Friday, April 3, 2009

Sig Klein - Chapter Ten

My First Quarter Century in the Iron Game, Part Ten
by Siegmund Klein

The year 1927 was one of my banner years for making records. In Philadelphia, at a weight lifting show on April 2nd of that year, I created an American record on the One Arm Snatch, succeeding with 160 lbs. at a bodyweight of 148 lbs. This was the first time that any weight lifter in America had exceeded his bodyweight by twelve lbs. on this popular lift. I trained for this lift just as I intended to lift on the night of the coming show. Starting with 130 lbs. then 140, then 150, then the 160 lbs. in practice. I did not, however, ever reach 160 lbs. in practice. The most I ever did in practice was 155 lbs. I also practiced left hand snatching as well as with the right hand. My form was, I believe, a bit smoother with the left arm than with the right. I snatched 155 lbs. with the left arm. Well do I recall the inferior bar that I had to use that show night; it had no groove, in fact it was not even a regulation bar, but a straight steel bar.

Now having two official records, I started to train for a record on the Two Arm Continental Press. Having read a great deal about Professor Edmond Desbonnet of Paris, and having seen several issues of his well known magazine, “La Culture Physique,” I wrote to the Professor mentioning to him that I had, since Attila’s demise, been his successor. I also had written to him that Miss Grace Attila and I were engaged to be married. He wrote me a very nice letter congratulating me, and was kind enough to mail me his famous book, “Les Rois de la Force” (Kings of Strength). He autographed it in a very complimentary manner.

About this time business called me to go to Philadelphia again, and here I visited the famous photographer of Strong-Men, Mr. Scott. Having some photos taken, I thought it would be nice to send Prof. Desbonnet a set. About a month later I received a letter mentioning that I had won an international contest that was conducted by “La Culture Physique” magazine. The picture which I called “The Captive” was selected as the prize winning pose. I did not at the time of mailing the picture know that such a contest was being conducted. It was a coincidence that my pictures arrived in Paris at the time of the contest, and the judges thought I had mailed them in as a contestant. The June 1927 issue of “La Culture Physique” magazine featured my picture on the cover of that magazine, and I received many letters of congratulations from the various French Physical Culturists. Pictures of myself were now appearing in that French magazine regularly. Some days later, I received a beautifully engraved card by mail, making me a member of the “Halterophile Club de Paris” – the Paris Weightlifting Club.

Pictures were also appearing of me now in the English magazines, “Health & Strength” as well as “Superman” and “Trevor Bulletin.” It was also at about this time that Harry Paschall started a little magazine called “The Body Beautiful” and he featured my picture on the cover of the first issue, using a picture of mine that I was posed in after the famous Michelangelo statue of David. This was for the July 1927 issue that was published by Mr. Paschall.

A new association was formed about this time, called the Association of Bar-Bell men. It was the successor of the American Continental Weight Lifting Association. Another show was to be held in New York City, at Bryant Hall, on Saturday evening, July 9th, 1927. Great preparations were made for this particular evening. First I secured the services of Mr. Sam Kramer, the famous physical culturist and lecturer, to act as a master of ceremonies. Knowing that Kramer had known and associated with many of the distinguished personages of the physical culture and strength game, I knew that he would be ideal for the job. I also enlisted the services of an orchestra.

There were over a thousand people in the audience on the night of the show, and the hall was jammed to capacity. Though most of the audience was composed of weight lifters, the feminine sex was well represented too. Mr. Kramer opened the show by first paying his respects to the late Professor Attila, and he told the audience some most interesting facts about the Professor, and how he (Mr. Kramer) would often visit with the famous trainer. Next, he introduced Mrs. Attila and Grace Attila. This was the first time Mrs. Attila saw me perform on the stage as a professional weight lifter. G. W. Rolandow, one of the most famous of American Strong Men, famous for agility and strength, was next called upon to rise in the audience and requested to step up upon the stage to receive the acclamation of the assemblage. Robert Ripley, of “Believe It Or Not” fame, was there too and was asked to come on stage.

