Friday, April 8, 2011

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

This little chastisement reminds me of another correction in behavior that was meted out by Emile De Riaz, the elder brother of the famous Maurice De Riaz. I might say that Emile was equally famous and has some fine records to his name, but he did not continue as long a professional athlete as Maurice. He got married and settled down to keep a saloon in Paris that was very popular with both athletes and laymen. One drink Emile refused to keep was absinthe. Rather an unusual procedure for a French saloon, but Emile being a Swiss never got accustomed to recognize this as a necessary beverage, as most French people do. Madame De Riaz was a very beautiful woman, and one day as she attending the wants of the patrons, while her husband was working in the cellar, a loud speaking man, evidently under the influence of absinthe, seated himself at a table. He began to call for absinthe, and when madame informed him that they did not serve it, he became very objectionable in his remarks. Seeing that he would neither keep quiet nor go out, madame rang a bell for Emile, who quickly appeared. Quietly looking in at the door, he saw the cause of the trouble and without a word he turned on his heels, appearing shortly with a hammer and nail in his hands. Without paying any attention to the brawler, Emile took a chair and stood on it as he drove the nail in the wall , high up, but immediately over the head of the man who was still making himself obnoxious. This done, Emile reached down and grabbed his man by the coat collar and with a snap he jerked him off the seat, and before any one realized what had happened, the brawler was suspended from the nail by the coat collar. There Emile left him to kick out of his evil temper. When he was lowered to the ground it was as a strictly reformed man, who gladly and humbly apologized to madame. The general rule was to throw such people out into the gutter, but Emile found a better way. Still his method needed a strong man to be able to use it.

Not long ago, a press photographer showed me a strong man carrying a large rowboat on his shoulders. He was walking with his burden down the beach to the sea and continued his walk until the boat with its occupant floated off his shoulder. The entire weight was over four hundred pounds, and a boast is a very hard object to handle. When I gazed upon the face of the man I was not surprised as I recognized Henry Steinborn.

Sometimes, more than others, I feel that the world loves a strong man just as much as a man glories in his own strength. Life without it loses all its value, and we would miss a lot of the thrills that go with strength. Even though it is great to watch a really strong man work, it is much greater to be able to do some of the things yourself.

One of the greatest impressions of my life came, like most of them, quite unexpectedly. I was standing in a little railroad junction in the North of England, where I had to make a connection. It was a beautiful spot tucked away in a valley that bloomed with variegated nature. I had been absorbed examining the ruins of an ancient abbey and the remains of the old Roman wall that ran partly through the valley. Turning from them, I saw sitting upon the seat on the platform an enormously proportioned man. He had the shoulders of Hercules and limbs of a great thickness that showed their size through his clothes. As I gazed at him, he rose to face me, and across his majestic breast in three rows were numerous medals. I was in the presence of Albert Shakesby, who was then widely known as the Athlete Evangelist. I had long been curious to meet him, for since I had been up in the north , many had passed the remark that we looked much alike , although he was built on a scale about twice the size of myself. I know the name will mean nothing to you, but let me tell you that if there ever was a man in the world who represented strength of mind, body and character, it was Albert Shakesby. His extraordinary strength, like the strength of the biblical Samson, was a boon to him and a godsend to many. He holds the honored record of saving more lives from death, -drowning, accidents, etc-than any other man. He could do anything, swim, box , wrestle, lift weights, sprint, cycle or anything you can mention, and he was a topnotcher at them all. The was one of the few men that Britain had who could make Hackenschmidt work to throw him. He forsook the athletic profession after he had embraced religion. Stripped, he weighed around two hundred and twenty-five pounds and was a man of muscle. He and John Marx were the only two men who actually bent and broke a coin of mine in two, in my presence. Shakesby never cared to do such things, but I insisted so strongly, because I wanted to retain something as a souvenir of our meeting. Not a great while before our meeting he had sustained a very serious accident while saving a life at a fire. He just happened to be in the vicinity of the fire and became one of the many spectators. The fire spread over the building very rapidly, and it was believed that everybody was out, but to the horror of the watchers, a form appeared at one of the windows on the third floor. The flames drove the trapped man out on the window ledge, where he missed his footing and came hurtling down head first. Like a flash, Shakesby jumped forward and caught the man by the head in cupped hands, heaving upwards with all his might, which broke the fall and saved the man from serious injury. Just pause a moment and think what an enormous amount of strength was required for this life-saving feat. As you know , It is hard enough to withstand the impact of a body from the distance of our height; then what must have been the impact of this man's bodyweight from the height of three stories. Every foot of the way his poundage would increase with the speed of the fall. But Shakesby was powerful enough to withstand the shock. At one time he had a gymnasium, and he said that when he saw the man fall, immediately he thought of method employed by instructors to put falling pupils on their feet. This is done by heaving up the head.

