Monday, 26 September 2016

The First Queen Of Canadian Pairs Skating: The Frances Dafoe Story


"The nicest thing about figure skating is the wonderful people you meet. I have friends in many countries that I probably never would have met if it hadn't been for figure skating." - Frances Dafoe, January 23, 1956, "The Montreal Gazette"

Born December 17, 1929 in Toronto, Ontario, Frances Helen Dafoe Bogin was the daughter of Helen Parker Gibson and Dr. William Allan Dafoe, a prominent surgeon who had lettered in four sports at the University Of Toronto. Her uncle, Dr. Allan Roy Dafoe, was known for delivering and caring for the famous Dionne Quintuplets. An energetic and athletic youngster who excelled in synchronised swimming and diving, Frances started skating at the age of eight. Her parents originally put her on the ice so that she could burn off some steam with no designs of her ever being a competitive skater, but she was soon identified as one of the Toronto Skating Club's most promising young talents. Sidelined early on for two years after breaking both ankles, it was the club's lavish carnivals that drew her back to the ice.

Interestingly, Frances' first big victory in the skating world wasn't even on the ice. When the Canadian Figure Skating Association decided to hold a contest to select a new design for medals for the Canadian Championships in 1950, the high school student entered and won. "There had been an open competition for the design of this medal and when I won I was awarded the princely sum of $100.00," she recalled in a memoir written in the late nineties. "I don't know who was more surprised - my teachers, at Central Technical School, one of whom was the great artist Doris McCarthy, or me. I was so pleased that one of the judges was photographer Yousuf Karsh. The old medal was based on a sculpture of a great Canadian skater, judge and official - Norman Mackie Scott, one of Canada's skating pioneers. The new medal was a winged blade resting on a branch of laurel, the Greek symbol of victory. A branch of laurel is also used today, on the ISU's World Figure Skating Championship medals." Frances' design remained in use by the CFSA until 1987.

Frances, Norris and a really adorable furry fan

Frances teamed up with Norris Bowden in 1950 shortly after their engagement. Prior to their pairing, she had been a singles skater, but her injury forced her to focus on ice dancing. Winning the Waltz title at the 1950 Canadian Championships at the Winter Club of St. Catharines, the duo became the first recipients of the very medals that Frances had designed. Coach Sheldon Galbraith convinced the duo to give pairs skating a try. They were an unusual pairing - he an engineering student; her a designer... left brain meets right. Their on again, off again off-ice romance and 'artistic differences' often led to stormy on-ice disagreements, soothed by Galbraith's firm but compassionate guidance. Frances and Norrie trained six hours a day at Toronto Skating Club rink, the Varsity Arena and at Schumacher in the summers.

Photo courtesy Elaine Hooper, the National Ice Skating Association Archives

Throughout her competitive career, Frances balanced her on-ice training with Norris with her studies at Branksome Hall. She also designed wedding dresses for Eaton's Department Store - who in turn made her skating costumes in their workroom from her designs - as well as costumes and program covers for Toronto Skating Club carnivals, pins for tests and the crest for the CFSA's international team. Frances' passion for fashion made her and Norris stand out on the ice at a time when many of her competitors were costumed in black and white. "During our time we did take a daring step," she recalled. "For our exhibitions, Norrie and I were dressed alike in bright colours - blue, bright yellow, and white outfits trimmed with cerise. Norrie wore matching boot covers, which at this time was very different."

Up, up and away - Frances and Norris in action!

Frances and Norris were true pioneers in pairs skating. They introduced the twist lift, throw jump, catch lift, pressure lift, overhead lasso lift, hip Axel lift, the Axel into a partner's arms, the leap of faith and many other elements to the skating vocabulary. Frances credited the ballroom dance team of Blanche and Alan Lund for assisting her and Norrie with their lifting technique. Norris was some eight inches taller than Frances, making a lot of these movements - termed "too athletic" by the skating establishment - possible. "We were always criticized for being too athletic," recalled Frances. "We also introduced changes of musical speed and interpreted different types of music. Sheldon Galbraith, our coach, remembers with great amusement, one of our club members coming up to him and saying, 'mood spelled backward is doom'... We were major contributors to the 'illegal lift' section in our present day ISU and CFSA rulebooks but at least we broke the old fashioned pair rigidity."


In 1952, Frances and Norris won the Canadian pairs, ice dance, Waltz and Tenstep titles in Oshawa at the Canadian Championships and skated to top five finishes at both the Winter Olympic Games and World Championships. Over the next four years, they amassed another five Canadian titles in pairs, Waltz and Tenstep, two North American pairs titles and four medals at the World Championships - two of them gold - and the 1956 Olympic silver medal. The team's loss at those Winter Games in Cortina d'Ampezzo was a crushing blow. They earned more points than the Austrian team of Sissy Schwarz and Kurt Oppelt and tied them in first place votes, but the Austrians earned more second place votes than the Canadians... and the gold medal. Norris recalled, "The most disappointing moment is when you know you have done the best you could possibly ever do, and it hasn't been recognized. We wanted that gold medal so badly." The result was highly controversial at the time. More than once, there were loud whispers about funny business when it came to the judging of the competitions the Canadians entered overseas in Europe.

Frances and Norris - better known to friends as Frannie and Norrie

On top of dealing with behind the scenes judging intrigue, the first Canadian pair to win a World title accomplished this with next to zero financial or moral support from the CFSA, who placed very little faith in the talented Toronto twosome. "It was trying time for Canadian skaters," Frances recalled. "We were all blazing new trails, whether it was altitude training (Sheldon along with Barbara Ann Scott, and my father Dr. William A. Dafoe were the only people who thoroughly understood this problem), equipment difficulties, ice conditions, blade sharpening (to handle different kinds of ice conditions which changed daily); availability of knowledgeable coach/trainers; experienced judges; the necessity of massage after outdoor training to keep the muscles pliant, suitable costumes, lack of funds (The CFSA gave us our airfare after we won the World Championship and the Toronto Skating Club gave us $150.00. Sheldon gave up his income for two weeks each year to accompany us and my father paid for his transportation and living expenses); and last but not least a skating association with little or no understanding of the European climate - political or otherwise."


Frances and Norris called it a day at twenty six and twenty nine following the 1956 World Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany and ended up remaining very close friends despite calling off their engagement. After overcoming a very messy, public spat with the CFSA in 1958 that saw both her and Norris suspended as members for a time, Frances divided her time between costume design and judging. She took commercial art and fashion courses at the Central Technical School and draping and fabric courses at the Parsons School of Design in New York. Turning down an offer to work for Arnold Scaasi, she designed costumes for the CBC for close to forty years. She was responsible for the imaginative costumes worn in Toller Cranston's television specials and her work for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, the Charlottetown Festival, the folk dance troupe Les Feux-Follets and the 1981 film "Movie Magic" with magician Doug Henning was highly acclaimed. In 1988, she was responsible for creating over six hundred costumes for the Closing Ceremonies of the Winter Olympic Games in Calgary, Alberta. She also created costumes for Kurt Browning, Brian Orser, Scott Hamilton, Liz Manley, Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler, Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov, Katarina Witt and countless others. Balancing a hectic work schedule with marriage and motherhood, she always found time for her family. Most of her design work was done away from the chaos of the television studio, late at night in her home studio.

