Wednesday, May 18, 2011

THE STRONGEST MAN THAT EVER LIVED - LOUIS CYR, (Circa 1927) - Chapter 4 - By George F. Jowett


The sensational manner in which the big Montrealer unmasked the two rang around the world, and the Europeans and British began to marvel as to what kind of man Cyr was. Cyclops on his return to France told Professor Desbonnet that he never saw such a big man in all his life. He said that when Cyr confronted him on the night of October 28, 1891, the size of his arms and chest stupefied him. He further admitted that by the manner in which Cyr tossed around his weights, he knew that Cyr had twice the strength, and he would only have made a bigger fool of himself than what he already had, if he had lifted against Cyr on the following night in Montreal, when Louis had all his weights carried on the stage.

Desbonnet did not feel inclined to believe all that Cyclops told him of the St. Cyprien giant, for at that time Old France had a marvel of her own, a man of extraordinary proportions and over the average height--Apollon, the French giant. The Parisian professor was a little bit inclined to believe that Cyclops was offering an excuse for his defeat; but he splendid professor was to bow before the ponderous Louis in submission and recognition of a super force.

Out of it all the mountain of strength received many pressing offers to perform in England. Louis was not quite ready to go, as he desired to fill more engagements in Canada and America before he took his leave for the land of the red and white rose. Greater than ever he felt the power of his conquest, and on every trial of force he strove to outrival his previous best performance. Big as he was, Louis was never lazy. He was a rare fighter. Put him up against something that was more difficult than he had encountered, and it was as though he was smitten upon the should with the Titan rod. He would rise like a giant from his fastness and hurl himself against his material foe. There was no laying down for him. He eyes would snap with fire as his frame responded, and he has been known to lift until he bled from his exertions. His pupil, Horace Barre, whom he now included in his troupe, developed into a mighty man, and by many is believed to have been stronger than Cyr, but his blood was as water compared to that which flowed through the veins of Louis. He had not the sand in him to fight, and would quit before he would exert himself. Only on three or four occasions did he ever go his limit.

Actually he was lazier than the Parisian, Apollon, but not so with Louis. Tell him some one had done such and such a lift and Louis would immediately set himself to the task of scoring above it. Cyclops had spread the statement that his former partner, Sampson, could sustain the pull of two horses, one on either arm. Louis told his friends if such was the case, then he could hold the pull of four horses. On December 20, 1891, it was announced that the world's champion would do so at Sohmer Park, which was in those days the pleasure grounds of Montreal.

Before the eyes of 10,000 people, four huge draught horses were brought out fully harnessed with whiffletrees dragging on the ground. The horses were drawn off into pairs and Louis took up his stand between them. Around the fold of huge upper arms was a heavy strap of leather, with a hook attached. To the hook the whiffletrees were hitched while a groom stood at the head of
each team. Louis then folded his great arms over his tremendous chest and spread his feet firmly apart. Satisfied as to his stance, he gave the signal to go and the grooms led the horses forward until they tightened in the traces. The grooms stepped aside and shouted to the horses to pull. With voice cracking and whips, they urged the powerful draught horses on. Nostrils distended and snorting they tugged forward, staining the muscles of their haunches so that they looked as though they would leap through the skin. Their well-shod feet dug deep into the ground as their backs flattened, but the resistance of one man held them until their hind feet slid back, piling up the earth. The cheering of the 10,000 watchers for Louis to hold 'em spurred the horses on with excitement to do their best; but their best was unavailing, as Louis stood like the rock of Gibraltar until the signal was given that he had won and the horses were released, trembling from their exertion.

After his wonderful feat he made ready his preparations for the overseas tour that was to take him to the then capital of the world.

