The 1946 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

World War II might have brought figure skating in many European countries to a halt, but American skating enjoyed an unprecedented boom. Inspired by Sonja Henie pictures and the many touring ice spectacles and hotel shows, more young people took to the ice in the United States than ever before.

The 1946 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Chicago were the first Nationals to be held after the War ended. The event drew seventy five entries though only sixteen men over the three classes, as many men were still in service. It marked the dawning of a new era in American skating as well as a celebration of years past. Not only was it the twenty fifth anniversary of the host Chicago Figure Skating Club, but also the twenty fifth anniversary of the USFSA.

The Chicago Arena circa 1946. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

The event served as a post-War reunion of sorts for many champions and generous media attention, colourful costumes, a printed program and a microphone to announce the scores only added to the excitement.

The Open Marking System was used for all events except ice dance and judging conferences were held in conjunction with the event. The return of the senior men's event after a two year hiatus added another layer of interest to skating aficionados in attendance. Let's take a quick look back at the excitement!


Yvonne Sherman and Robert Swenning

Novice pairs and ice dance events weren't anywhere close to being included on the bill at the U.S. Championships. In novice men's, Dudley Richards of the Skating Club of Boston bested Washington's Walter 'Red' Bainbridge, Philadelphia's Newbold Black and Cleveland's Hayes Alan Jenkins.

Dudley Richards

Detroit's Ginny Baxter led the way after the figures in novice women's, only to drop to second overall after Seattle's Gloria Peterson delivered what was by all accounts a superb free skating performance. Philadelphia's Jane Lemmon edged Helen Geekie of St. Louis and Nancy Lemmon of Philadelphia for the bronze.

Gloria Peterson, Gretchen Van Zandt Merrill and Barbara Jones

Yvonne Sherman and Robert Swenning of the Skating Club Of New York won junior pairs. John Lettengarver of the St. Paul Figure Skating Club defeated Charles Brinkman, Robert Swenning and Carleton Hoffner, Jr. to win the junior men's title. Barbara Jones of the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society won the junior women's event, besting Yvonne Sherman, Shirley Lander and Lois Johnson. The Silver (junior) dance title was won by a married couple, Vivian (Halliday) and Richard C. Queisser, representing the Washington Figure Skating Club. The Queisser's were social ice dancers. She had taken up skating in 1941 and spent two summers in Lake Placid. He started skating on ponds at the age of ten and had only really started skating in 1941 as well. The couple both worked for the U.S. government. Vivian's sister Vera placed second with partner E. Tefft Barker, ahead of Camilla Cliff and Sidney J. Moore and Nancy Miller and Don Laws.


Donna J. Pospisil and Jean-Pierre Brunet. Photo courtesy "World Ice Skating Guide".

To the delight of the Chicago crowd, a hometown quartet won the city's only gold medal in the fours event. The team consisted of Jacquelyn Dunne, Joan Yocum and the van der Bosch brothers - Edward and Larry. In Gold (senior) ice dance, a pair of teenagers waltzed away with gold. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves recalled, "The new Dance Champions, Anne Davies, 15, and Carleton Hoffner, Jr., 14, also liked to play tennis and swim, but they aspired to attend the Olympics in ice dance. They trained in Washington with Norval Baptie. Carleton also trained in Lake Placid with Howard Nicholson and Nancy Allard and planned to study at Annapolis." The bronze went to Carmel Waterbury and Edward Bodel and fourth place to Marcella May Willis and Frank Davenport. The senior pairs event was won by Olympic Gold Medallist Andrée and Pierre Brunet's teenage son Jean-Pierre and his partner, Donna Jeanne Pospisil, representing the Skating Club of New York. Only two years later, Jean-Pierre, who had been awarded a scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was killed instantly when the jeep he was driving overturned.


Gretchen Van Zandt Merrill, George Tracey, Carolyn Welch and Jimmy Lochead Jr.

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Gretchen Van Zandt Merrill of the Skating Club of Boston, a student of Maribel Vinson Owen, took a decisive lead in the school figures, which accounted for sixty percent of the score. Though Janette Ahrens and Madelon Olson, both of St. Paul, held on to place second and third based on their strong showings in figures, the fourth place finisher made a far greater impression in the free skating competition. Philadelphia's Eileen Seigh was awarded the Oscar L. Richard Trophy for most artistic women's program. The Skating Club of Boston's Barbara Burns rounded out the women's field in fifth.


Dick Button. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Representing the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society, a teenage Dick Button entered senior men's event at the U.S. Championships for the first time and walked away a winner. In his book "Dick Button On Skates" he recalled, "At sixteen, I could only hold my breath on entering my first battle for United States supremacy. But the four years of constant training, excellent instruction and the inspirational support of my family paid off... I received a unanimous vote of 5, with James Lochead, Jr. of Berkeley, California, second with 10 and John Tuckerman of Cleveland third with 17. I was told that this was the first time anyone had won the men's novice, junior and senior national titles in successive years. Jimmy Lochead had led me in figures. I could see then that it would be possible to win doing what I liked to - free skate - provided my figures held up." Placing fourth at that event was Chicago's lone entry, Patrick Kazda. The autumn after Button's win, he received a call from Walter S. Powell of the USFSA confirming his spot on the American team which would leave the following January for the European and World Championships. That Chicago win kick-started Dick Button's international career.

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 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

Those That Stayed: The Fates Of Figure Skating's 'Enemy Aliens'

Photo courtesy National Archives, Kew - War Cabinet Memoranda

"Many intellectuals, scientists and professionals, particularly those with Jewish backgrounds, or whose thinking did not agree with Nazi policies left for the United States and Great Britain... By the outbreak of the War, these men and women would feel their primary allegiances lay with the Allies, not their native lands. They trusted that any suspicion or abuse they encountered in England would be mild compared to the tortures inflicted by the Nazis. Because of Great Britain’s tough stance on immigration, most refugees were young, educated and productive members of society. In general, they assumed that they would continue to perform their daily occupations, or would be allowed to aid the war effort. They certainly did not expect the widespread distrust that surrounded anyone with a foreign accent as soon as the country was at war." - Elizabeth A. Atkins, "The Gettysburg Historical Journal", 2005

When Great Britain declared War on Nazi Germany in September of 1939, over seventy three thousand Germans and Austrians living in Great Britain were deemed 'enemy aliens' and asked to leave the country. Only two thousand did. After the fall of France and an invasion scare, Winston Churchill famously issued the order "Collar The Lot!" Men over the age of sixteen who chose to remain in England were ordered to surrender their cameras, weapons, maps and bicycles. They were subjected to curfews and required to obtain police permission to travel short distances from their homes for business. The Home Office established internment tribunals to decide whether 'enemy aliens' would be A) sent to internment camps, B) exempted from internment but subject to restrictions or C) exempted from both.