Of all of Frances' incredible work in costuming, many will remember Toller Cranston's television special "Strawberry Ice" best. World Professional Champion John S. Rait recalled, "I first met Frances as a skater working on 'Strawberry Ice'. Her attention to detail and creative flare was evident in everything she did." On the beloved production, Frances remarked, "I felt very strongly that I was the right costume designer for this project as I fully understood what they were trying to accomplish and wanted to be part of the creative process... It was the challenge of a lifetime. It was a joy to be part of such a free thinking team where everyone respected each others uniqueness and talent.... The Strawberry Queen's costume was great fun to make. The skirt was made of layers of quilted petals, each dyed by hand starting with pale pink and increasing in tone to dark red. These petals resembled strawberries with small mirrors, rim set to look like small seeds. The bodice was boned to a period shape and made of lightweight pink spandex with a silk collar trimmed with ruching. This whole creation was put over a spring steel hoop with a long silk georgette ruffle around the bottom. As Sarah Kawahara (the Queen) moved, in her long dress it slowly disappeared leaving a saucy leotard of hot pink sequins with a skirt of silk green ribbons and hand made miniature strawberries of red, orange and hot pink."

Delaying the start of her international judging career to allow Norris to move up the ladder as they were not permitted to be on the same panel, she eventually judged countless national, international and professional competitions, including the pair events at the 1984 World Championships and 1994 Winter Olympic Games. She retired from judging in the mid-nineties. In a March 2, 1990 interview with Laurie Nealin for "The Globe And Mail", she admitted, "When I was a competitor I thought, 'those lucky judges, all they have to do is go to a World Championship and hold up marks. Now that I'm a judge, [I realize] it was really easier when I was competing. You sit up up there thinking, 'those kids have spent so many years getting here. Please, dear God, give me the wisdom to judge well'." A year and a month after that interview, she said goodbye to Norris, her former partner who had been as much of a support during her judging career as when the duo was skating together.

Frances was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall Of Fame in 1955, the Canadian Olympic Hall Of Fame in 1958, the World Figure Skating Hall Of Fame in 1984, the Order Of Ontario in 1990 and the Order Of Canada in 1991. In 1992, she earned the Confederation Medal and in 1993, she was inducted into the CFSA (Skate Canada) Hall Of Fame. In 2002, she earned the Golden Jubilee Medal. She was nominated for several Gemini awards for costume design and won Golden Gate and Prix Anik awards for her work on "Strawberry Ice". In 2010, she was honoured by Branksome Hall with the Allison Roach Alumna Award.

A long-time believer in the importance of figure skating history, Frances penned the gorgeous 2011 book "Figure Skating And The Arts", hands down one of the most thorough and well-researched books detailing figure skating's history in recent years. Later in life, she split her time between residences in Toronto and Jupiter, Florida. Predeceased by her second husband in April, Frances passed away at the age of eighty six on September 23, 2016 in Toronto. If you looked up the words "someone who left the figure skating world better than they found it", Frances Dafoe's picture should be right there.

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, 24 September 2016

A Virtuoso From Vienna: The Edi Rada Story


"From Mr. Rada I learned about discipline and what hard work was all about." - Karen Magnussen, "Karen: The Karen Magnussen Story", 1973

Born September 13, 1922 in Vienna, Austria, Edi Rada first took to the ice at the Engelmann ice rink. By the age of nine, he had caught the eye of Rudolf Kutzer, a prominent Viennese coach who had also discovered a young Karl Schäfer at the age of eleven. Under Kutzer's tutelage, Edi won the juvenile championship of Vienna at the age of eleven, the Hilde Holovsky Memorial Championship at twelve and the Austrian junior men's title at thirteen. By the age of fifteen, he was the runner-up in the Austrian senior men's championship behind World Champion Felix Kaspar and finished seventh at both the 1938 European Championships in St. Moritz and the 1938 World Championships in Berlin.

Left: Hannea Nierenberger und Edi Rada; Right: Martha Musilek, Edi Rada, Emmy Putzinger and Hertha Wächtler

When Felix Kaspar retired, Edi succeeded him as Austrian Champion and placed a strong fourth at both the 1939 European and World Championships behind Henry Graham Sharp, Freddie Tomlins and Horst Faber. With the annexation of Austria into Germany by the Nazis during World War II, Rada reigned as the 'Ostmark' champion through the early war years and even earned a medal for roller skating. During this period, he also won domestic skating competitions in Poland and Switzerland.


Edi was well known for his excellence in school figures and showed great attack in his free skating performances. In his book "Dick Button On Skates", his rival Dick Button recalled, "His style was wild and frequently forceful in the typically European manner of free skating." During the War, Edi's father made ends by working as a hairdresser. His parents later invested in the laundry business. Edi focused on skating... and it paid off.

Edi Rada, Emmy Putzinger and Ilse and Erich Pausin

When major international figure skating resumed in 1948, twenty five year old Edi won the bronze medal at both the European Championships and Winter Olympic Games behind Dick Button and Hans Gerschwiler. At the World Championships that followed in Davos, he had ordinals in the school figures that ranged from second to sixth but withdrew after performing one Axel in free skate due to skate problems.

Hans Gerschwiler, Dick Button and Edi Rada on the podium. Photo courtesy Marcel Rada.


Eva Pawlik and Edi Rada. Photo courtesy Dr. Roman Seeliger.

Determined to take one last stab at defeating Dick Button in 1949 following Gerschwiler's retirement, Edi entered the European Championships in Milan, Italy. In the school figures, he defeated Hungary's Ede Király in a three-two split. In free skating, the Hungarian and Austrian judges tied the two skaters, the Norwegian judge gave first place to Király and the Czechoslovakian and Italian judges opted for Rada. The gold medal was his! Unfortunately, at the World Championships that followed in Paris, he narrowly lost the silver medal to Király by one placement point.

Still from Norm Pelkey video of Vancouver Skating Club's 1953 "Stars On Ice" carnival. Courtesy City of Vancouver Archives.

Edi called it a day and turned professional. He toured North America for a year with the Ice Capades but found that "show business" wasn't for him. In 1952, he accepted a job coaching at the Hamilton Skating Club in Ontario. After two winters, he was offered a position at the Cricket Club in Toronto but turned it down, instead choosing to head west and accept a position at the Vancouver Skating Club, where he worked from 1953 in 1959. In 1957, he married his lovely wife Beverly, whom I had the pleasure of speaking with in August. "My husband was a very, very good teacher and very dedicated to teaching and very dedicated to putting Vancouver on the map. He loved Vancouver very much," Mrs. Rada explained.


In September 1960, Edi was hired as the first club professional at the newly built North Shore Winter Club in North Vancouver. His students included a who's who of British Columbian greats: Jay Humphry, Betty and John McKilligan, Cathy Lee Irwin, Linda Villella, Gary and Neil Paterson and Karen Magnussen. Quoted in the book "Karen: The Karen Magnussen Story", Edi recalled working with a young Karen thusly: "She had already passed her first test, and was working on her second when she came to me. She was a chubby girl compared to her friend Cathy Lee Irwin, who was sort of skinny. They were both cute youngsters. Both had talent, sure - but at eight years of age, who can tell? Karen was, I suppose, better than anyone else we had at North Shore, except of course, Cathy Lee, Cynthia Titcombe - who was a bit older - and one or two others. But Karen developed very well in the next four years, and at the end of that time there was no question about her potential." At times, Edi - a notoriously tough coach who got results - and Karen's mother butted heads. When he returned to Austria for a holiday in the spring of 1964, Mrs. Magnussen hired Linda Brauckmann to coach her daughter.

