The Eighth Annual Skate Guard Hallowe'en Spooktacular


It's that ghost wonderful time of the year when ghouls and goblins take center stage... and center ice. For this year's Skate Guard Hallowe'en Spoooktacular, we're going all the way back to 1868 with an unattributed piece that first appeared in the Christmas issue of "Chambers's Journal". Dim the lights, light a candle and prepare to be spooked by an eerie Victorian era skating thriller called "The Night-Summons".


"THE NIGHT-SUMMONS" (UNATTRIBUTED)

I could never quite make up my mind to like Captain Standril. He was only Lieutenant Standril when he first came to Buckholme, and let my sister Alice see how deeply he was in love with her. He was very good-looking and very accomplished; and in the eyes of Alice and mamma, he was simply perfection. Any opposition that I, a raw school-girl of fifteen, might have felt inclined to offer my sister's engagement would have been worse than useless; it would only have sown discord where love the most complete had heretofore reigned, and would not have influenced Alice's after-fate in the least. So the wedding-day came and went, and took our dear one with it. Mamma and I were left in the old house alone; and Buckholme had never seemed so desolate to either of us as it did now that Alice's pleasant laugh was no longer heard in its rooms.

About six months after Lieutenant Standril's marriage, his regiment was ordered to Ireland; and then Alice would have been lost to us entirely but for the letters that passed to and fro between Buckholme and the little town where she was in quarters with her husband.

My sister had been gone about a couple of years, when that terrible affair of the bank-failure took place. Mamma lost two-thirds of her entire fortune in the crash, and my little portion went the same way.

As a consequence of this calamity, we were obliged to quit Buckholme, the spot where Alice and I had been born and brought up, and close to which was the churchyard where our father lay buried. Mamma could no longer afford to keep up so large an establishment. We were even obliged to leave dear old Scotland; and, to my girlish fancy, crossing the border was like going into a foreign country. Mamma had a little house, her own property, in one of the northern counties of England, and that was to be our future home. After Buckholme, it was a mere cottage; and for several weeks after our arrival, we seemed to have scarcely breathing-room in it. But that feeling of narrowness and want of space quickly wore itself away, and we came to look upon the little house emphatically as home, and as such, we grew to love it. It was pleasantly situated on an upland sweep of rich pasture-land. From its windows, you looked across a wide expanse of undulating valley to the foremost spurs of a range of great hills that stretched northward - one giant pressing close on the shoulders of another almost to the Border itself - and formed no bad substitute for the more rugged grandeurs of my native land. Our tiny demesne was shut in on one side by the sluggish waters of a canal. This canal was a great eyesore to mamma, who always spoke of it as 'that ditch'; but for my part, I did not dislike it. The slow-trailing barges, laden with coal or merchandise, and the gay packet-boats that passed our windows twice a day - one up and one down - lent a touch of human interest to the landscape, and were of service to us in drawing our thoughts for a little while from ourselves and our immediate troubles.

Alice had been gone about three years. Of late, her letters had been very infrequent, and those that we did receive were confined to details of the meagrest kind. They breathed no syllable of complaint, yet there was always a troubled look in my mother's eyes for a day or two after she had received one of them. In the last letter sent us by Alice, there was no hint of what came to pass such a short time afterwards; consequently, our surprise was all the greater when, in the dusk of a certain summer evening, a fly stopped at our garden-wicket, and the next moment I clasped my sister to my heart.

It was only natural, after the first glad surprise of the meeting was over, that both mamma and I should want to know how it happened that Alice had come back so unexpectedly, and without a single word of announcement. But my sister stopped us at the outset.

"Captain Standril's regiment is ordered to Canada," she said, "and he will accompany it. I decline going to Canada; consequently, I am come back home. I have nothing further to tell you; and if you love me, you will not ask me a single question more."

And nothing further did she tell us. We were too happy to have her with us to question her against her will as to her reasons for returning.