He had long since decided that when he crossed the Atlantic Ocean he would be fortified with the knowledge within himself that his appearance and feats of manpower would be such as to administer a smashing blow to the foreign legions of iron men who had congregated on the little sea-girt isle of England. For no other reason had he delayed his departure from America. He desired time to study his act so that all the rough edges would be polished off, not so much for his own benefit as for that of his young protégé, Horace Barre, who was much less of a finished performer. Many of the feats Louis and Barre were doing together were such that rhythm of movement and cooperation of effort must be perfect. There must be no let-down there, for the big-hearted giant was fully aware how quickly the professional jealousy of the other strength artists would see and pick out any flaws. Then he was fully alive to the scoffing of doubt that rumor had carried across the leagues of the sea to him, circulated by the men who were each claiming to be stronger than the rest.

Perhaps for the first time Louis began to analyze the actual possibilities of the strength that lay within him. Many, many hours he pondered over just how much he could do in this test or that, and as he arrived at various calculations he worked like a horse to prove them. Every day he performed some startling feat, but never once did he reveal the fact. That was reserved for the time when he was to make his advent before his critics and the skeptics of London. That was to be the grand coupe, when his deeds alone would pronounce his superiority over all others, and be a fitting substantiation to back up the deposit he had place with the "Sporting Life" for a contest with Sampson, the man who was formerly the senior partner in the Sampson-Cyclops act, when Sampson was hailed as the strongest human in the world.

For Eugene Sandow, Louis had brought over his protégé and team mate, Horace Barre, but neither was destined to meet either of those men. Such is fate. Man proposes, but God disposes. Still the months of assiduous toil were not to be in vain. They were to provide a greater triumph than the mere conquest of Sampson and Sandow would ever give. At the same time I know that Louis would have preferred to have met his adversaries in a physical contest, for if there was one thing genial Lou loved to do, it was to pit his powers against that of others.

December crept on and the waning days of 1891 began to close, opening a new gladness which seems to unfold with the coming of every new year. To the simple, superstitious souls of Cyr and Barre, the coming of the new year seemed like a good omen for them to embark upon their great adventure. They attended mass and the Christmas festivals, with the devotion common to the people who are born and reared in the land of churches, as Quebec is termed. Both men were devout Catholics and lived their lives treating others as they wished to be treated. It was upon this code that Louis built his ethics. He was the soul of honesty.

Prior to his departure he told a close friend of his: "I am going over there to show the people what I can do. If any of those strong men feel that they are good enough to lift my weights, I want them to try, but I have no desire to talk about them to against them." How different is the philosophy of some men. He went to do and not to boast, and as you go with me through the scenes of his epoch-making British tour you will feel that he was qualified to repeat the memorable words of the great Caesar, who, fresh from his conquests, summed up everything in the three Latin words - "Veni, Vidi, Vici" -- I came, I saw, I conquered.

On a snapping cold New Year's Day we find on the wharf at New York, two huge men with serious faces saying their "Au Revoirs" to all of their well-wishers. They were in the midst of crowd of admirers until they stepped onto the ship that was to take them across the waters.

There are only a few months in the year which can be called pleasant to cross this briny stretch, and January was not one of them. Instead, any person will find the first two months of the year the very worst. All the fiendish elements of the sea and sky seem to gather together during those months in one great orgy of devilish abandon, bent on the destruction of all things living. Barre did not need this point explained to him, for after the first day out at sea he became perfectly satisfied that it was so. For such a big, powerful man he was terribly afraid of the unseen, and every day of bad weather at sea impressed him as being so much worse than the day before. Although he was only a boy in his teens at his time, yet all through his life he was very superstitious. Dark places and night were filled with ghosts and rattling chains, so you can understand why he imagined that the chains of the devil were being wrapped around the boat at night, as the ship bulwarks creaked under the beating of wind and wave. Gladly would he have left the boat at any time and walked home if he could, but as the cliffs of old England were seen he began to feel better, and it was with a great sigh of relief that he stepped off the boat onto the dock at Liverpool.