He was one of the very few men I ever saw who could take a two hundred pound dumb-bell off the floor clean to the shoulder and put it overhead without moving the feet which were held military style with heels together. He held numerous honors from the Royal Humane Society for his life-saving feats and was a monument of inspiration to the cause of body culture. He was great at tearing a deck of cards, but I do not remember how many he could tear. In this feat the best man I ever heard of was Al Treloar. Some of the old-timers will remember him as the man who won one of the early MacFadden posing contests. That must have been more that twenty years ago. I remember seeing his picture posed as "Sin" on the cover page of Physical Culture. It struck me as being very beautiful. Treloar could tear four decks of cards all at once. A year ago Al had charge of some tumblers from Los Angeles, where he has been instructing for years now. He had brought them east to compete and stopped in to see me. The only thing the regretted was that I did not have enough card decks handy to show me that he was as efficient today as he was twenty-five years ago. He has great hand strength, and like all good men is very unassuming.

I have written quite a bit about hand strength, but what would you think of a man who had such arm strength that when he wrapped his arms around the body, he could crush the ribs in. There was such a man. He was a French provincial wrestler and strong man, whose name unfortunately has slipped my memory. They used to tell a story, that one time when he was with a carnival wrestling, he got enraged at his opponent who was as elusive as an eel. In one of the sorties he caught his adversary around the body and swept him off his feet. He crushed him so terribly with his arms that blood gushed from his mouth and the man died. The wrestler had remarkable pectoral and arm development, and he was a marvel at raising weights from the crucifix position lying on the floor. I was told that he had raised one hundred pounds that way. It was a terrific feat, but he surely looked capable of doing it. This reminds me of a feat I saw Vanburch, a Dutch strong man, perform when I was in Amsterdam. We had all been doing stunts with a flat ring weight that weighed fifty-six pounds, and among the stunts we tried was holding the weight out level with the shoulders by the ring. We all succeeded , as this is not much of a feat. Two men held it out with their little finger, then we quit, having done all the stunts we knew. During all the time Vanburch had merely been a spectator, and as we concluded he stepped forward. He turned the weight over, ring down, and spanned the flat side with one hand, only his fingers holding the weight. In this manner he held the weight out at arms' length, level with the shoulders, retaining the grip on the weight until he lowered his arm to place the ring weight on the floor. Needless to say this stunt stopped us all. I doubt Empian, the old time famous French "muscle out" champion, could have done it. Since that time, I have often mentioned it to various strong men I have encountered, but none have ever been successful in my sight.

It used to be that when we all got together, an impromptu elimination tournament commenced, and I have seen many surprising feats performed at such times. The men, whose names are most familiar to us, are not always the supreme beings. There are many strong men who are practically never heard of, who just try out their strength for pastime, but I never knew one who did not train with bar-bells, or whose daily occupation did not involve work similar to lifting weights.