I trained hard for this show, very hard. I knew just what I wanted to do that evening, and the night before the show I hardly slept a wink I was so keyed up. I considered this a sign of being in tip-top condition. I was determined to make some new records, determined also that I would display what I had to offer to the best of my ability as a poseur and juggler of weights. I wanted to impress Mrs. Attila so very much that evening. She was proud of me and I did not for a moment want to disillusion her.

Preparations were made for me to pose so that the posing act would be, to her and those who had seen Sandow years before, reminiscent of that great inspirer of multitudes. A huge gilded column was placed in front of a black velvet curtain, with just the proper lighting carefully arranged. The music started to play and the front curtains opened. I was posed against the golden column in the old familiar Sandow column pose, with the right arm raised forward and a bit to the side. I moved from pose to pose, and when I struck the column pose “The Captive,” the photograph which won the prize in Paris a few months before, the audience burst out in applause. Naturally I was thrilled about this.

The classical posing over, I performed some muscle-control feats, followed by juggling with the kettle-bell, the dumbell and then the barbell. I also performed for the first time with the ball and cup apparatus which Joe Lambert was kind enough to make for me, and it was the first time that the new generation of weightlifters had ever seen it manipulated. I knew that Mrs. Attila would be very much surprised to see me using this intricate apparatus. She did not know how I had learned to perform this Attila specialty. Arthur F. Gay of Rochester then performed some rope-skipping and bent pressing. A contest was also held between two of my pupils.

I was getting fidgety by this time, and Mr. Kramer announced that I would now attempt to establish two records. I stepped on the scales, which were tested that afternoon by the Department of Scales and Measures for accuracy, and found that I weighed 146 pounds, which was about two pounds less than I wanted to weigh for this evening, even though at noon I ate a pound steak with a large glass of milk, three raw eggs and a small jar of honey. A bell was loaded to 196 ¼ lbs., which I easily pressed in the military style, then the loader stuck on eight more pounds bringing the weight up to 204 ¼ lbs. with which I accomplished a perfect two Arm Military Press. The audience showed their appreciation by great applause. This press created a new World’s record in the 148 lb. or Continental Light Weight Class and also an American Professional Middleweight record.

The next attempt was to smash a famous record made by the famous Bavarian athlete, Maxick, who at a bodyweight of 151 lbs. put up 222 lbs. in the Two Arm Continental Press. I started with 220 lbs., moved up to 224 ¼ lbs., and succeeded with this poundage. The weight was weighed, then I was weighed again. I had broken the long-established record that Maxick created! More plates were added. I was now going to extend myself. There was absolute quiet in the huge crowded hall. I stood in front of the bar-bell, “goose-flesh” was on me, and cold chill ran up and down my spine. The orchestra started to play martial music. This helped, and I glanced out to the audience, looked at Mrs. Attila, and then glanced at Grace. I was now ready. Grasping the bar-bell, I pulled it to the chest without a “split” and started to press, and at the same time started the back bend. Slowly the weight was going up as I kept bending back, until at last I had my arms straight and started to straighten out and finally came to the erect position, bringing my heels together, and waited for the referee to giver the official count of “One-Two.” Now the audience really burst into a storm of applause. I was for a moment stunned as Mr. Kramer put his arm around my shoulder. He could not silence the audience. At last they were still. The weight was placed on the scale and found to weigh 233 ½ lbs.. This created a then unbelievable new record for the continental lightweight class and the most authentic record on the books in the 154 lb. class. This was to me my happiest day in weightlifting. Joe Bonomo, of movie fame, presented me with a beautiful large silver loving cup, and several medals were given to me too, besides a beautiful diploma.

One afternoon in July 1927, Mr. Robert Ripley of “Believe It Or Not” fame visited me at my 48th Street gymnasium. I performed some lifting for him and he asked me for some material for his column. The first time I was featured by this cartoonist was in the New York Evening Post, Saturday, July 23, 1927. I have been featured by him since then eight times, and I believe that this is a record number for any individual to be featured by Mr. Ripley.