Do not think that this Barre was cowardly. No sir; not with anything he could see or knew was flesh and bone. He could fight like a bulldog. There are many people just like Barre, and I am purposely recounting this peculiarity in his moral make-up to show you that even strong men are human. It was this characteristic that Cyr and Barre differed. Cyr was always an intrepid man. Positively fearless. To use a common expression, he feared nothing living or dead, and many were soon to know that Louis Cyr was not the backwoodsman from a country ridden with red savages that he had malignantly been reported to be.

His arrival was hailed with curiosity by the British people. The newspapers were filled with first impressions of the American strong man. So well written up were these impressions of the man and so vivid the interest aroused in a being who was described as being built like the side of a house, that everything bade fair for a mammoth attendance at his London debut. He was booked to appear at the Royal Aquarium, the largest place of amusement in England thirty-five years ago. It was within those same walls that all the famous men of might had been demonstrating their wares, breaking chains, bending iron and raising weights of great size. When weights were lacking, platforms were brought forward and horses and elephants used instead. This was the birthplace of the interest in the strong man that was rolling like a wave around the world and gaining extravagant recklessness at every turn. Within those same walls had been discharged volleys of challenges and counter-challenges - enough to shatter the place to atoms. The British mind was reeling with the question of Who Is Who, but the spell of the strong man was upon them, and their curiosity to see the long-haired giant from across the sea was tremendous. The opening night brought about a box-office jam. The phlegmatic Briton showed that when he was roused from his habitual manner of indifference he could display the same eagerness shown by the temper-mental French Canadians, when they crashed the box office in their craze to see the Cyr-Cyclops clash in Montreal.

On the night of January 19th, 1892, five thousand people packed the Royal Aquarium in London, the largest indoor crowd that had up to that time ever been in a theatre, and just as many were forced to remain outside. I believe that it was the most auspicious congregation of people to ever witness a strong act in the history of strongmanism. Statesmen, royalty, captains of commerce and great ecclesiastics that night rubbed shoulders on an equal basis with the factory workers and road sweepers of aristocratic England. The veneer produced by generations of civilizations fell away from them like a mantle of unreality. In all their spiritual nakedness they had gathered as man to man, to see THE MAN.

The galaxy of strong men that crowded the boxes was greater than ever before or since to congregate before a brother strong man. If they only knew it, their numbered presence was a greater tribute to Cyr, and the belief in the little truthful voice sounding within them, that insisted THE MAN at last had come. There were the McCann brothers, fine, worthy, strong men; Professor Szalay, the wonderful little dynamo of energy and enthusiasm, who was the hub of British strength activities; Monte Saldo, the Spencer brothers, Launceston Elliot, Charles Vanstittart, Sampson, and last, but not least, Professor Louis Atilla with his famous protégé, Eugene Sandow, among a hundred other iron tossers who waited with impatience through the other acts for the only one that could thrill them.

The curtain did not raise to the crescendo of voices that had greeted the towering form of Cyr throughout Canada and the United States. Instead there was an audible silence as the back curtain parted in the center, and the spotlight illuminated the giant frame that was posed in a natural attitude with feet apart, the right armed flexed across the chest and the left hand resting upon the left hip. All the audience could do was gaze and gasp. Even Sampson and Attila, who had both seen the giant form of Apollon, the Parisian, were stirred at the sight of primitive looking creature. The tense silence was only broken as the manager of Cyr stepped forward and made his announcement, which in itself was another surprise. Free of any bombastic claims, he told his story simply. "Louis Cyr in America is accepted as the strongest man in the world, by rightly defeating all comers. Never has Cyr refused to meet any man, and we have come over to England on purpose to accept the challenges thrown out by all the strong men who are at the present time in this country. We have deposited one thousand pounds with the 'Sporting Life" to cover any amount that Sampson or Sandow wish to wager; Louis Cyr will meet any man at any time, preferably Sampson, who claims to be the strongest man in the world, or Eugene Sandow, who disputes Sampson's claims. We dispute the claims of any man to call himself the world's strongest man until he has met and defeated Louis Cyr. On the stage we have many weights which are open to the inspection of any man. I want any of you strong men to come up and test them. It is your privilege to weigh them, or try to lift them, so that you will know the poundage we name are right. Will any man care to test them?"

