Friday, 28 April 2017

#Unearthed: An American Family In Frankfurt


When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time. 

Skating is a terrible sport for the arrogant. The ice is slippery business and has a way of reminding us all - no matter how good we (think we) are - that we are fallible. Irish born American John Ross Browne wore many hats through his life, among them teacher, father, writer, government official, world traveller and - you guessed it - figure skater. In 1861, Browne, his wife Lucy and nine children moved to Germany for two years. His time spent in Frankfurt inspired his 1866 book "An American Family In Germany" and this wonderful primary source account of skating in the city at the time. Pour yourself a nice cup of tea and see how things played out for An American In Frankfurt:

EXCERPT FROM "AN AMERICAN FAMILY IN PARIS" (JOHN ROSS BROWNE)



The River Main was blocked up with ice, and skating was the popular amusement of the season. By paying few kreutzers - for what don't know, unless it might be to support the corporation - anybody that pleased could enjoy the privilege of the river. I went down one day to take look at the skaters, and certainly it was a very lively and amusing scene. Boys and girls, big and little, young men and old men, were flying over the crystal element in full glee. Smart buckish gentlemen were pushing before them ponderous old ladies who were seated in sledges or sliding-chairs. Pretty blooming damsels of vigorous form were flying hither and thither, laughing and joking with amazing zest. Whole schools of students were turned out to enjoy the exercise, with their teachers leading the way. The fathers of families were disporting themselves before their admiring Fraus, while their little responsibilities were clapping their hands and laughing merrily at the sport. Old apple women were selling apples, cakes, and nuts; old men were sweeping the ice or shovelling off the snow; grand officers in the military line of life were standing on the quays, looking on with remarkable condescension; policemen were watching about generally to preserve order, which nobody had the least idea of‘breaking; a buffoon dressed in an absurd costume, was navigating a whirling ship that flew round in a circle, while he called aloud upon all classes to take passage in the same for the regions of joy; strangers in motley groups were smoking their two-cent cigars or blowing their fingers to keep themselves warm; and, in short, every body was doing something very amusing to an American.

I saw a gentleman capsize a lady whom he was sliding in a chair before him. The lady turned all over on the ice, making convulsive efforts to keep down her hoops. What did the merry crowd of skaters do? Pick her up? By no means. About fifty rushed in to compliment the unfortunate hero of the disaster upon his skill, and laugh at the unfortunate lady. 

I saw a stout gentleman pitch over and get the breath knocked completely out of his body. It was a capital joke; the crowd roared and cheered. It was such glorious fun to see fellow's breath knocked short off.

In fine, the whole scene was so inspiring that it unconsciously brought me back to the days of boyhood, when used to go skating on the Ohio River. Thinks I, by Jove, old boy, if you had pair of skates, couldn't you show these chaps how to cut the pigeon-wing? Couldn't you go the back flourish in a style that would open their eyes? Couldn't you charm the ladies with some novelties in the poetry of motion? Zounds! Couldn't you make those clumsy Dutchmen wish they had cultivated the science of skating in the United States of America? Pooh! pooh! What burlesque they make of it! They don't know how to skate - they don't comprehend the first principle of the art!

"Sir," said a polite gentleman with whom I had slight acquaintance, stepping up with a handsome pair
of skates swinging from his hand, "Would you like to try your skill? I have just been enjoying it; but perhaps you are not accustomed to skating?"

"Accustomed to skating!" I retorted, a little indignantly; "Why, lieber Herr, I was considered the best
skater in Louisville, Kentucky. True, have not practiced much in California, but you know skating, like swimming, can never be forgotten. So, by your leave, here goes."

Taking the skates, I went down upon the ice. A dozen boys rushed toward me and offered to put the skates on my feet for the trifling consideration of three kreutzers. "Gehen Sie fort!" said I, "Did you ever know Californian who couldn't put on his own skates?" The boys, when they heard themselves thus addressed in German, cried out, "Ein Englander! Ein Englander!" and about fifty miscellaneous skaters of both sexes rushed up to see the Englander put on his skates. I could fancy, as I buckled the straps on my boots, that every man, woman, and boy in the crowd enjoyed the most enthusiastic expectations in reference to my skill in this complex and difficult art. The weather was cold, and the straps were rather short; but I succeeded in getting the skates on at last, and an encouraging cheer arose as stood up and made few preparatory flourishes. It should be borne in mind that eighteen years had elapsed since my last excursion upon ice. Well, I don't intend to boast. It is not my way. I like modesty in all things; but I can say with perfect confidence and propriety, there was not skater upon that field of ice who attracted half so much attention as I did from the very first stride. 

It was altogether different from swimming, this thing of sliding on the top of the water - frozen water, too, and very slippery at that: the hardest kind of water in case of sudden contact between the surface and the point of a man's nose. Very strange, wasn't it? - one leg actually tried to run away and cut a figure on its own account. The other started off in an opposite direction, and I made a strong effort to drag back the first leg and carry it forcibly along, thus exhibiting a very curious and unnatural rivalry between two members of the same family. I leaned over at first to try and get a little ahead of leg
number one, which was considerably in advance at the start; but the other, taking a sudden shoot out at right angles, enraged me to such degree that immediately I whirled and got after it, determined to make it bear the entire weight of my body; but somehow was utterly unable to gain upon it single inch. At this stage of affairs number of ladies came flourishing around me, with their merry laughing eyes shooting forth scintillations of electricity; and, being of very susceptible temperament, I think the sight must have disconcerted me little, for I began to look up in the sky quite accidentally, and my back was all doubled up trying to keep from noticing them. The little boys cheered and cried out, "Englander! Englander! Ho, ho! See the Englander!" The gentlemen roared "Bravo! bravo!" and
the ladies were absolutely convulsed with suppressed admiration. It was a new style of skating altogether. They had never seen such complicated figures executed by a foreigner or any body else. 

These manifestations of applause gave me considerable confidence; and, after jumping three feet backward, two feet forward, and eighteen inches in the air, and doubling up several times before and behind, I stood perfectly still, merely to show that these remarkable feats of activity were not involuntary, and that I could stand still whenever thought proper to do so. The thunders of applause that greeted this achievement were truly gratifying to my national pride. Cries of Bravo! and Encore! resounded all over the ice. The ladies absolutely shed tears of delight, and saturated their handkerchiefs with the excess of their emotions; and the little boys shouted, in paroxysm of glee, "Englander! Englander! See the Englander!" 

While was studying out what sort of figure to out next, a very respectable-looking old gentleman stepped up and observed in good English, "Sir, beg pardon - "Oh, don't mention it," said I; "there's not the least necessity." "Sir," continued the old gentleman, "I observe that you are an Englishman." "Precisely." said I; "born in the city of Lun'on seven-and-thirty years ago. There's where I learned to skate; but the weather is generally very foggy there, which accounts for the winding and circuitous figures I cut on the ice. "I thought so!" persisted the old gentleman; "in fact, I knew it; and having observed your motions for some time, it occurred to me to suggest, with due respect, that if you continue cutting the same figures much longer you’ll be very likely to strain yourself. I know of a man who was ruptured in that way." "The devil you do!"  said I, indignantly; "that man certainly didn't understand how to skate. You will observe, sir, that with me the case is entirely different. I am going to cut some figures now that nobody ever saw or ever will see again in this part of the country."
The old gentleman begged that I would not attempt any new feats of dexterity; but, nettled at his unfounded insinuations, I boldly struck out. This time it was really miraculous the progress I made after eighteen years of inactivity. It is entirely out of my power to describe the galvanic jumps, the
sudden and incomprehensible whirling of each leg entirely on its own responsibility and without the slightest volition on my part; the wild, savage, and determined manner in which threw out my arms and grasped at imaginary objects in the distance; the final complication of flourishes which brought me up all twisted into compound and tangled knot; and the very singular and romantic adventure which occurred at this period of the affair. I flatter myself. Such an exhibition of skill has rarely been witnessed on the River Main; and I am the more confident in this opinion on account of the number
of ladies who gathered around to enjoy it.

