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Archive for the ‘Biography’ 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/

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JOHN MONTAGUE (1903 – 1972) Fugitive Golfer

In Biography, California History, Golf, History, Hollywood, Sports on November 30, 2010 at 6:44 PM

John Montague (photo credit: Bettmann/Corbis)

When John Montague arrived in Hollywood he brought his golf clubs and some secrets.  His personal strength and the way he played golf were so incredible that he made friends easily, and nobody cared where he came from or why he was there. 

Montague was born LaVerne Moore in Syracuse, New York to a blue collar family.  He distinguished himself early on from his older brother and younger sisters as an energetic kid with a quick mind.  He spent hours developing his body by using the beams in the attic as his jungle gym.  What he did to develop strength and stamina might seem like torture.  After lifting weights, Montague strapped weights to his wrists and ankles and stood motionless in the dark for an hour.

A natural athlete, Montague excelled at baseball, football, basketball, skiing, pool and golf.  For all his impressive talent on local teams as a kid, it was golf that made him famous.  When he was seven years old, he found a golf ball in the street and fashioned a club out of a discarded elbow from a gas pipe and a broom handle.  He whacked that ball directly into the plate glass window of the cigar store across the street.  

 DEVELOPING A SKILL SET                   His dad’s reaction was to pay for the window and buy Montague a set of clubs.  His brother, Harold, became his first instructor, and as a teenager he developed a powerful drive and some tricks.  One crowd pleaser was to bury three golf balls on top of each other in a sand trap and ask which one he should hit.  Every time he sent the designated ball flying, leaving the other two resting in the sand. 

About 1934 Montague brought his talent, pranks and bag of custom, oversized golf clubs to Hollywood and fell in with the celebrity crowd at Lakeside golf course.  At five foot ten inches tall and 220 pounds, he became the club champion at age 30.  Everything about Montague was bigger, stronger and wilder than anyone had seen before. 

Montague lived with Oliver Hardy for a while, and every time his 300 pound friend walked into the grill room at Lakeside, Montague would singlehandedly pick him up and hoist him onto the bar.  He stuffed character actor George Bancroft upside down in a locker and shut the door. 

But it was his golfing that gave him the most notoriety.  After winning a round against Bing Crosby, Montague proposed a bet to appease his complaining partner.  They would play one more hole, 366 yards par 4, with Crosby using his clubs and Montague using a baseball bat, a shovel and a rake.  Crosby hit a drive about 250 yards, then got to the middle of the green but missed the putt for a birdie by two feet.  Montague tossed his ball into the air and hit it into a greenside sand trap.  With one swipe of the shovel he got onto the middle of the green about 30 feet from the pin.  Then he got down on the ground and used the rake as a pool cue to sink his ball in three.

Montague loved the attention he got, but he let everyone else do the bragging about his exploits.  He refused to talk about himself or disclose his background.  He only admitted to being an amateur golfer and claimed to have some mining interests in the Nevada desert.  Even though he was often encouraged to join the pro tour, he would reply that he played golf for other reasons.  He refused to play in tournaments or to have his picture taken. 

Sportswriter Grantland Rice played a few rounds with Montague and wrote an article that brought him into the public eye.  Time magazine published an article about him in 1937, and they hired a freelance photographer to hide in the bushes and get photos.  Montague was barely recognizable, but they were published anyway.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?                                  In August 1930, a few years before Montague surfaced in California, Hana’s restaurant in the Adirondack Mountains of New York was robbed by four men wearing masks and wielding revolvers.  The dining room was connected to an apartment where the Hana family lived.  One gunman forced Hana and his wife to the floor while another one went into the residence and bound and gagged the children.  Another robber found the grandfather, Matt Cobb, and when he tried to defend himself, he was hit on the head with the butt of a gun.  Elizabeth Hana was forced to empty the safe, and after another brawl with Cobb, knocking him unconscious, the thieves escaped with about $750.

The cops were staked out looking for bootleggers making a run, so when a speeding car shot by, the chase was on.  Two of the thieves were in a Ford, and the passenger turned off the headlights causing the driver to go into a ditch, killing himself.  The cops arrested the passenger.  The other two accomplices were in a Pontiac that was stopped by State Police a little later.  The passenger, who identified himself as Lawrence Ryan, talked the pair out of the situation.  Two days later the driver turned himself in.  After finding a set of golf clubs, letters, a driver’s license and draft notice in the trunk of the Pontiac, the police were convinced that Lawrence Ryan was really LaVerne Moore of Syracuse. 