Mrs. Rada acknowledged her husband's reputation. "He was tough," she explained. "He wasn't an easy person to work with. Everything you had to give, he demanded it because he was willing to give it himself. You give and you give back and that's the way it was. Even if at times he was most miserable, I think his students would all agree it didn't matter because they knew he was for them. He was for all of them." In fact, he was even 'for' skaters who weren't his own. One of the skaters he greatly admired was Toller Cranston. Mrs. Rada explained, "Toller Cranston didn't skate with Edi but we were good friends with Toller because he skated with Hellmut May over in Kerrisdale. He was always with Mrs. Burka but when you came to competitions you always had to have a crew and Mrs. Burka wasn't always here and so Dr. May stepped in for her. Toller was just wonderful."


And so was Edi. He was an honorary member of Austrian Figure Skating Association and was declared Sportsman of the Year by the Austrian Marathon Committee. Zdenka Nererová, who requested I do a piece on Edi and so graciously put me in touch with his son Marcel recalled, "I visited him and his family and in Vancouver... He came to see our performance which we gave there in the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. We were on a three very long tours in U.S.A. and Canada with the famous and best ensemble from my country. I was soloist-dancer and dance teacher and assistant of the chief choreographer in it. The name is Lúcnica - Slovak National Folklore Ballet. Mr. Rada was [a] very nice man. Full of life and friendship. I knew very good his mother too. She lived in Vienna. She came very often to see my parents and me to Bratislava. Very nice time. She was a very nice person too." Off the ice, Edi enjoyed all athletics, especially tennis, and took great interest in his student's lives after their competitive days ended. Many of them went on to become elite level coaches themselves.

In his late sixties, Edi retired from coaching. "He was very ill," recalled Mrs. Rada. "He wasn't in good health even though he was athletic; a sportsman. I think he was tired. After a while, I think the body wears down... even for an athlete. He had heart problems and then a stroke and then he died." Many years have passed since Edi Rada left this world on July 13, 1997 but Mrs. Rada summarized it best when she said, "Skating was his life. It was his 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.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

The Cold War On Ice: Peggy Fleming Visits The Soviet Union


"We didn't have a single appointment. We had the names of people we should see and the structure of the organization from our research. They knew of Peggy, and their interest in sports is great. They seemed to be interested in the show from the moment we first started talking," said Dick Foster, the producer of "Peggy Fleming Visits The Soviet Union", a revolutionary 1973 Bell System Family Theatre production that united for the first time skaters from the Soviet Union and the United States... in the middle of The Cold War.

Foster was referring to an initial meeting between himself, executive Bob Banner and members of the State Committee of The USSR Council Of Ministers For Television And Radio in November 1972. The production would mark the very first time an American film crew ever worked in the Soviet Union. The next spring, Banner, Foster and Fleming returned to Moscow and within a week got all the permission they needed. They were ready to film... and film they did. With Fleming, who was treated like a movie star, they shot sixty thousand feet of tape in twenty seven hours, contending with an extreme language barrier. Much of the communication was done in German, as crew members on both sides didn't know each other's language and had to find common ground. Another challenge were the extreme temperatures in the many skating scenes filmed outdoors. The average temperature was thirteen below, with one scene on The Bay Of Finland filmed in seventeen below weather with harsh winds. The July 13, 1973 issue of the "Pittsburgh Post-Gazette" noted that during filming, "Miss Fleming dropped her heavy overcoat, rose up on the toes of her skates and suddenly let out a piercing scream as the bitter cold closed in on her. A second or two later, however, she was gliding, twirling and leaping across the smile, smiling a bright defiance to the elements."

The August 30, 1974 edition of "The Dispatch" noted the historical significance of this production and its countless 'firsts':

- the first co-production of an entertainment special by an American company and the USSR.
- the first filming of an American star performing in the Moscow Circus and with the Moscow Ice Ballet
- the first filming of the Kirov Ballet for United States television.
- the first time American and Soviet cameramen worked jointly on an entertainment production.
- the first filming for the United States TV of the Moscow Puppet Theatre.
- the first filming in a USSR recording studio.
- the first United States TV production ever scored in the USSR under the direction of an American conductor and using the Soviet Television and Radio Symphony Orchestra.
- the first such TV special to be telecast simultaneously in both the United States and the USSR (same day and local time.)
- the first TV filming within the Palace of Catherine the Great.
- the first filming of a musical production number on the frozen Bay of Finland.
- the first filming of the original Andreev Balalaika Orchestra for Western television.
- The first time Soviets have scheduled special performances for the exclusive purpose of filming portions of this special.

The production opened with a solo number by Fleming called "Midnight in Moscow" skated at the Yublani Stadium in Leningrad. She was next seen skating on a frozen reflecting pond adjacent the Palace of Catherine the Great, performing the "Festive Overture" with members of the Moscow State Ballet On Ice. Following her solos, Fleming visited Soviet soprano Lyudmila Senchina inside the Palace as she rehearsed a performance to "New Rochelle" from the Soviet version of "How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying" at the Leningrad Musical Theatre. Ludmila then sang Cher's "The Way Of Love" in Russian accompanied by the Leningrad Symphony Orchestra while Peggy skated another solo. A fourth solo set to "Two Guitars" on a lake adjacent to the Bogoroditse-Smolensky Monastery in Moscow followed. Peggy then played guest to Sergey Obraztsov's Puppet Theatre in Moscow where she was entertained by "Victoria Vibrato" and an all-puppet rock n' roll band called "Pop Art". The final two acts were an interpretation of "Swan Lake" with the Kirov Corps joining Vladimir Luzin of the Moscow Ice Ballet and Fleming on the icy Bay Of Finland near Leningrad and a duet to "Sweet Caroline" at the Moscow Circus where Fleming was paired by clown Andrei Nikolaev.


The production was simultaneously colorcast in the Soviet Union, United States and Canada on October 28, 1973. The title in North America was of course "Peggy Fleming Visits The Soviet Union" but according to Moscow television editor Irina Yevgrafova, the working title in the USSR was (translated) "Peggy Fleming: I Like It In Your Country". Recalling the production in the September 27, 1973 issue of the "Sarasota Herald-Tribune", Fleming said, "The American crew was very relaxed. They took their work seriously, but they had fun. The Russians were very businesslike, very tight. But after they started working together they relaxed and got to be real people. It was a wonderful thing to see." Americans and Russians getting along swimmingly in the height of The Cold War? It seems only fitting that the universal language of figure skating was what brought them together.