I do not suppose many of my readers will remember the Italian who called himself the original Milo. He had a fine physique, and one of his feats was to balance a piano upon his chin while a young lady assistant played a tune. Of course, the piano was not nearly as heavy as the ordinary piano, but at the lightest and with a person attached to it, it stands as an astounding feat of both skill and strength. Sometimes I find it very hard to estimate the strength of some men, for they seem to be capable of performing such astonishing feats, that no matter how you figure they accomplished it, the feat remains a near miracle. Veritable giants of strength in action, but dressed on the streets, they would not impress the ordinary person as being such producers. There are a few exceptions, but the majority of men I can recall to mind, never showed their quality in their ordinary street attire; giants in strength, but seldom in stature. As a matter of fact, few giants have ever been recorded as being strong. The only one I can vouch for is Angus McAskill of Nova Scotia. This human dinosaur stood seven feet nine inches high, and weighed five hundred and sixty pounds. It is stated that his normal chest measurement was eighty inches. They tell some very remarkable tales about some of the feats he performed, which sound much like a chapter from the pages of the "Arabian Nights." Still, when you stop and figure out on a mathematical scale, the leverage his height gave him, with the weight he had, he must have been quite capable. One or two of his feats which are often talked about have been done by men two feet shorter than he, and two hundred and sixty pounds lighter. We can safely say that a boy standing four feet nine inches and weighing one hundred pounds is, if anything, heavy for his height, and we know that a man who stands five feet and nine inches, and strips at around two hundred is a mighty fine type of a man. Allowing one hundred pounds for each foot over four feet nine inches, we have a pretty fair standard, which makes McAskill one hundred and sixty pounds overweight for his height. Yet, this extra weight can be better distributed over seven feet nine inches than an extra one hundred can be, over the body of a man of five feet nine inches. At the same time, we have had powerful men with that much excess weight. To mention two, Cyr and Barre, make a fair comparison. This would bring McAskill in the class of super-men, like the men just mentioned. He was prodigiously strong beyond a doubt, and while it is said he did not like work, yet he loved to exhibit his great strength. The Queen of England heard of this man and expressed the doubt that such a being lived. In order to satisfy her majesty, McAskill journeyed to England and performed before the Queen, who presented him with a handsome gift in gold. He used to travel in a circus, and when showing in Boston he made a water that he could lift a certain anchor which weighed twenty-two hundred and fifty pounds to his shoulder. He is credited with not only lifting the anchor to the shoulder, but also with fifteen fathoms of the chain dragging, he walked with his burden for one hundred yards, from the end of the wharf to Atlantic Avenue. Later in life, he quit the circus to keep a store in Halifax, and natives of that city have often told me that when any person asked for a pound of tea, he just grabbed a hand full out of the sack and wrapped it up. The length of his hand was twelve inches and it was six inches wide. It is said that his handful of tea or sugar weighed a good pound. His footwear was size eighteen. No doubt he would have made a great wrestler, with such sized feet. All he would have to do would be to step on his man and with that five hundred ad sixty pounds on top of that foot, it would be all over. Laying all jokes aside, if half they report of him is true. He must have been a marvel. I never paid a great deal of attention to the tales I heard until I met an old time weight lifter who was very reliable, and it was he who confirmed the anchor feat. If any of my readers happen to pass through Halifax, Nova Scotia, it would be worth their while to visit the museum where many of his relics are kept.