But what does all this have to with figure skating? Well, in the thirties a not insignificant number of Germans and Austrians came to Great Britain to teach skating or perform in ice pantomimes and revues. A precious few of these skaters, among them Elsie (Derksen) and Rudy Angola and the Baron von Petersdorff, managed to get out of England just before the War began. The fates of those that stayed varied greatly.

Ernst Hartung

Ernst Friedrich Ludwig Nikolaus Hartung came to England to teach lawn tennis and figure skating in the early thirties. Born in Munich, he had served in the Deutsches Heer (Imperial German Army) during the Great War. He met his wife Eileen, a domestic science student, at the short-lived Golders Green Ice Rink in London. Ernst was able to avoid being labelled an 'enemy alien' because his naturalization certificate came through in May of 1938. Ernst and Eileen went on to become highly respected skating instructors at Westminster, Liverpool and Birmingham. Both of their children were born during the War. Ernst passed away in Feniscowles, Blackburn on July 26, 1978.

Viennese born Adolf Obst Vulgo Schima came to England in 1937 after managing a skating school in Adelboden, Switzerland. An exceptional stilt skater, he gave a series of exhibitions in Scotland before taking a job teaching at the Manchester Ice Palace. He was one of the lucky ones to be given a 'special case' exemption from both restrictions and internment. He married in 1943, was hired to teach skating at the Perth Ice Rink in 1947 and received his naturalization in 1948. He lived out his days in England, passing away on September 18, 1987 at the age of seventy eight.

Paul Kreckow performing at the Admiralspast prior to the Great War

Berlin's Paul Kreckow came to the England in the late twenties, after starring in the Eisballets at the Admiralspalast, summer ice shows at the Cincinnati Zoo, Charlotte's Mexican tour and shows at the Hippodrome in New York City and teaching skating in St. Moritz and at the Palazzo del Ghiaccio in Milan. After teaching at the Hammersmith Ice Drome and Westminster Ice Club, Paul was the runner-up at the Open Professional Championships with Gertrude 'Trudy' Harris.

Melitta Brunner and Paul Kreckow

The following year, Paul married Olympic Bronze Medallist Melitta Brunner in London. Their marriage was short-lived; she petitioned for a divorce in 1933. British Champion Michael Booker, who trained under Madge Austin who competed against Paul and Trudy at the Open Professional Championships, shared this story: "A member of the new Richmond staff was a fellow who appeared from nowhere by the name of Paul Kreckow. He had one solitary pupil, a married lady with whom he was having an affair, Trudy Harris. They skated for hours snuggled up to each other, supposedly nobody was to know of the affair, out of which came the 'Harris Tango.' Neither had any knowledge of music thus the dance really does not fit the tempo of a tango and ends up mid-bar and on the off beat. It is for this reason that the ladies inside three at the end of the dance is either performed on the off beat with a longer number of beats for the continuous back outside edge that follows, or is done the other way around with a shorter B.O. edge; I think the former is the 'official one. Anyway, one day some plain clothes cops turned up at the rink and carted off Mr. Kreckow; he has never been seen since, might be at Guantanamo, for it turned out he was a German spy. Those were the days when traitors, murderers and the like forfeited their human rights!"

Paul Kreckow

So what did become of Paul? No one really knows. We do know he sailed from Berlin to Southampton in March of 1935 and appeared in the ice revue "Marina" at the S.S. Brighton in 1936. Beyond that, he vanishes off the face of the earth. Was he an agent of the Abwehr, the German military service? Was he deported or hauled out back and shot? It's hard to say... he doesn't show up in the records of 'alien internees'.

Erich Erdös

Helmut Rolle, a native of Oberstdorf, came to England in the early thirties and married an English woman in Bournemouth in 1933. He was the runner-up at the Open Professional Championships in 1936 and 1937 and taught at both the Streatham and Richmond Ice Rinks. Viennese born Erich Erdös was the bronze medallist at the 1934 World Championships and the 1932 and 1933 European Championships. He turned professional after a disappointing showing at the 1935 World Championships and came to England to teach at Queen's Ice Club and perform in the "St. Moritz" ice show at the London Coliseum. Both Helmut and Erich were deemed 'security risks' and on July 10, 1940, were among the over two thousand, five hundred 'enemy aliens' that sailed from Liverpool to Australia aboard the S.S. Dunera. These men spent an incredible fifty seven days a sea and were kept below deck the entire time, except for a daily ten-minute exercise period... where they had to walk across shards of glass from beer bottles intentionally smashed by guards. They were subject to frequent beatings and robberies by the guards. Alan Parkinson recounted the terrible conditions aboard thusly: "As passengers embarked on the Dunera, their possessions were taken and thrown into a heap on the dockside. Pilfering by the soldiers was rife even before the journey started. One soldier tried to pocket a small box of jewels taken from one of the men. An officer was called, and he said he would look after them - they were never seen again. The 'guards' were nothing better than looters and this went on in front of officers, even with participation by the officers. The ship was an overcrowded Hell-hole. Hammocks almost touched, many men had to sleep on the floor or on tables. There was only one piece of soap for twenty men, and one towel for ten men, water was rationed, and luggage was stowed away so there was no change of clothing. As a consequence, skin diseases were common. There was a hospital on board but no operating theatre. Toilet facilities were far from adequate, even with makeshift latrines erected on the deck and sewage flooded the decks. Dysentery ran through the ship. Blows with rifle butts and beatings from the soldiers were daily occurrences. One refugee tried to go to the latrines on deck during the night – which was out-of-bounds. He was bayoneted in the stomach by one of the guards and spent the rest of the voyage in the hospital. Food was bad, maggots in the bread and the butter and margarine was rancid. The guards however were well enough fed and even threw some of their food overboard in front of the refugees. The passengers were not told where they were going until they had been at sea for a week, and then they were told their destination was Australia."

