Monday, May 16, 2011

THE STRONGEST MAN THAT EVER LIVED - LOUIS CYR, (Circa 1927) - Chapter 2 - By George F. Jowett

Young Louis


After showing his superiority over Pennell, Cyr continued with his show throughout the New England states. After appearing in Boston, he went to Lawrence, Massachusetts, where he showed for one night. It was at about this time that our old friend, Oscar Matthes, who lived in Lawrence, was at his best. Louis had heard a lot of talk about Oscar, and on the morning following his professional appearance, he and his manager called upon the little fellow. There were joyfully received, and although Louis at this time was three times the size of Oscar, yet each was as big-hearted as the other and as wrapped up in the pet sport of lifting weights. In honor of the visit, Oscar did some lifting which greatly astonished the big man. He could hardly believe a man of one hundred and nine pounds could lift so much weight, but then Matthes was a great a king in his class as Louis was in his. Unfortunately, Louis did not have all of his weights on hand and was obliged to tie small weights on an-pound bar bell in order to make his lifts. At the conclusion Louis took a fifty-pound thick-handled dumb bell and crossed it over the center of the eighty-pound bar bell, and with no exertion at all curled them in this awkward manner, using only one hand, and pressed the combined weights to arms' length many times. While he remained fully dressed, he next laid his friend, a man of one hundred and eighty pounds, on the palm of one hand and pressed him to arms length. Oscar said Louis looked like a real apostle of might, with his long flowing hair and gigantic form. Louis was so big that he had to travel sideways through the door and along corridor, and then he almost required a shoe horn to help him through the more narrow inner house doors. Not a chair in the house was large enough for him to place his huge bulk upon, and this obliged him to be seated upon the couch, which groaned under the burden of his weight with every movement. The Matthes found Louis and his manager very courteous, and Cyr not given to speak much of himself. He was still in his twenty-third year and weighed three hundred and fifteen pounds on his visit to the miniature Hercules. The following two years saw his time divided, showing at various places and at his saloon in Montreal, where he delighted his patrons, and especially the draymen, at the way he juggled around the barrels of beer, which weighed about three hundred pounds.

It was in the year of 1888, on October 1st, at Berthierville, Quebec, that he again aroused the public interest with a great backlift, raising a platform off all four corners. It was loaded down with pig iron totaling three thousand five hundred and thirty-six pounds. This was the great record that he nailed to his mast, and a proof that his limitations were far from being reached, as the succeeding years testified. Cyr varied his lifting, including dumb-bell and bar bell work with back lifts, dead lifts, and finger lifts. Of the whole set lifts, dumb bells took precedence in overhead lifting. Even when two hands were employed, two dumb bells were selected in preference to a bar bell. I can quite understand why Louis preferred dumb bells in the place of bar bells, simply because his great bulk made him better able to pick up separate dumb bells than the bar bell. The way he would get the dumb bell to his shoulders was to lift one up as far as the waist so that it rested on the thick part of the thighs; then he stooped over and pulled the other up likewise. From the position it was no trouble at all for him to get the them to his shoulder and raise them overhead. His hardest task was to raise them off the floor. The average lifter would find it an enormous task to raise two dumb bells from the thigh to the shoulder, as the back bend required for leverage is great and also dangerous--but not so with Cyr. His great bulk had fashioned his back like the trunk of a great tree--unbendable, and the depth of muscle flanking the spine was almost incredible. Naturally, his back became a pry of terrific power. There was no hollow in the small of the back, which is so often seen in the average person--his back could retain its rigidity under great resistance. The most singular thing to me is why the French Canadian athletes retain the affection for separate dumb bell lifting, even up to the present time. They are more awkward to handle than a bar bell and require greater effort to raise overhead. Probably it is this practice which makes them so efficient when they come to handle bar bells, which it later did for Cyr.