This concluding shaft found no response, for not one among the gathering of strong men moved. Subconsciously they realized their inability to cope with the weights before them. Nevertheless, there were many among them who thought that Sampson or Sandow should have tried. At that time British opinions were divided as to the relative merits of Sampson and Sandow. The first named was by many preferred by reason of his great harness lift performed the previous November, when he raised a total poundage of three thousand eight hundred and nine pounds on the platform on which Louis now stood. Many favored Sandow by reason of his great bent press lift of two hundred and sixty-nine pounds. Neither man showed the least inclination to test the brawny Montrealer, not even when the crowd, released from its stupor, called on them to do so. Cyr accepted their reluctance as a silent challenge to prove himself, which was like a scourge to his spirit.

With his ponderous stateliness he stepped forward and salaamed a courteous bow to the onlookers, and proceeded to unfold the fruits of his months of practice. Placed on his mettle, he plunged into his first lift with a vengeance. He meant to shock them all with a new record, and chose the one-arm lift for a start. The announcer cried out two hundred and fifty-eight pounds, and before the echo had reached the crowd that swarmed all over the gallery, Louis had made the lift with as much indifference as if it was naught. The big dumb bell was next made the equal of Sandow's record of two hundred and sixty-nine pounds, and as Louis stepped towards the lump of iron, a tensed expression was seen to settle upon the debonair countenance of Eugene. A heave and a toss, and the dumb bell was at the shoulder - silence followed so acute that the seconds in the theatre clock could be plainly counted as they ticked off. To the time of the ticking, the weight was steadily being raised. Not a falter. The big frame began to bend slightly sideways, but the legs remained firm and straight as the weight passed the crown of the head. Never for an instant did any one strong man shift his gaze. Fascinated, dumfounded, each leaned forward following the weight in its journey.

From excitement Professor Szalay rose to his feet as though drawn b the impelling influence of mesmerists hands, while Sandow gripped the sides of the chair he sat in until his knuckles gleamed whitely through the skin, as he saw the final stage of the lift that equaled his own world's record. The throng rose, exploding into tumultuous cheers in genuine appreciation of a magnificent deed. But they were to see more yet. The bell was loaded a third time, and rolled forward as the announcer roared in a stentorian voice, "Two hundred and seventy-three and one-quarter pounds." Sandow settled himself back into his seat. More quickly than any other he had detected the unrevealed powers of Cyr as he had watched the second lift made. He had foresight, and he knew that his own record mark, bar accidents, was doomed. Others began to think Louis was biting off a little too much, and then there were the enthusiasts who were so lost in admiration that they were willing to believe that he had no limitations.

The newspaper clippings that I have of that time claim that Cyr pulled the final weight up to the shoulder in one clean movement and then pressed it overhead. He certainly pressed it, and performed the lift in the same manner that he had done the last. To those who are not so familiar with strong-man stunts, they may not think that four and one-quarter pounds difference does not mean much, but there is a world of difference in the way the two men lifted. When Sandow made his great lift, England marveled, but Europe shrugged her shoulders and said that was not a genuine lift. I am not going to argue about whether it is a genuine lift or not, for anything that requires handling calls for strength. The screw lift, as the bent press was called in those days, was new to them, but the science involved in the lift that enabled a smaller man to catch up to a big man did not allow most big men to employ it. To stand and just shove a weight overhead requires about fifty to seventy-five percent more strength according to the amount lifted. It was in this latter manner that Cyr put up the frightful weight of two hundred and seventy-three and one-quarter pounds. It was impossible for him to do the lift like Sandow, who had improved upon the style used by the first demonstrators, Pennell and Attila. Cyr was too huge a man for that.