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, 20 September 2016

Skating On The Moorfields: London's Peerless Pool


The city of London, England wasn't exactly a clean place centuries ago. With nothing that even resembled sanitation, the streets were muddied with sewage. At best, bathing was a 'luxury' that was afforded to residents once or twice a year. When they did bathe, it was often in the Thames, the same place many dumped human waste and the remains of animals from butcher shops. They didn't even have soap. Ian D. Rotherham's book "Roman Baths in Britain" explains that on top of it all "water, and especially deep, cold water with undercurrents, was a potentially lethal hazard. The consequences of this risk and the increasing interest in summer swimming are noted in the annual Bills of Mortality. Here there are 104 'melancholy accidents' (ie. drownings) recorded for one year in the 1700s. By the mid-1700s there were purpose-built swimming pools available in London: the Bagnio in Lemon Street, and the Peerless Pool in Finsbury. The latter offered both hot and cold baths and was developed from a natural pool popular with swimmers in the 1600s, but regarded then as a dangerous place to bathe or swim. As it grew, the new facility offered swimming lessons, model boating, fishing, and in winter, ice skating."

Although many Londoners seeming aversion to both bathing and swimming probably kept many away from Peerless Pool, it was certainly a popular spot with many and I found a really interesting account of skating at Peerless Pool that I think you'll find fascinating! George Walter Thonbury and Edward Valford's "Old and new London: a narrative of its history, it's people and its places..." explains that in 1415, a part of the city wall "betwixt Bishopsgate and the postern called Cripplesgate, to Finsbury, and to Holywell" was broken down by the orders of then mayor Thomas Falconer and the area called Moorgate became accessible for citizens to walk upon causeways to Iseldon and Hoxton. When the wall came down, Moorgate and Peerless Pool became accessible to London residents for not only swimming and bathing... but also skating when Dutch engineers were employed to drain the fens and brought their skates in tow.

Thornbury and Valford's book gives the account of Fitzstephen the monk who "describes Moorfields as the general place of amusement for London youth. Especially, he says, was the Fen frequented for sliding in winter-time, when it was frozen. He then mentions a primitive substitute for skates. 'Others there are,' he says, 'still more expert in these amusements; they place certain bones - the leg-bones of animals - under the soles of their feet, by tying them round their ankles, and then taking a pole shod with iron into their hands, they push themselves forward by striking it against the ice, and are carried on with a velocity equal to the flight of a bird, or a bolt discharged from a cross-bow." The monk describes the area that people skated as "the great Fen or Moor which watereth the walls of the City on the north side." The third edition of the "London Encyclopaedia" notes how Peerless Pond got its name, which asserts the areas reputation as dangerous: "It had originally been known as 'Perillous Pond because divers youths by swimming therein have been drowned.'"

Where's Peerless Pond today? Simply put, gone. In 1805, Joseph Watts had the fishing pond on the Peerless Pond site drained and built Baldwin Street. The swimming, bathing and skating pond area was closed in 1850 and built over. If you go to London today, Peerless Street marks the northern boundary of the pond and Bath Street the western one. London's first outdoor public swimming pool - and consequently one of its first outdoor skating rinks - may be no more, but that's not to say there aren't some pretty cool places to skate in the city. The Tower Of London, anyone?

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.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

The Henie Heists


They say that sometimes wealth can be a curse and no one knew that better than three time Olympic Gold Medallist and ten time World Champion Sonja Henie. As savvy a businessperson as she was a sensational skater, Sonja lived a life of luxury after turning professional in 1936. Dressed to the nines both on and off the ice, she had champagne taste and the budget to back it up. Unfortunately, when you're dolled up in furs and dripping in diamonds, you put a bit of a target on your back and what many don't know is that the well-to-do skating queen was a persistent target of thieves.

On Boxing Day, 1944, Sonja's summer beach home in the Hamptons was broken into. The Norwegian ice queen wasn't home at the time but a number of her personal effects were stolen. The break and enter and theft was investigated by Trooper Roche of the New York State Police and cooperating with Henry Resling and Kenneth Hoffman of New York State Police and the U.S. Coast Guard's Intelligence Service, the two culprits were apprehended only two days later. They both turned out to be members of the U.S. Coast Guard. Their names were never released to the media by police and they were dealt with by the Coast Guard. This would be prove to be only the first in a string of increasingly unnerving robberies that Sonja would face.

At around one thirty in the morning on January 28, 1949, Sonja was at Madison Square Garden in New York City, winding down after a standing room only show. Meanwhile at her apartment suite at the Hotel Pierre, her mother awoke to discover that Sonja's adjoining suite had been burglarized. She contacted local police and the case was turned over to Detective John Conlan at East 51st Street police station. Upon her return to the hotel, Sonja reported that two fur coats valued at thirty eight thousand dollars were stolen. She estimated the value of her platina mink at twenty eight thousand dollars and her wild ranch mink at ten thousand. Curiously, the thieves didn't touch her jewelry. The January 28, 1949 issue of the "Long Island-Star-Journal" reported, "Police said they had not determined how the burglars had entered the hotel suite. There was no evidence of forced entry. They expressed surprise that two fur coats could be carried through the corridor and lobby of the swank hotel without arousing suspicion." Society page columnist Alice Hughes hypothesized that it was an inside job. Walter Winchell snarked in his February 7, 1949 gossip column that Sonja was seen dining at Howie's "in last year's Ermine." How uncivilized, right?

Less than six months later on June 6, 1949, Sonja got robbed again. A truck en route from her midtown hotel suite to an air freight terminal was filled with luggage she was having shipped to California. When the truck stopped at a traffic light, it was held up and broken into. The thieves made off with three suitcases, which reportedly contained a few sables, a scarf, a stole and several gowns. 

Fed up of being targeted at this point, Sonja decided to start fighting back. In his May 23, 1952 "Earl Wilson's Broadway" column, Harvey Earl Wilson wrote, "Once in Hollywood, Sonja knew in advance that she was to be robbed at a given hour. She (and police with shotguns) waited for the robbers, who didn't arrive. Sonja had stayed home from a party just to be robbed, and was pretty disgusted with the robbers for not coming. 'Next time I hope the robbers will be more dependable people,' she said. Her movie makeup man, who was picking her up the morning after the robbery that wasn't, almost got killed by the police whom Sonja'd forgotten to tell about him." 

If that story wasn't dramatic enough for you, wait until you hear about the final time the thieves went after her! On June 6, 1953, Sonja awoke in her Eaton Square apartment in London, England around 4:30 AM to find a young man staring at her from the foot of her bed. She screamed bloody murder, hopped up and threw on a black robe - and with a Henie "heeeeell, no" one presumes - proceeded to chase him down the road in her bare feet. Her cook joined her in her pursuit all the way to the square, but the two women lost their assailants, ran back to Sonja's apartment, locked the doors and called the bobbies. Quoted in the June 6, 1953 issue of the "Spokane Daily Chronicle", Sonja admitted, "It happened so fast I didn't know what I was doing. I was so stunned." The thieves got her good this time, too. The most valuable item taken was an Aleutian mink coat worth sixteen thousand, eight hundred dollars. They also walked away with a seven thousand dollar ermine coat, a three and a half thousand dollar mink jacket, two gold compacts and some three hundred pounds. London's finest 
visited a house in Westminster, where they recovered two of her coats on the grounds. The police believed the thief threw the items over the railings of this house into a basement area when they were fleeing on foot. As an aside, I know it's not nice to make fun of a burglary victim but the idea of Sonja Henie chasing a thief down the road, barefoot in a bath robe is a pretty comical mental picture. I wouldn't have screwed with her, that's for sure!

