Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sig Klein - Chapter Six






My Quarter Century in the Iron Game
Part 6
By Siegmund Klein

Attila’s world famous gymnasium was closed, and Madame Attila moved the 164th Street and Broadway. Questioning Mr. Glick more about the gymnasium and the weights, he told me that Madame did not know if she would continue with the gymnasium or not. He also told me that it might be a good idea to visit Madame Attila, as all the weights, pictures and other things of interest had been taken to her apartment, and it was possible that she might show me these.

He also thought that if Madame did not intend to continue the gymnasium, I might be able to work out a suitable business deal with her. This of course elated me. Just the thought of conducting such a famous gymnasium thrilled me. I asked Harry Glick to take me up to Madame’s home. He promised me he would. I guess I asked him at least every day for the next five days when he was going to take me up there. Each time he promised he would he failed to, due to business or social engagements. He then suggested that I go there myself. He did not know the address, but directed me. I took a bus uptown, got off at where I thought the gymnasium was, but could not find the place, and I went back downtown again.


Back in my hotel, I lay awake all night thinking things over. What was I to do? I had always wanted to make a trip to California. That was it! This was, I remember very clearly, a Tuesday. Wednesday afternoon, back in Bothner’s Gymnasium, I met Glick once again. I told him that I was leaving for California on Thursday. He looked surprised and wanted to know if I had been up to Attila’s. Telling him of my fruitless trip, he looked in his notebook for the telephone number, as Madame Attila was living in this apartment only a few months, the phone number was not yet listed in the phone book. He informed me that he would phone at once and make an appointment for me, although he could not go there with me. Harry told Madame that a visitor from Cleveland wanted to see her and asked her to be kind enough to show him the Attila apparatus, to which she agreed.

Since I was in no particular hurry to go to California, I thought I might as well stay over a few more days. The next evening, Thursday, with the proper address, and several pictures of myself and some of the “write-ups” that I had brought along from home, I ventured uptown again to meet the wife of Professor Attila. I did not know it at the time, of course, but the Professor had several pupils who, after his death, wanted to continue training. Madame was kind enough to allow some of these former pupils to come to her home for their training. She informed one that a visitor was calling that evening. He was told that this visitor was Clevelander and a weight lifter. When he was told this, he was at once full of questions. Who was this? Could it be Siegmund Klein of Cleveland? Madame said that she was not sure, but that the name sounded like the one Harry Glick told her about over the phone. Well, he had to wait. When was this visitor coming? Did he say what hour? Madame told him she did not know, but that he could come on Thursday. I did not know about all this until I came there that evening about eight o’clock. The pupil was there all day, waiting for my arrival. As I approached 6924 Broadway, between 164th and 165th Streets, I looked around. There was a small building between two large apartment houses. No wonder I could not find this place on my first visit. I entered the hall and rang the bell downstairs. The apartment was one flight up, and walking upstairs, the door was opened and there I met Mrs. Attila. I introduced myself as the chap that Harry Glick had phoned about. As I entered, in the farther corner of the room a young man was sitting, and immediately sprang to his feet. He walked over with his hand already extended, recognized me, and said, “How do you do, Mr. Siegmund Klein? I am glad to know you; my name is Harry Leff, a pupil of Professor Attila.”

This young man then, after we greeted each other, told Madame about me. I did not know that anyone could know so much about me, but he was a regular reader of “Strength” magazine. I produced my pictures and write-ups. Mrs. Attila looked them over . She complimented me, and then started to talk about the Professor. She further informed me that at the moment she did not know what she intended to do about the gymnasium, so for the time being rented this apartment, which had a front room, quite large, and had been, as many apartments in New York City were, a dress establishment before she took it. This room was separated from the living quarters. Weights seemed to be crammed in there. Pictures were all over the walls, and in the center of the room, against one of the walls, was a huge mirror in a heavy gilded frame, extending almost to the ceiling.


As the evening progressed and we discussed weight lifters, pictures were shown to me. On one wall was a beautiful frame that had Sandow photographs in it. There were all originals, and autographed to Prof. Attila by Sandow. Some of these poses I had seen before, but many were new to me. They all looked superb. Some were taken by Sarony, the most famous photographer at the time. Others were taken by Falk, who photographed Sandow in the famous column poses that are so familiar to strength fans. In another frame were poses of Attila. Now for the first time I saw a group of pictures of the famous teacher. Before this I had seen only one picture of him. I was, as can be imagined, all eyes. I could not see enough of all of these pictures. There was another frame filled with pictures that had other well-known athletes, including Lionel Strongfort, whom Madame called Max Unger, his right name. These pictures of Strongfort were all taken when he was about seventeen years of age.

