft. Just you try to lift a two-inch plank, weighing one hundred and eighty pounds, off the floor, and you will be trying something. These are feats which the miller, drayman, and lumberman should be good at, as they are their specialties, but none ever came forward to duplicate the feats, and I have never heard of any who could. I have some very strong men among these three groups, and have seen them do some wonderfully good stuff; yet the best of them have suffered badly by comparison with a real strong man. He can beat them in nearly every test he is put up against.

Just look at John Marx. There was another powerful man. No matter where you put him, he was strong. The way he could bend and break horse shoes was remarkable. One feat he did for some time, which always made a great impression on the people, was to break a chain with a blow of his hand. The way he did it was to stretch tight between two uprights a length of trace chain, and with a quick downward blow of his fist, he snapped it in two. The little finger of his right hand was broken quite often by this stunt. Finally he gave it up for that reason. He had a very impressive figure when dressed, and he knew it. Although he was never conceited about it, he used his appearance as a business attraction, just as Joe Coryn of Pittsburgh did years ago. You would always see John wearing a Prince Albert suit with a high hat and carrying gold headed walking stick in his hand. Thus attired, he would stroll majestically along the streets. As he walked, everybody would turn to watch him. The wide back, deep chest, massive shoulders, powerful neck and the flat waist, made him an imposing sight. One time, in one of the cities where he was showing, he was strolling along the main street, when he was approached by a group of young fellows who were a little the worse for drink, and who apparently were familiar with John by sight. One of the group evidently wanting to show off began to strut in front of John, regally puffing on a imaginary cigar, and holding a stick of wood in his other hand to imitate the gold headed stick that Marx carried. In an arrogant voice the drunken swagerer bawled out, "Make way for the great John Marx, I am coming." About this time John caught up with the would-be clown, and as though oblivious to his existence as a human being, he grasped him by the seat of the pants and lifted him high off his feet, like an object to be removed. With no effort John held him thus, and continued on his walk a few steps. Then he dropped the now badly scared youth into a rubbish cart that was parked on the side of the road. So easily and so casually did the big athlete handle the weight of the other man that his friends just gasped. John paid no more attention to them than he would have shown them if the incident had never happened.
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Bob Whelan

Bob Whelan

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