My Quarter Century in the Iron Game
by Siegmund Klein
The Nordquest Brothers, Joe, Adolph and Arthur, whom Alan Calvert wrote so much about in “Strength” magazine, lived in Ashtabula, Ohio, some fifty-odd miles outside of Cleveland. I did want to meet these famous brothers who “put
One of my first pupils was my nephew. He is the son of my older brother, whom I worked for in the bakery. My family lived on
I was training regularly and my progress and development was improving. More pictures were taken of me and published. I knew from the letters I was receiving from readers of “Strength” and from the Milo Barbell Co., that my reputation was spreading.
I had never expected to receive such a flattering offer, particularly when
Being somewhat sentimental, I had on many occasions during this period been “blue” and found that when I got started on my weight training this feeling left me. I started to work out harder than ever. I buried myself in my books! Georg Hackenschmidt, “The Russian Lion,” wrote a book, “The Way to Live” or “Physical Strength and How I Acquired It.” This was the latest addition to my strength library.
The thought and idea of a stage career was getting stronger, particularly after seeing so many wonderful acts. I tried from time to time to locate a more suitable partner, since Joe Okin did not at the time wish to make a career of the stage, and could not, hard as we both tried, master some of the intricate hand-balancing stunts that I had planned for us to do. I went so far as to advertise in the newspapers for a “top-mounter.” Several applied, but they did not come up to my expectations. I knew full well that the only place I would be able to get just the athlete that I wanted would be
There appeared one week, at the Hippodrome Theater in Cleveland, “Samsted and Marion.” I knew, from looking at the pictures in the show cases, that Samsted was Sam Olmstead, the famous Physical Culture Authority and strongman, having seen pictures of Mr. Olmstead in the old Physical Culture magazines in the library as far back as 1906.
Here was another act that I just could not miss. The act was called “The Batchelor’s Vision.” It opened with Olmstead on stage reading an article in a magazine, stating that an heiress was looking for a man who had the figure of an Apollo and the strength of a Hercules. He had a dressing gown on, and, as he read, soon fell fast asleep. There appeared on stage, behind a veil, a charming woman, dressed in a beautiful wrap, evidently the heiress. Lights were dimmed, and then Samsted dreamed that he would display his development to the heiress for her approval. Samsted had a large cabinet with sliding curtains. He struck a pose, the curtain opened, and there he was in a classical pose. Holding this for a little while, the curtain closed, and he repeated this several times, going through a magnificent routine of poses. This was followed by some muscle-control feats.
He then came face to face with his “dream girl” and invited her to come off the pedestal and he would, now, show his Herculean strength by doing some “lifts” with her. He would Bent-Press first his left arm for one performance, and then with the right arm for another. He also had a special apparatus made so that he would do the “thigh curl” with the fair lady standing on the soles of his feet. This he did with great effect. After a few more feats of strength, Samsted would lie down on the floor, holding the girl over his head, and slowly do a “get-up” with her, carrying her overhead, back onto the pedestal. Then Samsted came forward and gave a short physical culture talk, and followed this by doing a few “setting-up” exercises for the audience. When this was finished he walked over to the pedestal and, with great gestures, asked the heiress if he came up to her expectations. She disapproved, and Samsted proceeded to walk off stage, but turning his head for a last look, she nodded with approval. Lights were again dimmed, and Samsted was again back in the chair “dreaming.”
Years before this act, Sam Olmstead did a hand-balancing act, and before that, he did a straight weight lifting act. One of his famous feats was with a 100 lb. kettlebell, which was out front for the audience to see and try to lift. This weight would be carried on stage by two stagehands. A partner weighing 140 lbs. would b seated upon the kettlebell, and Sam Olmstead would then Bent-Press this ponderous poundage of 240 lbs. As I stated before, I became very moody from time to time, and during these restless moments I would, upon the slightest provocation, change positions. I was always looking for something else, just what I did not know. Whatever position I had, I worked well and satisfactorily. I would be promised an increase in salary if I would stay, but to no avail. These changes were taking place more and more frequently. Though I had by this time learned the baking trade quite well, I was determined that I would not make baking my vocation.
To write this story in sequence I must bring in little facts that bear out just how deeply interested I was, how enthralled I was with barbell training and exhibition work.
At this time, though, I was still quite young; I was engaged to be married to a very charming young Clevelander. I knew if I married that it would once and for all shatter my hopes and my dreams of what I wanted to become. Fate, or whatever you wish to call it, did not approve of this marriage, and so quarrels occurred from time to time, until at last the engagement was broken. This upset me, and so I decided to leave home. I purchased a large suit case, brought it home, and started to pack. My mother was naturally upset, for never had I left home before. I recall very clearly her standing at the staircase, pleading with me to not leave. My father took an indifferent attitude. He was by this time disgusted with me. “You are old enough to know what you are doing,” was his only comment.
Of course I did not, upon leaving home, I did contemplate going to
I did not of course tell my family of my plans. I had a married sister in
Ottley Coulter, who was living in
Arriving in the “
So, to Donohue’s market, and upon entering it I inquired for Mr. Jowett. The market was a very huge place. It had dozens of stalls where meat, fruit, vegetables, butter, eggs and other produce were sold. I was told where Mr. Jowett could be found. Walking around the place, there behind the butter, egg and cheese department, and draped in a white apron, stood Mr. Jowett. He looked massive, but was much shorter than I pictured him, even though I knew he was about five foot five. His massive neck was most impressive.
Introducing myself, he told me that he was at the moment busy, but would shortly have his lunch hour, and would be very glad to call at my hotel for a chat. This he did. He told me some of his plans in the Physical Culture and Weight Lifting World. I guess we talked about an hour, when Mr. Jowett had to leave. I did not at this time meet Ottley Coulter, nor did I go back to the Milo Gymnasium.
Not having any other reason for staying in
During my ride on the train to
I then made mental notes of those persons I was going to visit. First I had to meet Attila. Back in October, 1921, an article was written about Professor Attila, entitled “Seventy-seven – and Still Going Strong.” This article told me a great deal about this famous trainer of weight lifters. He was, I learned, the trainer of Sandow, Lionel Strongfort, G.W. Rolandow, Henry W. Titus, Warren L. Travis, MacLevy, Anthony Baker and many other famous weight lifters and physical culture teachers in this country and in
It was dusk when I arrived in
uneventful, save that I walked to
Monday afternoon I visited this gymnasium. It was a large place, but I was not particularly impressed with the apparatus. Introducing myself to Mr. Bothner, whom I found to be a gentleman as well as a great wrestler, I was extended the courtesy of looking over the gym. There were a few weights around the floor and a few assorted dumbells, a 250 lb. sphere bell, a 140 lb. barbell and a couple of very light barbells. Mr. Bothner told me that every afternoon at two o’clock the professional hand-balancers arrived for their training and invited me to stay and watch them, if I so desired. Of course I accepted this gracious invitation, and it was not long after that these athletes did arrive. There were at least a dozen different teams. I recognized some that I had seen from time to time in the vaudeville houses. Making inquires about training there while I was in
It was not long after this that conversations between some of these hand-balancers and myself took place, my purpose being to find a suitable “top-mounter.” Some encouraged me, others tried to dissuade me from going into show business. Not knowing exactly what I did want to do I kept on training there several days. One afternoon, a young athlete who looked familiar to me started to ask me if I was Klein from
Not knowing anything about the type of establishment the Attila Gymnasium was I at once asked Glick about it, and thinking it must be quite an institution, imagined that it would be continued, as so many other businesses are after the titular head passes on.