Tuesday, May 17, 2011

THE STRONGEST MAN THAT EVER LIVED - LOUIS CYR, (Circa 1927) - Chapter 3 - By George F. Jowett

Louis Cyr was elated over his new victory, while the newspapers ran huge front-page headlines and columns of write-ups on the popular idol. Feeling that his title was really established, Cyr availed himself of his increased popularity and set out again for the New England States with his show. He was not to remain for long, for unknown to him some of the chief figures in the British invasion from Europe were transferring their scene of activity to the American side of the Atlantic Ocean. Cyclops, to whom I made a passing reference as being one off the main actors in the activities in England with Sampson, has split with his partner. In fact they had not gotten along so well since the night that Eugene Sandow, with his friend and adviser, Louis Attila, had invaded the platform when the Cyclops-Sampson act came on, and wrecked the show. This was in 1889. To add more coals to the fire, the popularity afforded Sandow had caused their sun to diminish. Then it was that the pupil of Sampson broke away and came in contact with Montgomery Irving, an Englishman, who had a fine physique, not unlike that of Sandow and was moreover very good looking. Between them they conspired, and Cyclops hit the bright idea of getting even with Sandow, the man who had caused all his trouble, by setting out for America in company with Irving under the heading of "Cyclops and Sandowe, The World's Strongest Men." You will notice that the name, "Sandowe," was spelled with an "e" on the end. Masquerading as the real Sandow and relying upon being accepted as such, the two men arrived in New York with their act in 1891, a few days after the Miller-Cyr contest. Hearing that Cyr had left Montreal on tour, they decided to locate there and take the opportunity provided by his absence, and clean up. At the very beginning, their ill-founded plans were to react upon them and humble around their ears in disaster in a sensational manner.

It is regretted, as they were both very capable men. Cyclops was extremely strong and was reputed to have the strongest hands of any man in the world. His right name was Franz Bienkowski, the son of a Danzig blacksmith, who built up him reputation on his remarkable ability to break coins with his fingers. Many people do not believe that this is possible, and many students of strength disbelieve that any human being can thus break a coin into halves. I suppose because men whom they have known to be accredited with such finger strength were not able to do the feat when put to the test. Yet there have been such men capable of taking a coin between the fingers and breaking it through the center. I have witnessed this feat done twice during my lifetime, and I can quite understand the reason for disbelief, as men of that caliber are rare. Bienkowski, or Cyclops I should better call him, was one of them. On one occasion when he was appearing in Lille, in France, he was challenged by one of the audience to break his coin, which Cyclops did.

The story of this came to the ears of an athlete named Noel who was an instructor in a gymnasium, at Boulets, where Cyclops was booked to appear. As soon as he arrived, Noel with many other French strong men went to him and to his face accused him of being a faker. Noel worked himself up into a rage, finally challenging, "Here is a coin that you will not break so easily as the one you broke up North. Let us see if you can, and 100 francs if you do it." Cyclops, with a grin, took the franc, which is about the size of a quarter, and with no great effort broke it before their eyes. "Give me another," Cyclops said, and with a few twists broke it. "And another, and another," he cried, and so took them from the hands of Noel and his friends until he had broken a dozen. "Now give me the 100 francs," he said.

Cyclops performed this feat before Professors Bonnes and Desbonnet, of France, and alongside of the coins broken by Vanstittart and Marx in the French strong-man museum lays a coin broken by Cyclops. Despite his great finger strength, Desbonnet did not have a high regard for the lifting records of Cyclops. When Professor Desbonnet recited the broken coin feat in "La Culture Physique," the professor said, "Cyclops claims to have military pressed a two-hundred pound bar bell seven times in succession." To this he injected a little phrase of sarcasm, "Incorrectly, of course." A Frenchman has no regard for a German. Somehow I always get a great kick out of a Frenchman's version of a German athlete, and vice versa. I have a mean weakness to draw comment from one about the other whenever I have the pleasure of meeting a good French or German strong man.

Only one man was ever proven the master of Cyclops in breaking coins, and that was the big, happy-souled John (Gruhn) Marx. Cyclops could neither bend the same sized horseshoe nor the break the same coins that Marx could. Professor Paulinetti had a dime that John broke for him, which is the smallest sized coin I ever heard of being broken. The fact that it is so small makes the feat more difficult. But an American quarter, Bah! He would hold it in front of your face and count, "one, two, three, four," and the thing was broken.

