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Archive for the ‘American History’ Category

KATIE SANDWINA (1884 – 1952) Circus Strongwoman

In American History, Biography, Circus Performers, Female Athletes, Feminists, Vaudeville Acts, women on December 14, 2010 at 10:20 PM

Katie Sandwina

Catherine Brumbach (“Katie”) was born with everything she needed to succeed in life, and she grew to be a beautiful, strong woman, a really strong woman.  Her physical strength and beauty gave her an edge in a man’s world, making her the specimen of perfection. 

Brumbach was the second oldest of 15 children whose parents were circus performers.  Of Bavarian stock, Philippe, who was six feet six inches tall and weighed about 260 pounds with a 56 inch chest, and his wife, Johanna, whose biceps measured 15 inches, amazed European audiences with their feats of strength.  Three daughters inherited the strength and talent of their parents and joined the act very young. 

When she was two, Brumbach reportedly did hand stands on her father’s hands.  She was trained in gymnastics and then added weightlifting to her regime when she hit adolescence.  Brumbach wasn’t the strongest of her siblings, but her strength combined with her perfect proportions and natural beauty made her the main attraction.

JOINING THE FAMILY BUSINESS                      The Brumbach family were contract players in circuses all over Europe, and Brumbach’s star continued to rise.  When she was a teenager, her father offered 100 German marks to any man who would come on stage and beat her at wrestling.  She won every time, and one evening she got a prize she hadn’t expected.  Max Heymann, a five foot six inch acrobat who weighed about 160 pounds, was having a hard time getting his career off the ground.  He saw an opportunity for easy cash and sauntered confidently onto the stage.  Brumbach won the match handily, but he won her heart.  She was 16 and Heymann was 19, and two years later he joined the act permanently when they married.

While touring around Europe, the strongwoman and her fellow performers happened to briefly go to New York.  As a publicity stunt at the end of the act, she challenged anyone who dared to try to lift more weight than she did.  Eugen Sandow, the most famous bodybuilder of the time (click here for the profile of Eugen Sandow) happened to be in the audience.  No publicity manager could have ever conceived of a more perfect attraction.  They matched each other pound for pound until Brumbach lifted a 300 pound bar bell over her head.  As a stunned audience witnessed, Sandow could only raise it to his chest.  Brumbach proudly carried her victory with her everywhere by adopting the moniker “Sandwina,” a female derivative of Sandow.

JUST ANOTHER DAY AT THE OFFICE              Sandwina and Heymann and a couple of other men became “The Sandwinas.”  Early in the 20th century they came to America for a more extended commitment and performed with small vaudeville shows up and down the East coast.  A year later they were hired by the prestigious Orpheum Vaudeville Circuit and toured throughout the country.  Sandwina was billed as “Europe’s Queen of Strength and Beauty.”  She twisted iron bars into spirals and broke chains with her bare hands, juggled cannonballs and supported a 1,200-pound cannon on her shoulders.  She even lay on a bed of nails while volunteers used sledgehammers to hit an anvil balanced on her chest.

In 1909 while on tour with the Orpheum, the Heymanns had a baby, Teddy.  Being pregnant made Sandwina seem more feminine to some people, but she didn’t let it interfere with her career.  She performed two shows the night before her son was born.  This strapping child, who weighed 50 pounds at age two, was nicknamed “Superbaby” by the press.  During interviews, reporters asked Sandwina’s advice on the care and feeding of children so other kids could grow up to be equally robust and strong.

The Sandwinas went back to Europe for a while.  Holding her husband overhead had become a popular feat, and to add to that, for the finale Sandwina lifted three men.  John Ringling, one of the brothers who had recently bought the Barnum & Bailey circus, was on a scouting trip.  He signed Sandwina and Heymann and brought them back to the States in 1911.  They weren’t a featured act but instead had to perform simultaneously with four other strength acts, all competing for attention.  When reporters became curious about Sandwina, a press conference was arranged to move her into the spotlight.

THE PICTURE OF PERFECTION                          P.T. Barnum was once quoted as saying, “Without promotion something terrible happens…Nothing!”1 so meeting the press became an event.  At Madison Square Garden, where they were performing, over a dozen doctors were brought in to weigh and measure Sandwina publicly.  She was deemed to be the perfect female specimen.  She was five feet nine and three quarters inches tall and weighed 210 pounds.  Her chest was 44 inches, her waist was 29 inches, and her hips were 43 inches.  Her calf measured 16 inches and her flexed right bicep was 14 inches.  To enhance her appearance, especially in contrast to her husband, Sandwina always wore two-inch heels and piled her hair on top of her head to make her look taller.  When the measuring was finished Sandwina demonstrated her strength for the reporters.  First she lifted Heymann over her head with one hand, and then she lifted her husband and son, holding them both with only one arm.

