My First Quarter Century in the Iron Game – Chapter Two
by Siegmund Klein
I could not refrain from telling friends of mine that I ordered a set of barbells. One friend, who was a few years older than myself, informed me that, in the neighborhood, there was a pool room he frequented where there was a one-hundred pound solid dumbell, and that I should try to lift this weight. He also told me that on the wall of this pool parlor a large colored picture Francis X. Bushman, the movie idol of that era, posed in a strongman costume, was on display.
Knowing full well that I would not be allowed to go to a pool parlor evenings, and wanting to see the big picture as well as try my strength on this weight, I thought it would be best to postpone this visit until Sunday morning. So, in the company of two friends, I strolled up to the entrance. Upon entering it did not surprise me much when we were stopped, since we were minors. Asked what we wanted, I thought it would be best to ask for permission to see the muscular picture of Bushman. After a little discussion about this, and since there were not many men there Sunday morning, the man in charge thought it would be all right. I was, of course, told in advance by my friend where the dumbell was. After looking at the picture a few minutes, I finally got up the courage to walk over to the place where the dumbell was located, and then I asked the manager if he would object to having me try to lift this weight over head. He looked at me rather surprised, as if I was insane in asking such a question. “Go ahead, kid, if you think you can do it, but don’t hurt yourself. That weight is plenty heavy.” I removed my coat and rolled the weight from under the bench. Soon several of the men who were in the pool room congregated. This did not annoy me, in fact, it had just the opposite effect. Now up to this time I had never lifted a standard weight over my head of any notable poundage. I had, as I mentioned, lifted various objects and human weights but I had no knowledge of “lifting weights.” Grasping the weight with two hands, I pulled it to my shoulder. It felt heavy, very heavy. I tried to press it out, and moved it off the shoulder about six inches, and then the weight started to turn, and before I knew what happened, down it came to the floor. The bystanders laughed, my two friends were surprised, and I was, for the moment, perplexed. I knew I was strong enough to lift this weight. Once again I heaved the weight to the shoulder. With a great effort, a half “jerk and press,” I finally succeeded in getting that one hundred pound weight over head. This pleased me. It was to me a triumph.
About a week later a bill of lading arrived informing me that a box was at the freight station for me, and that I must call for same. Together with two friends, who I had already taken into my confidence, we went for the weights. Calling at the station, paying the freight bill, we opened the box, unwrapped the two bars, and dividing the plates in three parts we got on the street car headed for home. Like most private homes, we had a back entrance, and making sure that no one was watching us, we quietly entered the back stairway, and up the attic to my “gym.” Now the weights were here. The course came and I started training with the barbells “officially.’ This was September 15th, 1919.
It was not long though before it was discovered what I was up to. One evening I thought I would try a little weight lifting. The one hand snatch lift fascinated me. I wanted to see if I could, after a few weeks’ training, snatch the one hundred pound barbell. With a great heave and pull, the weight flew up, and then crash, down came plates first. I had forgotten to tighten one of the collars. The family thought the ceiling was coming down. Like a flash my father came up the stairs, and I was standing in my tights, dejected, knowing full well what to expect. He did not for a moment know what to say. He looked at me, then at the weights, and left. He must have recalled, at that moment, his own youth, his own great strength. Believe me, I was much more careful about tightening collars on bars in the future.
My interest in barbell training was growing by leaps and bounds. I sent away for all the booklets and pictures published by strong men. The Milo Bar Bell Company sold a group of pictures called “Twenty-five Muscular Marvels.” Of course I sent for them. These pictures served as a great inspiration to me. I would study the poses of such athletes as Owen Carr, Tony Massimo, Albert Tauscher, Robert Snyder, Fred Rhode and many others. In front of a mirror I would pose in the same position as these other athletes used. Often while my sister would be playing the piano, particularly waltzes, I would allow the door of my den to be open and then go through these poses to the rhythm of the music. This was what I called “mirror posing.” It was the basis of a posing routine, which I thought would be used some day in exhibition work.
Like most enthusiasts, I had some pictures taken. The first set I ever had taken were on the breakwater on
While I was coaching at the Sachs’ gymnasium, Walter Camp, the great coach, put on the market victrola records, called the “Walter Camp Daily Dozen.” These were featured in many music stores, and soon Mr. Sachs had a request from the proprietor of a music store across the street for his establishment on
One afternoon, upon entering the gymnasium, I overheard a conversation between a prospective pupil and Mr. Sachs. The visitor wanted to know about barbells, and Mr. Sachs, who at that time did not know much about weight training, tried to discourage the pupil from using weights. This naturally disheartened me and was the ending of my association with this gymnasium. I made inquiries at the Cleveland YMCA and was not encouraged very much about bringing my weights there. I was told, however, that if I would have a special box to keep my weights in the boxing room, permission would be granted. I had my brother build me the required box at once, since I wanted above anything else a place to train.