The weights in this room were the finest I had ever seen. They all looked beautiful. Some had brass spheres and nickel plated bars. Some had black spheres with brass flanges on the ends and grooved grips in the center. There was one barbell that belonged at one time to Louis Cyr, and another, which looked very much like the one Sandow posed with in his book. There were many weights, ring weights, French block weights, kettle bells, dumb-bells of all shapes and sizes. This was indeed a strong-man’s paradise.

On the window sill was a bronze statue of Sandow, and on a pedestal was a statue of the Professor. Diplomas, too, decorated the walls. Some were beautiful works of art. Honorary diplomas from various weight lifting clubs, from France and Germany. A Roman chair was there too.

Behind this room, walking through a double doorway, was another room which did not have any apparatus in it, but had on the mantelpiece a large oil painting of Professor Attila. This painting was framed with a very heavy fancy gold frame, and was encased in a dust-box. I became fascinated with all this. I did not know how to approach the subject of becoming associated in business. However, I did inquire if anyone was in charge and was told, “Not at the moment.” I at once wanted to know if there was an opening for such a position, and that I was quite interested. Madame smiled, and mentioned that she was going to her country home over the weekend, including Monday which was Labor Day, and that upon her return I should call again and we could discuss this further.

It was getting quite late, so I bade her good evening, and together with Harry Leff I went back downtown to my hotel. He was hoping that I could make satisfactory arrangements with Madame. He did want me to be there. The next few days seemed like an eternity to me. I went back to Bothner’s gym and started to train, when I was approached by a husky looking chap who said he recognized me, and introduced himself. He was William Waring of Yonkers, whom I had seen many pictures of in “Physical Culture” magazine. He had a friend with him, who seemed very much interested in meeting me; and I met John Bracken, a former pupil of Waring. I told them of the possibility of me taking charge of the Attila Gymnasium, and upon hearing this Bracken immediately insisted that I take his address and mail him a notice if I located there.

Labor Day passed, and uptown again I went to find out what could be arranged. Ringing the bell again, and approaching the door, a young lady opened it, and greeted me. I had not, upon my first visit, seen her, so I introduced myself and informed her that I wanted to see Mrs. Attila. She asked me to come in and told me she was Grace Attila and would call her mother. I walked into the gym again, and feasted my eyes on all the weights and pictures therein.

A few moments later Mrs. Attila came in, and after exchanging a few words about her trip to the country I, being impatient, started discussing the gym project with her. She told mw that she had thought it over, and first she thought that I was too young to understand what she had in mind. Then, telling me she was going to be very frank about the matter, said that her past experience was that strong-men and weight-lifters did not have money, and that if she considered any proposition it would have to be one where she would rent the gym for a sum of money per month. Upon hearing this, I asked her how much rent she wanted and took a check book out of my pocket, much to her surprise. She smiled pleasantly, and said, “You evidently came prepared, and you do want this very much, don’t you?” She agreed to let me try it for a while, which made me I am sure, about the happiest individual in the world.

She asked me where I was staying, and suggested that I might as well live with her family, since they had plenty of room. This I was naturally happy to do. I met another daughter, Louise, who was a little older than Grace, and Louise’s two daughters, Margarete and Virginia. They were six and seven years of age then. There was, I learned later, one other member of the Attila family, a son, Harold, who lived in California. I was now remorseful about not having written my family in Cleveland in all this time, so finally I wrote them and informed them of my plans. Much to my surprise, I received, a few days later, letters from home full of encouragement and best wished for my new undertaking.

This was September 15th in 1924, just five years to the day after I started with my barbell training back in Cleveland. I was at last going to do what I had always wanted dreamed of and planned to do. I was now a coach in bar-bell training, and therefore would be, from now on, a professional weight-lifter.