During the six months that followed between the night of her return and the strange incident which I have now to record, Alice received but two letters from her husband. Whether the news they contained was good or bad, no one ever knew but herself. All she said was, that Captain Standril was quite well, and desired his regards to mamma and me; but she seemed even more melancholy after the receipt of them than she had been before, although not faintest murmur or complaint of any kind escaped her lips. Both mamma and I were anxious on the score of her health, which seemed to wane with the waning year; the listless, brooding sadness that was upon her deepened from month to month, and the doctor's visits grew more frequent as Christmas drew near. But Alice's illness was of the heart, and all the tonics in the world would have availed her but little.

That winter was the hardest that had been known south of the Border for years; but I had been used to hard winters all my life. The black frost, which set in about the middle of December, promised before long to afford me an opportunity of indulging in my favourite pastime of skating, which, on leaving Buckholme, I had given up as a lost pleasure - as a something which I could hope but rarely to enjoy again. Every morning when I awoke, my first glance was to the window of my room, to see whether a filigree of frost-work still obscured the panes; and morning after morning, the dainty tracery was there again, telling me that the frost had not yet been broken.

When the frost had lasted four days, I sent Simon, our solitary man-servant, who was coachman, butler and gardener in one, to make a secret reconnaissance, and report privately to me as to character and capabilities of the ice.

"It'll bear all right by tomorrow, Miss Theo, will t'ice," was Simon's report.

Next morning, I imparted my project mamma; but she would not listen to it till two days later, when my importunities induced her to yield a reluctant consent. I must go alone, or not at all, but I did not mind that. I had spent many a solitary hour skating on the great loch near Buckholme, with no company but my own thoughts. So Simon went down with me to the edge of the canal, and put on my skates for me, and then I started. I had a glorious three hours on the ice; and got back home all aglow, just as the sun was dipping into the gray mists of a dying afternoon.

A week passed, and still the frost held without the slightest sign of a break. Every day I went on to the ice for a longer or shorter time; and mamma was quite as anxious now - being well assured that the ice could not give way - that I should enjoy this healthful exercise while I had an opportunity of doing so, as I was to second her wishes in the matter. Dear mamma! She was afraid that Alice's melancholy would infect my spirits it I stayed too much indoors; that I should catch the trick of sadness, without having its warranty.

On the morning of Christmas-eve, there came a third letter from Canada, addressed to my sister. We were all sitting at breakfast when it was brought in, for, this morning, Alice seemed better than usual, and had come down quite unexpectedly. She opened the letter with hands that trembled slightly. As her eyes took in the contents, a deep angry flush mounted to her white face. Next minute she arose, looking beautifully indignant, and crossing the floor, thrust her husband's letter between the bars of the grate, and did not turn away her gaze till it was burned to ashes. She then crossed the room to leave it. She was going back to the solitude of her own little chamber upstairs.

"Is Robert quite well, dear?" asked mamma anxiously as Alice's hand was on the door.

"Captain Standril is quite well," she answered coldly, and next moment she was gone.

Later in the day, I went out on the ice as usual, but the edge of my enjoyment was taken off by my sister's evident trouble. If only she would have made a confidant of mamma, and have told her everything, I felt convinced that half the sting would have been taken out of her trouble. But she nursed it in solitude, brooding over it in lonely misery, and by her obstinate silence, making all three of us far more wretched than we need have been, had not her lips been sealed by mistaken pride.

I was met by mamma on entering the house. "Alice is much worse this afternoon," she said. "The letter she received this morning seems to have given a shock to her nervous system which has utterly prostrated her. I would send for Dr. Webb, but that she is so obstinately bent on not seeing him after his visit of yesterday; and when she sets her mind either for or against anything, you know how determined she can be."

"Has she said anything to you respecting the contents of the letter?"

"Not a word."