There I go again. Whenever I get telling of strong-man feats, my mind becomes filled with comparisons. Just as my soul becomes saturated with the whole subject, then I am apt to wander. So I will get back to our gigantic friend by saying such was the man who arrived in Montreal, the summer of 'ninety-one with Montgomery Irving, whose name has gone down in strong-man annals as "The False Sandow."

Cyr was in Worcester, Massachusetts, when he received a wire announcing the presence of these two men in Montreal. Friends of Louis were angered at the broad, sweeping challenges the invaders were hurling in every direction. "Where is this man, Cyr?" they cried. "If he is so good, why does he run away when he knows we are here? Bring him forth, and Cyclops, the conqueror of the world, will break him as easily as he breaks this coin." Their ravings and wild statements drew immense crowds, and the people on every hand called out for Cyr. The telegram urged Louis to return immediately, and without a moment's loss of time. The idol of America broke up his show and took the first train bound for Montreal. A great crowd of friends were on hand to welcome him as the train drew into Bonaventure Station. Into his ears they poured their facts, their fancies and impressions of the two imposters until Louis was filled with an honest, just rage. Cyclops might be strong -- the coin-breaking stuff had created a great impression over everyone - but he, Louis Cyr, would sweep him off his pedestal as the sea carries rock away from a sandy base. Radio could not have broadcast Louis' homecoming more rapidly. The city just seethed with excitement, and, strange as it may seem, the bombastic two did not know of Cyr's arrival until he filled the aisle with his huge bulk, a threatening Nemesis.

As the time neared for the theatre doors to open, a mob of excited, milling humanity besieged the box office. An orderly line-up was out of question, as the police were powerless to control the disorderly mob. The showmen and their manager reckoned the crowd in a different light. To them it was the result of their ability and showmanship. The speculated on the golden harvest that was before them, which made them heady; so they opened the show that night more brazenly than ever. Every seat was taken and the aisles were crowded, while the balcony creaked under the load that it held. Every act was panned, as yells, shrieks and cat calls in French and English tore the air with ear-splitting static for the men of brawn. Finally the curtain rang up on the strong-man show to reveal a display of weights of monstrous proportions, besides other apparatus used for various stunts. As the false Sandowe and the huge Cyclops took up their positions on either side of the stage amid its herculean scenery, Mr. King, their manager, advanced to the footlights holding high his hands besieging silence from the multitude of people who apparently had lost all control of their vocal cords. All that was heard were shouts of "Cyclops," "Cyr," which rose and fell in waves as the crowd felt the exertion of their continued shouting, or broke in as they regained their wind. At last they began to realize that all the noise was getting them nothing and gradually subsided into silence. King began to talk. He spoke of the great success of Sandowe in England - stealing the real Sandow honors and giving the crowd the idea that the Sandow who stormed England was the same man who stood before them. He exhibited the physical beauty of Irving, which was to a certain extent justified, and might have brought Irving great success if he had been genuine with himself. Then King turned to describe the further wonders of Cyclops; he, well, what is the use of boring you with the man of lies that King fabricated. That man could lie faster that a dog could trot, but the moment he began to decry Cyr a threatening murmur arose from the crowd. Their vindication of a great man was not necessary, for, as the words of denunciation hung upon the lips of the crowd a ponderous figure cast its shadow down the aisle. As the form advanced, people craned their necks, and the syllable, "Cyr," was framed in every mouth, to be hurled from wall to wall in a deafening bombardment. Men left their seats and women forgot their deportment as they stood upon the chairs to catch a glimpse of the man who was sternly marching down the aisle toward the stage to defend his name and honor. The almost maniacal roar of the multitude which now issued struck the imposters with deadening force, from which they recoiled as the deafening word of "Cyr, Cyr," throbbed into their brain with the sickening thud of a doom bell.

Cyr heard nothing, saw nobody from the moment he flung open the door but the three forms that stood upon the stage, the men who had flaunted his name with their cowardly recriminations. His eyes focused upon the face of Cyclops, he marched down between the cheering people, closely followed by this manager, Mr. Labadie, and another; Louis clambered on the stage, completely ignoring the Teuton's manager as he strode up to the big German, whose form seemed to shrink as the shadow of the avenger loomed upon him. Only the hulk of Cyr's body, which completely obliterated the other from view, prevented the clamoring audience from realizing the startled effect produced upon Cyclops. He was frozen in amazement by the gigantic form of the man before him, and his tongue seemed to cleave to the roof of his mouth, refusing to respond to the few remaining sparks of intelligence that struggled through his paralyzed brain.