The gymnasium (I preferred to call it a studio) was a small wet furnished and equipped room. There were, as was mentioned earlier, a few Attila pupils. Others had to be gotten. The first thing I did was place an advertisement in “Strength” magazine, a luck would have it, placed about a day before closing dates for advertisements for the month of November. I also wrote a note to John Bracken as he suggested. He enrolled. Mrs. Attila was getting in touch with a few other former Attila pupils, and before long I had quite a class. I was, as can be imagined, more than elated with my new undertaking.

Enthusiasm is one of the prime requisites for success, and if one has enthusiasm it does not take long for it to be transmitted to others. Mrs. Attila was well pleased with the way I conducted the studio. She liked my great interest, and was doing all she could to make things pleasant for me. After the studio closed for the evening, we would discuss weight lifting and strong-men. She would tell me stories about Sandow, and his start with Attila; of Lionel Strongfort, when he was just seventeen years old and came over from New Jersey with his father. His father, she told me, was terribly anxious to have his “Max” hurry through his professional courses so he could make his stage debut. She spoke of Rolandow, whose right name was Gustave Wuttrich, and told me how he came to Attila through a former pupil of Attila by the name of Stern, and who paid for Rolandow’s course. She also told me that H.W. Titus was a former pupil of the Professor, and that his name was Henry Weimer, and that Warren Lincoln Travis, Luigi Borra, later “Milo,” Prof. Desbonnet of Paris, Louis Cyr, Horace Barre, and oh, so many other world famous strong-men were all pupils of the great Attila.

These stories would be told to me for hours, night after night, and I, like a pupil listening to a teacher, learned first hand from this woman who had seen so many of these famous athletes when they were mere youngsters getting started, and watched them climb to the heights of world renown. My knowledge was now improving so greatly that I was becoming an authority, I would retell these stories to others, and found that they too had a great interest in them.

In one of the rooms of the apartment the piano was often played by Grace Attila. She had an exceptionally fine voice, having sung solos at St. Patrick’s Cathedral as a youngster. It did not take long for me to become better acquainted with her, and I would often join in singing duets with her. One of our favorite numbers was “Chansonette.” The first line was “Chansonette, chansonette, love was born when we first met!” We became good friends.

It was not long after I opened the Attila studio that word got around that I was in New York. Many weight-lifters came there to make my acquaintance. One afternoon, the doorbell rang. Upon opening the door, I saw a powerful man standing there with a very serious face. He looked at me, and I at once smiled and greeted him. It was Henry “Milo” Steinborn. You can imagine my delighted surprise. He at once told me I spoiled his introductory speech which he had rehearsed for several days. Having a fine sense of humor, he was going to enter the gym and make inquiries about taking a “course to get strong.” This visit was a red letter day in the studio. We spent much of a pleasant day talking about weight-lifting and became very good friends immediately. He trained there with me whenever he was in New York. I have learned many valuable exercises from him. It was Steinborn who first showed me the real value of heavy deep knee bending. He also was kind enough to teach me his method of rocking a heavy weight over to the shoulders to perform this exercise, or what we preferred to call an exhibition feat of strength, in preparation for the deep-knee-bend without anyone assisting. This proved of immense value to me later on, when I would give exhibitions. I was often given the credit for showing the value of deep knee bending with heavy weights, but this credit rightfully belongs to Henry Steinborn.

It was not many days later that another distinguished visitor came to make my acquaintance in the person of Otto Arco. Now at last I met the athlete that I wanted to meet in Cleveland. Otto was very kind and generous in stripping down for the boys at the gym and gave his famous muscle-control exhibition. He later asked me to strip down too, as he wanted to compare my development with his. I must say I was flattered, but knew that Arco was considerably more muscular than I was. He encouraged me however, and that afternoon he also did some lifting for us, doing a two-arm continental jerk with 250 pounds. He had not lifted weights for two years before this time.

Otto was again back in his own vaudeville act, and Miss Grace Attila and I went to the Proctor Theatre on Broadway and 23rd Street one Sunday afternoon to see this famous athlete in action. He was everything that was written about him. I only regretted that his muscle posing was so short. However, I saw his acts several times after that.

It was not very long after this that George F. Jowett, now associated with the Milo Barbell Company, came to New York for a visit. He called me at the studio an informed me now that he was going to start a Weight Lifting Association, which he felt this country needed very much, and wanted all lifts to be conducted under the rules and regulations of this association. He chose the name American Continental Weight Lifting Association, and stipulated that records would be kept, diplomas and medals would be presented, weight lifting divisions would be formed; in other words, weight lifting would now be organized (In 1920 Ottley Coulter proposed such an association too, but it did not materialize). Since I was now in New York, I was appointed New York State representative, which pleased me very much.