As the evening advanced, Alice seemed somewhat better, but still very silent and depressed; and altogether it was the most wretched Christmas-eve I had ever known. I was glad when bedtime came. After I had put out my light, I stood peering out of the window for a few moments. A slight snow-shower had fallen a few hours before, but the clouds had rolled themselves away by this time, and the wide landscape, white and solemn, lay bathed in clearest moonlight. What a pity it seemed, I thought, to waste in sleep hours that could claim so much beauty as their own.

I was fast enough asleep, however, when mamma came into my room, about two o'clock, and touched me on the shoulder. "I want you to get up, dear," she said. "Alice is much worse, and I am becoming very anxious about her."

Mamma's anxiety was at once shared by me when I entered my sister's room. That she was very dangerously ill was quite evident even to my inexperienced eyes. "Dr. Webb must be summoned at once," said mamma, "but whom can we send to fetch him?"

Dr. Webb lived at Dale-end, a little town five miles away. So solitary was the position of our house, that he was the nearest practitioner. Under ordinary circumstances, there would have been no difficulty in summoning him. Old Simon would have got out Ball the pony, and have driven over to Dale-end with the basket-carriage, and have brought the doctor back with him. But to-night it so happened that neither Simon nor the pony was available. The former had gone to spend Christmas with some friends several miles away; and Ball, a few days previously, had fallen lame, and was for the present utterly useless. Beside mamma and myself, there remained in the house only two maid-servants, who would rather have forfeited their situations than have walked five miles along a lonely country road at that uncanny hour.

"I will go and summon Dr. Webb," I said in answer to mamma's question.

"But, Theo, you can never walk five miles at this time of the night."

"I both can and will do it. Dr. Webb will bring me back in his gig."

"It will never do for you to go alone. Bessy the housemaid must accompany you."

"She would only be an encumbrance, and I am not at all afraid. I should get along twice as well without her. You know my walking powers of old."

"I must really insist, Theo, upon Bessy going with you. Otherwise I shall go to Dale-end myself."

I should probably have carried my point in the end, but just then a sudden thought struck me, which left me for the moment powerless to speak, and mamma at once went to call Bessy.

Five minutes later, Bessy and I were ready to start. Mamma let us out at the front-door, and bade us God-speed, and stood watching us till we shut the garden wicket behind us and were lost to view. Moon and stars were shining brightly, and all the country-side lay white before us. The snow was not thick enough to impede walking; it just served to deaden the noise of our footsteps on the hard ground. There was a keen frosty wind that smote us like a scourge when we got out of the sheltered lane, and turned our faces northward.

"Beg your pardon, Miss Theo, but you are taking the wrong turn," said Bessy. "We shall never get to Dale-end this way."

"Yes we shall, Bessy; or rather I shall. There will be no need for you to go."

"But Mrs. Saltoun said I was to go with you, Miss Theo; and anyhow, this is not the road."

"Let me enlighten you; I am going to skate there along the canal."

"Law! Miss, you will never be so foolish!" exclaimed Bessy, utterly aghast at the idea. "Whatever will your mamma say?"

"Mamma has had to forgive me so many worse things than that. I shall reach Dale-end in half the time it would take me to go by road, and Dr. Webb will be able to see my sister so much the sooner. I want you to go down to the canal with me, and assist me on with my skates. After that, you can go back home, and tell mamma what I have done."

Bessy grumbled, but was obliged to give way. I sat down on a large stone by the canal side, and she assisted me to fasten on my skates. My dress was well looped up, and so as not to impede my movements; my hands were protected by a tiny muff; last of all, Bessy tied a handkerchief over my hat; and under my chin. Then I started. Good-hearted Bessy stood on the bank, and waved me a tearful farewell, as though I were going on a voyage of a thousand miles.

