Monday, February 2, 2009

Sig Klein - Chapter Two

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 Lake Erie. Mailing in several to “Strength Magazine” it was not long before two of these appeared in the publication. I was of course happy about this. Shortly after this, several strangers called at our home to make my acquaintance. Barbell fans, in those days, were few and I did not know of any in Cleveland at that time. Visitors became more frequent, and soon there was quite a group. Some of them went so far as to offer me remuneration if I would “teach” them. Of course this was most gratifying to me. I did accept a few, but soon my parents interfered as they did not at all like the idea of having so many strangers coming to the house. They insisted that I stop at once. I did not, at the moment, know what to do. There was a well-known gymnasium in Cleveland conducted by Jerry Sachs, used by businessmen as well as training quarters for boxers. I visited Mr. Sachs one afternoon, and proposed a plan to him whereby I would bring my “pupils” to his gymnasium and for the use of his many rooms, pay him a percentage for this courtesy. This was agreed upon, so to Jerry Sach’s gymnasium I took my weight pictures and started to train my pupils there.

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 55th Street and Lexington Avenue to have someone demonstrate these records in the window. He wanted to know if I would be interested in this proposition. A sign would be placed in the window mentioning that I was with the Sachs’ gymnasium, and that demonstrations would start in a week. Up to this time not having “Roman Sandals” I purchased the Billboard magazine, knowing that this type of publication advertised all types of theatrical costumes. There I found an advertisement by Aiston’s in Chicago and sent for their literature, with all details. Here I ordered my first pair of Roman Sandals. Now I thought I was really ready for the demonstrations. For about a week I posed and worked the Walter Camp Records.

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 Cleveland that had weekend Vaudeville programs. It did not take long for us to get “bookings” in these theaters and we planned on doing stage work professionally; up to now we were classed as semi-professionals. Though I started to like exhibition work very much, I still ad the desire to have a gymnasium. This was what I really wanted. The stage to me was only a means to become better known.

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 Hagerstown, Maryland, was at this time considered about the best weight lifter in the country. He weighed about 140 pounds, and his best lift at “Two Arm Pressing” was 190 lbs. The Two Arm Press had a great fascination for me, and I wanted to equal if not try to surpass Snyder’s record. I trained on the press regularly. I would first start off with a 150 lb. weight, press this five times, then take 160 lbs., press this four times, increase the weight to 170 lbs., do this three times, and 180 lbs. twice. I could not, however, press 190 lbs. once. I practiced this system, and then reversed the method, starting with the 180 lbs. working down to the 150 lb. weight. It did not take many weeks before I was able to press the 190 lbs. Always wanting to have my poundages correct, the weight was carried downstairs to the dressing room, and there placed on the scale. You can imagine how discouraged I was when the scale balance read 188 lbs. This meant more training, which of course I did not mind. 200 lbs. was the goal that I made up my mind to attain. This took about six more months of hard training. Then I ad exceeded the record of Robert Snyder, Jr. I weighed 147 lbs. at the time.

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 Philadelphia, I took a taxi to Third and Diamond Streets. Sure enough, there was the building with the columns but, as I approached closer, it was a bank building. I looked around and there much to my surprise was a little old building with small letters on the window, “Milo Barbell Company.” I opened the door, a bell rang. It was about twelve o’clock noon. A man was walking down the stairs and I at once recognized him He was Charles McMahon. I introduced myself, and asked him if Mr. Calvert was in. He asked me to go upstairs to the offices. There he sat at his desk. It was a surprise to me to meet him. I pictured Mr. Calvert as a big powerful retired weight lifter. I spoke to him a few minutes before I was convinced that the executive I was speaking to was really Mr. Calvert. He had such charm, and told me so many interesting stories about strong men, showed me old magazines and many pictures of famous athletes past and present. I stayed on in Philadelphia for about two weeks, being a daily visitor to the office. During by stay I trained at Billy Hermann’s famous gymnasium and here I met quite a number of well-known acrobats and weight lifters.

Since New York was only a short ride from Philadelphia, I informed Mr. Calvert that I intended to go there, as I wanted to meet some of the great weight lifters that had establishments in New York. I particularly wanted to meet Prof. Attila, “The Dean of Strongmen,” who was Sandow’s mentor. Since Sandow was trained by Attila, I felt that this was the teacher I wanted. In my conversation with Mr. Calvert I told him that I also wanted to visit Bernarr MacFadden, hoping that during my visit I would be invited to pose for some photos for the “Physical Culture” magazine.