I would of course introduce all these famous weight-lifters to Mrs. Attila. They were practically youngsters to her. She did not know this newer generation of weight-lifters. She was however very happy to meet them, and would tell me that it reminded her of the “good old days” when so many famous athletes would call on the Professor. It pleased me to see this same occurrence happening with me. When I introduced Mr. Jowett to Mrs. Attila she asked him, as was her custom to ask all the visiting weight-lifters, if he had ever met the Professor. He said he never had the pleasure of meeting him but had seen him perform in England. Upon Mr. Jowett’s leaving she asked me how old I thought Mr. Jowett was, and I told her that he was about thirty-three years old. She told me the Professor was not in England after 1893, and that Mr. Jowett was not born yet. This she could not quite understand. I informed her that there were two brothers in England who called themselves The Attilla Brothers (Oscar and Albert Attilla). They spelled the name with two “L’s” instead of one. Prof. Attila’s first name was Louis. Everyone called Attila “Professor,” even the members of his family. When Grace started school, she was asked her father’s first name, and replied “Professor.” She did not know him by any other name at that time!

One afternoon we had a fine group of famous athletes all lifting, posing, and doing difficult hand-balancing stunts. This group consisted of Henry Steinborn, Otto Arco, Martin Bock, Max Sunderman (Bock and Sunderman were primarily acrobats and hand-balancers, and did not look impressive in street attire) and myself. Word got around to various lifters in New York and New Jersey that this impromptu meeting was taking place and that George F. Jowett would be there too. Many of the lifters had not, up to this time, ever seen Jowett, and upon hearing of his visit they came up to the gym to meet the President of the newly formed Weight-Lifting Association. It was on December 11th in 1924 that this meeting took place, and here for the first time I met Mark H. Berry an A. Marquis Losey.

The lifting was all impromptu. Otto Arco did a “Two Arm Continental Jerk” with 250 pounds. Then he tried to perform another stunt by holding a 188 pound bar-bell (the one that belonged to Louis Cyr) with a thick handle, overhead with outstretched arm. He then attempted a deep knee bend, but he could not complete it. Arco then did some hand-balancing and followed this by doing some remarkable muscle-control. I was asked to do some lifting too and succeeded with a “Two Arm Continental Press” with 220 pounds and then some “One Arm Snatches” both left and right, with a 135 pound exhibition bar-bell. I followed this up by doing some “Tiger-Bends” and muscle-posing. I weighed 147 pounds at this time.

Martin Bock and Max Sunderman had a little contest on the “Two Arm Jerk.” They used the continental style. For the benefit of those lifters who do not understand this type of lifting, the weight is first brought from the floor to the abdomen, then with a heave and thrust is elevated to the chest, then jerked overhead. This style of lifting was very popular in Germany, Austria and Russia, but was barred in France and England, where only “clean” lifting was permitted. Bock succeeded with 235 pounds and Sunderman with 240 pounds. Both these athletes weighed about 135 pounds.

By this time Steinborn was getting a bit restless, and wanted to treat us all to some fine lifting. I acted as a master of ceremonies, and announced that Henry was going to “Clean and Jerk” 300 pounds for his first lift. This was the first time that I had ever seen any attempt on so heavy a poundage, and am sure that none in the audience, save probably Jowett, had ever seen so much weight lifted in this style. While Henry was getting ready to do this, Jowett was, to the amazement of the other spectators, showing his wrist and forearm development to the boys. I called out, “Men and Mr. Jowett, Henry is about to lift 300 pounds.” Mr. Jowett looked up a minute and said, “Yes, I see,” absentmindedly, and continued to show his forearm. The 300 pounds was cleaned and jerked easily, then 320 pounds was lifted with ease as well, and this was followed by 340 pounds. It was the heaviest weight that we ever saw cleaned and jerked, up to that time.