After this final robbery, the insurance companies had enough of her bad luck and seeming inability to safely stow away valuables in hotel safes. They raised her rates through the roof. In her column in the June 17, 1955 issue of "The Chicago Tribune", Hedda Hopper wrote, "Movie stars don't carry their own packages, so Sonja Henie just walked off the plane leaving her jewel case behind. She came near losing it and not a stone was insured." One has to wonder if Sonja really just wasn't meant to have nice things.

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, 15 September 2016

The 1931 Australian Figure Skating Championships

The Sydney Glaciarium. Photo courtesy the State Library of New South Wales.

In order to understand the significance of the 1931 Australian Figure Skating Championships, let's start with a quick Australian figure skating history lesson! Early in the history of the country's development of the sport, each city 'down under' played by their own rules. There were rivalling Glaciariums (ice rinks) in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, each with their own skaters, coaches, judges and competitions. Skaters from Victoria and New South Wales even had completely different systems for their bronze, silver and gold tests.

The National Ice Skating Association of Australia had been established in 1911 by Claude Langley and Barney Allen. Melbourne embraced it; Sydney opposed it vehemently and continued to do things their own way for a good twenty years. A year before Australia became a member of the ISU, Langley set to work revamping the NISAA's structure and radio pioneer and skating instructor Charles Maclurcan, a former champion at the original NISAA's national competition in 1914, took on the role of the newly united organization's presidency. Maclurcan played a major role in bringing together the rivalling factions and skating clubs from Victoria and New South Wales and organizing the first official Australian Figure Skating Championships, held at the Sydney Glaciarium in late August 1931.

Judges and officials at the 1931 Australian Championships. Standing (left to right): R.E. Jefferies, Jack Gordon, Frank Mercovich, Robert Croll; Seated (left to right): Ramsay Salmon, Charles Maclurcan, Fannie Salmon, Cyril MacGillicuddy

I found a delightfully detailed account of this long forgotten moment in Australian figure skating history in the Wednesday, September 2, 1931 of "The Referee": "The opening event of the meeting was the waltzing championship, and in this Miss P. Turner and Mr. R.E. Jackson (Victoria) gave a splendid exhibition to earn the judge's decision. Another Victorian pair, Miss W. Thackeray and Dr. C.F. MacGillicuddy, were second, while the third place was shared by Miss E. Salmonow and Mr. J.G. Gordon (Victoria) and Miss K. Kennedy and Mr. H. Moore (N.S.W.). Victoria was again in the fore in the pair championship. The winners, Miss A. Maxwell and Mr. R.E. Jackson were brilliant, their exhibition being the finest ever seen on the Sydney rink. N.S.W. was well represented in this event by Miss M. Greenland and Mr. S. Croll, who gained second place. Their performance was very good. Miss Thackeray and Dr. MacGillicuddy filled third place for Victoria. The men's championship devolved into a tussle between the two Victoria entrants, Mr. J.G. Gordon and Mr. J.F. Mercovich, the former winning by a narrow margin. The event was conducted in two sections - figures and free skating. Mercovich led on the figures, which were taken first, but Gordon took the honors with the free skating, at the same time securing a winning points margin. Had Mercovich's free skating been of a reasonably good standard, he would have won well. Third place was filled by S. Croll (N.S.W.). The remaining event on the programme devolved into a figure-skating competition for ladies, N.S.W. scoring its only success, per medium of Miss M. Reid. Miss Thackeray (Victoria) was second, and Mrs. J. Benn (N.S.W.) third."

I can't say I appreciated the description of the competition 'devolving' into a figure skating competition for women, but it was 1931 and as we know, pervasive attitudes about women skating alone without a man at her side to rescue her still existed in certain parts of the world. It is interesting to note that many of the participants also acted as judges and officials in disciplines they were not participating in, a testament to the small, close-knit skating community in Australia at the time. It was a wonderful surprise to stumble upon this little nugget of coverage of this rare milestone of figure skating down under and I look forward to sharing more Aussie skating history in the months to come!

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, 13 September 2016

Mrs. Ellen Burka: Candor From A Canadian Figure Skating Legend


"She makes you want to skate, she takes skating for what it is, dishes out discipline when it's needed and makes you enjoy the whole idea of skating." - Dennis Coi, "Canadian Skater" magazine, Fall 1979

Coach, choreographer, mother, Dutch figure skating champion and Holocaust survivor Mrs. Ellen Burka passed away September 12, 2016 at the age of ninety five. She coached her daughter Petra to the 1964 Olympic bronze medal and 1965 World title, dear friend Toller Cranston to Olympic, World, North American and Canadian podiums and revolutionized the sport with her passion for artistry, proper skating technique and pushing the boundaries. During her incredible career, she guided a who's who of figure skating to the top. In 1966, she was the proud coach of both the Canadian men's and women's champion. Dorothy Hamill, Jay Humphry, Linda (Carbonetto) Villella, Heather Kemkaran, Tracey Wainman, Elvis Stojko, Karen Preston, Janet Morrissey, Dennis Coi, Christopher Bowman, Sandra and Val Bezic, Lucinda Ruh, Patrick Chan, Jacqueline Petr and Mark Janoschak, Jamie Lynn Kitching-Santee and countless, countless others all benefited from her expertise at one point or another.

Sheldon Galbraith and Mrs. Ellen Burka

In 1992, Mrs. Burka was inducted into the CFSA (Skate Canada) Hall Of Fame; four years later the Canadian Sports Hall Of Fame. Incredibly, somehow she has never been inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall Of Fame. If you haven't made the time yet to watch her daughter Astra's wonderful documentary "Skate To Survive", you need to. If you haven't listened to Paul Dore's fantastic two-part interview with her on Open Kwong Dore, now is the time. It can't be overstated what an impact this phenomenal woman made on the sport and no one could possibly do her story justice as she did in her own words in these interviews. For that reason, instead of trying to tackle her story, I decided to cull together a fascinating collection of quotes from Mrs. Burka that offer a window into her thoughts on skating, her students and her life.

ON SCHOOL FIGURES

"Sure it's boring, but it has a certain charm once you do it well. It's an intriguing thing to try to get perfect figures." - "The Ottawa Citizen", January 4, 1974

"There are other ways to teach skating basics, other ways to learn edges and turns without spending four hours every day doing figures on a small patch of ice... Four hours on ice with their necks hanging down and their arms held stiffly at their sides leaves skaters cripples. They're too stiff and that hurts their free-skating training." - "The Globe And Mail", March 2, 1990

ON HOCKEY

"I think the first two year's of any kid's life should spent learning to skate before they even touch a stick." - "The Montreal Gazette", April 2, 1975

ON THE LAST TIME SHE SAW HER PARENTS BEFORE THEY WERE SENT TO WESTERBORK CONCENTRATION CAMP

"I saw my parents standing in the cattle car. I waved to them. My mother went inside. My father stayed there. And then I left. I went back and dug peat moss... You lived with it. It was either your turn or not. It wasn't my turn." - "National Post", October 15, 2013

ON TOLLER CRANSTON... NOT LONG AFTER HIS BOOKS CAME OUT

"He was a very nice young man. But the more and more he got up and up and up, he became very involved in his own self-ness, how adored he was. It changed him. When he became too big about himself, he became difficult." - "The Ottawa Citizen", October 2, 2001