For many years the city of Vienna, in Austria, boasted of being the greatest center of strong men. At one time the ancient city could boast of having seventy known flourishing strong man clubs, but Munich is now running it hard for first place. Some claim that Munich is a greater enter today than Vienna. Then again, there is Reval, in Russia, that can boast of a great number of powerful men. In this city there is a special club to which no man is given membership unless he can qualify first by lifting in the Two Hands Clean and Jerk, at least three hundred pounds. With such a high standard of qualification, it is strange that we do not hear more of them. Perhaps the terrible condition of the country during the last few years accounts for their silence. Once a year in Europe, the strong men hold Stoerkefest. That is a gathering of strong men, past and present, who line up and parade the city in which the Stoerkefest is held. The people turn out for that, just as we in America turn out for a baseball game. Karl Swoboda still reigns as a great figure in the minds of the Europeans, even though he has dropped out of competition. It was the change of ruling on the different lifts that caused him to retire, but there is no doubt in my mind that in putting a weight over the head with two hands, anyway you can, Swoboda still reigns supreme. His actual achievements in competition, I will leave for another chapter. Here I just want to talk about strength in its other phases. Karl Swoboda is known as the Vienna butcher. In stature he is a huge man, weighing around three hundred pounds, with a nineteen-inch neck, biceps and calf. When he worked at slaughtering cattle, it was said that he could hold any beast powerless by the horns. I fully believe that, as I have seen it done by a huge slaughterman named Strides, who could play with three block weights in each hand as though they were only twenty-five pound dumb-bells. We can look all about us and see evidences of great feats of strength. All the time they are coming forward. At the present time the strength world has its eyes on Alzen of France, and Gorner of Germany, who look as though they are going to surpass them all. Yet, my mind still lingers around the huge LaVallee. Never will I forget the colossal power contained in that magnificent form. We talk about muscling out in the crucifix style, but where do any of them stand alongside of him. He was totally ignorant of the fact that he was making history when he stooped over and grasped in each hand by the short neck of the bags two, eighty-two pound cement sacks, and held out level with the shoulder, these heavy awkward objects that afforded such meager hand hold. And later he raised off the ground a bar-bell, loaded to nine hundred pounds. This was followed by picking up a crudely shaped dumb-bell that weighed a little over one hundred and sixty pounds, which he pressed overhead in a movement nearer to a one-hand Military Press than anything else. It was all impromptu lifting at that. He did not strip because he did not wish to exert himself. He was fully dressed in his working clothes with a sleeve vest. But look at the work he followed. It required all man power to execute it, and he knew he was very strong and took a joy in employing his powers. All day long he was lifting, lifting and lifting. Not with bar-bells or dumb-bells, of course, but more crude objects that answered the same purpose, which made him capable of handling heavy bar-bells. A man who is daily employed handling very heavy objects in various movements, is accumulating the power to enable him to do other things; just the same as the bar-bell fan training with more compact objects, over a series of exercises becomes able to demonstrate his powers on similar objects that require strength. Invariably the bar-bell man becomes more efficient than the vast majority of heavy manual workers, because he educates every muscle in his body. Better still, a person can be very weak and start training with bar-bells and get strong, but a man must be strong in the first place to be able to follow a heavy occupation.

The most powerful men I ever knew realized the efficacy of exercise. It is the real goal winner. A very interesting proof of this was given me a few years ago. I was accosted by a long slim, ale, anemic young chap, who told me how deeply interested he was in strength. He said to me, "You know my weakness is the thorn in my soul. My dad is very strong and so is my brother, and they are always making me the butt. I can't work in the shop with them. I just have to stick in the office and that often gets me." Unconsciously, he clenched his fists and a flash shot through his eyes as he continued, "I'd give anything to be strong." I saw that there was a deeper motive than he had told me behind it. He was stung to the raw at being the family weakling. We talked for hours. Several months later he saw his chance. There was a heavy object which the father could not lift alone and he called to his strong son to come and help him. The weakling interrupted with the remark, "I'll lift that for you, dad," and to the amazement of father and brother, he lifted the object to the lathe. Conscious of the impression he had made, the former weakling effected an indifferent air as he walked away dusting off his hands with the parting cynicism, "When you get stuck, fellows, call on me." It was a transformation, and right now that young man can take his stand with many of the best where real man power is required.