After arriving in Australia, Erich and Helmut were put on a night train and transported to an internment camp in the town of Hay, New South Wales. When word got back to England of the atrocities that took place aboard the S.S. Dunera, Erich and the other internees were released. Erich returned to England in 1943, married the following year and went on to teach skating at Empress Hall, Earl's Court, perform in Bournemouth, the Casa Carioca nightclub in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and the Holiday On Ice tour in America. He passed away in Somerset, England in May of 2000. Helmut returned to England with another group of internees of 1945, but little is known about his fate afterwards.

Perhaps even sadder was the story of Kurt Ernst Schier, who came to England from Hamburg, Germany in the mid-thirties. He starred in Tom Arnold's touring ice revues "Revelry On The Ice" and "Switzerland" with Melitta Brunner, where he met his wife Olive Goater, who performed in the show as part of a twin sister act. He taught at Southampton's first ice rink, which was later destroyed during the Blitz, and the ice rink at Blackpool.

Kurt was soon separated from his wife and sent to one of the overcrowded internment camps in Douglas, on the Isle Of Man, where on July 11, 1943 he hung himself in a shower bath at the age of forty four. An inquest after his death revealed that he had threatened to commit suicide for weeks after an unsuccessful appeal for release from internment, and that no one had reported this to the camp leaders or taken any steps to stop him from harming himself. Home Secretary Herbert Morrison was questioned about Kurt's sad case in the House Of Commons and responded, "This man was not a refugee, and there should be no misunderstanding on that point. Clearly I must do my duty by what I conceive to be the security of the State, and I cannot be deterred by the possibility of suicide."

When we take history and spin it around from a different angle, we come to appreciate that the lines between 'the good guys' and 'the bad guys' were at times blurry. In exploring the figure skating's history, it's so important that difficult stories like these are told. Behind every black and white picture and grainy video is a person - and behind every person is a story that's usually pretty complicated.

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' the blog's Facebook page at 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? 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

#Unearthed: Early Advice To 'Lady Skaters'

When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure.

From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time. Today's treasure comes from the 1864 edition of "Godey's Lady Book", the most widely circulated magazine in the United States prior to the Civil War. The magazine was printed in Philadelphia, the home of the country's first skating club which had been established not long before. The short unattributed article, entitled "Hints About Health. Rules For Skating.", provided 'lady skaters' some advice for the ice.


"Skating on the Schuylkill"

1. Avoid skates which are strapped on the feet, as they prevent the circulation, and the foot becomes frozen before the skater is aware of it, because the tight strapping benumbs the foot and deprives it of feeling. A young lady at Boston lost a foot in this way; another in New York her life, by endeavoring to thaw her feet in warm water after taking off her skates. The safest kind are those which receive the forepart of the foot in a kind of toe, and stout leather around the heel, buckling in front of the ankle only, thus keeping the heel in place without spikes or screws, and aiding greatly in supporting the ankle.

2. It is not the object so much to skate fast, as to skate gracefully and this is sooner and more easily learned by skating with deliberation; while it prevents overheating, and diminishes the chances of taking cold by cooling off too soon afterward.

3. If the wind is blowing, a veil should he worn over the face, at least of ladies and children; otherwise fatal inflammation of the lungs, ''pneumonia," may take place.

4. Do not sit down to rest a single half minute; nor stand still, if there is any wind; nor stop a moment after the skates are taken off; but walk about, so as to restore the circulation about the feet and toes, and to prevent being chilled.

5. It is safer to walk home than to ride; the latter is almost certain to give a cold.

6. It would be a safe rule for no child or lady to be on skates longer than an hour at a time.

7. The grace, exercise, and healthfulness of skating on the ice can be had, without any of its dangers, by the use of skates with rollers attached, on common floors; better, if covered with oil-cloth.

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 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

Cocktails In Chicago: The College Inn And Terrace Garden Ice Shows

Down in the United States in the years leading up to the roaring twenties, two historic hotels in the Midwest had the bright idea of using figure skating as a novelty to draw in patrons. The College Inn and Terrace Garden's unique ice shows took off like wildfire and set the precedent for many similar productions that followed in the years to come. In today's blog, we will explore the ebb and flow of these early Chicago hotel shows, the stars and the stories that made them so fascinating and the factors that contributed to their ultimate demise. Grab yourself a classic cocktail and a smart hat. We're setting the dial on the time machine to the 1910's and heading to Illinois!

The Hotel Sherman, the Sherman House Hotel... Whatever name you want to call it by, there's no denying this historic space was an iconic Windy City landmark. Through five incarnations, the Sherman was a mainstay on the corner of Randolph and Clark Streets. It stood tall during the Iroquois Theater Fire and the S.S. Eastland Disaster; the St. Valentine's Day Massacre and the only all-Chicago baseball World Series in 1906. The second Sherman was destroyed in The Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the third demolished in 1910. That same year the fourth Sherman was rebuilt from scratch. It was in that space that some very fascinating figure skating history was made. 

In June of 1914 - four years after the fourth Hotel Sherman opened - a fifty square foot ice tank was installed in the hotel's basement College Inn restaurant. According to promoter Julian T. Fitzgerald, the initial plan for the College Inn's ice tank was not a traditional show but a series of "very clever skating contests decided during the hot weather. It worked in New York City; why not in Chicago?" Fitzgerald's idea never got off the ground and instead manager Frank W. Bering set to work organizing a series of ice shows to entertain diners while they sipped on classic cocktails and puffed on cigars.

What was it like? Well, the College Inn's decor was inspired by 'the old school spirit' with walls plastered with collegiate pennants and crests and tables illuminated by lightbulbs screwed in the ceiling. After paying your four dollars a night for a private room with a bath, you could enjoy dinner, dancing and an ice show at the College Inn for under two dollars a head. The food was indulgent - everything from Filet De Bass De Mer to Au Jus, Asperges En Branche and Tranche De Tomato Au Caviar Frais - and the skating exquisite. Early stars included Norval Baptie and Gladys Lamb, Grace Chappell and Eddie Bassett and speed skater Bobby McLean and by 1915, hotel guides and newspapers were raving about the daily, year round shows. "The Bulletin Of The Commercial Law League of America" boasted, "The midsummer ice skating at the College Inn is one of the sights of Chicago." The hotel prided itself on daily ice shows thrice a day "enjoyed at luncheon, dinner or after-the play."

