Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Four Impossible Skate Guard Blogs


Sometimes researching history is a lot like fishing. You cast out a line and before you know it, you think you've got something... until it gets away from you. Not every photograph or video that sparks an interest or blurb in an old newspaper or magazine that sets you off on a wild goose chase results in you finding out the whole story. Yet, like fishing, half of the fun is trying. Today we'll explore four impossible Skate Guard blogs that never quite made it off the drawing board... and why.

MADAME KUGEL AND THE CRYSTAL SKATING ICE COMPANY

With a catchy motto that promised to sell you a portable ice rink complete with "the ice that gives all the thrills without the chills", the Crystal Skating Ice Company, Inc. set off on a massive American newspaper advertising campaign in the year 1916. The company offered to sell its portable rinks in sections at a cost of one dollar per square foot, suggesting they'd be perfect for carnivals, fairs, motion pictures and Vaudeville shows. The ice, they claimed, was stored in blocks "in a room comfortably heated" at the Shepard-Norwell Department Store's Colonial Restaurant in New York City. The advertisements also claimed that they'd set up a rink at their office on the seventh floor at 727 Seventh Avenue. A mysterious Madame L.M. Kugel - who I was able to find absolutely nothing definitive about - was the woman behind the whole operation. She claimed, "We have had answers from places all over the United States in reply to our advertisements in The Billboard. The inquiries we received were just the ones that we were looking for, and from just the kind of people with whom we want to do business." Newspapers do note that Fred Gerner, a Hippodrome skater and high jumper and Elfrieda MacMillian, champion woman speed skater from New England, gave exhibitions at a Crystal Ice Rink installed at the Sheppard-Norwell Company's Boston store. As well, apparently one Max Falkenbauer bought Ohio state rights as well as rights for Puerto Rico and Cuba under the United States Circus Corporation.  Col. A Carl Mahl bought the Iowa rights. Later the same year, a second Crystal Skating Ice Company, Inc. was even apparently set up in Quincy, Illinois on the sixth floor of a building owned by the Fraternal Order of The Eagles. The last mention of either Madame Kugel or the Crystal Skating Ice Company, Inc. is appears to be a notice that a patent is being applied for. The U.S. Patent Office's extensive records, even sorted by year and in connection with the Shepard-Norwell Department Store - yield plenty of similar outfits but not this one. Who Kugel was and the fate and real story of this operation was one mystery I wasn't able to solve.

ELSE AND OSCAR HOPPE


Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland

Born June 11, 1886, Oscar Hoppe claimed the bronze medal at the 1912 German Championships behind Werner Rittberger and Artur Vieregg. The following year, he teamed up with Else Lischka to win his the pairs title of his city - Troppau - along with the men's title. The next year, he and Lischka won the German pairs title. At the end of World War I when Austria-Hungary was defeated, Troppau became part of Czechoslovakia and became known as the city of Opava... so naturally Oscar, who trained at the Troppauer Eislaufverein - started representing Czechoslovakia. From 1925 to 1931, he made several trips to the World Championships with his wife Else (Meixner) Hoppe. They even won the bronze medal in 1927, Czechoslovakia's first at the Worlds in pairs. Off the ice, Oscar worked as a Handelskammer official. He passed away on January 19, 1936 in Opava at the age of forty nine. I wasn't able to find anything on Else. Two Else Hoppe's with birth dates that would logically coincide with Oscar's are listed in the International War Graves index as 'body lost or destroyed' so it is quite possible that she didn't survive World War II... but that may not be the case at all.

STARS OF THE FUTURE

Historian Elaine Hooper was going through the National Skating Association's membership records back in from 1930 when she contacted me to point out a name that appeared that I'm sure will amuse just about any fan of "The Big Bang Theory"... Dr. L. Hofstaedter. The clipping is below and he's listed on the alphabetical list just two places ahead of the fabulous Gladys Hogg.


As we were discussing the fact that one of my next blog subjects would be Veronica Clarke a.k.a. Biddy Bonnycastle, she also sent me a clipping showing her membership with the National Skating Association at the time. This would have been when her grandmother sent her overseas to attend a finishing school in England with her sisters. My name was immediately drawn to the last name on the list.


Yes... movie star Montgomery Clift. As it turned out, I found this blurb in Patricia Bosworth's 2012 biography of him: "Brooks [his brother] became a champion figure skating in Saint Moritz, and Monty, always competitive, followed close behind. Years later, when he toured with the Lunts in 'There Shall Be No Night', the entire cast went ice skating on frozen Lake Michigan, and Monty impressed everybody with his precise figure eights and dizzying corkscrew turns. 'He was as graceful as Fred Astaire,' an observer recalls."

Montgomery Clift

Unfortunately, beyond a proficiency at skating, there just really didn't seem to be much more to the story beyond the snacky actor's NSA membership. He didn't move to Hollywood until the mid-forties and his first two films didn't even come out until 1948, the year Sonja Henie made her last big box office picture, "The Countess Of Monte Cristo." Had he been on the scene about a decade earlier I'm sure his skating talents would have been put to good use on the silver screen during the craze of Sonja spin-off skating movies. The timing just wasn't right.

THE MYSTERIOUS DR. LANGER


Dr. Walter Langer, a member of the Skating Club Of New York, travelled to New Haven, Connecticut in 1928 to compete in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships where he finished third behind Roger Turner and Frederick Goodridge. He later performed in the famed "Land Of The Midnight Sun" ice carnival at Madison Square Garden in 1930 that boasted an all star cast including Olympic Gold Medallist Sonja Henie, World Champion Willy Böckl and U.S. Champions Maribel VinsonTheresa Weld Blanchard and Nathaniel Niles.