Not being satisfied with this, Steinborn next demonstrated some one-arm lifting. He did a “One Arm Snatch” first with 176 pounds, and followed this with 195 pounds and then 205 pounds. We were all astounded, never having seen anything like the speed and the grace that this athlete showed. He excelled in the fast lifts. Henry then wanted to demonstrate his leg strength, and we loaded up 400 pounds on the bar-bell and he did 10 “Deep Knee Bends” with this weight, bringing up to shoulders and taking it off unassisted. The audience was flabbergasted by this. A tremendous ovation followed for Henry Steinborn. It was a weight-lifting feat that most of us would never forget.

Henry, having a fine sense of humor, thought he would try something that I had never seen him do before or since. When he first started to clean the 300 pound bar-bell, he would, as was his style, pull the weight about to the height of his hips; then like a flash squat, but this time as soon as he squatted he fell back, still holding the bar-bell over his chest. I started to rush over, frightened. “Get back!” he shouted, and started to get up on one knee. He was about two feet from a huge mirror. I thought he would surely crash through it. Slowly he brought the other leg forward and was now on both knees with the 300 pound weight on his chest. From here he brought one foot forward, then slowly came to the correct position, and then jerked this weight overhead – five times in succession! It was the greatest feat of strength that I have ever seen, and from the comments of the others, they too were of the same opinion. Mr. Jowett, however, was still showing his wrist and forearm, oblivious to it all.

Warren Lincoln Travis, whom I had read so much about, visited while he was performing in Coney Island. He came to the gym one afternoon and had not seen Mrs. Attila for a good many years. The three of us had a wonderful afternoon talking about the Professor and the good old days. I had also visited G.W. Rolandow, who was still conducting his gymnasium on 82nd Street and Broadway. He was very friendly and asked me to call on him whenever the opportunity availed itself, and this I did from time to time. “Row,” as he was known to his friends and pupils, encouraged me, and he told me some very interesting stories about his matches and his challenges. His ambition in life was to meet Sandow in a match of strength, in fact he posted at one time $25,000 to meet Sandow, which was never accepted.

My visits to the MacFadden Publishing Company about this same time culminated in my meeting for the first time Bernarr MacFadden, and Carl Easton Williams, who was then editor of “Physical Culture” magazine.

A new magazine was being published then, called “Muscle Builder,” devoted to weight-lifting, wrestling, strong-men, and other sports. It was started March, 1924, and had its last issue in July, 1926. I was asked to pose for this magazine and several of my pictures appeared in it.

I visited Charles Atlas too, one afternoon. I also called on Anthony Barker, Prof. Adrian P. Schmidt and Earle E. Liederman. I always wanted to meet these physical culture teachers. They all seemed pleased to meet me, and I naturally was more than pleased to make the acquaintance of all the famous athletes whom I had read so much about back in Cleveland.

One afternoon, while Steinborn and a few pupils and myself were taking our workout, a young chap walked in and was interested in taking a course. He informed me that he had had his arm severely burned when he was about five years old, and could not use it to good advantage. He was so enthused, so thrilled in watching us that he enrolled immediately. Hi progress in general development was phenomenal. His arm became strong – very strong, so much so that he could later snatch with his right arm (his burned arm) 170 pounds. Truly a miracle. He became quite well known. This young man, Bill Rasche, later became one of the leading Adagio dancers in America, performing in the Ziegfeld Follies. He admires Steinborn so much that Bill was called “Young Steinborn.”

I recall now, as I sit here writing, what a wonderful group of boys we had there, in that little gym on Broadway and 164th Street. It was more like a friendly group exercising together than a place of business. We had such good times together. Often on a Tuesday or Thursday afternoon, when I had no pupils to instruct, I would go to the Audubon Theatre, which was practically next door. On several occasions, when Steinborn called at the gym and was informed where I was, he would come into the theatre and sit behind me during the entire show, without letting me know he was there. We would then leave together, stop in a coffee shop, have our usual afternoon coffee and cake, go back to the gym and sit around talking weight-lifting and strong-men – shop talk. We liked nothing better than this, save when we would take our workouts.

Dave Willoughby, the distinguished writer and weight-lifting authority, made a trip east from the West Coast to visit the Milo Bar-Bell Company. He came on to New York from Philadelphia and visited me at the gym. He was the first famous West Coast weight-lifter I had met up to this time.

John M. Hernic, who wrote articles on physical culture, and also sold many photos of athletes, came together with Tony Sansone one evening. It was the first time that I had met Tony, whose Apollo-like figure I had always admired and held up as an ideal to those pupils who have the slender type of physique.

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