For all her bulk, Sandwina was described as beautiful and feminine with supple curves and arms smooth enough to look good in a ball gown.  With her new status in the center ring, Sandwina was earning up to $1,500 a week.  Sandwina represented the perfect woman in many ways.  Besides her physical beauty, strength and charm, she was a working mother.  In 1912 she became the Vice President of the suffrage group at the Barnum & Bailey Circus.  Working with her husband and dominating him in the act made her seem all the more liberated.

In 1918 while the Heymann family was in Istanbul, a second son, Alfred, was born.  The story has been passed down that it happened during some civil unrest and Sandwina had to crawl under barbed wire to get herself to a hospital.  When she arrived, the hospital was full and she gave birth on the floor.

When The Sandwinas retired from the Barnum & Bailey Circus they continued to do what they loved.  For a while in the 1930s they worked with the WPA circus, and then in the 1940s they opened a cafe/bar in Queens, New York.  Occasionally when a customer asked, Sandwina would bend an iron bar or break a horseshoe after serving their drink.

In 1952 Sandwina died of cancer, and after 52 years of marriage, The Sandwinas split up.

QUESTION:  If you could join the circus, what kind of act would you want to do?

 ©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

 Sources:

http://www.starkcenter.org/research/igh/articles/igh10.1.4.pdf

http://thehumanmarvels.com/?p=878

http://www.starkcenter.org/research/igh/articles/igh9.2.4.pdf

http://www.aafla.org/SportsLibrary/IGH/IGH0106/IGH0106d.pdf

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1067134/index.htm

1http://thinkexist.com/quotes/p.t._barnum/

DR. WILLIAM MINOR (1834 -1920) Insane Doctor Who Contributed to the Oxford English Dictionary

In American History, Biography, Doctors, Mental health, U.S. Army, Writers on November 8, 2010 at 8:48 PM

William Minor

William Minor had a split personality.  He was a doctor whose hobbies included playing flute and painting.  His contribution to the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary was immeasurable.  But internally he suffered from paranoia, which determined the course of his adult life.

Minor’s parents were Americans descended from early settlers in New England, but in 1834 they went to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) as missionaries, representing a Scottish Presbyterian group called Covenanters.  His mother died when he was three, and his father remarried another young missionary woman.  The mission school gave Minor and his siblings an excellent education, and he had the opportunity to learn several languages.

When Minor was 13, he started having “lascivious thoughts” toward the exotic native girls.  He never acted on his impulses, but it was so difficult for him to reconcile these urges with his religious upbringing that he was plagued with guilt.  His parents sent him back to the United States and the responsibility of his uncle, Alfred, in New Haven, Connecticut.

SERVING HIS COUNTRY                          Minor graduated from Yale Medical School in 1863.  With the Civil War going strong, he joined the Union Army as a surgeon and served at the Knight Hospital in New Haven.  He didn’t like the isolation of the hospital and requested to be sent to battle.  Eventually he got his wish and was sent to Northern Virginia where he first encountered the filth of a field hospital and excruciating pain of soldiers suffering from gangrene.  His friends described him as a sensitive man who loved to paint, play the flute and read books, and the battlefield was not an easy place for a man with such artistic sensibilities.

Through a supposed change in orders, in May 1864 Minor ended up in Orange County, Virginia, the site of the Battle of the Wilderness.  In addition to the extreme casualties of battle, desertion was a huge problem.  More than 5,000 soldiers were deserting each month, depleting the ranks of the army.  The punishment for deserters was painful humiliation through branding the letter D on his hip or cheek.  It fell to Dr. Minor to inflict the punishment on one young soldier who ran away during battle.  Minor took the hot iron out of the coals and reluctantly seared the face of the errant young man.  Minor was so affected by that experience that he believed the soldier would somehow seek him out to exact revenge.

Minor was transferred to the L’Overture Hospital in Alexandria where he distinguished himself and received a promotion to assistant surgeon in the U.S. Army.  He moved to Governor’s Island, New York where he treated cholera patients.  It was here that Minor began to exhibit signs of paranoia and promiscuous behavior.  He started carrying a Colt .38 and spent every night with prostitutes which resulted in his contracting venereal disease.  On one occasion he made a failed attempt to cure himself injecting white Rhine wine into his urethra.