One day a young man, in the person of Joe Okin, walked into the gym, and became greatly interested in weight training. It did not take long before Joe became very much enthused about exercising with weights. He was about 5’2” in height and weighed 112 lbs., very muscular and strong for his size. Having always wanted to do exhibition work, Joe Okin and I worked up a routine of feats of strength. I would first do posing, then follow this up with some hand-balancing stunts. I had in the meantime mastered the “Tiger-Bend” which I learned to do from an article that Robert Snyder wrote for “Strength” magazine.
Okin would do a couple of lifts, then we would do some lifting using him, a “One Arm Swing,” a “Thigh Curl,” a “Roman Chair” stunt, and several other standard human lifting feats, and finish by doing a “One Arm Slow Side Press” while looking at the audience, lifting Okin very easily, then, still holding him over my head, and raising one leg forward, standing on one foot for a few seconds I would run off stage still holding him overhead.
There were quite a number of small theaters in and around
From time to time more pictures were taken of me, and then in the summer of 1922 I had a group of photographs taken that I mailed to Alan Calvert. Several days later I received my first letter from this able teacher and authority, mentioning that he was very much impressed with the pictures and that he was going to write a feature story about me, using the pictures and title the article, “Klein: The Latest Addition to the Perfect Men.” This article appeared in the October, 1922 issue of “Strength.” You can imagine how elated I was with this news. I felt now that I was getting into that inner circle of Strongmanism. The Milo Barbell Company started to use my pictures in their advertisements. Letters by the score started to arrive at my home from all over the country. The Milo Barbell Company was kind enough to present me with a 225 lb. large size Duplex Sphere bell outfit.
Now having 225 lbs. of weights, I thought that I would try some heavy lifting.
Robert Snyder, Jr., of
I had quite a bit of correspondence with Mr. Calvert and decided to visit him in the summer of 1923. I pictured to myself the Milo Barbell Company as a beautiful building with huge columns at the entrance. When I finally arrived in
When Mr. Calvert heard of this, he discouraged me from going to
There were as I mentioned very few barbell men in
Whenever weight lifters and strongmen appeared on the vaudeville stage I would, if the occasion presented itself, call on them. I knew that in conversation with these men I would learn more about the sport that interested me so much. At
After seeing this act, I knew that I could certainly present a more interesting display than I had just witnessed. I looked up Mr. Fred Hurley, the manager, and asked him to book Okin and myself. He thought we were a bit too young. He had no place for us at the time since he was all booked up for several weeks. I kept after Mr. Hurley until one Sunday afternoon he finally decided to give us a chance, for the matinee only. In the event that he, as well as the audience liked our act he would keep us on. We were pleased with this opportunity, and suffice to say that Okin and I were there for two solid weeks.
Practically all vaudeville houses had for their opening and closing acts hand-balancing or strongmen. I was, as can be imagined, quite busy making the rounds from house to house, and it did not take long for the stage managers to know me. The Miles theater on East Ninth, near
Now as Stamm showed his arm, he said, “this is what I got from eating potatoes.” At once the lights were dimmed, and like a flash he disrobed from his entire street clothes (having little snap buttons on his trousers, zippers were not known at that time) and stood under a spotlight, with high white sandals and loin cloth. He did some posing, then a few special muscle control stunts, followed by a few handsprings and flip-flops. While all this was going on Tige was, from all appearances, sleeping on stage. Stamm now called to him, and he slowly lumbered over, looking at his friend sheepishly, and not knowing just what to expect. A harness was placed on is body that had an attachment that was placed around Stamm’s wrist. A violin, which was within reach on a small table, was taken up, and little ditty was played while Tige was suspended from the wrist of the bowing hand. This was appreciated by the audience, particularly when it was announced that Tige weighed 65 pounds. For an encore, he held a blackboard about 15 inches square in his left hand, and with Tige still attached to his right wrist, and a piece of chalk in his right hand, he drew an outline of Teddy Roosevelt. Then he tore a pack of playing cards in half, threw out half to the audience after placing a rubber band around the other half, then he tore that half in half again, making two quarters of the pack, and placing rubber bands around these he then threw them out to the audience too. This was followed by supporting four heavy stage hands on the standard “human pyramid” board while he sang a song. Stamm used to lift a horse in “harness style” but could not at this time secure the horse from a local stable. He then gave the audience a few demonstrations of “setting-up” exercises, and this finished his act.
Back stage I went to meet Orville Stamm. He greeted me very cordially, and we had a very pleasant meeting. He asked me to strip down to the waist, and he being about the same size that I was, we compared our development in his dressing room mirror. He was quite a few years older than I, and was, to me, much more developed. His back was very broad, and his thighs had that fullness and great sweep from the hips to the knees that is so desirable. I have seen his act several times, and later he enlarged the act by having a group of girls with him. He did a Gypsy act with them, and included dancing. Although this act was more “dressed up” it did not appeal to me as much as the Strongman act that I first saw. As I mentioned before, Mr. Stamm was about my size, and call it coincidence, but I had many people ask me if I was Orville Stamm as they insisted I looked so much like him.