The ice was in splendid condition. The keen wind that had sprung up since midnight had swept the powdered snow off its surface almost as well as a broom could have done. To find myself on the ice by night was to remind me of old happy hours in Scotland, when we used to go out, a great party of us, with torches and bagpipes, and skate on Buckholme Loch. I nerved myself to do the distance at racing speed. It was six miles, a mile further than by road. When the black span of the first bridge was touched and past, and Bessy left a quarter of a mile behind, the overpowering solitude of the scene began to weigh upon my heart. But the condition was of itself enough to make me feel sad and anxious. It could not surely be that we were going to lose her? And yet there was something in her appearance to-night that excited my worst fears. In my own mind, I could not help connecting my sister's increased illness with the letter from her husband which she had received that morning while at breakfast. If that hateful Captain Standril had never come back to Buckholme, Alice would not have left us, and all the after-misery of her life resulting from her marriage with that man would have been spared her.

Such was the precise nature of the thought in my mind, at the moment that a faint sound struck on my ear, and caused me to turn my head. I was quite disagreeably startled to find that I was quite so entirely alone on the ice as I had imagined myself to be. There was some one behind me: a man. "Some belated skater, no doubt," said I to myself, "who has been detained by good cheer and good company, and is now making the best of his way home."

Without feeling exactly frightened, I was yet rather anxious and timid, and at once put on my speed to the utmost, with the view of distancing the stranger behind me. But I quickly perceived that the attempt was a futile one. My pursuer - for such, although I had no reason whatever for so doing, I could not help calling him in my own mind - was rapidly lessening the distance between us. The ring of his skates was plain enough now to my ear, above the noise made by my own. Suddenly, I decided to slacken my speed, so as to let this troublesome individual shoot ahead of me, since that seemed the only way to get rid of him. It was not without a quickened beating of the heart that I put this plan into operation, and reduced my speed by one-third. The stranger now came up 'hand over hand'. "He will reach me at the bridge," said I to myself, calculating the distance with my eye. So it was. As we shot until the bridge, he was skating in my shadow; as we shot out on the other side, he and I were abreast. I kept my eyes fixed straight before me, and skated on, but still at a reduced speed. I was momently expecting to see the stranger glide on in front of me, leaving me to pursue my journey alone. But he did nothing of the kind. We had left the bridge three hundred yards behind, and he was still skating in an exact line with me. My indignation was rapidly overcoming my timidity. "A piece of warrantable impertinence, to intrude his company on me in this way!" I said to myself. With that I turned to fix him with a haughty stare; perhaps to question him, and saw - whom?

"Captain Standril!"

My first feeling was on of utter surprise at finding by my side a person whom I had at that moment believed to be some thousands of miles away. But this feeling quickly merged itself, and was lost in one that was far more unpleasant - in one of sheer horror. In the first moment of my surprise at seeing Captain Standril, I pronounced his name, and was about to add some simple question, but a second glace at him caused the words to die away in my throat. As well as I could make out, he was dressed entirely in furs. On his head, he wore a close-fitting cap, made of the skin of some animal, from which his pale sharp-cut features and shapely moustache stood out clear and distinct in the moonlight. Yes, his face was very pale. It was more than pale; it was white - a dull death-like green white in the light of the moon - the face of a corpse! My soul itself seemed to shudder with a dread ineffable, as the conviction forced itself upon my mind that I was in the company of a dead man. He was looking straight before him at the moment I pronounced his name, and he took no apparent notice of my ejaculation. We were still gliding swiftly forward on our shoes of steel - I almost mechanically; we were still in a line one with the other, with a space of five or six feet between us; we had progressed about half a mile from the spot were Captain Standril had come up with me, when he slowly turned his head, and bent his eyes upon mine - terrible eyes, with nothing of earthy speculation left in them, but in its place a nameless indescribable something, lighting them up with a strange inward light of their own, so that their expression was as clear to me as if I had seen them by the broad light of day. The horror that was upon me deepened till it was almost unbearable. Earth and sky, moonlight and starlight, and the shining icy floor which my feet were devouring so swiftly, all passed out of my cognizance as unconsciously as a dream fades out of the brain at the moment of waking. We seemed to be skating, my dread companion and I, over a sea of glass towards a precipice that could only be discerned dimly in the distance, and over which, having no power to stop ourselves, we must inevitably go headlong to destruction.