As in any skating production, there was a healthy dose of drama behind the scenes at the College Inn shows. The American Exhibition Ice Skaters Association attempted to unionize the American skaters who felt they were losing out on job opportunities "to Europeans"... in other words, the German skaters who came over to perform in Charlotte's shows at the Hippodrome in New York. Not long after signing a contract the College Inn, speed skater Bobby McLean was hauled into a meeting by Allan Blanchard, President of the International Skating Union of America. He was 'charged with professionalism' for accepting payment for performing in the shows. McLean simply got up in front of his accusers, 'accepted the charges' and told them to get stuffed. Blanchard ultimately lost his position; McLean made buckets of money performing in the shows. Regulars at the College Inn shows included the aforementioned skaters along with Orrin and Ellen Markhus, Bunny Gray, Cathleen Pope and George Kerner, Francis LeMaire, Alonzo Kaney and Dorothy Henri, Roy Fink, James J. McGeever, Art Victor, James Bourke, Marie Nicholson, barrel jumper Claude R. 'Bucky' Lamy and twelve year old Mary Rowe. After the shows, carpet was hastily thrown over ice and stragglers were entertained with dance numbers and lassoing demonstrations.

Approximately two years into the College Inn's run, the nearby Morrison Hotel decided to give the Hotel Sherman a little competition. Located on the corner of Madison and Clark Streets, the Morrison had also been rebuilt following the Great Chicago Of Fire of 1871. Its reputation was certainly considered a little more upscale, as it regularly played host to visiting politicians and dignitaries and generally got in more well-known musical acts.

To capitalize on the skating craze, the Morrison's management installed a somewhat larger tank in its huge Terrace Garden cafe, which seated one thousand, four hundred people. In 1917, "Variety" magazine described the layout of the Terrace Garden thusly: "Starting from the floor, really the balcony, it ranges downward in semi-circular terraces, eight or nine in number, tables on each terrace. At the bottom is a platform upon which the show is given. Whether the general arrangement is a practical one is another question since from many of the tables, guests cannot see below the knee of the artists or skaters only when at the further end of the stage or rink, which is also of semi-circular form... The stage is laid in sections covering the ice surface and before the skating portion of the entertainment; it is necessary for a force of bus boys, resembling slow working canvasmen, to cart away the segments." As was the case at the College Inn, an experienced orchestra accompanied the skaters who performed in the Terrace Garden.

In 1917, "Iceland Frolics" opened at the Terrace Garden featuring Charlotte OelschlägelNorval Baptie and Gladys Lamb and a sixteen skater ensemble. It was a two hour show with music by Harry Robinson and Will Harris and production by George F. Lask. The concept was an ice show in 'four seasons' with dancing in between. By the late summer, Charlotte had left "Iceland Frolics" in a sea of controversy. The August 15, 1917 issue of "The New York Clipper" reported, "The row between Charlotte, the ice skater, and the management of the Hotel Morrison, which began several weeks ago, when it was said that the skater walked out of the Terrace Garden show because she was jealous of Norval Baptie and Gladys Lamb, in the same show, had an interesting aftermath last week when Charlotte brought suit against the hotel company for $10,500, claiming breach of contract. It appears now, however, that jealousy was not the cause for the breaking off of diplomatic relations between the skater and the Terrace Garden show. It seems that Charlotte took it to heart mightily when her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Wilhelm Oelschlägel, were ordered out of the place one evening by Harry Mehr, manager of the garden, when they refused to rise while 'The Star Spangled Banner' was being played by his orchestra. The suit is further complicated by the fact that Charlotte's father has also brought an action against the hotel company for the sum of $1,500 'for services rendered in bringing his daughter to this city for the purpose of rehearsing a certain production.' Charlotte is under the impression that she was 'fired', but Mehr says she quit her engagement, not because of jealousy, but because of the trouble over her parents." Apparently, the rumour that she left the show because of Baptie and Lamb started because the duo had left the College Inn show to join the Terrace Garden show the same night when the drama went down with her parents. Charlotte took a four week engagement at the College Inn and a major pay cut. The lawsuit fizzled and Freda Whitaker replaced her.

By 1918, the popular ice shows at both hotels became targets of the teetotalers, who took issue with these 'cabarets' where booze flowed freely and was cheap, cheap, cheap. For a time, it seemed the hotels had won the war. The August 7, 1918 issue of "The New York Clipper" reported, "The College Inn and Terrace Garden have been permitted to continue their ice skating in connection with the serving of liquors. The City Council granted this permission of a meeting of that body on Friday of last week. At the same time, the Food Administration at Washington issued a bulletin asking the owners of ice making and refrigerating plants to save ammonia. The Council License Committee adopted an amendment to the anti-cabinet ordinance to permit ice skating in connection with the sale of liquors." The party didn't last. The crowds started to thin out and by the end, the biggest draw in the Terrace Garden's show was a relative unknown named Margarete Hoshell, a chorus skater who got her start at the age of eleven in Charlotte's Eisballets in Germany. The North American skaters were getting increasingly fed up with the fact that European skaters were getting top billing in the shows and the show's producers were frustrated by the dwindling numbers. When the United States officially went dry in January of 1920, the ice on the stages melted along with the ice at the empty bars.

In 1933, prohibition ended and the Chicago World's Fair of 1933, the Century Of Progress Exposition, enjoyed success with an ice show in its Black Forest Village. Hoping to capitalize on this, Ernest Byfield and Frank Bering decided to revive the College Inn shows and installed a 20 X 40 tank in the restaurant. Eddie Quigley, writing in "The Billboard" on December 22, 1951 noted, "The Hotel Sherman management got in touch with the Shipstads and Johnson and also Edward Mahlke, a Chicagoan very much interested in figure skating. They formed a show and came into the College Inn with the idea of remaining one month. So great was their success that they remained for 16 months. In the cast were Oscar Johnson, Eddie and Roy Shipstad, Gladys Lamb and Norval Baptie, Bobby McLean, Bess Ehrhardt, McGowan and Mack, LaVerne Busher, Eric Waite, Duke And Noble and others." That show ended summer of 1936 but really paved the way for the success of Shipstad and Johnson's Ice Follies for years to come. The College Inn kept in the ice in year-round until 1940. The Morrison Hotel was demolished in 1965; the Hotel Sherman in 1973. Today, the Chase Tower and James R. Thompson Center stand where the Morrison Hotel and Hotel Sherman once majestically stood, purveyors of cocktails and crossfoot spins in days long ago. 