ON TRACEY WAINMAN

"I really had to keep an eye on her. The day before the competition, Tracey said to me, 'I'm tired, I'm tired,' so I said, 'Go to bed early tonight and have a good sleep.' At midnight, I went past her room to check up, and I heard voices. So I knocked on the door, and finally Tracey opens it. There were bottles everywhere, so I said, 'Where is he?' I found him behind the shower curtain." - "Toronto Life", April 2006

"She's one person who will be able to look back on her career one day and say she truly enjoyed it." - "The Toronto Star", February 5, 1986

ON THE SAALFELD FRAGRANCE VIALS FROM THE TITANIC WRECK

"As far as I can tell, those are my vials, and I haven't seen them yet... Now, if I want to see them, I am told that I have to pay for a ticket to get into the travelling exhibition, which is in Manchester right now... If there is any kind of legal action, it won't be resolved while I'm alive. It would be nice to smell them one more time. I remember my uncle's perfumes. My mother used to wear them, and they would leave stains on her clothes because they were made naturally, with the flower oils... I love good perfumes. I am totally addicted to perfume." - "National Post", November 13, 2004

ON TRIXI SCHUBA

"I don't think anyone has been that good in school figures in the past 20 years. She has this fantastic ability to block everything out when she's skating - many top skaters can't do that, they get very nervous in front of the crowd." - "The Montreal Gazette", February 2, 1973

ON CHRISTOPHER BOWMAN

"Christopher has several personalities. One is very likeable. Another is very irresponsible... His behaviour has been very erratic and out of control." - "The Toledo Blade", February 14, 1992

"He's a charmer, he's a genius, but his attention span is worse than my dog, Monty. He got into trouble here, and he's been in trouble since he was 14, growing up in Hollywood." - "The New York Times", April 1, 1993

ON A PARENT COACHING THEIR OWN CHILD

"They should coach while they're working at the sport. At the moment they go home they should be a parent. The coach should not be taken into the house." - "The Vancouver Sun", November 14, 1987

ON KAREN PRESTON

"This was her dream, since she was a little girl, to skate at the Olympics and she's had to fight hard to make it come true. That's why I agreed when she asked if I'd take her on and continue through 1992. I saw her as a scrapper, a person who won't accept defeat. I thought I was finished with coaching but for me, Karen Preston represented something I needed, to get the old fires burning again. It woke me up, sort of. She's been good for me... Any coach would love Karen Preston. The girl really persevered to get where she wanted to go. I'm happy for her because she earned it. And I'm happy for myself because I'm able to be part of it at a time when I thought I was history - ancient history." - "The Toronto Star", January 28, 1992

ON HER ADVICE TO A YOUNG ELVIS STOJKO

"Learn the triples. It's of the utmost importance. The artistry you can learn later." - "The Edmonton Journal", February 11, 1994

ON COACHING PETRA

"It has to be a really cold day before her feet go numb but I've found a way to get the circulation back. All we have to do is stick them in a pail of hot water before she has to skate and she gets the feeling right back in her legs." - "The Montreal Gazette", February 3, 1966

"My relationship to my daughter was very good. Petra was very low key and very talented. She was the easiest student I ever had. It was a very unusual situation. When I look back, I don't know how we did it." - "The Vancouver Sun", November 14, 1987



Rest in peace, Mrs. Burka. You have left figure skating much, much better than you found it.

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, 10 September 2016

Earthquakes, Fires And Figure Eights: San Francisco Skating History

In the infamous words of Sophia Petrillo, "Picture it... January 17, 1888". Citizens of Portland, Oregon came to terms with an unusual blast of West Coast winter. Snowflakes fluttered down from the sky. No trains were expected from the east over the Northern Pacific Railroad; the Oregon Short Line trains were nearly two days behind schedule. The air was brisk. However, the biggest shock as residents looked out their windows that morning was that the Willamette and Columbia rivers were blocked with ice. Even more unusually, further down the coast, residents of San Francisco, California got was perhaps their first taste of ice skating. The Wednesday, January 18, 1888 edition of the Los Angeles Daily Herald reported that "Tuesday for the first time in many years, perhaps for the first time on record there was skating in San Francisco. A small party enjoyed a couple of hours skating on the pond at Golden Gate Park this morning." The Friday, January 20, 1888 edition of The Democrat too believed that January 17, 1888's ice skating party might have been "the first, perhaps, in the history of the city."

It would be some years before 'fancy' ice skating would catch on in the city (owing largely to the climate) but the roller skating craze of the late nineteenth century was in full force in California. In fact, roller skates even played an important and unusual role during the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco 7.8 earthquake and fire that destroyed over eighty percent of the city and killed three thousand people. The March 24, 1912 issue of the San Francisco Sunday Call explained that "The Mechanics' pavilion, then a famous roller skating rink, was destroyed, and the large stock of skates distributed far and wide. Many people used them, fastened to the bottom of heavy packages, as carriages to move their belongings along the street. Thus the roller skate has demonstrated its usefulness in times of stress, as it ever does in more happy moments."


When the city started to rebuild, it wasn't long at all before San Francisco, California recognized the virtues of real figure skating on ice. Only three years after the earthquake and fire, The National Theater in San Francisco played host to one of the state's first ice shows. The Sunday, October 10, 1909 edition of The San Francisco Call reported that "one of the most important offerings in vaudeville will be presented this afternoon at the National theater when [Isabella] Butler and Edward Bassett, champion skaters, will appear in fancy skating on ice. Besides being unusual to see a pond of frozen water on the stage, the exhibition will disclose daring and fancy skating." Butler and Bassett's act caught on and stirred considerable interest. The Bisbee Daily Review on May 14, 1916 noted that several ice skating rinks had already been installed and interest in the city was considerable in starting up an ice hockey league in the Bay City.



It was during this era that the Portola-Louvre Café on Powell Street opened an ice rink for its customers that became wildly popular. In 1916, the Café Bristol in Los Angeles followed suit, installing a 26 X 60 foot tank for its patrons. The state better known for its stars than Salchows was slowly going skate crazy.


In the fall of 1932, the Skate and Ski Club of San Francisco formed, meeting twice a week at the New Iceland rink on Sutter and Pierce Streets in San Francisco. It was the first club from the Pacific Coast to be admitted to the United States Figure Skating Association. In May 1933, Helen Howes wrote in "Skating" magazine of competitions staged by the California Skating Association, which was not affiliated with the USFSA at the time. The first Pacific Coast Championships were held in Yosemite on January 25, 1936, with Eugene Turner and Mary Taylor emerging victorious.


During the thirties, an ice skating rink was installed in the southern section of the Sutro's Baths resort and became the San Francisco club's home. In her book "Indelible Tracings", Patricia Shelley Bushman offered a wonderful description of the rink: "Getting to the ice at Sutro's was an adventure. Skaters had to bypass the other pools, which had morphed into museums filled with Egyptian mummies, exotic birds, San Francisco memorabilia, and peculiar oddities and photographs from the late nineteenth century. Next came the daunting stairs. The rink was at the bottom of 140 steps, right next to the ocean. The large scenic windows were painted black so that the skaters would not be distracted by the majestic waves, seals basking in the sun, or the incredible view. The Zamboni ice machine shed its snow right on the beach. The ice was uneven at Sutro's because the proximity to the ocean caused constantly varying humidity; the ice tended to crack and the whole ice surface sloped, slanting down in one corner towards the ocean. The rink was noisy. Skaters were bombarded with shrill whistles from the nearby aviary and the roar of the ocean. 'On one stormy day,' a club member said, 'the waves beating against the rocks rose to such a height that they dashed against the windows and showered broken glass over one corner of the rink. However the glass was quickly swept up and the skaters went on about their business.' The skaters loved the space." The revenue from the skating club wasn't enough to keep Sutro's open. It was slated for demolition when it was destroyed in a 1966 fire. The ruins remain to this day and are notoriously reported to be haunted. And you know what? I think that's a great place to leave our reflection on San Francisco's early skating history... with the ghosts of the past.