When the Olympic Games came to Lake Placid in 1932, Dr. Langer took advantage of his Czechoslovakian heritage and entered as a representative of his home country. He finished tenth out of twelve skaters, around six hundred points back of the medallists Karl Schäfer, Gillis Grafström and Bud Wilson. This disappointing defeat would prove to be the last mention I could find of Langer competing as a figure skater.

Gail Borden II, Jimmie Madden, Dr. Walter Langer, William Nagle and Roger Turner at the 1931 U.S. Championships. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Now just who was this character? The truth is, it's pretty complicated. There was a Walther Langer who was born August 23, 1889 in the Oderfurt district of Ostrava, Czechoslovakia. Records show that he worked as a civil engineer in Czechoslovakia and lived in Vienna, Austria, Breslau (Wrocław), Poland and Havana, Cuba before he emigrated to the United States in the roaring twenties. This particular Walter - or Walther - Langer went by Dr. Walter Langer at his New York City perfume company Hartnell Perfumes and claimed to have "a Ph.D in chemistry". He also claimed to have ties to Austrian nobility and self-titled himself The Baron von Langendorff.

The Baron von Langendorff and Eveline Diane Westall

The Baron von Langendorff and his British wife Eveline Diane Westall bought out their business partners Felice and Hartnell, renaming the company Evyan Perfumes. Together, the couple developed the famous White Shoulders fragrance. An entry from the Timeless Perfumes blog explained, "The name, White Shoulders, supposedly came from a dinner remark by The Duke of Marlborough, about how Lady Evyan's shoulders looked so white in her evening gown. An image of her in an evening gown was later embossed on the White Shoulders bottles. It would be more politically correct today to simply say the fragrance is based mainly on white flowers... gardenias, lilies, tuberose, jasmine, etc., and is worn on the shoulders when in an evening gown. Of course, it is also suited for anytime use, day or evening. The name may have been inspired by a Mary Astor film of the same name that came out in 1931. Before introducing White Shoulders, Hartnell sold a perfume called Menace and magazine ads featured a model who resembled the title character in the White Shoulders movie. Felice and Hartnell may have wanted to push the hard tough female image during those wartime years but Menace was a strange choice of name for a women's fragrance. Lady Evyan preferred the soft, feminine, grace and dignity with lace, theme. White Shoulders was first bottled in the same bottles as Menace with a large and quite ugly H on the bottle. It was placed in a pretty lace and satin box designed by Lady Evyan, she a collector of antique lace. Once the Hartnell period ended, beautiful bottles were created for White Shoulders and the other Evyan fragrances."

In the forties, The Baron von Langendorff bought a thirty two acre waterfront property in Westport, Connecticut between South Compo and Imperial Avenues and called his estate Golden Shadows. It was built on the site of the home of artist Angus MacDonall and was home to illustrious gardens with a gazebo, a greenhouse full of exotic flowers, an ice skating pond and a healthy shroud of mystery. For the decades, the property was known by locals simply as The Baron's Property.

In the late seventies, The Baron von Langendorff retired to a thirty seven room mansion in New York City previously owned by railroad magnate Stuyvesant Fish. A January 21, 1991 article from "New York Magazine" explained, "Mason got a call from the Baron Walter Langer von Langendorff, better known as Dr. Walter Langer, the creator of White Shoulders perfume and the owner of Evyan Perfumes. Mason gave the courtly old man a tour. 'I thought he was just getting a preview of the art for the Sotheby's sale,' she says. A couple of days later, however, the baron said he would pay $1.5 million in cash for the house. By the summer, it was his. The baron had recently married his second wife, Gabriele Langerwall Klopman Langer von Langendorff, whose flamboyant appearance and behaviour had earned her a certain notoriety in New York society over the years. But he still had a passion for his late first wife, Lady Evelyn Diane Westall, who had helped create the perfume company. He had maintained her New York office exactly as it had been at the time of her death eleven years earlier. She had been called Lady Evyan. And now, in her honour, he named the Sonnenberg mansion Evyan House. But it was almost empty, and in his first few years as owner, the baron did little to change that. He spent weekends in Westport; while in New York, he stayed in a penthouse apartment atop his company's First Avenue offices. His wife had her own suite in the Pierre... After a year or two some of the baron's furniture began to arrive. In 1981, he hired Jane Ashley, an interior decorator, to move in and help fix up the place. Paintings of women with the White Shoulders decolletage were hung on the walls in homage to Lady Evyan. On rare occasions, the baron used the house for corporate functions. By 1983, the baron was in poor health, and his $125-million fortune was the object of a bitter feud between his wife and Leona Robison, the president of Evyan Perfumes. On September 14, 1983, the last owner of No. 19 Grammercy Park died."

Aside from the fact that the country of origins match up and that the Baron von Langendorff had a skating pond, there just wasn't enough proof to satisfy me that Dr. Walter Langer the skater and this perfume Baron were one in the same. To top it off, the Sports-Reference website, which usually - but not always - gets it right, claims that the Dr. Langer who competed at the 1932 Winter Olympics was born in Ostrava in 1899... and died on October 27, 1955. Yet, when you do the genealogical legwork, you just can't find a thing with these dates that makes sense. As much as I dug my heels in to complete this particular blog, I just couldn't rely on my assumptions. When you're researching, you have to go strictly with the primary source material. In this case, there just wasn't enough to make the case.

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