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 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

The 1979 World Junior Figure Skating Championships

Photo courtesy "Canadian Skater" magazine

From March 27 to 31, 1979, the world's top junior skaters gathered in Augsburg, West Germany for the second official World Junior Figure Skating Championships in history. Though historically recognized as World Junior Championships, this event had been simply termed an ISU International Junior Championship prior to 1978. Under the rules in place at the time, all skaters had to be nineteen years of age of under.

Both the competition and practice venues proved quite shocking to many of the 'hothouse' skaters in attendance. The main rink was covered by a roof, but was open to the elements on one side. The practice rink wasn't covered at all, and rain and snow frequently interrupted the young skaters' training. Let's take a look back at how things played out that spring in West Germany!


A trio of Canadian pairs - Sherri Baier and Robin Cowan, Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini and Josie France and Paul Mills - had won the pairs event at this event the three years previous. In Augsburg, Kerry Leitch's pupils Lorri Baier and Lloyd Eisler had to settle for bronze behind two Soviet pairs, Veronika Pershina and Marat Akbarov and Larisa Selezneva and Oleg Makarov. Pershina and Akbarov's victory would prove to be the first of five consecutive wins for Soviet pairs at the World Junior Championships. At the time, they were coached by Stanislav Zhuk.

Tatiana Durasova and Sergei Ponomarenko

Twenty one couples from thirteen countries participated in the ice dance event. Natalia Dubova's students Tatiana Durasova and Sergei Ponomarenko defended the title they'd first won the year prior in Megève. They were the unanimous choice of the panel, and their free dance to "Flight Of The Bumblebee" drew rave reviews. Roy Bradshaw's students Kelly Johnson and Kris Barber received second place marks from the British and Canadian judges, but had to settle for bronze behind
Lyudmila Pakhomova's students Elena Batanova and Andrei Antonov.

Elena Batanova, Lyudmila Pakhomova and Andrei Antonov

Americans Elisa Spitz and Scott Gregory finished second. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice",  Lynn Copley-Graves recalled, "They had less than two months to learn the Starlight Waltz and change their OSP to a full-sequence dance because U.S. Silver Dance was not formatted the same as Junior World Dance." West Germans Elke and Dieter Kwiet, the children of 1959 World Roller Dance Champions Rita Paucka and Klaus-Peter Kwiet, placed sixth. They managed to defeat the third Soviet team, Oksana Gusakova and Genrikh Sretenski, who were students of Tatiana Tarasova. Their placement was considered quite an upset at the time.


Bobby Beauchamp, Vitali Egorov and Alexandr Fadeev on the podium

In winning the men's competition, Kharkov's Vitali Egorov made history as the first Soviet singles skater to claim the title. America's Bobby Beauchamp finished second, becoming the first skater of colour to win a medal at the World Junior Championships. A young Alexandr Fadeev finished third. Canada's two entries, Brad McLean and Darin Mathewson, placed a disappointing thirteenth and fourteenth. As Canadian men had won the event the previous two years, there was 'much talk' about the CFSA's decision to send two novice men instead of Brian Orser, the Canadian junior champion who had landed a triple Axel at that year's Nationals. Orser planned on moving up to the senior ranks and was given an international assignment at that autumn's Vienna Cup instead.

Left: Elaine Zayak. Right: Manuela Ruben. Photos courtesy "Canadian Skater" magazine.

To the delight of the West German audience, fifteen year old Manuela Ruben was in first place after the women's school figures. Though a talented free skater, Ruben proved no match for thirteen year old Elaine Zayak of Paramus, New Jersey. Zayak, the second youngest skater in the event, brought the house down with a free skate jam-packed with triple jumps. Ruben took the silver, less than a point and one ordinal placing ahead of Zayak's teammate Jacki Farrell. Daniela Massanneck of West Germany and Petra Schruf of Austria placed fourth and fifth. The CFSA and Mrs. Ellen Burka agreed that "it was better for [Tracey Wainman] to stay home" and Kay Thomson placed a creditable sixth in her international debut.

An interesting footnote about this event is the fact that it was the first time ever that a future World Champion won a medal in all four disciplines at the World Junior Championships.

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 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

Climb Every Mountain: The Armand Perren Story

Born March 21, 1903 in the small municipality of Zermatt, Switzerland at the foot of the Matterhorn, Armand Hermann Perren began skating when he was four years old. "With my father, skating was his recreation," he explained in a September 13, 1953 "Sunday Mail" interview. "On a Sunday, after Mass, always the same - he goes skating. And what was there to do with Armand but take him too? And so it began."

Armand turned professional at the age of sixteen by what he referred to as "an accident". He had been training at a Swiss hotel's rink when the resident instructor broke his leg and asked him to take on some of his duties. He was thrilled with the extra pocket money and completely naive to the fact that the favour he did for his instructor disqualified him from participating in amateur figure skating competitions in the future.

At the time, skating was about number five on Armand's list of pursuits. A talented Swiss guide, he claimed to have climbed the Matterhorn over one hundred and forty times and to be "the only man in the world to climb the Matterhorn twice in one day". He also excelled in tennis, narrowly losing a selection for the Davis Cup. In addition to hockey, skiing and cooking, Perren also excelled at Greco-Roman wrestling. It wasn't until he was twenty eight that Perren seriously pursued figure skating as a career.

Olive Robinson and Armand Perren

A contemporary of Jacques and Arnold Gerschwiler, Armand taught skating in Switzerland, France and Great Britain. Prior to and during World War II, he worked with Andrée (Joly) and Pierre Brunet, Jeannette Altwegg and future King Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden. To supplement his income from giving lessons, he regularly appeared in ice shows. In 1937, he skated in Claude Langdon's ice pantomime "Marina" at Brighton with Red McCarthy, Erna Charlotte and The Three Bruises and "St. Moritz" at The London Coliseum as part of 'The Original Cossack Trio' with Emmie Boyd and Leonard Stewart.

Left: Arnold Perren and Hanny Egli. Photo courtesy Hennepin County Library. Right: Armand Perren and Hanny Egli.