Minor became engaged to a young woman from New York.  Since none of his friends ever met her, it was assumed that she was some kind of entertainer.  Ironically, it was her mother who pressured her daughter to call off the engagement, which she did, leaving Minor bitter.  His resentment intensified when the Army relocated him away from the temptations of the city to Fort Barrancas, Florida, an obvious demotion.

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT                      In 1868 Minor was diagnosed as “delusional” and was considered a suicide and homicide risk.  He was willingly admitted to the Government Hospital for the Insane in Washington, D.C. (known as St. Elizabeth’s Hospital) and officially retired from the U.S. Army.

In 1871, Minor was released, and he visited friends and family before boarding a ship to London, hoping that a change of scenery would cure him.  He settled in Lambeth, an area in south London that afforded him “easy access to easy women.”  Minor’s paranoia followed him across the pond.  He believed people were breaking into his room while he slept.  One freezing cold winter night before dawn, Minor shot and killed George Merrett who was on his way to work.  Minor thought Merrett was an intruder, but later admitted he shot the wrong man.  During the trial, the full scope of Minor’s mental illness came out, and he was committed to the Asylum for the Criminally Insane in Broadmoor.

Minor’s life at Broadmoor was very comfortable.  His status as a surgeon was respected, and he was given two adjacent rooms, one for sleeping and one for him to paint, play the flute and read.  Because of his pension from the U.S. Army, Minor was allowed to buy steak, wine, brandy, newspapers and antiquarian books for his collection.  He hired other inmates to perform chores for him.  By day he enjoyed the freedom to stroll around the grounds and do what he wanted to, but at night, his delusions persisted.  Even though he blocked the door with furniture, he believed that intruders poisoned or abused him and defaced his books.

Minor felt truly sorry for his crime, and after almost ten years of institutionalization he asked permission to pay some restitution to Merrett’s widow, Eliza.  She agreed to accept some money from her husband’s killer, and she visited Minor at Broadmoor.  In fact, the two got on well enough that for a while she made monthly visits, delivering to the inmate books she bought on his behalf.

A UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY                       In one of these bundles of books, Minor saw a notice from the editor, James Murray, asking for volunteers to help create the first Oxford English Dictionary (OED).  Volunteers collected words from their reading to be included in the dictionary and submitted them with quotes from the books illustrating their meaning.  This was the perfect occupation for an intelligent, educated bibliophile with lots of time on his hands, and it provided for him a connection to the outside world.

The doctor set about this task with voracious energy, meticulously copying words and quotations from volumes of books.  He started working in tandem with the editor in Oxford, writing him to find out which letter he was working on and then searching through his papers to send him words starting with that letter. Minor and Murray corresponded regularly, and the first time Murray visited Minor at Broadmoor, he was shocked to discover that Minor was an inmate and not a staff doctor.  The editor and the volunteer met together many times over the years and developed a friendship based on a mutual love of reading and words.  Occasionally Minor would offer a story about his nighttime tribulations, bringing Murray into understanding of his mental state. 

Over the course of 20 years, Minor made an incomparable contribution to the writing of the OED.  Murray called his efforts “enormous,” acknowledging that within a two year period, Minor supplied at least 12,000 quotations.

After 30 years in Broadmoor, Minor had been there longer than any other patient.  His nightly torments, during which claimed to have uncontrollable sexual relations with thousands of women, never abated.  He saw himself as a vile sinner in the eyes of God.

On December 3, 1902, when Minor was 68 years old, he wrote a note asking for the Medical Officer.  One of the perks Minor enjoyed was to have a pen knife, and he had used it in an act of penance to cut off his penis.

Two years after his self mutilation, Minor became increasingly sicker.  He was 76 years old when he was given permission to return to America to live out his last days.  His brother, Alfred, went to England to escort him on the journey.  Murray and his wife went to Broadmoor to say goodbye in person, and to give Minor six unpublished volumes of the OED to take with him. 

Dr. Minor returned to the Government Hospital for the insane in Washington, D.C.  During the nine years he lived there he was diagnosed as having schizophrenia, a term that only came into usage in 1912.  In 1919, Minor’s nephew successfully petitioned to have his uncle moved to a hospital for the elderly insane in Hartford, Connecticut called The Retreat.  Less than a year later, Minor died of pneumonia in his sleep.