You remember, perhaps, the old shawl I wore at Washoe? Well, that identical shawl dropped from my
shoulders just as I was brought up in the unexpected manner already described. Now comes the cream of the romance. A beautiful and blooming young lady came sweeping along on the ice as gracefully as any sylph could possibly be expected to travel on skates. She saw the shawl, darted at it, caught it up with amazing dexterity, and was about to hand it to me with s smile of malicious triumph, when I darted forward to receive it and to express my profound thanks and unbounded admiration.

What do you think happened? Positively the most remarkable and mortifying accident that ever occurred here or elsewhere, to the best of my knowledge. I undertook to make graceful obeisance to the beautiful creature as approached; but, being unable to stop my headway or regain my equilibrium on account of some radical defect in the skates, I actually batted her over! Yes, I confess it with profound humiliation - butted that bewitching creature clear over, hoops, shawl, muff, skates, and all, and, what is worse, became dangerously mingled up in her embraces upon the ice! It was a dreadful scene of misplaced politeness, and I could not but feel that she was forcibly struck by my manners - or rather my head. Upon my honor, I never was so mortified in my life. The whole crowd roared and cheered, and the little boys gathered round in paroxysm of delight, shouting at the top of their voices, "Englander! Englanderl Ho! See the Englander!" 



Somebody disengaged the lady and lifted her up. "Lieber Gott!" said she, with some asperity, "Ich glaub Sie sind ein Englander!" "Ya, schön Fraulein!" looking up at her with an expression of profound humiliation; "Geborn in der Stadt London! Ich war never outside that city before in my life, schön Fraulein. Sorry to say, miss, the style of skating there is altogether different from the German style." "Nicht gut! Nicht gut!" cried the excited damsel, with a glance of disdain; and, giving a beautiful whirl on one leg that came miraculously near carrying off the end of my nose with the point of her skate, away she flew amid the cheers of the by-standers. After this, I picked myself up, so to speak, and concluded it would be better, on account of the severity of the police regulations, to pull off the skates, return them to the owner, and retire from the field, satisfied with the reputation I had already achieved. 

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html

Thursday, 27 April 2017

The Errand Boy

Engraving from George Meagher's 1900 book "Lessons In Skating"

We have certainly looked at the popularity of "special figures" more than once on the blog before. The art of carving intricate designs on the ice was an integral part of the development of figure skating back in the 'fancy skating' days and guess what? Today, we are going to talk about it some more. 

Prior to the twentieth century in skating circles from Berlin to Boston, the mark of a good figure skater was to the eyes of many, his or her ability to not just trace numerals like three's and eight's but to carve out letters of the alphabet on the ice. In 1790, German skater Gerhard Ulrich Anton Vieth published his essay "Ueber das Schlittschulaufen" with detailed instructions for skating the letters of the alphabet in large curves and the popularity of this unique art spread like wildfire across the Continent and even overseas. Frank Swift and Marvin R. Clark's "The Skater's Text Book" spoke of American skater Charles Baudouine's talent for "cutting letters on the ice, which is done with the heel of the skate, he being able to cut the whole alphabet, shading each letter beautifully." Many skaters utilized this particular skill as a speciality to gain advantage in early competitions or to wow spectators on chilly ponds but today, we are going to look at one incredible tale from the home country of Lidwina, The Patron Saint Of Skating... a story where carving out the alphabet on the ice took on a far more practical purpose.

In 1850, the French periodical "Musée des familles - lecture du soir" recorded the unbelievable story of one errand boy with a special gift: "Our most agile French skaters would only seem clodhoppers compared with the heavier Dutchman. Skating is the poetry of that prosaic nation. Keeping to the ground by only the merest strip of steel, they fly on invisible wings, and glide between heaven and earth on an immense limpid mirror that gives slightly under their weight but scarcely retains the snowy trace of their passage. It is like a dream come to life. I have seen Dutchmen trace exquisite profile portraits, scenery and monuments, arabesques and the most complicated fancy designs on the ice, with one foot. An Amsterdam shopkeeper, with whom I lodged, had an errand boy who was dumb and made the tour of the port every day with the speed of an arrow. On his return to his master's door, he paused for a few moments and traced a thousand curious little lines on the ice. I approached with the shopkeeper and we read all the news of the day, written on the ice with his skate just as you write on paper with a pen. The only difference was in the size of the letter."

Well over a century later, we may regard Charlotte Oelschlägel carving out the word "SPIES" in the ice in the film "The Frozen Warning" as a novelty or show biz gimmick but I don't think anyone can argue that the story of this forgotten Dutch errand boy who couldn't speak but used his skates to communicate the news of the day is anything but impressive.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

The Three Bruises, A Trio Of Skating Cut-Ups


Even in their heyday, the names Jeoffery Stevens, Sidney Spalding and Monty Stott probably meant very little to audiences. However, if you were a skating aficionado in the thirties or forties, you definitely knew who The Three Bruises were.

Originally hockey players, Stevens, Spalding and Stott teamed up on a Christmas Eve in the late twenties in a London arena. Amused by the antics of two cleaning women who had gotten in one of their bosses bottles, the young men would goof around before and after hockey games and soon developing a comedic drag act where they parodied cleaning women. It turned out to be a huge hit and soon the young men were 'discovered' by impresario Claude Langdon, who needed a comedy act for his show "Marina". They called themselves The Three Bruises and soon they were so popular in England that they appeared in performances before King and Queen of England, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and King Alfonso XIII of Spain.

The Three Bruises were in Czechoslovakia when the Germans invaded prior to World War II. After bumming through Europe, they managed to safely make their way back to Great Britain before heading to America in 1939 with Arthur M. Wirtz's  All Star European Ice Revue "Hello America!" While in America, all three men enrolled in the U.S. military during the War but returned to skating
in Wirtz's Centre Theatre productions before joining Hollywood Ice Revue in 1949 and transforming briefly into The Four Bruises, taking ice comedian Buster Grace into the fold.

The Four Bruises. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

All Three Bruises certainly earned their names. Jeoffery was a comedian both on and off ice. The "Hello America!" program boasted, "One night when finishing up a rehearsal, there was a spill and the jagged point of a figure skate ripped out his left eye, part of his nose and a good five inches of forehead. He spent weeks in the hospital and his present nose was built from part of his hip bone by a clever plastic surgeon. The muscle of his left eye was severed and, although he can see out of it, it never moves. Altogether it took 37 stitches to close the wound." He also got hit with a stick while playing hockey and ended up getting twenty seven stitches for a broken upper jaw. He was so stitched up he referred to himself as "a crazy quilt".