Two years later, Armand skated pairs with St. Moritz's Hanny Egli and doubled as the skating director for Empress Hall, Earl's Court and Arthur M. Wirtz's All Star European Revue "Hello America!" tour. He later skated pairs with Olive Robinson in several of Tom Arnold's ice pantomimes. After appearing in the show "Ice Follies" - not to be confused with the North American tour - with Raymonde du Bief, he performed in "La Féerie de la Glace" at the A.B.C. Theatre in Brussels, Belgium before going on the road with the Internationale Eis Revue, touring throughout Europe.

Armand Perren and Pierre Franchine preparing for a Tivoli show

In the late forties, Armand created his own show company which opened in Switzerland and later toured Belgium and Italy. He headed to Australia in 1950, where he directed a string of J.C. Williamson productions on The Tivoli Circuit.

Left: Marika Saary and Armand Perren in 1951. Photo courtesy National Library Of Australia. Right: Armand Perren.

Armand skated in some of these earlier Tivoli shows with Hungarian Champion Marika Saáry but ultimately stepped away from performing to focus on the direction and production. His efforts in Australia were at times in rocky. He contended with everything from mixed reviews to ice problems and in 1955, eighteen of the twenty two skaters in his "Rose Marie On Ice" show quit en masse over a wage dispute, only to be later rehired out of desperation. In the mid fifties, he was affiliated with a group which planned to build a giant, world-class rink in Brisbane, but it never materialized.

After a stint teaching skating in Johannesburg, South Africa, Armand returned to England in the sixties. He taught at Solihull Ice Rink in Altrincham, the Silver Blades Ice Rink in Streatham and the Birmingham Ice Rink. Among his students were Hywel Evans, Sally-Anne Stapleford, Vera Jeffery and Peter Webb and a young Lorna Brown and John Curry. 

John Curry and Armand Perren

Armand had quite a reputation for the time he spent at the horse tracks. He once claimed to have won thirty eight thousand pounds at a three-day meet in Goodwood, Sussex and while living in Australia, he owned several horses of his own. Bill Jones' book  "Alone: The Triumph And Tragedy Of John Curry" noted, "By the mid-1960's Perren's once sparkling career was in reverse, and his behaviour was becoming eccentric. For lessons he wore a dark double-breasted suit and tie, and if a pupil arrived two minutes late he would walk from the rink and not return. As one contemporary described him: 'He always had snots out of his nose. He sometimes didn't come in because he was drunk and he went to the races all the time and lost his money.'" John Curry and Armand's professional relationship ended unhappily after less than a year and the former Swiss guide's star continued to dwindle. He passed away in 1982, all but forgotten.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserlving 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 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

The History And Evolution Of Side-By-Side Jumps

Dance steps with side-by-side flip jump feature. Courtesy Rosemary (Stewart) and Bob Dench's 1943 book "Pair Skating And Dancing On Ice"

Thanks to reader 'MER' for requesting today's topic... a history of side-by-side jumps! Whether you're consulting dusty old books like me or asking Siri, chances are you're more than familiar with the history and evolution of figure skating jumps. From Dick Button's double Axel to Donald Jackson's triple Lutz, the history of jumping 'firsts' has been much discussed and documented. However, when it comes to the history and evolution of side-by-side jumps in pairs skating, comparatively little has been written.

The majority of pairs free skating programs prior to the roaring twenties consisted solely of dance steps, field figures and spins.1908 Olympic Gold Medallists Anna Hübler and Heinrich Burger pushed those boundaries with a small assisted three jump in their program. However, Burger cautioned, "Due consideration should be given the fact that pirouettes and jumps impair the rhythm. Whoever can succeed in skating this kind of figure to the music, however, may rightly claim that his pair-skating should score high, on the difficulty of it." Side-by-side jumping rose was first popularized during the era of the Charleston, when attitudes about the validity of shadow skating began to change . Footage exists of American Beatrix Loughran and Sherwin Badger performing side-by-side single jumps at the 1928 Winter Olympic Games in St. Moritz.

During the twenties and thirties side-by-side Axels were far from common, but they weren't non-existent. Since Gustave Lussi had taught both Constance and Bud Wilson the Axel, it has been suggested that he talented Canadians may have been the first or one of the first pairs to perform side-by-side Axels.  The 1936 Olympic Gold Medallists Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier usually only attempted solo flips, loops and waltz jumps, but on more than one occasion they did attempt Axels. A similar pair from Canada, the Caley Sisters, also mastered the one-and-a half revolution jump. Maribel Vinson and George 'Geddy' Hill 'only' went for side-by-side Lutzes in their program at the 1936 Olympics. Vinson stressed the importance of side-by-side jumps being performed as close together as possible, but advised, "When Guy [Owen] and I were making the Grantland Rice technique film 'Good Skates', we did a side-by-side flip jump so close that we crashed in mid-air - and that I do not advocate! However, anything less than a crash is all to the good, and if you and your partner can't pull your jumps off without a wide space between you, you had better leave them out until you acquire the knack - or the courage."

Rosemary (Stewart) and Bob Dench in action

Prior to and during World War II, side-by-side jumps were often featured in combination with combinations of dance steps and not as 'standalone' feature elements. When asked if a pair should include solo jumps in their performance in 1943, U.S. Champion Doris Schubach responded, "If the two skaters find that they jump from the same foot and that their styles are similar, then they should include a few in their program. Do not forget, however, that you are not exhibiting your ability as single skaters, but rather as two people skating as one. Do not let your program appear as if it could just as easily be skated by one person as by two."

Sheila and Ross Smith. Photos courtesy Guelph Museums.

An overlooked duo who pushed the boundaries during wartime were Sheila and Ross Smith, the 1944 Canadian Champions the junior pairs category. A profile in the March 1944 issue of "Skating" magazine noted, "They skate from the Winnipeg Winter Club and both are primarily singles skaters, which fact gave them no difficulty in including back loop jumps, Lutzes and Axels, and even a camel spin in their pair program." Imagine! A camel spin too. That's just fancy!