As in dreams we have no real knowledge of the duration of time, so, in the state in which I then was, I seemed to have passed hours in skating over the sea of glass, whereas it could only have been half a minute at the most before I came back to a recognition of time and place, and the real circumstances around me; and felt rather than saw, with a throb of unspeakable relief, that my companion's baleful eyes were no longer fixed upon me. In the mere fact of his presence, there was something sufficiently terrible; but had he kept his eyes on me much longer, I must either have died or gone mad.

There was something appalling in my companion's utter silence. I became possessed by an almost irresistible desire to challenge him, to question him, to do anything that would cause him to speak; and yet in my secret I was intensely thankful that he did not speak: it was a contradiction that I am unable to explain. Had he spoken to me, I should have never summoned up courage to answer again. Nothing, indeed, save the strong consciousness working within me that the errand on which I was bound must be accomplished at every risk, gave me the strength needful to accomplish my purpose. Had I been supported by a sense of any duty less stern and exacting, that support would have been in vain; I should infallibly have broken down; I should have shrieked aloud for help, though no one could have heard me; I should have turned and fled by the way I had come; or else I should have fallen senseless on the ice, and have been found next morning, frozen and dead. As it was, I drew my breath hard, and set my teeth, and murmured to myself: "Not twenty Captain Standrils, dead or alive, shall stop me from going where I want to go."

I increased my pace, and Captain Standril increased his. Onward we sped along a winding course that followed every bend and twist of the little valley, the white meadows, solitary and far-reaching, sweeping down on either side of our icy road without a sign of human life or habitation. The little town for which I was bound lay in a fold of the valley, and could not be seen from the canal till you were close upon it. My heart began to beat more freely at the thought that now the end of my journey was not far away. About a mile before you reach the town, the canal divides itself into two branches, which, after forming a loop (for purposes of trade), come together again in the large basin at the terminus. Each of these channels would have answered my purpose equally well, there being little or no difference in their length; but I had made up my own mind to take that which led to the right. When we were about a dozen yards from the point of division, the dark and speechless figure by my side shot suddenly ahead in the direction of the left hand channel. I now saw, what I had not noticed before, that my weird companion was shadowless! The noise made my his skates cutting the ice could be distinctly heard above that made by mine; in bulk and figure he seemed as other men; his person intercepted the light, and was apparently as palpable to the touch as my own: yet despite all this, as he shot forward in the brilliant moonlight, not the slightest shadow was cast by his figure on the ice. I saw, and thrilled from head to foot as I saw. At the entrance to the left-hand channel, my companion paused in his career, turned his head slowly, and beckoned me to follow him. As though impelled by some fatal fascination with the course I had determined on in my own mind, my feet, without any apparent volition of my own, turned off to the left, as if in obedience to my ghostly summons. Another instant, and I should have been close on his track, when suddenly I heard my sister's voice, as clear as distinct as ever I heard it in my life, say close to my ear: "Follow him not!" With a half-smothered shriek, I swept swiftly round, and next moment I was racing at a headlong speed down the channel to the right.

I thought I had got rid of my ghostly pursuer. My eyes went stealthily round, and could see no signs of him. But a couple of minutes later, as I emerged from the shadow of a bridge, he was by my side again. But every minute now my nerves were gaining in steadiness, for the end of my journey was night. Presently, we shot into the great basin of the canal, the roofs of Dale-end were before me, and my heart gave utterance to a brief silent thanksgiving for my safe arrival. I sat down on the wharf steps to take off my skates. My dread companion had vanished; I was alone.

As I hurried up the narrow tortuous streets of the little town, I seemed to be conscious of a vague shadowy presence haunting my footsteps; but whenever I turned my head there was nothing to be seen. This impalpable something followed me close up to the doctor's door, but was gone utterly the moment I laid my hand on the bell. The good doctor was quickly down in answer to my summons. "O Dr. Webb - my sister!" was all I could say, and then I fell insensible at his feet.