Five days later the police went to Moore’s house and talked to his mother.  She said her son had left the day after the robbery and had no idea where he was.  In fact, no one did; Moore had just disappeared. 

YOU CAN RUN BUT YOU CAN’T HIDE   When New York State Police inspector John Cosart saw the article about Montague in Time he was excited.  He had been working on the Hana case for seven years, waiting for the fourth robber to surface, and the similarities between Moore and Montague’s athletic prowess could not be coincidental.  He asked the Los Angeles Police Department for help, and John Montague was arrested and charged with armed robbery.  In jail he admitted that his real name was LaVerne Moore from Syracuse, New York.  He was released on $10,000 bail and signed the papers “John Montague,” giving “LaVerne Moore” as an alias.

Since he was no longer on the lam, Montague posed for photographs and answered reporters’ questions. He didn’t reveal anything personal; he just said he had made a mistake when he was a kid and had been trying to make good.  Montague’s celebrity friends were shocked to learn he was a fugitive and expressed their support.

Being wanted was not totally new to Montague.  Back in 1927 he was arrested for impersonating a police officer to a grocery store owner who sold alcohol during Prohibition.  He was trying to extort payments from the shopkeeper to keep mum about the liquor sales.  He agreed to plead guilty to a reduced charge and got off with paying a fine.

On August 21, 1937, Montague was extradited to New York.  When he arrived at Union Station in Los Angeles for the three-day trip, he had porters carrying 20 bags with his wardrobe, and there were a hundred people cheering him as he boarded the train. 

When he arrived in New York, Montague spent his 34th birthday in jail while the judge decided on bail.  The next day he was released on a $25,000 bond.  Montague hadn’t communicated with his mom in the seven years he was away, and he had told reporters that when he was released he would go directly to her house.  When the time came, however, he went to a cocktail party instead. 

HAVING HIS DAY IN COURT               People from all over the country were following the trial of the decade.  Additional phone lines had to be installed to accommodate the influx of reporters.  Montague stayed at the Deer’s Head Inn where he rented 17 rooms for himself, his lawyers and out of town friends.  Photos of Montague signing autographs for teenage girls outside the courtroom were published in papers nationwide. 

Witnesses for the prosecution included members of the Hana family, police officers, and Roger Norton, one of the convicted robbers.  The personal items found in the trunk of the Pontiac were entered as evidence.  Mrs. Hana and one daughter incriminated Montague saying they heard one of the robbers call another by the name of “Verne.” 

In his defense, Montague’s lawyer called four character witnesses and then his mom, who gave him an alibi.  She said her son was home sleeping in his bed on the night of the robbery and also the next night.  His two sisters corroborated their mother’s testimony, and a friend testified that he hit balls at the driving range with the defendant the night of the crime.  William Carlton, another one of the convicted accomplices in the robbery testified that Montague wasn’t the fourth partner and explained that his stuff was in the trunk of the car because they had taken a trip together and were planning another one.  And then, to everyone’s surprise, Montague took the stand on his own behalf, recounting the last seven years of his life.

After five hours of deliberation, the jury came back with a verdict of not guilty.  The crowd cheered when it was read.  The judge disagreed with the verdict and told the jury that he was disappointed they didn’t convict Montague.  Nevertheless, Montague’s celebrity status and expensive lawyer paid off, and he was a free man.

TRYING TO GET HIS LIFE BACK      On November 14, 1937 Montague was to play his first public exhibition match in a foursome with Babe Ruth and Babe Didrikson.  Unfortunately, it was not a fun match to play.  So many spectators showed up that Montague waited 15 minutes for the crowd to move back far enough so he could take his second shot on the first hole.  By the ninth hole, the players were ready to quit.  They all got their balls on the green and walked away without putting.  

A week later Montague, 34 years old, was back in Hollywood, overweight from too much partying.  He legally changed his name to John Montague and started playing competitively, but his game was not the same.  His friends tried to defend his reputation, but his high scores spoke louder.  He finally got Wilson Sporting Goods as a sponsor for a tour of exhibition games in Hawaii, the Philippines and Japan, but they dropped him when he returned to the States.

Montague secretly married the widow Esther Plunkett who had two kids.  This was one positive thing in his life, especially since she helped out with financial support, but his professional endeavors never lived up to their expectations.  He entered the U.S. Open but then didn’t make the cut.  He joined an investment opportunity with Johnny Weissmuller, John Wayne and Fred MacMurray but then sued them when it went bad. 