In their 1943 book "Pair Skating And Dancing On Ice", Rosemary (Stewart) and Bob Dench described side-by-side jumps as being "used advantageously to add variety to... shadow skating." Their book described side-by-side jumps up to the Axel being performed as well as side-by-side jumps performed "hand-in-hand" which were "sometimes [used] for turning corners as [they save] unnecessary running around and [are] a good way to gain speed." These 'hand-in-hand' side-by-side jumps were usually nothing more than a flying three or mohawk jump. Teams also performed 'passing' jumps which weren't side-by-side but were performed in unison. Maribel Vinson Owen recalled, "Norah McCarthy and Ralph McCreath jumped in a small separating figure and held their landing into a controlled meeting... Joan Tozzer and Bernard Fox did Salchow jumps past each other, a particularly rhythmic move, as the sway of their bodies as they approached on the rather long preparation was interesting and the dip for the jump was timed so that they passed each other actually in the air." An unusual trend during World War II were pairs that performed entirely different jumps side-by-side. On this matter, Rosemary Stewart and Bob Dench's book suggested, "Too much side-by-side work - skating as two separate individuals - is frowned upon by the judges... It is not necessary that you both do the same jumps at the same time. If you find that each of you do a certain jump better than the other, then by all means combine the two different jumps. For example, the lady may do a split while the man does a Lutz, and the combination is a very effective one."

Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd

There has long been a debate as to which pairs team was the first to perform side-by-side double jumps. Canadians have long asserted that Suzanne Morrow and Wallace Distelmeyer performed double jumps at the 1948 Winter Olympic Games and World Championships, while Germans have claimed that the first side-by-side double jumps were performed by 1952 Olympic Gold Medallists Ria (Baran) and Paul Falk. Video footage of Baran and Falk's performances that exist in "Das Bundesarchiv" only show them performing side-by-side waltz jumps and Salchows, while the Morrow-Francis and Distelmeyer claim (of side-by-side double Lutzes) was backed up by Canadian coach Sheldon Galbraith, who was of course in Switzerland in 1948 as Barbara Ann Scott's coach. Footage does exist of Americans Carole Ormaca and Robin Greiner performing side-by-side double Salchows at the 1956 Winter Olympics in Cortina d'Ampezzo and Canadians Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul performing side-by-side double toe-loops at the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley.

Though side-by-side jumps had been included in pairs programs for decades by the early sixties, they were still considered a novelty - not a standard or 'expected' element. Debbi Wilkes recalled, "Back in those days side-by-side jumps were not key elements in a pair program. I think the most we ever did was maybe a double Salchow. What we did were all the technical pair elements." That said, there were certainly a handful of teams that pushed the envelope in this area. Two of the first teams to attempt solo double Axels were Nina and Stanislav Zhuk and Maria and Otto Jelinek. The Zhuk's were unsuccessful on their attempt at the 1960 European Championships and Olympics; the Jelinek's also faltered at the 1962 World Championships. The athleticism of these teams prompted other pairs to try more difficult double jumps. In 1962, Dorothyann Nelson and Pieter Kollen and Milada Kubíková and Jaroslav Votruba both successfully performed double flips. Nelson and Kollen's double flips were side-by-side but were very intentionally not in unison, whereas the Jelinek's attempted the double Axel in unison, but not side-by-side.

By the late sixties, the standard among the top pairs teams in the world was to include more than one side-by-side double jump in a free skating program. These were still usually just Salchows, toe-loops or loops. After all, when the compulsory short program was introduced for pairs in 1964, the only required side-by-side jumps were the Axel and double Salchow. Soviets Tamara Moskvina and Alexei Mishin, Americans Barbara Brown and Doug Berndt and East Germans Manuela Groß and Uwe Kagelmann pushed the limit with side-by-side double Lutzes. Russian sources claim that at the 1969 European Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Irina Rodnina and Alexei Ulanov became the first team to successfully land side-by-side double Axels. However, a report of the event in "Skating" magazine only makes mention of them including "two remarkable quadruple combination jumps: Axel/toe-loop/half loop/double Salchow, and then split jump/toe-loop/half loop/double Salchow." A report from the 1972 Olympic Games noted that the only pair to land side-by-side double Axels were Americans Melissa and Mark Militano.

Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd

Though Irina Rodnina occasionally attempted side-by-side double Axels with both of her partners, she didn't do it every year, nor did the trick immediately 'stick' in the early seventies. By 1977, the side-by-side jumps in Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev's program were the double Axel, half loop/loop/double toe-loop combination, double flip, Axel and double Salchow series. Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner performed side-by-side double Axels, double loops and a split/two half loop/double Salchow series in 1979.

As of 1980, the CFSA's Gold Pair Test required four different side-by-side jumps: either a double Axel or double Lutz, double flip, loop and Salchow. However, short program required element groups only prescribed a double Salchow, double toe-loop, double flip or double loop. By 1984, pairs were required to attempt two side-by-side jumps in their free skating program at ISU Championships.
Soviets Marina Cherkasova and Sergei Shakrai made history when they landed side-by-side triple toe-loops at the 1978 European Championships in Strasbourg, but missed their attempts at landing the groundbreaking element at both the 1978 and 1979 World Championships, then abandoned the element entirely.

Elena Valova and Oleg Vasiliev's winning free skate at the 1983 World Championships featured clean side-by-side triple toe-loops. By 1985, a trio of young Russian pairs - Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov, Elena Leonova and Gennadi Krasnitski and Elena Bechke and Valeri Kornienko - had side-by-side triple toe-loops or Salchows in their repertoires. Canadians Cynthia Coull and Mark Rowsom also dabbled with side-by-side triple toe-loop's early in their career.

Though other teams sporadically attempted high risk side-by-side jumps in the early eighties, it was really the Soviet powerhouse pairs - Valova and Vasiliev, Gordeeva and Grinkov and their teammates Larisa Selezneva and Oleg Makarov - who consistently upped the ante for difficulty during that era, setting the standard of needing at least a side-by-side double Axel to be competitive. Giving a sense of the technical evolution of side-by-side jumps during this period in their 1987 book "Pair Skating As Sport And Art", Tamara Moskvina and Igor Moskvin noted, "In 1972 no program had a double Axel jump or a triple jump. In 1987 every [free] program had either a double Axel jump or a triple jump."

Not long after the ISU passed a rule change in June 1994 that allowed pairs to attempt a triple jump in the short program, the side-by-side triple toe-loop firmly replaced the double Axel as the benchmark. By this point, American pairs were the ones leading the way in the side-by-side jump department. Kristi Yamaguchi and Rudy Galindo did side-by-side triple flips in opposite directions and Shelby Lyons and Brian Wells pushed the envelope by attempting side-by-side triple loops.

