Impressive Strength Feats
by Earle Liederman
- A few performances which remain unforgettable -
Ever since I was a kid I’ve marveled at the power which has been demonstrated by many notables. And from my first sight of a strongman exhibiting his strength and all along the line to the present day, every once in a while someone does something that hasn’t been done before. And some of that which has been done has not as yet been duplicated despite the fact that strongmen are getting stronger and muscles are improving in all forms of motions, from track work to power displays.
Now I’m not claiming that feats which have stood the test throughout the generations will not be bettered, for unquestionably they will. They must, because the athletic race is improving. All track records of bygone yesteryears have been surpassed in the recent Olympic Games, and all Olympic lifts have been shattered in many classes of lifters, with John Davis presently holding marks which will take a mighty good man to beat. But one day that good man will come forward power which has never before been shown. Who he is or when this will happen, no one knows. Maybe I won’t be around when it does occur, but as surely as I writing these words, records will continue to be broken in almost every pastime.
If I am to start at the beginning, when I was a kid, I first must mention Pierre Gasnier who, at the time weighed 150 lbs. and who was performing in the sideshow of a circus. This was back around the turn of the century. Gasnier at that time was able to bent press with his right arm twice his own bodyweight which, to my way of figuring is blamed good, and I am presently wondering if anyone else has done this. In other words, Gasnier pressed slightly over 300 pounds. How many have accomplished that pressing poundage? For instance, Arthur Saxon did over that, Harold Ansorge of
I was deeply impressed with Arthur Saxon as I many times watched him lift his two brothers in the one arm bent press. I have related many times about this in previous articles. He used a long steel bar to which, at each end, was attached a large basket-chair which, in turn, had nickel-plated swivels and plated trimmings. I don’t know what the bar weighed, nor do I know what the baskets weighed, yet they did weigh something. Let us safely put them at about 20 lbs. including the bar which must have been made of steel. It might have been 40 lbs. – the bar metal trimmed basket-chairs. Anyway, each of his brothers sat upon a chair. I don’t know what his brothers each weighed when fully clothed as they were – in evening attire; but each of them, judging from the fine photographs I have seen of their muscles, surely each weighed 165 lbs., and each may have weighed 175 or 180 lbs. But let us take all of the lighter figures given – 20 lbs. for he bar and baskets and 330 lbs. for the combined weight of his brothers at 165 lbs. each. Add these figures and you get a total 350 lbs. Well then, Saxon got under that bar and felt for the correct center-balance and then started his side and forward bend until his right arm was straight. Then he arose to an erect posture as he held the bar, and everything attached to it, overhead for a few seconds as the applause roared in his ears. To me, at the time and since, it has remained a most impressive feat.
Next, looming before my vision as a standout, was a feat by Joseph Vitole, a 155 lb. lad whom I trained right after World War one. Vitole had the most perfect teeth I have ever seen. Each tooth met the other in his bite. He had a square jaw, a stocky neck and a rugged all round build. He specialized in all teeth and jaw hobbies. He really liked to bite and grip with his jaws and this lead to the lifting of weights with his teeth alone. He had a leather “bit” which was attached to a strong chain. This chain had a link-clasp at the other end. Joe would simply wrap one end of this chain around the bar of a bell, then take a firm grip upon the leather mouthpiece, place his hands upon his lower thighs and pull with the back of his neck until the weight raised a few inches off the floor. He trained a lot with this sort of novelty lifting. gradually his poundages increased until he was absolutely sure of doing the unheard of (then) total of 550 pounds! I have seen him do this lift many times in practice. Finally, Bernarr McFadden promoted a physique contest for both men and women in 1921. At this affair which ran for one week at the old
Some of the exhibition feats performed by Warren Lincoln Travis are worthy of mention. At least they were spectacular, but I cannot vouch for their accuracy as far as actual poundages are concerned because Travis was a past-master and knew all the tricks in the game. Nonetheless, he had power and there’s no disputing that statement.
I have seen Travis perform back lifts while under a long platform upon which stood at least 20 men, perhaps more. However, I think that he understood leverages so well and balances accordingly, that he used an extra long platform, or an extra wide and lengthy beam so as to distribute the weight and not have it all directly over his own back. I think Mac Batchelor could explain this better than I, as Mac has done a lot of that sort of back lifting. Warren Travis also lifted with his teeth, arms and back, a small carousel which was set in rotating motion while off the ground and with a dozen or more men riding upon the backs of the dummy horses. How much this actually weighed is a conjecture, but it certainly weighed a lot, which offers no dispute. Anyway, it was spectacular impressive and a cause to always remember the sight. Travis made claims of 6,000 lbs. in the back lift which has made many strongmen raise eyebrows and slightly smile. But, as I said, Travis was a finished showman and his feats were more for spectacular entertainment and impressiveness, which they certainly were. And as I am writing about impressive feats of strength and not claiming all world’s records, I must be allowed to ramble along for your interest, I hope.
Henry (Milo) Steinborn impressed me back in 1925 at
Feats of strength need not necessarily apply to weightlifting, for I consider now a couple of performers back in the old vaudeville days who did one or two things which cannot be forgotten. One, Gilbert Neville, who weighed but 126 lbs. and who was very strong, too, used to accomplish an outstanding feat in handbalancing. Neville did a one-hand stand atop an upright. From a perfect balance he would lower himself until his legs were spread on either side of his hand under his bent arm. Next he would press up to a perfect one hand posture. He did this 16 times in succession! His legs did not touch his arms or hand during the dipping or collapse of the balance but he held on with his one hand grip and freely raised his legs until both were stiff and his toes were pointed. Those of you who may be good handbalancers might delight in performing this stunt but once, therefore, if you consider 16 repetitions it surely should go down as an accomplishment worthy of remembering.
There was another fellow, Ernest Rackett, who was also a top vaudeville performer in those days before World War I. He had a special horizontal bar to which was attached a handgrip such as would be used by handbalancers for gripping when doing a one-hand stand. Rackett used to hang from this horizontal bar by one hand as he held to the gripping device. He then did a one-hand chin with the back of his hand turned towards his face. At the completion of this one-hand chin he raised himself a bit higher with his arm until his head was above the bar and his shoulder almost above the hand. He then, through a hand manipulation, forced his gripping appliance over and atop the bar where he firmly held it. Next he slowly pressed upwards into a one-hand stand! What I have related may seem to be disconnected and form a couple of movements, but when Rackett performed this entire feat he simply did a one-arm chin with reverse grip and as soon as his head was above the horizontal bar, he pressed into a one-hand stand in perfect form – all in one continuous movement! And to top such a feat, when he was in the one-hand balance he played the xylophone, which was rigged up near him, with his free hand. If you could have witnessed this display of balance and arm power, you too would have applauded with enthusiasm and would undoubtedly remember it as I have.
Another unique feat I have seen was done by Maciste, the famous Italian professional strongman. This huge fellow opened an ordinary can of sardines with his fingers only. He simply tightly squeezed the little tin extension which the can-key is supposed to roll and then kept rolling across the whole top of the sardine can, and with this mighty squeeze, Maciste ripped the entire top off the can. Try it for yourself sometime. You might find it rather easy with a pair of pliers, but with fingers alone it becomes a different matter and I feel that it should be considered a feat of strength, for who else can do it, and who has done it today?