Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sig Klein - Chapter Four

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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 Ashtabula on the map.” I started out to visit them three different times, but each time it did not materialize; once the chap I was going with could not get his family car, at another time I was called for a special exhibition. I never did get to meet Joe or his older brother Arthur, who started both Joe and Adolph on weight lifting.

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 East 86th Street and Cedar Avenue at the time. Jonas was just a baby then, and I recall how his mother would continually tell me that she would be so happy if Jonas would grow up to be as strong and muscular as his uncle. Whenever Jonas came over to the house, he would ask me to take him up to my gymnasium so that he could watch me “lift the irons.” It pleased me no end to hear him say that, for I always hoped that he would, as time went on, become interested in the “Sport of the Strong.” Jonas was about six years old then, and he showed interest in physical activities even at that tender age. I presented him with a small pair of dumbells as he wanted to exercise the same way I did. As he grew older, I presented him with a set of barbells, and he was very happy with these, promising me that he would train faithfully. This he did, and in 1938, out of twenty-four contestants, he won the Junior National Weight Lifting Championship in the 165 lb. class.

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. Milo informed me that I was becoming one of the popular lifters of the day. About the latter part o 1923, I received a letter from Alan Calvert informing me that he was preparing a book called “Super-Strength,” and that he would like to have me illustrate some o the lifts and exercises in it. I would have to come to Philadelphia of course, and should wire him back at once if interested.

I had never expected to receive such a flattering offer, particularly when Milo had such outstanding pupils as Anton Matysek, Fred Rodhe, Archie Gillespie and many others. I was all keyed up about this opportunity, and had at the time the opportunity to purchase a small bake shop. Although I was still quite young to undertake such a responsibility, my father wanted me to buy it. He thought that if I would go into the baking business I would forget weight lifting and the stage, which I must admit was fascinating me more as time went on. When I told the family of my contemplated trip to Philadelphia, they discouraged me. I felt blue and disheartened, because they did not understand what this meant to me. They could not see how anyone could have taken to heart such ideas as I had. The youngest member of the family of eight children, I was given advice from all quarters. Although I was now twenty-one years of age, I did not listen to this advice. I cried – I could not help it, and was not ashamed of it. A wire was sent back that I regretted I could not accept the offer. This was the hardest blow I ever took in my physical culture career. When my copy of “Super-Strength” arrived several months later, I found the Mr. Walter Donald had been given the honor of posing for the illustrations.

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 New York City.

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 New York, as I always wanted to go there. On my way to the railway station, I stopped at the Central YMCA and told Art Cluelee, the head physical director, that I was leaving town, and thanked him for his kindness in permitting me when I first enrolled there as a member to bring my weights to the Y. There were now quite a number of young men availing themselves of the use of my weights; I had several bars and about 250 lbs. of assorted plates. These I presented to the Y, hoping that those boys who started to show such satisfactory improvement would continue to train, as I suggested to them, and make the progress in development and strength which they strived for.

I did not of course tell my family of my plans. I had a married sister in Cincinnati and a dear aunt living there, and I decided that I would first visit them. My aunt, on hearing of my proposed trip to Cincinnati, was happy that her “Siegmundchen” would at last visit her. Upon m arrival I informed them that I proposed going to New York, and both my sister and aunt tried to persuade me to return home. I remained in Cincinnati for the next few days, and then I changed my plans for the time being.

Ottley Coulter, who was living in Pittsburgh at the time, was, together with George F. Jowett, conducting the Milo Gymnasium in that city. I had read many of the interesting stories that were penned by this famous athlete and authority Coulter, and had always wanted to meet him personally. George F. Jowett, who came from Inckerman, Ontario, Canada, also contributed articles now and then to “Strength” magazine, and he was coming to the fore as an outstanding writer on matters pertaining to weight lifting and strength. I did want to meet both of these athletes and decided that I would make a stop over in Pittsburgh.

Arriving in the “Smoky City” about ten o’clock in the morning, and after registering at a hotel, I at once started for the Milo Gymnasium. Upon arriving at the proper address, it was, much to my dismay, closed. A caretaker of the building informed me that the gymnasium was only opened evenings. Naturally I asked about Mr. Coulter and Mr. Jowett. The only information I could get was that Mr. Jowett could be found at Donohue’s market, and that Mr. Coulter could not be located at this time.

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 Pittsburgh, I left that night for Philadelphia once again. Upon arriving at the Milo Barbell Company, I had a very interesting talk with Mr. Calvert and Dan Redmond who was the owner of the company. I was informed that Mr. Calvert was planning to leave the company, and that Mr. Redmond was looking for someone to take Mr. Calvert’s place. After a little while, I was told that Robert B. Snyder, Ottley Coulter, George F. Jowett and myself were being considered. When I heard this I could not, for the moment, believe that I had been included in this famous group of writers. Mr. Redmond asked me what I thought of the idea. Naturally I told him that none could take the place of Alan Calvert, but that I certainly would not consider the position with such a man as George F. Jowett being available. Little did I know at the time just how much weight this carried. Mr. Redmond then decided to contact Mr. Jowett for the position as writer, consultant and physical training advisor and teacher of all Milo barbell pupils. I stayed but a couple of days at Philadelphia at this time, and after informing Mr. Calvert and Mr. Redmond of my stage plans, and receiving their wishes for the best of luck, I left Philadelphia one Saturday afternoon for New York.

During my ride on the train to New York, I thought of what I intended to do. First I knew that I did not, at least for the time being, intend to work at the baking trade. I had saved money while I was working at the trade, hence I was not short of funds. The money that I spent on anything pertaining to weight lifting was, I felt, a good investment, be it for weights, pictures, books or for going to the theatre to see the acts that gave me so much pleasure and delight.

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 Europe. I wanted to meet as many of these athletes as possible. Of course I wanted to meet Bernarr MacFadden too. all these meetings will, I thought, take time.

It was dusk when I arrived in New York, a hot Saturday in August, 1924. Hailing a taxi, I directed the driver to take me to the Herald Square Hotel, which I had seen advertised on the bill boards along the railroad tracks, as the train going to New York sped along. Registering at the hotel, I was very much excited at being at last in the city where I had read and heard so many famous athletes lived, trained and exhibited. After taking in a few sights, which did not particularly interest me, I went back to the hotel. That evening and the next day, Sunday, were

uneventful, save that I walked to 42nd Street near 8th Avenue, and saw George Bothner’s Gymnasium. I had read about this famous wrestler and his gymnasium in the past, and knew that this was the place where most of the hand-balancing acts and wrestlers trained during the layoffs from exhibitions. This, I made up my mind, would be the first place for me to visit.

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 New York, I enrolled for the time being. Although I did not have the variety of weights that I wanted I trained as well as I could with the available weights.

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 Cleveland, an he introduced himself as Harry Glick. I had seen several pictures of Mr. Glick in “Strength” magazine and knew from some of the material that was written about him that he was a former pupil of Professor Attila. I at once asked him about Attila and where the Professor’s gymnasium was located. Much to my sorrow and regret, I was told that Professor Attila died five months ago. Harry Glick told me that I had missed the greatest personality in the strength world. Had I only come to New York as I intended to, after my first visit to Philadelphia!

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.

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