1889 saw him performing at St. Henri, Quebec, when he made his second record and first overhead record, showing a dumb bell weighing two hundred and sixty-five pounds to arms' length. A few years afterwards, Eugene Sandow laid his claim to the world's championship by breaking this record with pounds. How great the imagination of some people is. Great as Sandow was in his line, he was a pigmy alongside of the great Louis, and to stop and compare their respective powers would be a joke, more than a waste of time. Sandow performed his record with a dumb bell placed on a blow of wood six inches high; he then rocked it to the shoulder, using both hands, and raised it to arms' length in what was termed in those days "a screw lift." Years go its name was changed to the 'bent press.' Cyr could no more bent press than fly. His great legs never bent at the knees, and I very much doubt if he bent over sideways any more than six inches. The width of the small of his back and the depth of his pelvis would not permit it. Louis stood against his thigh, and by prying with one hand he pulled the weight over to the shoulder and pushed to arms' length. Such a feat was a sheer impossibility for Sandow to attempt, let alone duplicate. The enormous legs of the Montrealer were the secret of his strength. The were the sustaining props of power that could resist a greater pressure that the bulwark of might that reared above them could handle. The world have never since produced a man with legs the size of Cyr's. Try and imagine a thirty-three inch thigh and twenty-eight inch calf! That is what he had, and if there was one part of his body that was clean-cut and beautiful to look at, it was those terrific legs. The knee and the calf and ankle were perfectly molded. Up to his last days they retained their magnificent shapeliness. It was those super-normally developed underpinnings that considerably composed his body weight. People who never saw him did not take the possibility of such legs into consideration, which caused many, even athletes, to believe that Louis Cyr was just a monstrosity of flesh. He was to be a revelation to everybody. I can safely say that he was the best proportioned man of his weight who ever lived. His best measurements after reaching maturity were: height, 5 feet 10 1/2 inches; weight, stripped, 295 pounds; normal chest, 59 1/2 inches; waist, 47 inches; biceps, 22 1/2 inches; forearm, 19 1/2 inches; thigh, 33 inches; calf, 28 inches. Of course, you will perfectly understand that a man with such huge proportions could not be expected to have exactly what we would call a graceful figure. As I once laughingly but truly told a friend, "Cyr was built for service, not beauty." Still you do not see the huge bulging abdomen as expected of a man of his weight. There is a difference of twelve and one-half inches between his chest and waist, and we could not expect nature to give a smaller waist measurement and retain the powerful construction to balance with such sized legs which formed hips of over fifty-inch circumference. His flesh was hard as stone, and you could not make a dent into his flexed biceps or legs. If anything, his neck was a little too short, but overlooking that point, he was pretty well proportionate. His forearm measurement exceeded that of Apollon, the Parisian giant, whose arm has been said to be the largest measured of any strong man. The Frenchman of new France was infinitely more powerful in proportion to his greater measurements that the idol of old France. Stanislaus Zbyszko claimed to have the largest circumference of upper arm, and indeed had tremendous biceps, but he lacked half an inch of equaling the biceps of Louis, and was a million miles behind as far as strength was concerned. Despite the extraordinary immensity of his proportions, this leviathan had a majesty of carriage all his own, which, as I previously have written, was never imitated by any strong man of his time or any who came after. Dr. Sargeant marveled at Cyr and said, after a physical examination, that Louis was as hard as mahogany.

Louis' great fault was eating. He was a genuine gourmand, and in his stages of inactivity between matches and show performances, he increased his weight enormously, and more so in the later years of his life when contentment came with conquest. The lightest body weight he ever made was in 1896, when he contested against August Johnson in Chicago. He then weighed two hundred and seventy pounds, but his general lifting body weight was around three hundred and fifteen pounds.

The year following his record performance at St. Henri, we find him in another record-creating frame of mind, which was celebrated on the night of November 21, 1890. No less that twenty-seven times was counted as he pressed a solid dumb bell of one hundred and nine pounds to arms' length in a series of repetition lifts. Fourteen days later, on December 5th, he made a one-finger lift, raising a solid mass of iron weighing four hundred and ninety pounds off the floor, using the middle finger only. These feats were sufficient with which to greet the approaching Christmastide and wind up the old year. Then dawned the year of 1891, the epoch-making year in the annals of strengthdom, which brought together from all parts of the universe rivals of immeasurable quality who were to meet and write their names indelibly upon the sands of time. The whole world was aroused, and the multitudes that turned out to see the struggles for physical conquest and pay homage to the conqueror were greater than has ever been assembled since in the sport of heavy weight lifting. For several years the passion to witness feats of strength continued. These were the feast years for the sons of Hercules, Titan, Vulcan, Anak, Atlas and Samson, and around their heroic forms and deeds romance has wrapped a cloak of enthralling magic which stirs within the most conventional breast a longing to be a man among men. These years caused the primitive seeds of Adam to struggle to the surface for a little while to remind many of us of our utter inefficiency, but, nevertheless, kindled the idealism with us to admire and deify the man that God made.