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, 8 September 2016

The 1917 Hippodrome Challenge Cup


As a skating venue, New York City's Hippodrome Theater is probably best remembered by historians as the icy stage on which Germany's Charlotte Oelschlägel astonished American audiences. We recently revisited the Hippodrome when we recalled the lavish Dansants a Glace thrown by Mr. and Mrs. Irving Brokaw in the mid 1910's. Today we'll return and explore a largely forgotten competition held there that played an important role in American skating history.

For a time in the 1910's, The Hippodrome Challenge Cup was held annually. What made the event unique was that unlike the separate men's and women's singles events held during the era at the U.S. Championships, at the Hippodrome Challenge Cup both sexes were pitted against one another intentionally. Gender schmender... at the Hippodrome, it was about the best overall figure skater. In 1917, that skater just happened to be a woman.

The March 24, 1917 issue of The New York Tribune noted, "Miss Theresa Weld, of the Cambridge Skating Club of Boston stands today as the greatest amateur skater in this country, man or woman... competing against the best amateurs in the United States on the frozen stage of the Hippodrome. Nathaniel W. Niles, of Boston, and S.M. Lynes, of Brooklyn, generally recognized as the best of the men skaters, were forced to bow before the surpassing skill and grace of the girl from Boston, not only at the Continental Style of skating, but at the free figures. It was the first time in the last ten years, in any amateur or professional contest of any kind, that a woman had competed against and vanquished men." The article wasn't correct, as mixed sex competitions were common in Europe in Great Britain, Hungary and Austria during the era, but in North America, Weld's 1917 win was perhaps the first mention of a woman beating a man in head to head competition.

The progressive judges that gave credit where it was due were eminent men in the sport at the time: Irving Brokaw, James A. Cruikshank and George H. Browne. They were all pioneers in the sport in their own rights who had helped found clubs, penned books on the sport and had been instrumental in establishing the foothold of the Continental Style in America. The aforementioned article noted that "they were unanimous in their award of the championship to Miss Weld, although the contest between her and Niles and Lynes was a close one. It was when she finished her free skating exhibition that the judges decided in her favour... her technique being almost flawless and the easy grace with which she executed the most difficult of figures quite surpassing anything yet seen on the Hippodrome stage."

As if beating the men (including her pairs partner Niles) wasn't enough, Weld teamed up with A.M. Goodridge to compete in a waltzing competition held after the Challenge Cup, beating Niles and his partner Margaret Curtis in that event as well. Following the competition, professional star Charlotte Oelschlägel gave "a thrilling exhibition, while Annette Kellerman showed her versatility by making impromptu sketches of the contestants and distributing autographed copies as souvenirs."

The impression that Weld made at this competition was arguably a defining moment in opening the eyes of the American skating community to the fact that women were every bit as competitive as the men. By the next year at the same event, a reporter in The Bridgeport Times noted that the chance of any man unseating Weld "were very slim. In neither the school or free figures [do] the men skaters display the airy grace, delicate tracery and effortless movements shown by the women."

Had history taken a different trajectory, had the competition format of the Hippodrome Challenge Cup and the early days of the World Figure Skating Championships remained and men and women continued to compete against one another, what would the sport look like today? With the emphasis on points, on quadruple jumps, would fewer women be encouraged to take up the sport? Or would fewer men have taken to the ice, discouraged by losses to women? We'll never know.

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, 6 September 2016

Dansants a Glace: Ice-Teas At The Hippodrome


In the mid 1910's, a unique skating craze became all of the rage among members of New York City's high society. Irving and Lucille Brokaw, who were at the forefront of the New York skating scene of the time, took it upon themselves to rent the Hippodrome Theater from Charles Dillingham and throw lavish afternoon skating parties on its icy stage called Dansants a Glace or alternately, Ice-Teas. These small, very exclusive affairs would have catered to the most affluent skaters at the St. Nicholas Rink and would have been a welcome alternative to regular skating sessions which sometimes packed the ice with up to eight hundred people at a time.

Left: Irving Brokaw and his wife Lucille; Right: Irving Brokaw and ice dance partner Hala Kosloff

The Sunday, December 12, 1915 edition of the "Richmond Times-Dispatcher" tells us that "on these occasions, the guests of the Brokaw's to the number of about 100 participated in the general ice-dancing and were then entertained by Mr. Brokaw, probably the most accomplished amateur figure-skater in the world, Lawrence Waterbury, of polo fame, and Raynham Townshend, of New Haven, who gave a special exhibition of fancy-skating, their partners being the famous Hippodrome professionals Charlotte, Katy Schmidt and Ellen Dallerup. A large contingent of Boston society folk were present, bringing with them Mr .and Mrs. Muller, the German professional skaters, who have been engaged by the Boston Skating Club to teach Back Bay folk the new accomplishment. The New York guests included Mrs. O.H.P. Belmont. Mr. and Mrs. Oliver Harrinian. Mr. and Mrs. Elbert H. Gary. Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Scott Burden, Mr. and Mrs. W.K. Vanderbilt, Mrs. Barger-Wallach, Mr. Foxhall P. Keene, and a host of others equally prominent in social circles." Much in the style of Hyacinth Bucket's 'candlelight suppers', tea and light refreshments were served.

These dansants a glace or 'iced-teas' caught on not only in New York and at the skating resorts of Switzerland but at the Chateau Frontenac on the St. Lawrence River in Quebec City, where tea tables were actually set up on the ice in front of the hotel. Guests skated to their tables, where they enjoyed tea, toast, jam and cakes served by skating waiters. They skated figure eights amidst the tables afterwards, perhaps nibbling on a scone as they looked for a clean patch. I don't know about you but as far as I'm concerned, this sounds like a delightful way to spend an afternoon!  

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, 3 September 2016

Soda, Sulfur And Cow Hair: How Skating Rinks Got Their Start


"A good skating rink under the proper conditions beats all the ballrooms in the world." - G.U.S. Vieth

Nothing is usually perfect on the first try. The story of The Glaciarium in London, England is a prime example. In 1841, Henry Kirk and William Bradwell orchestrated what is believed to be the world's first attempt at an artificial ice surface. Located in a seed room on the grounds of a nursery near Dorset Square, the surface of their 12 X 6 foot rink on Baker Street was a mix of alum, lard, salt and sulphur. Three year's later, a second rink dubbed The Glaciarium And Frozen Lake opened on Grafton Street. A June edition of 1844's "Littell's Living Age" described this effort as "extremely convenient for such as may be desirous of engaging in the graceful and manly pastime of skating." Pamela Pilbeam's book "Madame Tussaud And The History Of Waxworks" explains that the ice in this rink was made of soda. Pilbeam also explained the first Glaciarium's appeal was pretty short lived. By 1845, the venue was renamed the Glypotheka and used to sell paintings.