Sidney fell down a cliff in 1932, got up, dusted himself off and walked away with only bruises. The 'straight man' of the group, he was a licensed radio operator and a talented defence hockey player who turned down offers to play in Canada when he teamed up with Stott and Stevens. Monty was born in Calcutta, India and was sent to England by his parents to be educated. He attended school at Brighton, where he learned to skate and took up hockey. He worked on tramp steamers in the summer and operated the rink in the winter. Off the ice, he operated an antique shop in Brighton. He once suffered a serious neck injury but didn't know it was broken until three hours later when he fainted at home.


In addition to their popular cleaning women act, one of their signature numbers was a ringmaster act with a two-man skating skating horse alternately named Stalebiscuit or Tishy The Wonder Horse. During one performance, Monty and Sidney fainted mid-performance while in their horse costume.
They didn't like the smell of the leather, so they doused the inside of the hide with 'lavender water'. Overcome by fumes, Tishy The Wonder Horse with the two skaters inside had to be carried off the ice to recover.

Photo courtesy City Of Vancouver Archives

Though the trio were in negotiation with the Ice Capades at one point, they remained fiercely loyal to Arthur M. Wirtz throughout their professional career. Many of their trademark acts were later copied by other comedic ice show trios and in the sixties, a trio calling themselves The Bruises appeared on the scene, stealing both their ideas and name. Though they faded into obscurity, these three hockey players from London were right up there with Shipstad and Johnson, Frick and Frack and others in terms of comedy acts in their heyday, very much pioneers in the ice comedy world.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

The Hammersmith Ice Drome


No journey into figure skating history would be complete without discussing the Hammersmith Ice Drome in London and its role in bringing skating from the classes to the masses.

In the early twenties, Claude Langdon (who you'll remember from the "King Bat Of The Forest" blog back in October 2015) bought a rather "sad [dance] hall" called the Palais de Dance at Hammersmith with the goal of giving the "little man" a chance to skate. In converting the dance floor to a skating rink between 1924 and 1927, he discovered that the ancient foundation was built over an ancient well and part of an old farmyard. The reconstruction of the floor into an ice rink - as well as putting in new seating and furnishing - turned out to be a very expensive affair. With the support of friend Captain T.D. Richardson, the rink opened in 1929 with a 'Funk' floor using chippings of coiled steel in the base of the rink and it wasn't long before skaters like Richardson, Howard Nicholson and Trudy Harris were taking the ice there.

Ice skating carnivals had been attempted in a smaller scale at the Duchess of Bedford's Princes Club, Hengler's and the Niagara rinks but these festivities pandered to those with deep pockets, not the masses. If you skated at the London Ice Club in Westminster (opened in 1926 by Stephen Courtauld), the temporary ice rink in the basement of the Albert Hall or the Park Lane Ice Club at Grosvenor House, you had money, a title or both. Langdon was insistent that the ice at Hammersmith be accessible to everyone - from royals to ragamuffins.

In his 1953 book "Earl's Court", Langdon recalled how ice carnivals got their start at the Hammersmith in the early thirties: "On our ice I coined the idea of the Ice Carnivals, which had a big society following, and were widely taken up by the Press. It was the first time such a thing had been organized on indoor ice anywhere in the world. There were great occasions when at gay parties we roasted oxen whole on the ice; the Duke of Windsor (then Prince of Wales), Sir Samuel Hoare, Lord Lytton, Lord Jellicoe and others were among our guests... There were many attractions to bring the ordinary man and his wife to the ice, even if they could not skate, as well as to interest the wealthy and discerning skaters who otherwise patronized the Westminster Ice Club and Grosvenor House."

Sonja Henie and Cecilia Colledge even came there to practice and give exhibitions. The "London Star" reported that on one such occasion "the principal attraction was little Cecilia Colledge, who is now lady champion of Great Britain and quite apart from her artistic athletics is one of the most beautiful girls in the Kingdom. Cecilia devotes her life to skating. She spends hours on the ice daily either at Westminster or Hammersmith. The rhythm and grace of her movements are a perfect delight, and Continental experts who watched her exhibition performance at the Hammersmith rink assure me that within the next two years this accomplished Marylebone child (for she is little more than that) is likely to win the world championship." As we all know, this prediction eventually proved correct.


Claude Langdon and Belita
In 1934 at the height of the rink's popularity, Langdon gave his staff the day off, hired a pleasure-steamer and took them on a cruise down the Thames. It was then that his business partner, A.C. Brake, broke the news: "Ladies and gentlemen, I can assure you that, although you may have heard rumours to the contrary, we are definitely not abandoning ice entertainment. Mr. Langdon may decide to extend his interests in dancing and the palais, and perhaps he will be able to extend his interest in ice entertainment, too. But you who are expert in matters of the ice rinks need have absolutely no fear of your jobs. I give you my word." His word was good. Though the Hammersmith Ice Drome once again became a dance hall, Langdon went on to reform the Richmond rink as a sports centre accessible to all Londoners, stage lavish ice spectacles in Brighton and establish the Empress Hall in Earl's Court. His stories of working with a who's who of the figure skating world including T.D. Richardson, Papa and Sonja Henie, Cecilia Colledge, Megan Taylor, Jeannette Altwegg and Belita are nothing short of epic and if you are as fascinated by The Hammersmith and its role in skating history as I was, you just may want to read his book.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The 1978 World Figure Skating Championships


Held from March 1 to 6 at the Nepean Sportsplex and Ottawa Civic Centre in Canada's capital city, the 1978 World Figure Skating Championships marked the second time in the seventies that the World Championships were held in Canada - the first being the 1972 World Championships in Calgary. The event, held in conjunction with the Minto Skating Club's seventy fifth anniversary, turned out to be an incredibly exciting one as the defending champions in three out of four disciplines were dethroned, but it was not an event without its problems.


Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's address from the 1978 World Championships program. Photo courtesy Eileen Mortimer.

After the opening ceremonies, there was a posh reception at the city's Rivermead Golf Club where guests were greeted by a live bagpiper and two cardboard cutouts of Mounties... the real Mounties' horses being stolen to little amusement. As a result, the security got beefed up a little bit for the competition itself and the Army stepped in with their jeeps to guard the gates and check points at the event. Legendary coach Carlo Fassi was reportedly upset about having to show his pass to go to the bathroom. Interestingly, the Army even stepped in to help transport and print copies of the results. The lone computer used to calculate the event's results was actually housed in a nearby building. The judge's marks were fed into terminals in the rink then plugged into this computer, printed out and brought back again by soldiers. So much for WiFi, right?


Eager young fans awaiting skater's autographs in Ottawa

The positives of the 1978 event most definitely outweighed the criticisms. There was not only some excellent skating on the ice, but the strong attendance, largely owing to the hard work of event chairman Peter Mumford, resulted in an almost five hundred thousand dollar profit for skater development in Canada. A young Liz Manley, volunteering as a flower retriever, was inspired by the greats of the seventies. Also, there was a greater deal of optimism among the skaters after the ISU had banned Soviet judges in light of some (how shall we say) questionable work at the previous year's Worlds.