Many strong-men would visit my gymnasium, and one who became a very dear friend, Joe Lambert, was also gifted with the ability of building apparatus. He also was kind enough to teach many of the Strong-Man exhibition feats, especially juggling with weights. I have always believed that the finished athlete of strength should not only master competition lifts but exhibition feats as well. Harry Paschall came on to New York from Columbus, Ohio, and he and I became very good friends. Harry was a cartoonist for the then N. Y. Evening Graphic, having a comic strip named “Little Sampson.” Mark Berry, Harry Paschall, John Hernic, Bill Rasche, and myself had very happy days and evenings together. We would, after the gymnasium was closed for the evening, sit around talking weight-lifting. Before long, the gym lights would be turned on again, and we would have friendly weight-lifting contests that would often run into the wee hours of the morning. How pleasant these occasions were. They will always remain in my memory, and I am sure that the others too must from time to time recall with pleasure how we enjoyed ourselves.

Arthur Dandurand, known as the Canadian Sandow, visited the gym too, as he was featured at one of the shows that were conducted at Bryant Hall. Mr. Dandurand came to N. Y. several days before the show was to take place and trained at the gym.

Again in Philadelphia, at a strength show at the Grand Fraternity Building on September 12, 1927 I was set on creating a new record in the Two Hand Clean and Jerk. I first warmed up with 225 pounds, 240 pounds, 250 pounds, 260 pounds and then 270 pounds, which I jerked overhead twice in succession. This created a new record in the heavy and middle-heavy classes. At the time it was on a par with the sensational poundages claimed for the remarkable Continental Bar-Bell Lifters of Europe, and it had been stated that this record was made under much more rigid ruling, as the heels had to be brought together for two seconds, whereas the Europeans were allowed to finish the lift with the feet apart.

At another show in Philadelphia, I performed the Two Hands Snatch with 190 pounds, snatching the weight five times in succession, using the Swedish style “out of the hang,” by which the weight is lowered each time but does not touch the floor. I could Side-Press 150 pounds, five times in succession with the right arm and would from time to time practice the Bent-Press which always had a particular fascination for me. I got as high as 195 pounds one Saturday afternoon, then tried 200 pounds but failed with that poundage. For some unknown reason I did not try that lift again. So I discontinued the Bent-Press for the time being.

The Thigh-Curl always had a great attraction for me, and I had made a Thigh-Curl apparatus back in Cleveland out of a pair of skates. Joe Lambert made me a special apparatus so that both legs could be used at one time, attaching a bar-bell to the apparatus. I worked up to 150 pounds on the Thigh-Curl, doing it twice in succession.

Harry Paschall and I decided to visit Warren L. Travis at Coney Island one Sunday afternoon. While going through the tunnel to the approach of the Island we were accosted by five ruffians. This happened so suddenly that we were taken by complete surprise. There was, as can be imagined, a large milling crowd going through the tunnel on this hot Sunday afternoon. The first thought that occurred to me in handling these “tough guys” was to grasp one of them and “snatch” him off his feet and hurl him in the air (It was at this time hat both Paschall and I were doing a great deal of practicing on the Two Hands Snatch.). I judged that the first fellow I grasped weighed about 145 pounds, and I did just that. The crowd immediately separated, not knowing what to expect. I believe that Paschall had exactly the same idea, for he did the same thing with his tough customer. Down they both came in a heap and looked up at us bewildered for a second, while the others were so surprised at what they had just witnessed that they fled, followed by the two “dumbells” on the run.

At another show in New York City at Bryant Hall on Saturday, December 3, 1927, I attempted to create a new record on the One Arm Clean and Jerk. In fact, the best American record in pulling a weight to the shoulder with One Arm Clean and Bent Pressing was up to that time held by Antone Matysek. Matysek used the over grip, pulling the weight to his chest and then turned his head under the bar- bell and bent pressed the weight. His record in this style was 190 pounds. I started with 143 ¼ pounds for a warmup, then jumped to 174 pounds. The bar was now loaded to 190 ½ pounds. I failed on my first attempt, but on the second trial I succeeded. A further trial with 195 pounds was attempted but I did not succeed with this poundage. The 190 ½ pound record surpassed the American record by quite a number of pounds, on the One Arm Clean and Jerk.