Over thirty years passed and during this period, a man named W.A. Parker discovered a process where ice could be made using carbonic acid and brine, which was believed suitable to withstand the hard use of a blade. In the early 1870's, William Newton developed an ice rink in New York using carbonic acid, ammonia gas and ether to develop the artificial ice but it to was short lived in its run. Back over the pond to the UK, it was John Gamgee who revived the idea of artificial skating rinks when he opened version 2.0 of The Glaciarium. Gamgee's Glaciarium was in a canvas shed with a small 24 X 16 ice surface. It was operated with a steam engine powering a heat exchanger in which sulphuric acid was used to cool glycerine. The glycerine was pumped through the ice to keep it frozen. The shed was reportedly insulated with concrete, dry earth, cow hair and tar. Copper pipes were buried in the ice.


Version 3.0 of The Glaciarium - also created by Gamgee - was located behind an old Clock-House on Kings Road in Chelsea. It has been touted as the first 'real deal' by many and opened in the winter of 1876. It was a 40 X 24 rink with a forty five foot ceiling which operated on a membership only basis. It was marketed to the wealthy and featured painted Alpine scenery from Durand of Paris, a live orchestra and a gallery for spectators. That same winter, a second rink was developed in Charing Cross. The December 20, 1876 issue of "The Times" reported, "T3090 square feet of solid and transparent ice may be seen and used at the floating swimming baths on the Thames at Charing-cross, by the special permission of the Metropolitan Board of Works. The public have shown that they fully appreciated swimming in the Thames in summer, but the winter months found the floating structure empty. If, then, the equally delightful pastime of skating can be secured when bathers fail, a perennial attraction will be provided on the Thames Embankment... The floating baths were handed over to Mr. Gamgee on the 20th of October last and within two mouths two complete sets of machinery, with all the accessories neccessary for a Glaciarium, have been satisfactorily erected. The general principles of the floating Glaciarium are similar to those at Chelsea... They consist of the circulation of a current of glycerine and water through a series of metal tubes immersed in water, which is converted into ice and maintained in that condition. The details, however, are different. There are two ice machines with the necessary engines, one at each end of the structure. Each machine absorbs over 100,000 heat units per hour, and it is stated that this immense effect is obtained by utilizing about six-horse power per machine. The water of the Thames at a temperature of about 40 or 42 deg. Fahrenheit, pumped freely through the condenser, maintains the pressure in the machine at a minimum of one atmosphere and three-quarters, whereas the pressure in the refrigerator is only nominal and corresponds to the temperature of about 0 Fahrenheit. A rotary pump drives about 4,000 gallons of glycerine and water per hour through each refrigerator, and this cold liquid traverses through the tubes of the Glaciarium, and the water outside them is thoroughly frozen. The special difficulties in maintaining congelation at the Charing-cross baths arise from the great radiation from the iron structure which is caused by its immersion in the waters of the Thames and by the extensive area of glass roof covering the whole in, which greatly raisers the temperature of the internal atmosphere and is antagonistic to the development of artificial refrigeration. The desired result, however, has been attained, and on our visit to the Glaciarium yesterday, ice two inches thick was already formed and was skated upon, in the first instance, by two ladies."

Gamgee's efforts inspired a string of copycats in Manchester and Southport. The Manchester rink lasted roughly a year; the Southport effort a good ten years before a lack of support forced it to shut down. In 1894, the Palais de Glaces in Paris opened its doors, followed four years later by the National Skating Palace on the Palladium site in London. Nigel Brown's wonderful 1959 book "Ice-Skating: A History" explained, "During this early stage excessive dampness and thick impenetrable mist pervaded these experimental ice-rinks and was the principal reason why their life was short. Skaters found them unhealthy places. But in the nineties real improvements were made, and good ice in comfortable conditions was now possible. The big capitals, London, Paris and New York, each had two rinks, and Brighton, Brussels, Munich, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Brooklyn one each. All these ice palaces were at first much frequented, for they were something new in entertainment, and the general public invaded them when the craze began. But this raised a problem for the serious skater, for crowded rinks gave him little chance to practice his figures. This was the main reason why the Princes Skating Club in London came into being. It was a long hall in Knightsbridge with a sheet of ice 200 feet long and 50 feet wide, and exclusively for the use of members, the public not being admitted. Here at Princes, the elite off English skaters went through their paces."

Much like the steam engine used to filter sulfuric acid into Gamgee's rink pumped along, progress has powered on. We now live in a world that has artificial rinks in some of the world's most unlikely locations: Brazil, Kenya, Egypt and even on cruise ships on the high seas. Times have changed but we have à noxious rink of alum, lard, salt and sulphur to thank for getting the ball rolling.

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, 1 September 2016

Skating At The Old Sanno Hotel


Do you know what? It's really been quite a little while since we've packed up our skate bags and set the time machine's location to Japan and I think today is as good a time as any! Back in April of 2015 when I first blogged about early Japanese skating history, there was one very fascinating footnote that I didn't even get to touch on that I think deserves a blog of its own... and that story is of the old Sanno Hotel in Tokyo.

Completed in 1932, the old Sanno actually had a very short life as a hotel. Located in Tokyo's Akasaka district within walking distance of the parliament and government offices, it was one of the city's very few Western style hotels. In its heyday in the thirties, the Sanno boasted one of the finest wine cellars in Asia, an impressive restaurant, huge banquets and Tokyo's first swimming pool. However, the hotel's biggest claim to fame was the fact that it housed Japan's very first indoor skating rink... in its basement!

The rink was installed by the hotel's first manager Yasushi Nakaya, who lived in Oregon for twelve years before returning to Japan to get in the hotel business. A November 15, 1983 article in the "Observer-Reporter" tells us that basement rink was "a popular attraction until the military confiscated the air compressor for scrap metal. A rusting ammonia tank for making ice is still there, next to the 'Gay '90s Room'." The venue played host to the Japanese Championships in 1933, which were won by Toshikazu Kagiyama.



In 1936, there was an incident known as the 'ni-ni-roku' or '2-26' where extremist young officers of the Imperial Army's garrison in Tokyo seized the Sanno and made it their command post in an attempt to overthrow the civilian government of Japan. These rebels killed Japan's finance minister, a former prime minister and a dozen other government leaders before surrendering three days later to Emperor Hirohito, who they had been revolting against in the first place. Wartime air raids burned down the hotel's wooden annex and the geisha house favoured by Japanese politicians next door. During World War II, it became a base for Japanese intelligence where radio propaganda programs (Tokyo Rose anyone?) were broadcast from Room 426. The hotel was gutted by Allied bombing and occupied by the U.S. military in 1945. After a two year clean-up process, it was turned into a hotel for officers, U.S. Embassy officials and their families.

Although the old Sanno shut its doors in the nineties taking the remains of Japan's first indoor ice rink with it, the U.S. Navy operates The New Sanno Hotel in Tokyo's Azabu residential area... so if you feel like taking a trek to Tokyo and learning a little more about the fascinating Sanno's place in skating history, you know where to go!

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.