THE PAIRS COMPETITION


The pairs competition in Ottawa proved to be yet another win for the Soviet pair of Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev. It was Rodnina's tenth win at the World Figure Skating Championships and in doing so, she tied Ulrich Salchow and Sonja Henie's singles records. Despite making history, the Soviet pair had quite a time with the doping afterwards, reportedly having to drink glass after glass water for well over an hour after the event to produce enough urine for testing. Rodnina admitted in a March 9, 1978 "Ottawa Citizen" article that their free skating performance wasn't their best but that the doping ordeal was in fact "the most difficult task of the competition."

The silver medal went to the East German pair of Manuela Mager and Uwe Bewersdorf and the bronze to none other than Americans Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner, who were audience favourites in Ottawa. Canada's sole representatives, Brantford's Lea-Ann Jackson and Cambridge's Paul Mills, just missed the top ten in eleventh place after Canadian Champions Sherri Baier and Robin Cowan were forced to withdraw pre-competition due to a ruptured calf muscle in one of Baier's legs that was plagued by tendinitis. The girl simply couldn't have caught a break if she tried in Ottawa. She also had a bandaged wrist which had been broken four times, was recovering from the flu and had a pulled groin muscle. Whoever thinks pairs skating is easy is kidding themselves.

Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner. Photo courtesy Eileen Mortimer.

1953 World Champion Mr. John Nicks, the coach of Tai and Randy, waxed poetically on the current state of pairs skating in an interview with Donna Gabeline. Referring to the 'rag doll' pairs emerging from Communist countries during the seventies, Nicks said, "'It's not a pair. It's a team of one and a half. I think I'll go to the NBA and get a seven-foot basketball player and teach him to skate. This athleticism is getting out of balance. They are forgetting about appreciation of music and unison in size and line. There are very few skaters around who have the strength of character of a Toller Cranston. We don't see much originality these days because everyone is concentrating on perfecting moves already around. I just hope Tai and Randy don't fall into the trap of being like everyone else." 

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION


The ice dance event in Ottawa marked a changing of the (skate) guard. After the three compulsory dances (the Starlight Waltz, Tango Romantica and Kilian) and Paso Doble OSP, twenty two year old Natalia Linichuk and twenty seven year old Gennadi Karponosov had managed to pull off a pretty convincing lead over defending World and European Championships Irina Moiseeva and Andrei Minenkov... a lead they carried right through the free dance which accounted for fifty percent of the total score.

Marina Zueva and Andrei Vitman. Photo courtesy Eileen Mortimer.

Lynn Copley-Graves' wonderful book "The Evolution Of Dance On The Ice" recalled, "In the free dance to one cut from 'West Side Story', Irina ignored the plot and died on Andrei's knee at the end as he moved dramatically around the rink, starting the fad for deaths on ice. She held the pose too long and they collapsed, turning the drama to comedy and losing, forever, the title."

There was a bit of the usual see-sawing among the other top couples, with Hungarians Krisztina Regőczy and András Sallay finishing third after the compulsory dances, losing that spot to Britons Janet Thompson and Warren Maxwell in the original set pattern dance and then ultimately claiming the bronze with a strong free dance effort. Maxwell joked to one reporter, "I'm a bookie in London. Want to make a bet on a horse, luv?"

Newly crowned Canadian Champions Lorna Wighton and John Dowding went back and forth from fifth to sixth to fifth in the compulsory dances, finished sixth in the original set pattern and despite a fifth place free dance remained in a close sixth behind the Czechoslovakian team of Liliana Řeháková and Stanislav Drastich. The Canadians, who were praised by the "Globe and Mail" as having "managed to look like they were courting in a good, staid Canadian way" finished ahead of the third Soviet team, who Copley-Graves explained "used dramatic, posed moves of the type frowned upon by the new rules while interpreting fast-paced Congo march music with drums and cymbals." An early precursor to the Duchesnay's "Savage Rites" perhaps?

THE MEN'S COMPETITION


The big news in the men's competition in Ottawa didn't even come from any of the medallists. Canada's Vern Taylor made history by completing the first triple Axel in competition. It wasn't a beauty by any stretch of the imagination but then ISU President Jacques Favart and a technical committee reviewed videos of the jump after the fact and decided to recognize Taylor's effort as a historic first. On his contribution to skating history, Taylor then remarked, "There (was) so much momentum and I was going so fast it was difficult to stop. Now that I've done it, it will just be like doing a double Axel." Of thirty or forty attempts in practice, Taylor had only landed approximately five before pulling off his 1978 feat. A fifteenth place finish in the compulsory figures and twelfth place in the short program kept him well out of the mix and despite landing the triple Axel, Taylor finished out of the top ten in twelfth place overall. He wasn't the only man attempting the jump in Ottawa. Japan's Mitsuru Matsumura was tackling the jump in practice, as was West Germany's Rudi Cerne.


Among the leaders, the men's event was actually a fascinating one in 1978, with a great deal of movement. Charlie Tickner of Denver, Colorado was one of the earlier skaters to recognize the value of sports psychology. He began undergoing hypnosis in 1973 and stated in 1978, "I use it every day to build up my confidence, convince myself that I'm going to skate well. It's just a few words I repeat to myself in the morning when I get up, before I'm fully awake." The hypnosis paid off in a four triple free skate and gold medal for Tickner but interestingly, he didn't win any single phase of the competition. The school figures (the counter, forward bracket and back loop) were won by defending World Champion Vladimir Kovalev, the short program by East Germany's Jan Hoffmann and the free skate by Great Britain's Robin Cousins. Ultimately, Hoffmann would claim the silver, Cousins the bronze and Kovalev, who struggled in both the short program and free skate, would drop off the podium entirely and wind up in fourth.


Eighteen year old Canadian Champion Brian Pockar of Calgary would finish in tenth place, one spot ahead of a young Scott Hamilton. In his book "Landing It: My Life On And Off The Ice", Hamilton reflected, "Not bad for my first time out. Considering a year earlier I was watching the competition from home after finishing ninth at Nationals, this was a quantum leap for me." Even without Soviet judges on the panel, some of the results remained controversial. When Kovalev received marks between 5.2 and 5.8 for a rather lacklustre short program, the audience in Ottawa got their 'boo' on.

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION


In the women's competition, the results were all over the place. Starting the competition with a decisive lead, seventeen year old Anett Pötzsch of East Germany wasn't able to beat eighteen year old American Linda Fratianne in either the short program or free skate but she was able to coast to victory overall, leaving Linda to settle for silver. In a March 11, 1978 article in "The Hour", Pötzsch rejected the implication that her free skating performance was overly cautious: "I did not skate conservatively. I gave it my best because there were only a few points between me and Linda. If I had not given it my best I would not have made it."

Linda Fratianne practicing her figures in advance of the competition

Like Tickner in the men's event, Italy's Susanna Driano (who was actually born in Seattle but skated for Italy under dual citizenship) won her medal - a bronze - by way of flip-flopping results. She didn't finish in the top three in any phase of the competition, but dramatic switches from phase to phase of the competition from the skaters below her - Dagmar Lurz, Denise Biellmann, Elena Vodorezova, Lisa-Marie Allen and Emi Watanabi - assured her that medal win.


Susanna Driano. Photo courtesy Eileen Mortimer.