Montague’s life spiraled downhill after his wife died in 1947.  Within two years he was arrested for drunk driving and had a heart attack.  In 1963 he fell off a ladder and was in the hospital for seven weeks.  He had dozens of ideas to make money, but none of them ever panned out.  In May, 1972 Montague had another heart attack and died.  His body lay unclaimed in the mortuary for a week.  Finally a friend identified Montague and planned a funeral service that only 29 people attended.   

QUESTION:  Have you ever gotten away with something you knew you should have been punished for?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

Sources:

Montville, Leigh, The Mysterious Montague. New York: Doubleday, 2008.

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,882762-1,00.html

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,758136,00.html

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/montague-the-magnificent.html

QIU JIN (1875?—1907) Chinese Feminist

In Biography, Chinese history, Feminists, women on November 18, 2010 at 5:11 PM

Qiu Jin

When she was young, Qiu Jin fantasized about becoming an heroic figure in China.  She studied female historical personalities and aspired to emulate them in her own way.  Unfortunately, the Chinese society that Qiu Jin was born into conflicted with her ideals about women.  But Qiu would not let her spirit, her ambitions or her feet be bound, which ultimately cost her her life.

Being raised in a wealthy family gave Qiu an opportunity to be educated, and while her parents expected her to fulfill her destiny as a woman by becoming a wife and mother, they allowed her some leeway to express her individuality by doing things like sword fighting and riding horses.  

STUCK IN TRADITION                 When she was 19, Qiu’s father arranged for her to marry Wang Tingjun, the son of a wealthy merchant, who was much older.  She acquiesced and the couple had a son and a daughter.  Wang thought he was marrying a traditional girl, and he expected Qiu to behave as one, but Qiu couldn’t stand the confines of the relationship.  The children brought her little comfort, and she felt lonely and depressed.   

Qiu found her emotional outlet through writing poetry.  After she married, the themes of her verses shifted from nature, women’s activities and historical heroines to expressing loneliness and deep disappointment in her marriage.  She missed her birth family and wrote longingly about the past.

In 1898 the Boxer Rebellion broke out gainst the occupation of foreigners and spread of Christianity in China.  Two years later, The Boxers, also known as the Righteous and Harmonious Society Movement, attacked the foreign embassies in Peking.  This reignited in Qiu the ambition to serve her country and do something great.  Being bound in a conventional marriage was an obstacle to her following her passion, but not a deterrent. 

FOLLOWING HER PASSION       When she was 28, Qiu left her family behind to go to Japan to study.  She started wearing pants like men in the West and openly advocated for more rights for women.  She established a newspaper and used her writing as a platform to denounce foot binding and other practices that subjugated women and to support overthrowing the Chinese government. 

When Qiu returned to China in 1906, she started a feminist newspaper called Chinese Women which encouraged women to train for work in various professions to become financially independent.  The following year she became the principle of the Shaoxing Datong Sports Teachers School.  On the surface, it was a school for elementary school physical education teachers, but it was actually a place to train military leaders for the revolution.  Qiu and her cousin, Hsu His-lin, worked together to unify the various secret revolutionary groups to effectively overthrow the Manchu government.

In July 6, 1907, Hsu was betrayed by a traitor among his fellow rebels.  During interrogation he confessed his affiliation and was executed.  About a week later Qiu was also arrested, but she denied any involvement in the rebellion.  The authorities found incriminating documents, however, and she was immediately beheaded.

Six months after her death, two of Qiu’s friends arranged for a proper burial.  Qiu’s memorial service turned into a public protest.  The government had not become any more sympathetic to Qiu, and within a year, her tomb was razed.  Qiu’s two caring friends ended up being wanted by the government for their association with her.

QUESTION:  What was the most helpful or honorable thing you’ve ever done for a friend?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved 

Sources:

 

http://pagerankstudio.com/Blog/2010/07/all-about-qiu-jin-biography-life-facts-information-pictures-timeline-childhood/

http://www.shaoxing.gov.cn/en/0307/10350.htm

Ashby, Ruth and Ohrn, Deborah Gore, editors, Herstory: Women Who Changed the World.  New York, N.Y.: Viking, 1995.  Qiu Jin profile by Lynn Reese.

http://muse.jhu.edu/login?uri=/journals/late_imperial_china/v025/25.2ying.html