There is a great joy in being strong, in being able to do the unexpected. One time two truck men were struggling unloading a huge barrel of oil. When they got it on the pavement, they left it reclining on its side, so it could be rolled, and as they rested a moment from their labors, the onlookers began to exclaim on the difficulty of handling such a heavy object and the impossibility of any one man handling it. At this last statement one of the truck men snorted with surprised disdain, "One man handle that! No danger, that kind of a man never was made." As though accepting a challenge, a stocky built spectator of medium height answered, "I believe I can handle it." All eyes turned on the speaker in a silence that spoke louder than words, as he stepped forward, and to their astonishment stood the barrel on end. This man was Teddy Mack. Another time he was called to the phone by a manufacturer of weights. This man said that he was up against a hard proposition. He had made a special bell but no one could lift it off the floor with one hand. Why, they had no idea, as several well-known strong men were there unsuccessfully trying. Ted said he knew he could lift it before he saw it, and he informed them that he was coming right over. When he arrived he simply looked at the bell a few moments, listening to the other strong men talk. Suddenly he stooped over and said, "How's that?" and he immediately stood up with the weight in his one hand. Here is the reason for this instance. Mack was a strong man, who like a sprinter, tennis player, shot putter or hammer thrower, had the ability and knew how to apply it. Teddy Mack has unusual power in his arms and back, and knew how to use it.

When circuses were more plentiful than they are now, which dates back to before the time of auto transportation, all the trappings were heavily loaded on horse-drawn wagons, especially built for the purpose. In the season when the weather was bad, it was a frequent occurrence to get stuck on the bad roads. A wheel would drop in a big hole or the horses found the ruts too deep for them to pull the load through. At such times it was "get out and lift." All hands would have to get busy. Warren Lincoln Travis for years went with the circus, and with them he got plenty of impromptu workouts. When the circus help got stuck in helping a wagon out of a hole, or a rut, was the time when Travis would have to turn out and put his brawny back and powerful arms to the task. It was not uncommon to see him succeed where five or six men together had failed.

Strange how my mind is flitting around in this chapter, but as I finish reciting one incident, my mind snatches another from the panorama of mighty feats that crowd before me. As I thought of the surprise Travis always was to those circus huskies, I remember what a greater surprise Fournier has been to others, because he is so much smaller. One time an argument sprung up between Fournier and a big man who weighed more than three hundred pounds. The mountain of flesh snorted with disgust to think that there could be any comparison between himself and the little fellow. Finally one of Fournier's friends remarked, "Well, he can lift you, but you can't lift him," which was true. The big man weighed three hundred and fifteen pounds, and right there Fournier bent pressed him to arms' length overhead. Of course, it is easier to raise a man in this manner than a weight, when you get him to the shoulder, but still imagine the strength required to hold such a weight overhead. Another interesting feat performed by Fournier, who only weighed one hundred and fifty-four pounds at that time, was to toss a one hundred pound bar-bell in the air and catch it by the ball of one end upon the palm of one hand. Balancing it thus, on the hand, he pressed the bar-bell to arms' length overhead while preserving the balance. It makes a pretty snappy feat that will stop a lot of the best of them.

Joe Nordquest does a stunt of which very few would think him capable. Rarely do we hear of a heavy man able to do a one-hand stand. Joe not only does a one-hand stand, but in the disengaged hand he holds out a one hundred pound dumb-bell, with not a waver to his stand. For such a large man to do a one-hand stand is remarkable enough, but when he begins to juggle a hundred weight at the same time, it becomes a phenomenal feat.

Then there is the cross armed snatch of two hundred and thirty-one and a half pounds by Gorner, a feat which borders on the miraculous. As he takes hold of the handle bar of the weight, he crosses his arms so that the right hand grips where the left would ordinarily grip, and vice versa. In this cross armed fashion the weight is snatched perfectly to arms' length in one movement.

Such is man power. I could write books on the remarkable feats of strength I have seen performed, and these few incidents in this chapter are only a very few of the many feats I have seen performed by some of the many famous men of might and muscle. Reluctantly I must closer this chapter to talk about other things, which I know will be full of interest to you.
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Bob Whelan

Bob Whelan

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