When Mr. Calvert heard of this, he discouraged me from going to New York and persuaded me to go back to Cleveland. Before I left he took me to Scott’s photo studio, had a large group of photos taken and then I left for home. These pictures appeared in “Strength” under an article “How to Perform a Strongman Act.” When I arrived back in Cleveland I was a bit discouraged about not going to New York, but then after getting back to exhibition work, and my training, I soon forgot about New York. While I was training at the Y there entered one afternoon a very muscular and powerful looking young man. He watched me lifting the weights, and it was not long before he conversed with me. I naturally wanted to know how he obtained the fine development he had and was informed that he was just off a ship, being in the Navy. He did a great deal of hand-balancing and would, when the occasion presented itself, go to the gymnasium and practice apparatus stunts. he introduced himself, and it was not long before I had his enthusiasm aroused for weight lifting. His name was Jack Russell and he informed me that his home town was Philadelphia, and he was leaving for that city. Naturally I informed Jack to call at the Milo Barbell Company, and I gave him a letter of introduction to Mr. Calvert. When Jack arrived there, he was given a job as a feature writer and artist. To this day Jack Russell and I are great friends, and we correspond with each other regularly, and when he is in New York we take workouts together, just as we did over twenty years ago.

There were as I mentioned very few barbell men in Cleveland at this time. I was, however, told about an old timer by the name of Joe Cook. Cook had been a professional strongman some years before and was now conducting a pool room on lower Broadway. One Sunday afternoon I visited him. He was very obliging, and though he was dressed in his Sunday best, he took me to a room in the back of his pool parlor where he had some weights. It did not take long for Mr. Cook to roll up his sleeves, and do some exhibition lifts for me. He also drove a large spike into a heavy beam that was on a table, then wrapping his handkerchief over the head of this square spike, would grasp the beam, and two other chaps and myself holding it firm, he would bend it forwards and backwards with his teeth until it broke off. He had me take hold of his hair and then would make several fast rotations until I was being swung around and around. By the time his little exhibition was over Cook was kind enough to present me with some very old magazines, and also loaned e a book that Alan Calvert wrote in 1911 called “The Truth About Weight Lifting.” He also told me about another weight lifter in Cleveland, that he gave exhibitions with, in the person of Sam Becker. I looked up Mr. Becker and was always glad that I had met both of these athletes.

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 Luna Park, in Cleveland, vaudeville acts appeared regularly. Here I saw a weight lifter by the name of “The Great Larue.” He was a rather short, slight-built man, and had only three weights in his act. Two kettlebells and a rather large barbell. He did a few muscle control stunts, and then would press the kettlebells first singly then would bring both of them up to his shoulders and press them over head. A few more single lifts were performed with these weights, then he cleaned the barbell to his chest and with many grimaces he finally pressed the weight overhead. Lowering this weight to the back of his neck, he finished the act spinning around the stage quite fast with the weight resting on his shoulders. Going backstage to meet this athlete, I naturally questioned him about the poundages he was lifting, and asked him to allow me to try my ability with his weights. He refused, stating that he did not want me to hurt myself, and furthermore he had them locked up in cases so that no one would trip over the weights backstage.

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 Euclid Avenue, featured some fine acts. Here I saw, one day, a very fine act. Orville Stamm, “Strong Boy,” was the way the act was featured. I can’t recall any of the other acts on the bill. Stamm had a most pleasing build. His pictures displayed outside the theater looked very good. When the curtain was raised, Stamm, dressed in summer attire, started to come on stage, calling to a bulldog to follow him, “Come Tige, come along Tige.” The bulldog looked down, slowly following Stamm. Then Stamm started to reprimand Tige for being afraid of another dog. He told the dejected dog that he used to love him but it was all over. Then he sang a parody to the then popular song, “I Used to Love You But It’s All Over” in a very pleasing voice. Tige was onstage with head between his paws. Stamm, now in the center of the stage, started to tell how, when he was a youngster, wanted to be strong. He told how he asked his mother how to get strong. He said he took Dad’s advice, and ate potatoes. While he was talking, he removed his coat, rolled up his sleeves, and flexed his upper arm. This of course surprised the audience and one could hear Oohs and Ahs throughout. To me it was inspiring.

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.

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