Deep, burning anger smoldered in the big, honest eyes of Louis, as he demanded of Cyclops, "You say that I run away from you - that I will not pit my strength against your strength, because I am afraid. Produce your feats and I will beat them. Do not think, M'sier, because you break a few coins between your fingers that you can make us believe you are the strongest man in the world. You must beat me first." With the words tumbling from his lips, Louis pitched his coat, collar and vest into the stage wings, sufficiently attired and ready to meet the boaster on his own ground.

"... Do not think, M'sier, because you break a few coins between your fingers that you can make us believe you are the strongest man in the world. You must beat me first."

Things were progressing differently between the respective managers; each was voluble, but Mr. King was getting the worst of it. In the delirium of words that surged around him, he felt like a cockleshell buffeted from wave to wave in a mid-Atlantic storm. Helplessly he turned to his partners, but they were just as much as sea. Labadie was demanding immediate action. "We are here to accept your double challenge in with you offer $500.00 to the man who defeats Sandow, and $1000.00 to the man who can duplicate all of Cyclops' feats. "I have the men here," he cried, waving his hand in the direction of his two companions. King tried to spar for time. He was too sudden. He begged for another night, but Labadie was obdurate. "You throw your mud and think you will get away with it, but you won't" he stormed. "None of you will leave this theatre tonight without proving your men can beat mine, or my men can beat yours."

Seeing there was no other way out, and fearing lest they become the victims of the maddened crowd, he advised Cyclops and Irving to do what they could. Thus the dual match commenced.

Louis followed Cyclops on feat after feat, which all were of a minor order according to the strength of the Montrealer. All the time, the spectators kept up a storm of raillery mixed with cheers and banter; and throughout it all, shouts called continually for "the big bell," alluding to an enormous sized dumb bell which Cyclops lifted nightly, with claims that no man in the world but himself could raise it from the shoulder to arms' length. His story was that he had traveled the world and every man who tried to lift it had failed. There is no disputing the fact that this lift was good. The bell weighed two hundred and fifty pounds and had a very awkward handle. I was told on several occasions that many athletes of genuine good standing could not get it even to the shoulder. Therefore, I can readily believe that Cyclops had greater confidence in himself on this feat for the final coup and hoped to show Cyr up accordingly. In response to the demands of the people, he ordered the big bell called forward. With a dramatic gesture he grasped the dumb bell by the handle, and with a heave supplied with both hands he got it to the shoulder. Pressing and bending over sideways to an acute angle, he raised the weight to arms' length. The audience applauded, for they recognized a heavy lift, and they were eager to see how Louis would make out, as every one there had not seen him perform his previous record. Louis was out for blood this night, if ever he was, and was as willing as the crowd was eager for him to come to grips with the mass of iron. To the shoulder it came, and with hardly and perceptible bend he thrust the weight upward on its arm-length journey. Every one did three things at once - they stamped, clapped and whooped in a crescendo of noise enough to waken the dead. Cyclops was amazed, as most people are at seeing their stuff duplicated; but he and his manager rushed forward into an argument, accusing Louis of not performing the lift correctly. Labadie nearly developed an apoplectic fit, while the favorite spread his arms wide in indignation as his brows raised with surprise. Meanwhile, the crowd added their stanza of disgust, emphasized by groans and cat calls. "What, " Louis exploded, " I did not lift the dumb bell right! Why I lifted it easier than he does," he added with an accusing finger. " To prove it I will do it again," and to the surprise of every one, including Cyclops, Louis grabbed the weight a second time, and in his rage he pulled the weight to the shoulder in a single movement; and with eyes staring upon his accuser he pressed the weight aloft, as he roared, "Does that satisfy you," pointing with the other hand to the ascending weight. Aloft he held it, as he stood with his feet wide apart, legs rigid as steel pillars, until Cyclops nodded his head in satisfaction, signifying the lift was a better one than his own. A pandemonium of glee followed, which lasted into the early hours of the morning, as the idol worshippers drank themselves recklessly drunk, toasting their hero.