QUESTION:  What is your favorite word?  Why?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

Sources:

Winchester, Simon, The Professor and the Madman, A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary. New York: HarperCollins, 1998.

http://www.berkshirerecordoffice.org.uk/documents/William_Chester_Minor.pdf

HETTY GREEN (1834 – 1916) Miserly First Female Tycoon

In American History, Biography, Feminists, Guiness Book of Records, Millionaires, Victorian Women on November 3, 2010 at 8:11 PM

Hetty Green and Dewey

Henrietta Howland Robinson learned everything she needed to know about financial matters from her grandfather and father.  She took to heart her dad’s advice to “never owe anyone anything, not even a kindness,” which didn’t endear her to very many people.  But when cities and banks are turning to you for a bail out, it doesn’t really matter what other people think.

Green was born into a Quaker family from New Bedford, Massachusetts.  She was the only heir to a fortune made from whaling.  Her mom was sick a lot, so Green lived with her grandparents for most of her childhood.  Her grandfather’s eyes were bad, so she read the financial news to him, and by the time she was fifteen years old, she knew more about stocks and bonds than most men in the business.  She opened her first savings account when she was eight, depositing the $1.50 she received for a weekly allowance in it.  Her first business responsibility was to keep strict accounting of personal and household expenses, a practice that served her well in the future.

Green’s formal education was spotty.  She was sent to a Quaker girls’ school on Cape Cod at eleven years old, where she learned frugality.  Whatever the students didn’t eat at the previous meal, they had to eat at the next.  The school directors impressed upon the privileged students that if the rich girls didn’t learn how to economize there wouldn’t be any money left to educate the poor girls.  At 16 she attended the Friends’ Academy in New Bedford for a year, but she missed the spring semester because she got sick.  To learn the social graces, she went to finishing school in Boston for a little while.  Green was considered attractive and enjoyed going to balls and parties.  One season her dad gave her $1200 for clothes.  Green spent $200 and put the rest in savings. 

In 1861 Green moved with her father to New York.  It was there that she met Edward Henry Green of Bellows Falls, Vermont, an occasional business associate of her dad.  Six months later they were engaged.  Edward was 14 years older than Green, an easy going Episcopalian who enjoyed the finer things in life.  He had his own wealth, and the only thing Edward and Green had in common was a love for money.  Green was 30 years old when they married in 1867, and shortly after the wedding the couple moved to London.

When her father died, Green inherited five million dollars which generated several thousand dollars a week in interest.  She invested in U.S. bonds, railroad bonds, and real estate.  The largest amount of money she made in one day was $200,000.

During the post-Civil War railroad expansion, railroad bonds flooded the market causing three banks to fail in 1872.  During the following year over 11,000 companies went bankrupt and the New York Stock Exchange closed for ten days.  In this environment, the Greens wanted to be closer to their investments, so they returned to the States settling in Edward’s hometown in Vermont.  They brought with them a son, Edward Howland Robinson Green (known as Ned), and a daughter, Hetty Sylvia Ann Howland Green, who went by Sylvia.

MAKING MONEY, NOT FRIENDS                    Green didn’t fit in too well with her husband’s people.  She butted heads with Mary, the housekeeper, claiming that she was wasteful, and she did all the grocery shopping herself, buying broken cookies because they were cheaper and returning the berry boxes for a five cent refund.  At the reception for her mother-in-law’s funeral, Green served the guests with chipped every-day glasses, not the fine crystal.  This made Edward furious, and he smashed a glass before marching out of the room.

Stories circulated around Bellows Falls about Green’s stinginess, and she supported her reputation with her behavior.  One time she was missing a two cent stamp, thinking she lost it in her carriage during an outing.  Late that night she woke up the groom and insisted that he thoroughly search the coach. When that proved unfruitful, she made him return to the hotel where she spent the afternoon and search the lawn, also to no avail.  After the man had gone back to sleep, Green woke him up again to say that she found the stamp in her pocket where she had put it.

Another time, Green went into a shop and started touching the merchandise with her filthy hands.  She admitted to the distressed shopkeeper that she had been pulling old nails out of a piece of burned wood to reuse.  She was often criticized for her dowdy appearance and even scrimped on laundry.  When Green took her skirts to the cleaners, she insisted they just wash the hems since they were the only part that got dirty.   