Elena Vodorezova had actually won the free skate the year previous in Tokyo. Despite finishing in unlucky thirteenth place both years in the school figures, she wasn't able to put out the same level of performances in the free skating events in Ottawa as she had previously. That didn't stop her from having some fun. In March 1978, "The Montreal Gazette" reported, "She and a couple 13 year-old teammates created a traffic jam in the lobby of the Holiday Inn by getting on the elevators and playing with all the buttons. Now her coach goes along and slaps her wrist if it goes near the control panel."


To no surprise, the skater who actually finished second in the free skate was Switzerland's Denise Biellmann, who was already being hailed as being ahead of her time. Eighteen year old Canadian Champion Heather Kemkaran was twelfth and another eighteen year old Canadian, Cathie MacFarlane of Calgary, wound up in seventeenth place in her first and only trip to the World Championships.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Better Late Than Never: A Reader Mail Edition


There's nothing I enjoy more than rolling up my sleeves, digging deep in the archives and putting together the puzzle pieces to share stories from ice skating history from all around the world. Well, maybe there's one thing I love more... and that is hearing how these stories speak to the people who are reading them. Over the last year, I have received countless e-mails, messages on Twitter, Facebook and Blogger. In today's blog - which is so long overdue it is not even fit - I want to once again answer some of your questions and share with you a small sampling of reader mail, many connected to several of the blogs in the archives and some relating to topics that haven't even been covered:

READER QUESTIONS

Q: From Alex (via Twitter): "How do you find the time to do all of this?"

A: I'm passionate about researching and writing about this topic so I make time. I am actually both an early riser and a pretty bad insomniac so it's a great way to pass time on early weekend mornings! Honestly though, I'll let you and everyone else reading in on a little secret. Some weeks I'll put together seven blogs; some one or two. I always make a point of having content ready months in advance so I can pop three of these bad boys out each week... and I never seem to run out of ideas!

Q: From Janet (via Facebook): "Would you ever consider writing about roller skating history?"

A: In short, no. I've touched on roller skating here and there as the histories of ice and roller skating are actually quite intertwined in many respects... but unless there's a distinct ice skating connection I usually steer as clear as I can. It's just not my thing.

Q: From Jens (via Facebook): "Are you still working on your biography of Belita Jepson-Turner?"

A: I'm not... because it's finished! I deliberated for a long time about having it printed in book form but I ran into a couple of challenges. For starters, money. Writing about skating history is a labour of love for me and if I had Belita's story put into book form, I'd be financing the whole thing myself and dealing with copyright issues, which are really murky and complicated when it comes to many of the films that Belita appeared in for Monogram Pictures. Keeping in the spirit of making skating history accessible to everyone, I'll be releasing the Belita biography free of charge on Skate Guard either in serial form or as a one-shot deal this summer.

THE 1936 WINTER OLYMPICS



Mae (via email): "You see one that looks like a little house surrounded by seating... this little house is where Hitler sat to watch the games."

HILDA MÚDRA


Zdenka (via Facebook): "Mrs. Hilda Múdra was 90 (!) in January [2016]. She looks great at this age. And her health is good too. I was also invited to celebrate her birthday with one of figure skaters club in Bratislava. It took place at Štadión Ondreja Nepela. See the photo."

THE 1960 WINTER OLYMPIC GAMES

David (via Blogger): "The main problem with Blyth Arena was the open south side that allowed sunlight to land on portions of the ice. This created differing surface conditions between shaded and unshaded parts of the ice sheet. The organizers attempted to mitigate this by hanging vertical ropes to block the sun but it was only partially successful."


Jill (via Facebook): "Oh goodness, at fifteen years old, I was just star struck! I just remember North Americans being removed as a competition because they came in between Nationals and Worlds, and in an Olympic year, just too many competitions for the skaters to "peak" for. Don't forget back in 1957, the travelling was not as sophisticated as it is now. Also, very expensive for parents to pay for all these events - the funding was very minimal back then."


Dr. Roman Seeliger (via email): "I have read your wonderful article about the world-class figure skater Jiřina Nekolová. Let me add that Jiřina became a member of the Vienna Ice Revue in the fall of 1954, replacing my mother Eva Pawlik who had just left the show in order to pass her final exams and to earn her doctorate of philosophy at the University of Vienna. After graduating in December 1954, Pawlik and my father Rudi Seeliger were starring in the German Scala Ice Revue from 1955 to 1957, replacing the 1936 Olympic runners-up Ilse and Erik Pausin who became the leading couple in the show of Holiday on Ice. Jiřina Nekolová was a symbol of eroticism on the ice as many a contemporary witness has told me. When the show had its appearances behind the Iron Curtain, Nekolová had to be replaced by Austrian Champion Lotte Schwenk. Otherwise Nekolová could have been prevented from going back to the (political) west. During the time Jiřina belonged to the Vienna Ice Revue company an ice skating movie was produced. After "Frühling auf dem Eis" (produced with Olympic Silver Medalist Eva Pawlik in 1950) "Symphonie in Gold", produced in 1956, was the second movie featuring the Vienna Ice Revue. As you have mentioned, Jiřina was presented in this movie alongside Emmy Puzinger and Fernand Leemans (both European bronze medalists as single skaters). Jirina also got a small role in the frame story. In 1957, Jiřina Nekolová left the Vienna Ice Revue as European Champion Hanna Eigel had her first appearance as a professional skater. In 1958, European Champion Ingrid Wendl joined the company. In 1958, European Champion Eva Pawlik and Austrian Champion Rudi Seeliger, having been succeeded by Olympic Champions Sissy Schwarz and Kurt Oppelt in the Scala Eisrevue, had their comeback in the Vienna Ice Revue. So the Vienna Ice Revue presented three European Champions in one show from 1958 to 1960. These three ladies were presented in the Vienna Ice Revue's third movie ("Traumrevue", produced in 1959)."

HAIR TODAY, GONE TOMORROW: SKATING HAIR THROUGH THE YEARS

Sharon (via Facebook): "Wait!! you left out the Peggy Fleming bun!!! I once sat for hours when I was little while the older girls staying at Hawly's Lodge in Lake Placid pinned my hair into a similar one and threaded ribbons through it!"

Dana (via Facebook): "My mother did Aja Zanova's hair one year when she came to town with Ice Capades. She thought mom did such a great job, she arranged for her the following year as well."

THE OLD SANNO HOTEL

Andrea (via Facebook): "Fascinating! After reading your article I searched around and found this curious blog. It is dedicated to the 226 incident AND figure skating in the 1930's....One Miss Tamako Togo, granddaughter of Vice Admiral Togo of the Russo-Japanese war, was a member of the Tokyo Figure Skating Club that trained at the hotel. The blogger claims her presence, and that of her friends, was the reason the 2.26 officers holed up."

TATERS GONNA TATE


Deanne (via e-mail): "Taters Gonna Tate....speaking of happenstance (& Google!), I came across your blog and your story from Scotland about Jimmy Best, Margaret Young and Sheena Balfour. Well Sheena is my mother and I was so amazed to read all this... My mother went on to be Scottish Figure Skating champion for 3 consecutive years and married a Canadian ice hockey player, Harold (Pep) Young from Montreal... My father played ice hockey in London for Earls Court Rangers before moving to Scotland to play for Fife Flyers. Through ebay I found some old programmes from his days at Earls Court, he really enjoyed reading these, they were quite a find. I also purely by chance found an ice skating programme from when my mother competed in the British Championships in London! My parents were quite the local celebrities in their day!


