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Where are these items now?

Part 1

By David Horne
(Originally featured in Iron Grip magazine Vol 4 # 1, Jan 2004)

We now present an ongoing saga that may jog someone’s memory, which could result in unearthing a long lost treasure. In past issues I have researched such lost items as Thomas Inch’s grippers, and the Thomas Inch ‘Middleweight’ dumbbell. In the last issue we featured the Cyr museum, which holds some special items including the finger lift block (which incidentally we would love a photo of, can anyone help?) and the Grun museum that holds many of his stage weights. Who knows if we’ll find any of these items listed, but if we found one then it would have been proven to be very worthwhile. In the meantime you can give yourself some training ideas from the items listed. Please contribute with whatever information you have, because no matter how small it is, it may just be the missing piece!

The Tom Harrington sledgehammer

In a letter printed in the Bugle Annual in December 1980, Griff E. Fanthorpe wrote of a man who ‘Could grasp an enormously long handled sledgehammer by the extreme edge of the handle and hold it out straight.’ He does not mention any details of weight or length, but comments that: ‘Strongmen of the time who attempted this feat marked the point where they held it and put their signature on it. Tom was a famous all-round strength athlete and wrestler. This was at his gym in Nursery Street, Wolverhampton. His son Syd, who represented Britain in international weightlifting, including the Olympics and commonwealth games at Helsinki, Melbourne and New Zealand could also do this feat like his dad.’ Tom Harrington, of whom he speaks, was known for his weightlifting prowess, and his feats are recorded in the Health and Strength magazine from January 1926 (p.19. ‘Exciting events at Old Hill W/L Club on Dec. 10th, 1925 involving members from this [Wulfrunian Weight-lifting & Physical Culture Club] club’, Health & Strength magazine, January 2, 1926), in which there are details of this ex-Heavy-Weight Champion of the Middle Counties breaking H. Wood’s British Record for Right Hand Snatch by 2lb, the new record being 150lb. He also broke the British Record for a Right Hand Dumb-bell Swing by 2 1/4lb, setting the new record at 165 1/4lb.

His son Syd Harrington was perhaps even more famous, forming part of the five-man team representing Great Britain in the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne. Of this team, light-heavyweight Phil Caira placed fifth with a British record total. Veteran Julian Creus, at nearly forty years of age, performed creditably in sharing twelfth position with Maurice Megennis in the featherweights. Lightweight Ben Helfgott placed thirteenth, while mid-heavyweight Syd Harrington secured ninth position (http://www.muscleenhancers.com/history-of-weightlifting-2.htm). As the above letter tells us, Syd was also proficient at his dad’s sledgehammer feat, and so it is possible that the missing article may be found somewhere amongst his memorabilia.

The street in Wolverhampton that is mentioned in this letter as the home of the sledgehammer is Nursery Street. A photograph of the site has been located, and is pictured here as seen from North Street. The building on the far left was the premises of Harrington Sign Writers. Syd Harrington himself lived on the opposite side of the street. Picture from http://www.localhistory.scit.wlv.ac.uk/articles/DavidClare/NorthSt.htm

The Apollon Anvil

In Health and Strength magazine February 20th 1937, J. C. Tolson’s article ‘From Weakling to Leicestershire’s Strongest Man’ Eric Widdowson is described as ‘the only man who can lift the famous Apollon anvil with one hand on to a 3ft. high table. For this Apollon has awarded him £5 and a special medal. Many well-known athletes have failed even to lift the anvil so as to place a card beneath. He can also deadlift 500lb and tear packs of playing cards in half. His grip is probably one of the strongest, if not the strongest in the entire Police force. A few years ago Eric Widdowson was weak and puny, and consequently enrolled on the Apollon’s body-building course. At the end of three months training Widdowson astounded friends by deadlifting 400lb, bending 6-inch nails and thick bars with ease.’

This article does not give us a great deal to go on, as it does not state whether the anvil was lifted by the horn or in a pinch style from the top. We are not given the weight of the anvil, nor advised as to whether J. C. Tolson himself could lift it (or if he even tried). However, it is obvious that this anvil was significant in both difficulty and, if Apollon awarded money to successful challengers, in terms of honour as well. Eric Widdowson is pictured right.


Pierre Gasnier’s 260lb Barbell

Pierre Gasnier, 'The French Hercules' was born on 16th December in either 1862 or 1868 (Dr. Sargent listed his age as 35 in 1903, indicating the latter date), and died in December 1923. The dumbell shown has a handle diameter of 2” and weighs 236 French livres, which equates to 260 pounds. Gasnier claimed to be able to bent-press the bell comfortably. In 1899 Gasnier visited Munich whilst touring with the Barnum and Bailey circus, and it was there that he met a group of German strongmen who had heard of his great ability with this bell and wished to see the mighty Gasnier for themselves. However, they were much amused to discover that Gasnier weighed a mere 143.5lb (at the age of 41) and measured only 5’ 3”. They proceeded to test the weight of his bell, and after having seen him put it overhead with one arm, they were amazed. Sebastian Miller, a 280 lb. Munich strongman, commented: ‘Yes, this is heavy!’ as he lifted the bell to knee-height with one hand (a great feat in itself, as Gasnier commented). Despite the prowess of the other strongmen in the group (including Hans Beck and Cyclops Bienkowski) none of the others present was able to raise the bell this high. Miller is pictured here in his rock-breaking act (picture taken from Iron Man magazine, Vol. 19, No. 5). News of such a significant article as this would be incredibly important for historians and enthusiasts alike.