For Green, every decision was based on a monetary consideration.  When her son, Ned, hurt his knee jumping onto a sled, Green allegedly dressed them both up in ragged clothing and took him to the free clinic. 

HOLDING THE PURSE STRINGS                        Green’s parsimony put her in a position to have an amazing amount of leverage.  In 1884, her fortune equaled over $500,000 in cash and more than $26 million in bonds, mortgages and other securities which she held in the vaults of John J. Cisco and Son, a well known Wall Street bank.  Edward also had his in assets at Cisco, although Green insisted that they keep their fortunes separate. 

Railroad bonds took a dive and some of Cisco and Son’s biggest investors defaulted, including Mr. Cisco and Edward Green.  Cisco continued to give Edward credit for investments because Edward intimated to the bank that he could use his wife’s money as collateral.  All he accomplished was to increase his debt, and Edward became Cisco’s biggest debtor while Green was their biggest depositor.  Green’s refusal to cover her husband’s debt led to the collapse of Cisco and Son. 

Green tried to move her assets to another bank, but Lewis May, the new assignee to Cisco, engaged her in a standoff that eventually wore here down.  She finally agreed to pay over $422,000 to cover Edward’s debts.  Then, she took her securities to Chemical National Bank.  Every day Green went to work at Chemical National to manage her portfolio, arriving at 7:00 each morning.  She brought dry oatmeal for lunch, adding water and heating it on the radiator.  She wore a black veil over her hat to obscure her identity as she walked around Wall Street.  People said she looked like a witch, and she was nicknamed The Witch of Wall Street.

The Cisco debacle was effectively the end of the Green’s marriage, although she and Edward never divorced.  Green took the kids and moved from Bellows Falls to Brooklyn, New York and later to Hoboken, New Jersey, renting from month to month to avoid paying property taxes.  In Hoboken, the nameplate next to Green’s doorbell read “C. Dewey,” her beloved dog, to maintain her anonymity.  Her five-room apartment cost $23 a month.  On the mantle Green displayed a bouquet of roses made from dyed chicken feathers because it was cheaper and lasted longer than a bouquet of real ones.

Green’s fortune continued to grow, and she became the go-to person for loans.  In 1898, the city of New York was broke, so Green loaned the city $1 million at only 2% interest, and another $1.5 million in 1901.  Green kept the city afloat again in 1907 by giving $1.1 million in exchange for short-term revenue bonds at 5.5%.  In 1900 Tucson, Arizona needed new water and sewer systems, so Green bought the entire $110,000 bond issue.  In 1911 Green loaned $325,000 to the Roman Catholic Church of St. Ignatius Loyola at 4.5%. 

Her children were a big part of Green’s life.  Ned was groomed to take over Green’s fortune.  He moved to Texas and became the president of Texas Midland Railroad Company.  He lived with Mabel Harlow, a former prostitute that he referred to as his “housekeeper.”  In 1910 at Green’s request, he dutifully returned to New York, with Mabel, and formed the Westminster Company to directly oversee Green’s fortune.

Sylvia was a shy girl, and she stayed by her mother’s side until she met Matthew Astor Wilkes. They were married in secret to avoid publicity, and Wilkes was paid $5,000 to sign a prenuptial agreement giving him no claim to Sylvia’s inheritance.

Edward and Green maintained affection for each other.  At the end of his life, he moved to be close to her, and she nursed him during his final days.  He was 81 years old when he died, and his estate was worth a mere $24,000. 

YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU                      When Green was 78 years old she started preparing for her passing.  She was baptized in the Episcopal Church so she could be buried next to Edward in an Episcopal cemetery.  On April 17, 1916, Green had a stroke that left her partially paralyzed on the left side.  After several more minor strokes, Green died on July 3 at 81 years old.  Ned arranged for her body to be transported in his private railroad car from New York to Bellows Falls, Vermont, a luxury Green would never have approved of.  She was buried next to Edward, and her tombstone reads: “Hetty H. R. Green.  His Wife.”

There was no inventory of Green’s assets, but her estate was valued at between $100 million and $200 million dollars.  In her will she gave everything to her two children.  The Guinness Book of World Records awarded her the distinction of being the world’s “greatest miser.”

QUESTION:  How much money do you think you need to be rich?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

Sources:

Slack, Charles, Hetty, The Genius And Madness of America’s First Female Tycoon.  New York:  HarperCollins, 2004.

http://www.archive.org/stream/nationalmagazine22brayrich#page/629/mode/1up