It was during these record breaking days that Frank Dennis of Birdsboro, Pa., gave up his amateur standing and entered the professional ranks, challenging me to a weight lifting contest. A contest was arranged and was to be held at the December 3rd show, but Mr. Dennis did not, for unknown reasons, make an appearance.

My quarters at 207 West 48th Street were now becoming too small, and I moved to 717 7th Avenue, my present gymnasium. My friend G. W. Rolandow was now retiring from the Physical Culture Profession. As I mentioned before, I would visit Rolandow from time to time and had in fact purchased a few weights from him. Some of these weights were purchased from Attila when Rolandow first went into business. I had offered to purchase all the weights he had, but he, having a sentimental feeling for them, would not sell. He had, however (which I thought was in jest), promised to present me with them, if and when he would retire.

I received a phone call from Mr. Rolandow one morning, asking me to call at his gymnasium at once. Upon my arrival there, he informed me that he was going out of business, and was prepared to present me with his fine collection of bar-bells, ring-weights and dumbells. He also had a huge oil painting of himself which I should judge was about 12 ft. high and 7 ft. wide, framed in a very heavy gilt frame. This, much to my surprise, he also offered me, but not knowing how I could get it to my gymnasium, I declined this generous offer. He presented me with a beautiful set of his photographs, and also some original Sandow prints. One bar-bell, which was a replica of the bar-bell that Sandow posed with in his book, “Sandow System of Physical Training,” weighed 299 pounds, and this weight Rolandow had some years before bent-pressed. I also obtained from him a solid dumbell weighing 209 pounds. This weight Rolandow had purchased from W. L. Travis some years ago. Mr. Travis told me that he himself delivered it from Brooklyn, New York on a trolley car, all the way to 82nd Street, Broadway, New York City, carried it up the stairs and into the Rolandow gymnasium, all for the sum of two dollars! I called this the Rolandow dumbell, and will tell more about it in future installments. With all these additions to the gymnasium, I also had an addition at home. On March 27, 1928, my daughter Jeanne arrived.

One evening a friend and myself entered a restaurant on 17th Street and 3rd Avenue, and much to my delight the walls of this restaurant were practically covered with pictures of famous strong-men. I noticed there pictures of Arthur Saxon, the famous juggler Paul Conchos, Ewald Redam, and some of Kati Sandwina, the famous strong-woman. I made inquiries and found that this restaurant was associated with the German-American Athletic club. As luck would have it, there in the corner was sitting at what is known as the Stammtisch, or in English, the Founders Table, Mr. Dietrich Wortmann, the president of this club. I introduced myself to him and he was very pleased with m visit there, and invited my friend and myself to have a beer with him. Mr. Wortmann had evidently been contacting the A.A.U. and had been trying for some time to get weightlifting recognized by the A.A.U. He informed me that he could not do this alone and so I suggested that I would at once get in touch with Mark Berry and submit a plan whereby I believed both Mr. Wortmann and Mr. Berry in cooperation could get A.A.U. recognition. I am pleased to say that it was through my efforts that shortly after that Mr. Wortmann, Mr. Berry and myself met again, and that weightlifting was finally recognized officially by the A.A.U. Mr. Wortmann had something that Mark Berry lacked – the support of the A.A.U., and Mr. Berry had something that the A.A.U. and Mr. Wortmann lacked – contact with the thousands of barbell men throughout the country. This was the beginning of the real progress of amateur weightlifting in America.

A magazine called “Swing,” published in Sweden, was mailed to me one day and quite a few photographs of weight lifters were featured therein. I wrote a letter to Mr. Roland Hentzel, the editor, and in reply he asked me to forward photographs to his magazine. In the July 1928 issue, quite a number of these pictures were featured and they used “The Captive” pose for a full page display. Later, Mr. Hentzel paid me a personal visit. I was also receiving “The Athletik Zeitung,” a German weight lifting magazine, and had been corresponding with the editors of this famous periodical. They featured my picture on the cover of their September 20, 1928 issue, selecting the “David” pose.

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