For that reason the Europeans could better appreciate the enormity of the lift. By this I do not mean to say that the English would not appreciate Cyr's great lift. They could, and they did. That one lift crowned him Lord of All that night and they were with him to a man. The professional strong man began to realize there was more truth than poetry in the way the giant Canadian had polished off Cyclops. No raillery left their lips about the bulk of the man before them. The size of Cyr's legs was too convincing. They were interested in what was to happen next.

Next was a two-hands lift to the shoulder in one movement and press slowly overhead a bar bell of three hundred and one pounds. There was not a man who could even jerk the weight overhead, a movement that carries the weight to arms' length a third easier, and to pull it in to the shoulders with one movement was infinitely much more difficult for any of them. The first stage of the lift was a huge surprise to them, for they could not believe a man of such a body weight could lean over far enough to perform the initial movement. Cyr realized that he had them all stumped and went on to show them he could toss weights around in faster movements than just press lifts. A large, ugly, solid dumb bell of one hundred and seventy-four pounds was swept off the floor to right arm's length with no ceremony at all, to be instantly repeated with the left hand. The arm was kept straight at right angles to the body all the time in a perfect swing lift, as we now term it. The only difference was that he did not bend the legs at any time as he swept the weight form the floor overhead.

The next feat was a greater surprise. He took a weight of one hundred and four and one-half pounds and held it out with one hand so that it lay level with the shoulder in a crucifix lift. To show his absolute control over the weight at this awkward angle, he held it there a few moments and then brought it back to the shoulder in the same parallel line that he had thrust the weight out in. From this feat he passed on to one that he had often performed before, shouldering the barrel of cement that weighed three hundred and fourteen pounds without using the aid of his knees. The he walked off the stage with it as though it was empty, and return to dazzle the audience with a stupendous one-finger lift off the floor with five hundred and fifty-one pounds. An unbelievable feat to the audience, but they rapidly became convinced when they saw none of the watching strong men make any effort to deny it one way or the other.

There was a greater reason for Louis' method of performance on this night than you can see by just reading the order of the feats. The strong men saw that the routine Cyr had mapped out took in all the feats of strength which separately were their individual boasts and specialties. Therefore each lift made by Cyr tumbled down a castle upon each one of them. It required no mind reader among them to figure out that if Cyr could beat one record after another in one nightly performance, he could positively do much better if he specialized upon each lift separately.

The next feat of Cyr was his last, and to use a twentieth-century term it was a greater knockout that the lift he opened his show with. He called for any number of men to come upon the stage, and from them he selected the biggest, and placed them all upon a heavy platform that was resting upon two trestles. Louis then crept under the center of the board, and before the astounded eyes of everyone he raised the load clear off the trestles and held it thus supported upon the broad of his back with no other aid but that of his mighty body. The total weight was estimated at three thousand six hundred and thirty-five pounds. This was the one feat that thrilled England and the one by which he is remembered.

The curtain went down that night in a perfect triumph for the visitor. Every other man was forgotten. All that could be heard was Cyr, Cyr, Cyr. None of the men of might accepted Louis' defy, nor did they throw any challenge in the direction of the overwhelming presence. Like Cyclops, Miller and Sandow, Sampson and Eugene Sandow were awed into silence. Never had they seen such a sized man. The depth of his chest, the span of his back, and those legs and arms. "My God," they cried -- "He is tremendous" -- that is what they all said. Verbally, they both claimed to be the world's strongest man on the strength of their one pet lift, but in their hearts they knew there were many other men much stronger than they. In Germany, Hans Beck was nationally acclaimed the strongest Teuton, and Europe accepted August Johnson as the strongest of Europeans. France was acclaiming the colossal Apollon, and in Britain, Donald Dinnie was considered a fitting opponent for any man. As a matter of fact, Louis Attila was a stronger all-around man than his pupil, Eugene Sandow.

Iron Nation
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