Figure skating was very popular in Kirkcaldy in the 1940s and 1950s and my mother, Margaret and Jimmy took part in many 'Ice Capades' in Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline. Mum has a lovely album of programmes and photos from these times. My mother is in her eighties and sadly has little memory now, my Dad passed away on 29th January 2014...  It was so amazing to read this story in your blog, big goosebumps!!! Thank you!!"

ADELE INGE

Steven (via Facebook): "We live 1/2 block from the family home in which the senior Inge had installed the infamous basement skating rink. The property has been abandoned for years...one of the early homes in this community. It was not sold since the estate would have taken a financial hit on the sale. Her passing is probably the reason for the sale. It is going to be torn down. It is not a pretty home but it has history. Mr Inge died tragically in the home... Adele would later develop her golf game and played competitively with a Normandy Golf Course local team... she played for years. Always the athlete."



Dale's eBay find: a collection of Adele Inge's blades, the "Calendar Capers" program and a framed photograph

Dale (via Facebook): "I knew nothing about her, until I stumbled onto the eBay auction and bought them for $19. The seller just said it came from an estate sale possibly a family relation of Adele's."

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Blades In The Bullring: Mexico's Surprising Introduction To Figure Skating


At the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary, Mexican figure skaters got their first real taste of the big leagues. Things went as expected; both Diana Encinas Evans and Ricardo Olavarietta were cut after the school figures and short program. Being 'new kids on the block' from a country better known for its sunny beaches than its skating rinks, they were certainly at a disadvantage as compared to the Brian's and the Carmen's that year. Little did most viewers gleefully guffawing at the snafus of the south of the border skaters realize at the time was the fact that Mexico enjoyed a surprising ice skating boom as far back as the roaring twenties.


Dr. Anselm Goetzel was a well known composer in his day. He wrote "The Lilac Domino", which was presented by The Andreas Dippel Opera Company at the Alvin Theater in Pittsburgh in 1915, three Broadway plays - "Aphrodite", "The Gold Diggers" and "The Royal Vagabond" and in 1920, through his company Goetzel Theatrical Enterprises, presented the musical play "The Unknown Flower." While working as a musical director at the Hippodrome in New York, he fell in love with German skater Charlotte Oelschlägel. The pair eloped in 1922 and while honeymooning in Atlantic City, Goetzel was contracted for the presentation of an ice ballet starring his new bride in Mexico City that June.... in a bullring. Keep in mind this was in the twenties! 

The original plan was that the newlyweds would leave New York at the end of May so that they would have a full month for Goetzel to have the two ice making plants they were bringing with them set up. The bullring where the show was to take place had seating for twenty three thousand people and the show was contracted for a six week run. From the start, it appeared doomed. On July 5, 1922 (over a month after they originally supposed to leave) the "New York Clipper" reported, "Charlotte, the famous skater, left of Friday of last week, with her husband, Dr. [Anselm] Goetzel, for Mexico City where she will appear in a new revue produced and staged by Goetzel. Up until Wednesday of last week it was not known whether or not the contract calling for this production in Mexico will be fulfilled, insomuch as the bull ring which is to converted into an open air ice palace for the venture, was condemned by the government as being unsafe. However, the proprietor posted a bond with the Government of Mexico that the faulty seating accommodations which were the basis of the complaint would be remedied, and Goetzel received word to proceed to Mexico." Primary source accounts of the production are scant, but Arthur Goodfellow's fabulous 1972 book "Wonderful world of skates; seventeen centuries of skating" does allude to the fact that "things didn't run quite so smoothly as at the Hippodrome, scene of her greatest triumphs."

Charlotte's show at the bullring cannot have all bad. Only two years later, newspapers were raving about how the Mexican people had taken to ice skating like bigots to a Republican rally. On September 19, 1923, the "Daily Illini" reported that "Mexico has 'gone wild' about ice-skating. It's the newest fad. An ice-skating rink has been established by a club in the Hotel Regis and the rink is crowded daily. In many instances this is the first time the Mexicans have had an opportunity to skate. Professional skaters from New York and Chicago are showing the local skaters fancy skating." It wasn't a passing fad.

By February of 1946, a new bullring was built with seating for forty seven thousand in Mexico City with plans to include an ice skating rink in the design. The following year, Morris Chalfen took his lavish Holiday On Ice tour to Mexico City and Guadalajara, inspiring awe in the Mexican people fortunate enough to witness the spectacle.

By the early sixties, so popular was ice skating that the five hundred thousand dollar cost of building the Pista Olimpa ice rink was paid off in one year. Joseph Prendergast, a thirty six year old Canadian geophycisist in Mexico City working for the United Nations helped form an ice hockey league - the Asociacion de Hockey Sobre Hielo del D.F. - at the Pista and by 1964, the country had two more ice rinks. Prendergast said, "It's fantastic the way Mexicans are taking to ice skating... At least 5,000 people are now regular ice skating fans... You often see skaters lined up for blocks waiting to get in the rink... They may be a little optimistic. When they come up against the Canadians, Americans or Europeans, they'll wonder why they bothered. But, at least, it gives you an idea about how enthusiastic the Mexicans are about ice skating."

It may have taken over two decades from the day the Pista Olimpa opened its doors before a Mexican skater first skated on Olympic ice, but in a way it seems fitting that the year they did it was another German great - this time Katarina Witt - that they bowed down to.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Patinage Poetry: The Language Of The Ice (Part Sept)


How doth I love skating? Let me count the ways... Just prior to the Sochi Olympics, I put together the blog's first collection of poetry about skating called "Patinage Poetry: The Language Of The Ice". Three years have passed, and now the seventh part of this collection brings to light several more beautifully crafted poems in tribute to everyone's favourite sport and art. Put on your beret and get ready to snap afterwards for another fabulous collection of historical skating poetry!

"SKATING" BY RUDYARD KIPLING (FROM "AN ALMANAC OF TWELVE SPORTS", 1898)

Over the ice she flies
Perfect and poised and fair -
Stars in my true-love's eyes
Teach me to do and to dare!
Now I will fly as she flies -
Woe for the stars that misled!
Stars that I saw in her eyes
Now do I see in my head!

"AN OLD SKATING DITTY" (UNKNOWN, BRITISH, EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY)

Little Billy Bates
Bought a pair of skates
But the ice was thin,
He fell on his back,
The ice went crack,
And Little Billy Bates fell in.

"SKATING SONG" BY PHILIP GILBERT HAMERTON (1855)

The lake is frozen bright and clear,
A mirror for the isles;
We skim the surface of the mere,
And never count the miles.
The sun behind the snowy hill
Sank down an hour ago;
The moon has found us gliding still,
As she clambers up the snow.
The golden ways are not so bright
That angels' feet entice,
As our receding path of light
Along the sounding ice.
The lake is like a polished floor.

"A SKATING INTERLUDE" BY KATE PUTNAM OSGOOD (1889)

"Six months ago it was," said he -
"It seems a century of changes -
Since here, beneath this very tree,
We watched the moonlit mountain ranges.
I hate this chattering, skating crowd
That so profanes our silent river,
The sacred spot where once we vowed
A faith that should endure forever!"

