Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Autobiographical Sketches of a Strength-Seeker, Part Seven - George Barker Windship (1862)

 Thanks to Jarett Hulse! 

"An Exploration of the History of Weightlifting as a Reflection of the Major Socio-Political Events and Trends of the 20th Century"
A Case Study by Mark Kodya (2005)

The hall is filled, -- and all the seats and most of the standing-places occupied. But I can no longer recognize anyone. Friend and foe are confounded in an undistinguishable mass; or, rather, they are but parts and members of one hideous monster, moving itself by one volition, winking its thousand eyes all at once, and ready to swallow me with a single deglutition. However, the plunge is made. The worst is over. I rallied from the shock, and in a clear, but unnecessarily loud and ponderous voice, pitched many degrees too high, I commenced my lecture. 

For some ten minutes if I may believe the tender reports in the newspapers the next day, I got on very respectably. I had won the attention of the audience. But, at an unlucky moment, a fresh arrival of persons at the door made the monster turn his thousand eyes in that direction. I mistook it for an indication that he was getting weary of my talk. My attention was distracted. Then came a suspension of all thought, an appalling paralysis of memory. Having learnt the first part of my discourse by heart, I had been reciting it without turning over the leaves of the manuscript; and now I was unable to recollect at what point I had left off, or whether I had given five pages or ten.  

Frightful dilemma! Stupefied with horror, I gazed intently on the page before me till the lines became all blurred, and a blue mist wavered before my eyes. Then came a pause of intensest silence. The monster lying in wait for me evidently began to anticipate that his victim's time had come, and so, like a crafty monster, he remained still and patient. Who could endure a nightmare like this? 

I felt myself reeling to and fro. Then a pleasant thrill, like that, perhaps, which drowning men feel, ran through my frame. All became dark, -- and the strongman dropped, like a felled ox, senseless on the stage.

When consciousness returned I was lying flat on my back, and several persons were bending over me.

"Keep down, -- don't rise," some one said.

"What has happened?" I asked. 

"Nothing, -- only you were  little faint." 

"Faint? A man who can lift a thousand pounds faint -- at the sight of an audience? Absurd! Let me rise" 

And in spite of all opposition I rose, grasped my manuscript, walked to the front of the stage and resumed my lecture. Alas! 

"Reaching above our nature does no good;
We must sink back into our own flesh and blood."   

I had not proceeded far before I felt symptoms of a repetition of the calamity; and lest I should be overtaken before I could retreat, I stammered a few words of apology, and withdrew ingloriously from public view. Fresh air and a draught of water, which some obliging friend had dashed with eau-de-vie, soon restored me. But I took the advice of friends and did not make a third attempt that evening. 

The audience, had it been wholly composed of brothers and sisters, could not have been more indulgent and considerate. One skeptical gentleman was heard to say, --

"I don't believe he can lift nine hundred pounds." 

And another added, -- 
"Nor I, -- any more than he can shoulder a barrel of flour." 

"Or raise his body by the little finger of one hand," said another.

Whereupon a venerable citizen, a gentleman long known and respected as the very soul of honor, truthfulness, and uprightness, came forward on the stage before the audience, and with emphatic earnestness, and in a loud, intrepid tone of voice, exclaimed, -- 

"Ladies and gentleman, -- the heat of the room was too much for the lecturer; but he can easily do all the feats announced in the bills. I've seen him do them twenty times." 

The dear, but infatuated old gentleman! He had never seen me do anything of the kind. He hardly knew me by sight. He thought only of coming to the rescue of an unfortunate lecturer, prostrated on the very threshold of his career; and a friendly hallucination made him for the moment really believe what he said. His unpremeditated assertion must have been set down by the recording angel on the same page with Uncle Toby's oath, and then obliterated in the same manner.

Ten days after the above-mentioned day, having engaged the largest hall in Boston (the Music Hall), I delivered my lecture -- in the words of the newspapers -- "with eclat." The illustrations of strength which I exhibited on the occasion, though far inferior to subsequent efforts, were looked on as most extraordinary. The weight I lifted before the audience, with my hands alone, was nine hundred and twenty-nine pounds. This was testified to by the city Sealer of Weights and Measures, Mr. Moulton. 

My success induced me to repeat my lecture in other places. Invitations and liberal offers poured in upon me from all directions; and during the ensuing seasons, I lectured in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Albany, and many of the principle cities throughout the Northern States and the Canadas.

To return to my lifting experiments. I had promised my father to "stop at a thousand pounds." In the Autumn of 1859 I had reached ten hundred and thirty-two pounds." An incident now occurred that induced me to reconsider my promise and get absolution from it. One day while engaged in lifting, I had a visit from two powerful looking men who asked permission to try my weight. One of them was five feet ten inches in height, and a hundred and ninety-two pounds in weight. The other was fully six feet in his stockings, and two hundred and twelve pounds in weight, -- a fearful superiority in the eyes of a man under five feet seven and weighing less than a hundred and fifty pounds. 

The smaller of these men failed to lift eight of my iron disks, which, with the connections, amounted to eight hundred and twenty-seven pounds. The larger individual fairly lifted them at the second or third trial, but declined to attempt an increase. They left me, and I soon afterward heard that they were practicing with a view of "outlifting Dr. Windship." 

My father had incautiously remarked to me, "Those huge fellows, with a little practice, can lift your weight and you on top of it. You can't expect to compete with giants." This decided me to test the question whether five feet seven must necessarily yield to more bulk in the attainment of the maximum of human strength. I had the start of my competitors by some two hundred pounds, and I determined to preserve that distance between us. In the autumn of that year I advanced to lifting with the hands eleven hundred and thirty-three pounds, and in the spring of 1860 to twelve hundred and eight. I have no evidence that my competitors ever got beyond a thousand pounds; though I doubt not, if they had had my leisure for practice, they might have surpassed me. 

Enjoy Your Lifting! 

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