Where are these items now?

Part 2

By David Horne

(Originally featured in Iron Grip magazine Vol 4 # 2, Apr 2004)

The second in a series of articles cataloguing missing artefacts of the strength world.

Apollon 80kg (176 1/4lb) Rectangular Weight

According to Professor Desbonnet’s account, his protégé Apollon was able to snatch this 80 kilo block weight and then stand erect with it in his hand with his arm at full extension. Apollon is pictured on the front cover of La Culture Physique magazine with one foot atop the considerable block of metal in the issue of 15th December 1909 (pictured left).

This blockweight has also been spotted in a photograph of Ernest Cadine in Leo Gaudreau’s Anvils, Horseshoes and Cannons, Volume 1 (page 88).

*The Apollon 80kg (176lb) rectangular blockweight has been reported to be currently located in France. Thanks go to David Webster for this information.

H.C.F. Dumbbell Weight

 (French weight similar to Police Gazette weight)

The H. C. F. weight originates from the Haltérophile Club de France and was evidently in use as a party-piece around 1910. Called a “Dumbbell” in La Culture Physique magazine of the time, the inverted commas are significant. The above-mentioned article in La Culture Physique describes the super-human strength of Léon Verhaert, who succeeded in raising the colossal weight from the floor by grasping the handles in an overhand grip. David Webster has recently forwarded to me a copy of a photograph from his collection, in which Verhaert is shown performing this feat. The article states that the lift was performed on 17th September 1910, and was official only if a 3cm board could be slid beneath the raised weight; Verhaert achieved this with extra poundage added to the bulk: creating a total of 730 French livres: 804.5 pounds or 365kg. David also sent me a picture of Desbonnet’s gym, where the weight can be seen in the front left hand corner. Picture (left) taken from La Culture Physique issue 1st October, 1910 (p. 597).

‘Police Gazette’ Challenge Weights

This section incorporates three different items, two of which have come under the title of the Police Gazette Challenge weight. The Police Gazette, a sporting newspaper of the late nineteenth century onwards, features these weights a number of times, but they are evidently also well-known enough to deserve mention elsewhere.

Firstly, it is worth recounting briefly the story of the weights. In 1890, Richard K. Fox, the founder of the Police Gazette, sponsored the inauguration of an all-American strongman competition. It was Fox who had the idea of having a solid block cast at a weight of 1000 pounds, and presenting it as a challenge to the strongest of men. The prize for lifting this monster from the floor with the hands alone was a desirable Police Gazette trophy  (described in Iron Man magazine of January, 1957as a ‘superb championship belt studded with jewels’ [p. 29]). The block was duly cast; had handles affixed to the top at 24” from the ground; and weighed. Much like the H. C. F. weight, the block was termed a dumbbell, and emerged at the end of the process weighing a massive 1030 pounds. Despite the numerous big names of the day who travelled to give the weight their best efforts (including F. E. Mallalin, Jack Fallon, Greek George, John Smith, John Whitman, J. W. McCormick, Steve Brodie, Cowboy Samson, Milo [Luigi Borra], Ajax [Selig Whitman], Duncan C. Ross, Charles G. Jefferson and Sebastien Miller), the only man who succeeded in hoisting the dumbbell was a 29-year-old citizen of Quincy, Illinois, named James Walter Kennedy. Kennedy straddled the weight, grasped one handle to the front of his body and the other behind, and then lifted the weight with his legs, keeping his back straight. After a number of attempts, Kennedy’s grip stayed firm and he managed to lift the block 2” clear of the floor. On 25th January 1890, Kennedy won the Police Gazette trophy belt, having successfully lifted the 1030-pound “dumbbell” (Pictured above, from Iron Man Jan. 1957 magazine).

It is also obvious that the weight itself was no small or unimpressive affair. In an article by Edward Van Every, he describes the offices of the Police Gazette in the Fox building, and includes a description of a museum room in which Fox exhibited his most prized sporting articles. It is stated that a ‘conspicuous space was given to the huge Police Gazette dumbbell, which was said to weigh one thousand and thirty pounds, and on which numerous strong men had tested their muscular ability in attempts to raise it a record number of times.’

As a point of interest, I will include an extract from a letter that has kindly been made available by David Webster. The letter is from Ottley Coulter to David, and in it he reports having seen the Police Gazette weight in 1918 in the saloon of his strongman friend Kandrat. He recounts the appearance of the weight at the time that he saw it: ‘The weight was too high and deep for any man with too short or too thick legs to lift and stand on the floor… My feet would not reach the ground when I straddled the blockweight… At the time that I saw the weight, it had two eyes projecting at equal distances from either edge but the handgrips had been removed and heavy leather loops had been fastened to these eyes.’

The second weight to be mentioned here is the Police Gazette Indian Club. The Japanese wrestler Matsada Sorakichi was awarded a medal by Richard K. Fox in the 1890s for his prowess with the 250-pound club: he is said to have lifted it the greatest number of times, although the manner of lifting is not known.

(The club is pictured in the background and the 1205lb blockweight in the foreground of this picture, taken from Iron Man January 1957.)

Finally, the third Police Gazette weight discovered is a somewhat heavier version of the first block lifted by Kennedy. It was on 28th July 1893, three years after his first success, that Kennedy managed to hoist the new “dumbbell,” scaled this time at 1205 pounds, and shaped considerably like the H. C. F. block described and pictured above.


Copyright David Horne 2006