Montgomery Irving was also easily defeated by the youthful pupil of Louis Cyr, who was none other than Horace Barre. Louis discovered this young giant in his native province when Barre was only a boy. He later referred to him as the "the boy still in his teens" whom he was taking to London to beat the real Sandow, where he would show the inhabitants of the tight little isle what real strength was. The arrival of Cyclops and Sandowe provided the chance for Louis to test his protégé, but Irving's best lifts were not enough to make Horace feel warm. Naturally, they were a much-elated pair that night on their success in calling the boasters' bluff, but even at that Louis was not satisfied. Deep down in his heart was a thirst to teach the willful braggarts a lesson. Why should men like them be allowed to besmirch the names and abilities of men who were good and loved the profession and followed it honorably. Louis realized that all he had done was to show to the public that the weights of Cyclops could be lifted, but Cyclops had not proven that he could do any one stunt that he, Louis Cyr, could do. Consequently, he reasoned how was the public to know he was a much better man than Cyclops. Thoughts began to become the realities as the three got their heads together and decided how to invade the "Cyclops-Sandowe" show the next night. Wednesday night arrived and the theatre doors opened, admitting three men among the regular audience who took their seats in the first row to impatiently await the feature act of the night. As the curtain rose announcing the strong-man turn, Mr. Labadie leaped upon the stage before Mr. King could say a word. He held up his hand and began to address the audience. "Ladies and gentlemen, last evening you will readily recall how our great citizen, Louis Cyr, the only man in the world entitled to call himself the world's strongest man, met Cyclops on Mr. King's terms and successfully demonstrated his ability to do everything that Cyclops did. The manner in which Louis Cyr did those lifts proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that our citizen is the strongest man in the world. Last night Cyr lifted every weight Cyclops did, and now in all fairness we ask Cyclops to lift the weights that Cyr will lift. We have brought our weights with us and a wager of $1000.00 that Cyclops cannot follow Cyr half-way though his set of lifts. I might further say that the money offered by Cyclops and Sandowe to any one who could successfully beat them according to their terms has not been paid over to Messiers Cyr and Barre. We play fair, and do as we say," continued Labarie, "and here is the money to cover our statement." Suiting the word to the deed, he slammed a roll of bills on the stage floor.

Attendants began to carry in the weights belonging to Cyr, which had remained parked in a wagon around the corner of the theatre. Mr. King looked questioningly at Cyclops and began to confer with him, but it was plain to see that the German was not going to have anything to do with Cyr or his weights. With emphatic head-shaking and pounding of one fist into the palm of the other hand, he laid down the law to his manager and the theatrical manager and insisted that Cyr had no right upon the platform. The whole bunch argued and counter-argued, but nothing in the whole world could induce Cyclops to attempt a single lift with Cyr. Many a man with less self-control than Louis would have struck the German for the many scandalous things he had said about him, but Louis was ever a gentleman; nevertheless, the look of scorn that settled upon his face penetrated the case-hardened hide of Cyclops and seared his soul with shame. So tumultuous and threatening id the assemblage become towards the foreigners, that the theatrical management feared for the safety of the building as well as the person of the performers. Cyclops was obdurate; he would not lift, and as the fact was recognized, missiles began to float through the air and the curtain came down, leaving Louis the undisputed victor of the field.

It was an ignominious finish to the boastings of the trio who had acted without the least particle of sportsmanship. Knowing that Louis was absent, they deliberately took the unfairest advantage possible, hoping by such means to clean up and get away with the harvest of ill-gotten gains before Louis could return. But they played with a boomerang which came back at them and stripped them of any hope of popularity or success in America. They lived to regret their act, and although the two men, Cyclops and Sandowe, teamed together two or three years on the American stage, they were not successful. Cyclops returned to Europe little better off than when he came over. James Montgomery Irving settled down in New York, where he ran a gymnasium for many years. A year or two later, after the Montreal episode, Irving and Cyclops met Sebastian Miller and Otto Schmidt, winning a contest on their own tests, which consisted of lifts and tests of chain and stone-breaking. The victory is not one at which to marvel. If a man cannot beat opponent on his own stuff, he cannot win on anything. Nothing could induce the pair to meet Miller and Schmidt on their set of tests. No, sir, they took no chances, although it is interesting to note that no one apart from Cyr lifted Cyclops' bell in America. Cyclops claimed that he lifted two hundred and eighty-six pounds two nights before this contest. Personally, I do not believe it, for the simple reason that Cyr said that he later lifted the bell in private, when Cyclops was nightly claiming two hundred and eighty -six pounds for the lift and doubted if it weighed over two hundred and forty-five pounds. He ought to know; nevertheless, it was a lift that impressed the public and was the undoing of many a man who could trim Cyclops soundly on a general set of lifts. After the contest with Miller and Schmidt, nothing more was heard of them.

Iron Nation
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