"And so we meet again," said he,
"In the same place where then we parted;
How the old time comes back to me!
The words that left us broken hearted."
Swift fell the answer from her mouth:
"Speak for yourself - if you remember,
The wind blows north that then blew south,
And June dies long before December!"

"And does a woman's heart," said he,
"Change like the wind or summer weather?
Yon moon is yet the same, you see,
That shone upon us here together."
"Ah, no!" she said, "that summer moon
Beamed with a radiance mild and tender,
While this forgets the warmth of June
In winter's far and frozen splendor."

"And does that mean farewell?" said he;
"Is it a warning to remember
That dream of June can never be
Which dies in such a chill December?
Your very words!" "Yet, even so,"
She said, controlling tears with laughter,
"Do you forget December snow
Melts in the June that follows after?"

"But shall I go or stay?" said he,
Searching her face with doubt and wonder;
"And if you care at all for me,
Why play at keeping us asunder?"
Because" she smiled, while softly fell
Above her eyes their deep-fringed curtain -
"I did not mean, at first, but well,
You seemed so odiously certain."

EXCERPT FROM "WINTER" FROM "THE SEASONS" BY JAMES THOMSON (1726)

Where the Rhine
Branch'd out in many a long canal extends,
From every province swarming, void of care,
Batavia rushes forth; and as they sweep,
On founding skates, a thousand different ways,
In circling poise, swift as the winds, along,
'The then gay land is madden'd to all joy.
Whereon the moonbeams play,
That lure us on, but evermore
Glitter and glide away.


"OUR KETTLE-DRUM ON THE ICE" - ENGRAVING FROM HARPER'S WEEKLY, POEM UNATTRIBUTED (1876)

All hail to King Winter? Who cares for his coldness,
The snow on his beard, or the ice on his brow?
He comes from the Northland; alarmed at his boldness,
The earth shrinks in terror, the tall forests bow.
At the touch of his hand, how the reed grasses quiver!
The chill of his breath floateth over the stream;
Then hushed is the song of the babbling river,
And flinty and hard do the soft wavelets gleam.
Far to the south has he driven the sparrow;
Insect and bird from his fury have fled;
Under the earth is his cell, cold and narrow,
Low lies the beaver; the flowerets are dead.

Fast in our houses old Winter would bind us;
Strong are his weapons, and wild his breath;
Harsh is the voice who fierce accents remind us,
"Look! how I bring you destruction and death!"
But we care not a toss for his fury and madness;
We laugh in his face, and we dread not his wrath.
He opens new doors unto mirth and to gladness;
On the face of the waters he builds us a path.
We smile at the brawler, and bravely determine,
Though loud in his boasting, no terror we'll feel;
We cover our hearts with a breastplate of ermine,
And marry his thrusts with the coat of the seal.

Boldly we venture far out on the river,
Firm 'neath our feet as our own mother earth.
We'll order a banquet; in case we should shiver,
The steam of the tea-pot shall add to our mirth.
Wrapped in our furs, o'er the ice we are chasing,
Merry our voices, our feet shod with steel;
On through the moonlight, with fond hands embracing,
Never a blast from old Winter we feel.
Winter is vanquished; where sweethearts are mating,
Who cares for a gray-beard so joyless and grum?
We'll give him his supper e'en while we are skating,

And hold on the river a cold kettle-drum.

"THE SKATERS" BY FITZ-JAMES O'BRIEN (1881)

Like clouds they scud across the ice,
His hand holds hers as in a vice;
The moonlight strikes the back-blown hair
Of handsome Madge and Rupert Clare.

The ice resounds beneath the steel;      
It groans to feel his spurning heel:
While ever with the following wind
A shadowy skater flits behind.

"Why skate we thus so far from land?
O Rupert Clare, let go my hand!      
I cannot see—I cannot hear—
The wind about us moans with fear!"

His hand is stiffer than a vice,
His touch is colder than the ice,
His face is paler than the moon      
That paves with light the lone lagoon!

"O Rupert Clare, I feel—I trace
A something awful in your face!
You crush my hand—you sweep me on—
Until my breath and sense are gone!"

His grasp is stiffer than a vice,
His touch is colder than the ice;
She only hears the ringing tune
Of skates upon the lone lagoon.

"O Rupert Clare! sweet Rupert Clare!      
For heaven’s mercy hear my prayer!
I could not help my heart you know!
Poor Willy Gray,—he loves me so!"

His grip is stiffer than a vice,
His lip is bluer than the ice;      
While ever thrills the ringing tune
Of skates along the lone lagoon.

"O Rupert Clare! where are your eyes?
The rotten ice before us lies!
You dastard! Loose your hold, I say!—      
O God! Where are you, Willy Gray?”

A shriek that seems to split the sky,—
A wilder light in Rupert’s eye,—
She cannot—cannot loose that grip;
His sinewy arm is round her hip!      

But like an arrow on the wind
The shadowy skater scuds behind;
The lithe ice rises to the stroke
Of steel-shod heels that seem to smoke.

He hurls himself upon the pair;      
He tears his bride from Rupert Clare;
His fainting Madge, whose moist eyes say,
Ah! here, at last, is Willy Gray!

The lovers stand with heart to heart,—
"No more," they cry, "no more to part!"      
But still along the lone lagoon
The steel skates ring a ghostly tune!

And in the moonlight, pale and cold,
The panting lovers still behold
The self-appointed sacrifice      
Skating toward the rotten ice!

"A SKATING SONG" BY L.G.F. (ANONYMOUS)


Down the river, and on and on,
Over the shining floor,
Ringing clear of the skates that glide.
Singing, dear, to your racing ride,
As the sleigh slips past the shore,

Mother may stop, and the girl go on
Over the slippery floor,
Living for her when she is dead,
Giving a thought to the words she said,
Till the gray light's gray no more.

"KING SKATE" BY C. TURNER (1894)


Illustration by Henry S. Watson that accompanied Turner's poem when it was published in the January 1895 edition of "Outing"

With stealthy stride, o'er fleecy covered ways
Old Winter glides and grips the silv'ry flood.
Beneath his numbing grasp its action stays
And stagnant stands all nature's circling blood.
Then do I reign!

When call I forth my subjects, myriad-told,
Who love have cast th' inquiring eye for me,
Straightway I bid grim winter's terrors, bold!
And fill the world with carnivals of glee.

Ha! Ha! Right merry is my yearly reign,
And ever welcome is my buxom day.
The glow of health to faded cheeks again
Right soon I bring, and all the world make gay.

I blow my blast! and swift th' opposing clans
Whose doughty contests centre round "the puck,"
Gather from farthest concerns of the lands,
In fiercest struggles of sustained pluck.

Or gentle dames, and knights in serried ranks,
Thread the nice measures of the icy maze.
Whilst midst the waltzers Cupid plays his pranks,
And few escape the ardor of his chase.

For what gives music like my glassy plane,
Crystally clear, and wind swept by the breeze,
The poetry of motion mine attain;
Who can compare with my fair Coryphees?

Or swiftly forth to Lingay mere I bie,
And worlds in icy tourneys there array.
Fierce is the fray, zip! zip! the wing'd feet fly,
In eager battle for the victor's bay.

Who then can boast of merry days like mine,
Or who can hold so wide a sphere in thrall?
I warm the hearts of millions with my wine,

And winter's monarch I am crowned by all.