Canada's Meagan Duhamel made history at the 2005 Canadian Championships in London, Ontario, performing the first side-by-side triple Lutz in competition with her partner Ryan Arnold. Quoted in the "Sudbury Star" on March 28, 2005, Duhamel remarked, "We didn't think it was going to end up being such a big deal. We knew the World Champions and the American Champions had been trying it for years. Ryan and I never looked at it as 'we're going to be the first ones'. We just both knew we were able to do it in singles, so we thought, 'why not use it?' It has become a great advantage for us." Side-by-side triple Lutzes became the trademark of Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, whose mastery of the jumps set them far apart from the pack and helped them win Olympic medals and World titles.

Will more side-by-side jumping history be made in the years to come? We'll just have to see what the future holds.

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 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

Bad Things Come In Threes

Photo courtesy "The Runaway Donkey And Other Rhymes For Children", 1905

"In attempting a back outside bracket
Be sure to put on a cork jacket;
For if you should fall, it will be on the small
Of your back and you'll probably crack it."

- "The Globe", December 1896

Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey, the hosts of my favourite podcast Stuff You Missed In History Class, often lament about the constant requests for tales of shipwrecks, exhumations and other tales of doom and gloom. As depressing as these stories may be, they are part of history - which isn't always rosy.

Photo courtesy "The National Ice Skating Guide"

I've covered too many skating catastrophes on the blog before. From the Sabena Crash and the Regent's Park Skating Tragedy to the Kolonnade Shopping Mall Rink Collapse and The Hallowe'en Holocaust, the fact of the matter is that skating has been far been immune from the reach of tragedy over the years. In today's blog, we will go down the rabbit hole and take a look at three more tragedies that have largely been forgotten.


The Neva River in St. Petersburg, Russia certainly has a rich skating history. It has also seen its fair share of tragedy. In 1911, fifteen workmen staying in makeshift quarters for rink employees on a barge on the Fontanka River (a left branch of the Neva) were killed in a tragic fire. The April 20, 1911 issue of The Evening Star recalled, "A watchman dropped a lamp in the kitchen. The flames reached a large oil-can standing near by. A violent explosion ensued, and in a moment the kitchen was ablaze. The watchman woke up the sleepers, of whom fourteen rushed out on to the quay without any boots and practically undressed, with the thermometer at nearly zero. The remainder stopped to dress and collect their belongings, and when they attempted to leave the dormitory they were faced by stifling smoke. The only exit was by a very narrow ladder. The two foremost of the men fell back unconscious upon the others, among whom a desperate fight of life followed, but not one escaped and they were all suffocated. When the firemen arrived they were found in a heap on the floor. The bodies bore marks of cuts and bruises and other signs of a struggle. One man even had several ribs smashed in."


After a performance of Holiday On Ice in Prague, Czechoslovakia on December 20, 1972, a group of skaters attended a party at the British Embassy. Late at night, they accepted a drive back to their hotel in a chauffeur-driven Embassy car.

Anita Jager winning the bronze medal at the Vera Pilsworth Trophy in 1967. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.

Tragically, the car collided with the rock wall of the Vyšehrad road tunnel, skidded and then collided with a tram and was flattened. The only survivor was an American Embassy official, but he was badly injured and was unable to provide a clear picture of how the accident occurred. The driver, a twenty one year old accountant at the British Embassy and three skaters were killed. Twenty one year old Andrew Aitkenhead from Brighton, nineteen year old Anita Jager and eighteen year old Janice Wells, both of Nottingham, were the skaters who perished. "Skating World" magazine noted that Andrew and Anita were inter-silver dance medallists and that Anita and Janice had passed their inter-silver figures. Andrew had won the Barron Trophy for boys under fifteen in 1965. The tragic accident was covered in the "Daily Mirror" and "Birmingham Post". Three skaters less, the Holiday On Ice troupe solemnly made their way to Essen, West Germany for their next show... and a rather gloomy Christmas.


1908 press photograph of a man performing a back shoot the duck on the Bois de Boulogne, which ironically was well-known for its pigeon problem.

In January of 1908, an afternoon of pleasure and figure skating on the Bois de Boulogne in Paris (historic home of the Cercle des Patineurs) was marred by a horrific incident that could have easily been of the same proportions of the 1867 Regent's Park Skating Tragedy, had it not been for some quick thinking.

Five hundred people were on the ice around four in the afternoon when disaster struck. An account from the February 22, 1908 issue of "The Express and Telegraph" described what transpired thusly: "Men, women and children were going around in merry circles on the different portions of the big lake, most of them belonging to the bourgeois or better classes. They were heedless of the fact that, whereas the temperature before was still some degrees below zero, it gradually rose under the influence of the south wind, and the treacherous process of thawing had been going on since the morning over ice already weakened by successive spells of thaw and frost. Suddenly, as some hundreds of skaters were moving round the middle of the lake, there was an ominous creek, and outburst of mingled cries and shrieks of terror as the ice gave way, and some forty or fifty persons were plunged into the lake... As soon as the park guards saw what had happened, they rushed forward, followed by the few policeman about, and some of the public who had recovered their self-control, to rescue the victims. Some thirty persons, at least, were plunged in the lake, and most of them in their frantic efforts got under the ice. A few who were near the edges were rapidly helped out, but then the more difficult part of the work began. Some twenty persons were finally rescued, but it was evident that many were missing. Soon several dead bodies were seen in the water or under the ice and taken out with difficulty and early reports stated that fourteen corpses had been recovered."

Like a game of telephone, later accounts vary widely as to what really happened. One account has two young boys colliding while skating, getting in a scuffle and while in fisticuffs, the ice breaking and people jumping in the water and rescuing them. Another cites an eyewitness, Monsieur Armand Laval, who saw a young boy climb over a danger barrier and call to his friends to follow and catch him when the ice broke.

Photo courtesy "Halcyon", 1905

In one version of the story, both boys were rescued. In Laval's account, the boy (Ferrietes) and "a middle-aged woman, two little girls and two youths of 16 and 17, an English governess and three English or English-speaking children" perished. Another reports that there were only two victims. Whatever the truth of the story, we can definitely ascertain that tragedy struck on the Bois de Boulogne that day and more lives could have easily been lost than at Regent's Park had it not been for some very brave souls.

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 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