England was in the throes of another Gothic invasion, which swept over the sea-girt isle in a flood of conquest that out-rivaled the invasion of their Anglo-Saxon ancestors. This was a conquest of the heart made by the heroic forms of mighty men who did more than any statesman to help Victorian England throw off the shackles of false pride and prudery, to which she was enslaved. Among the first were Sampson and Cyclops and the McCann brothers, who were astounding the British public with their remarkable demonstrations of strength. Later came the meteor Sandow, who shook England like an earthquake, creating an enthusiasm that paved the way for the thunderbolt, Cyr, who was to crash among them and stun them with his superior feats; capping the climax of the by the great forerunners

The first to arrive in America was Sebastian Miller, a huge German, reputed to be possessed of extraordinary strength. So well satisfied was he of his own abilities being superior to Cyr, that he eagerly plunged into a match with the long-haired giant, who, since he had defeated all on the American continent, welcomed the opportunity to pit his strength against a foreigner of renown. They signed the agreement to meet on the evening of July 2nd in Montreal. Nowadays, when an athlete signs a contract for a match of any kind, he forgets everything else and trains industriously upon the issue in question. Everything is done to husband his strength, and if he was asked to perform during that time he would think the one who asked such a request was crazy to harbor such a thought. This was not the fact in Louis' days. Four days before the scheduled match, Cyr gave an exhibition, going his limit on many of his feats. In one of his stunts he excelled any previous performance. Grasping a barrel of cement by the chines, using only one hand, he rocked it on the thigh, and from there up on his shoulder and then walked away with it. The barrel weighed three hundred and fourteen pounds, a feat which always stuck his opponents. It is strange that Cyr could be efficient in barrel stunts, as one would naturally expect his great size to interfere with handling such unwieldy objects. They were generally filled with cement, sand or a mixture of sand and water, but they not bother him, as may be judged from the great poundages he handled.

The night of the match Louis was feeling splendidly buoyed with enthusiasm for testing his mettle against the husky Teuton. But the result was the same as in his other contests. Miller was hopelessly outclassed. The honor of first lift was given to the visitor, who raised a bar bell weighing two hundred and thirty-two and one-half pounds overhead with two hands in a press lift. The first move our Louis did caused the confidence of the German to evaporate. The big Canadian strode forward and almost took the weight out of Miller's hand, as he laid it on the floor and took it to the shoulder in one movement, using the overhand grip, as used in the one-hand snatch. Receiving the weight at the shoulder, he spun it around, ducking his head so that the weight could be better handled at the shoulder. To the consternation of all, Louis pushed the weight up four times in succession with the right arm. Miller next tried a back lift and quit at two thousand four hundred pounds, a low poundage for the sized man he was. Cyr did not stop lifting until he had raised three thousand one hundred and ninety-two pounds, which at that was way below his best. As he later said, he saw he had the German easily outclassed and had no desire to best him too badly. Cyr next duplicated his barrel feat of three hundred and fourteen pounds, which he had lifted four nights before, but, according to the newspaper reports of that match, Cyr was explained as placing the barrel on the shoulder with one hand and without the use of his legs. By that they meant that Cyr did not pull the barrel on the thigh and rest it there before it was shouldered. He might have laid the barrel on its side and placed the buckle of his big belt under the top part of the chine, and then by reaching over with the hand grasp the chine at the further end of the barrel and by pulling over use the belt buckle as a base in place of the knee. They used to lift a heavy dumb bell to the shoulder by allowing the large nut at one end to catch the belt. However, Miller could not do anything with the barrel. They passed on to the stone-breaking contest, which Miller won, as he also won the next feat of lifting a heavy barrel of sand off the floor by grasping it by the chines with both hands. It is a cinch that Cyr let Miller get away with that lift, and Miller knew it.

In my home town there was an old sportsman who was a conductor on the Canadian Railroad. He told me that by accident he found himself sitting opposite Miller while eating in a restaurant the day of this match. Naturally Mr. Johnson began to ask Miller his chances. He told me that Miller laughed out loud as he told him that would be an easy winner. He said, "Cyr is so big that he cannot bend over, so how can he lift big weights?" Miller and Mr. Johnson met again in the same restaurant the next day when slyly Mr. Johnson remarked, "I thought that you were going to win?" Miller shook his head as he replied, "I never thought it possible for him to lift so much, and he did it all so easily." In other words, Miller knew that Cyr was lifting well within himself. It might interest some of my readers to know that Sebastian Miller settled down in America, and his son is "Hack" Miller, the famous baseball player, generally spoken of as the "strong man of baseball."

Iron Nation
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Bob Whelan

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