"SKATING BEFORE THE WIND"  BY PHILIP GILBERT HAMERTON (1855)

They pile the Christmas logs at home,
And shiver by the fire ;
But as for heat, the boys that roam
Find more than they require.
We dress as lightly as we may,
For us no hearth is bright;
The low sun warms us not by day,
Nor the naked moon by night.

The prairie has no swifter steed
Than skates of narrow steel;
And highbred coursers when they bleed
Beneath a jockey's heel,
Leave not the ground behind them so,
And not so swiftly move,
As we with this cold ice below,
And colder stars above!

"Look down — the ice streams under us;
This is a frightful speed ! "
My friend looked down, but not for long,
And said, " It is, indeed."
The slippery ice streamed under us,
The ice so green and clear,
It seemed like water calm and deep
In the middle of the mere.

The roaring wind came after us;
And the rain-clouds in the sky,
Which, torn and scattered far and wide,
Were rolling heavily.
Our cloaks were like the sails of ships
Which the stormy tempest fills,
And, changing quickly, we could see
The outlines of the hills.

We left upon the dark-green ice
A track so faint and light,
It seemed as if we scarcely touched
Its surface in our flight.
A long white curve at every stroke,
A true and perfect line,
It seemed as if those mighty arcs
Were part of some design.

Traced swiftly on the tablet bright
Of that hard-frozen lake,
With those great golden compasses
That mighty angels take
To draw the orbits of the stars,
And mark their paths in space,
Or rainbows bright, or halos dim
About the moon's sweet face.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

The Baltimore Armoury Accident


Just over ten years prior to the grisly Hallowe'en Holocaust that claimed dozens of lives at a Holiday On Ice show in Indiana in 1963, a similarly gruesome accident occurred at an ice show that starred none other than three time Olympic Gold Medallist and ten time World Champion Sonja Henie.


The date was Thursday, March 6, 1952 and a crowd of seven thousand had amassed in Baltimore, Maryland for the Sonja Henie Ice Revue. The skaters were backstage, ready to take the ice, when five minutes before the 8:30 PM show was set to begin, a section of hastily constructed bleachers in Baltimore's fifth regiment armoury came crashing to the ground, spectators and all. The March 7, 1952 edition of the "Milwaukee Journal" reported, "The heavy beams and planks went down with a roar, pinning men, women and children under a mass of heavy splinters. Men tore at the tangled beams to rescue screaming children and crying women. There was no panic among others in the crowd, and the rescue operation carried on by police, firemen and national guardsmen was completed within thirty minutes." A staggering two hundred and seventy seven people were injured in the accident, sent to ten different hospitals in the area. As of the next day, thirty two of those victims were in serious condition.

The cause of the accident was determined to be shoddy craftsmanship. The makeshift bleachers were reportedly not even nailed down properly. To top it all off, the armoury had been exempt from even requiring a building permit because it was 'state property'. The tour had applied for one anyway and been refused by building inspector Paul Cohen because the stands weren't even finished when the application was put in only hours before the accident. Cohen confirmed that a permit would not have been issued as the stands were "of temporary construction and not even nailed down."

An eyewitness account from Kenny Lamb, one of the skaters in Henie's tour (submitted to "Lucidcafé" in the nineties) reads: "While we were rehearsing for the show we watched a work crew erecting some extra bleacher seats. We noticed they were working very clumsily and didn't look very skilled but figured they knew what they were doing. Were we ever wrong! As the [overture] for the show began, we heard a strange screeching sound and then a roar. The roar was the sound of a thousand seats, filled with people, crashing eighteen feet to the floor! They were sitting in the bleachers that had been hastily built during our rehearsal! The screeching was the nails being pulled out of the wood! Since we were playing in an armoury there was immediate first aid provided by National Guard personnel. The guardsmen had to break down doors from the outside to help the victims who were trapped down in what was now a pit-like area. Sonja had the orchestra play quietly until the people involved were taken out for first aid and to hospitals. At about 9:30 the stage manager came up to Sonja and said 'shall we start the show now?' Sonja just looked at him and said two words, 'You're fired!' She then stayed up all night visiting the injured victims that were hospitalized over night, about fifty in all. There were about two hundred injured but thankfully no deaths. She delayed starting the show for three days, doing everything possible to help the victims. She was like that, and we loved her for it."

Keeping in mind that other stories that we've explored about Sonja Henie on the blog haven't exactly highlighted her 'good side', her reaction to this horrific situation definitely is more humanizing than many 'Sonja Henie stories' and paints her in a more compassionate light. Taking further ownership of the accident (for which she definitely shared responsibility, as this was one of her self-produced tours) all tickets were either refunded or honoured for the eventual show days later. According to Edvard Hambro's 1995 documentary "Sonja Henie: Queen Of The Ice", Henie blamed her brother Leif for the accident.

Henie's concern and well wishes were all well and good, but the people of Maryland were appalled. Governor Theodore R. McKeldin attended the armoury shortly after the accident, referring to the tragedy as "an outrage" and demanded that Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro organize a thorough inquiry into what caused the accident. Quoted in the March 7, 1952 edition of the "Spokane Daily Chronicle", Mayor D'Alesandro said the city would work with state groups and go through the wreckage "timber by timber and joint by joint." The investigation revealed that the shoddy stands were constructed by a contracting firm from Westfield, New Jersey owned by a Mr. Ed Coronati, whose background was in constructing seating for circuses, fairs and other events. He'd even designed bleachers at the same armoury before.

Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection. Used with permission.

Henie, according to Hambro, was "unable to meet the million dollar bond for her next show in New York... [and] was forced to cancel - paying off employees and refunding money to ticketholders." Her legal case first ended up in courts two months later with four hundred lawsuits for damages totalling more than five million dollars on the table. City engineer Samuel Mortimer, who inspected the stands that HAD been completed the morning of the day of the accident, testified to a jury that inadequate connections and too few nails were the cause of the collapse. The June 19, 1953 edition of the "Milwaukee Journal" stated that "Judge John T. Tucker, setting aside a jury verdict, Thursday ruled that the Sonja Henie Ice Revue Co. was liable for damages suffered in the 1952 collapse of bleachers. However, Tucker upheld the jury ruling that the blond skating star was not personally liable for the mishap at the 5th regiment armoury here in which about 275 spectators were injured. Tucker ruled that the ice show, New Jersey seating contractor Edwin J. Coronati and his company were liable for a total of about five million dollars in damages arising out of some 400 suits. A jury earlier had held that Coronati and his company were solely responsible." The largest settlement went to a Baltimore woman named Janet Harryman who suffered a broken back in the accident. She received thirty thousand dollars. The smallest, incidentally, was a claim for ten dollars for a minor injury.

Five million dollars is a huge amount of money these days obviously, but if you put that amount in the context of the early fifties, it's really no shocker that by the next year, Henie was moving onto a new venture with Morris Chalfen and Holiday On Ice in Europe. You also have to remember that by this point, in addition to Ice Capades and Ice Follies as well as many hotel shows all over the U.S., Henie was at that point in direct competition with the next big star in North America, Barbara Ann Scott. It's almost unbelievable to think though that not a single person died as the result of that completely avoidable accident. The moral of the story? Sometimes being a spectator at a skating show can be even more dangerous than being a performer.

 Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.