When I recovered my senses, I found Mrs. Webb at my side, whom her husband had fetched out of her bed to attend to her. There, too, was the doctor himself, ready prepared for the journey.

"You had better stay here for the rest of the night, my dear Miss Saltoun," said the doctor, "or else I may have two patients on my hands instead of one."

"I am quite well now; and I must get back home," I replied; nor could all the well-meant efforts of the kind-hearted couple persuade me to the contrary. Five minutes later, well wrapped up in some extra shawls and rugs, I was seated beside the doctor in his gig, on my way home. As we were going along, I narrated to Dr. Webb the details of my strange journey on the ice. He answered me, as I quite expected he would do - that my nervous system was out of order; that the delicate mechanism of the brain was slightly disarranged; that my mind had been dwelling too much on Captain Standril and the letter written by him; and that when the mental health was affected in a certain way, nothing was more simple than to mistake a spectral illusion for a creature of flesh and blood. Finally, it was Dr. Webb's opinion that what I wanted most was tone; and he would write me out a prescription in the morning which would put all ghostly fancies to flight for the future.

"What you say may be quite correct," I replied; "nevertheless, I am perfectly convinced that Captain Standril is dead, and that he died within a few hours of the present time, as I am that I am sitting here and speaking with you. All I ask of you, that you will put down the exact day and hour in your pocket-book, and leave the event to prove whether I am right or wrong."

"Agreed," he said. "There can be no harm in doing that. You will not, I presume, say a word either to Mrs. Saltoun or your sister respecting what you have just told me?"

"Certainly not. It will be time enough for them to know when the news shall come."

"The news will never come, my dear Miss Saltoun, take my word for it."

We found my sister no worse than when I had left home. Dr. Webb stayed with us till breakfast-time. Before taking his leave, he showed me the memorandum which he made in his pocket-book.

A fortnight later, came the news of Captain Standril's death. He had been out skating on Christmas-eve with a party of friends on one of the smaller of the Canadian lakes. After some time, he had left the ordinary track of the rest of the party for a solitary run up the lake; and when about a mile and a half away from any assistance, he had unwittingly skated into a large air-hole, which had been made by some Indians in the ice for fishing purposes. His body was recovered; but not till life was extinct. In the suddenness and terrible nature of this calamity, everything was forgiven and forgotten by his widow, except the one fact, that he had been her husband, and that once on a time he had loved her very devotedly. By one loving heart, Captain Standril was long and sincerely mourned.

After a time, and from other sources, some particulars of my sister's married life reached us. That it had been a very unhappy one, marked by gambling and dissipation on the one hand, and by patient endurance on the other, is all that need to be said here. But there are some things that a woman cannot forgive, and Captain Standril did that which would not allow of his wife accompanying him abroad. The letter received by Alice on the morning of Christmas-eve contained a request that she would try to persuade mamma - poor as the latter now was - to sell out five hundred pounds' worth of stock, and remit him the proceeds.

I have nothing further to add, except that I was afterwards informed that at the time of my journey to Dr. Webb's, the ice of the left-hand channel was broken under one of the bridges. Had I taken that channel, as summoned to do by my ghostly conductor, I should, in all human probability, have met a fate similar to that of Captain Standril.

Dr. Webb is, however, still skeptical, and always speaks of the affair as "a very remarkable case of spectral illusion."

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Skating In Charlotte's Shadow: The Hilda Rückert Story


Born April 8, 1897 in the affluent borough of Charlottenburg in Berlin, Germany, Hildegard 'Hilda' Charlotte Elisabeth Rückert is a name we may not be familiar with today, but her stint in the skating spotlight is without a doubt a terribly interesting tale. After studying ballet in hopes of joining the Imperial Russian Ballet, she got her start as a teenage skater performing in a steady stream of Leo Bartuschek's Eisballets at the Admiralspalast. In August 1916, at the age of eighteen, she boarded the Kristianiafjord, sailing from Bergen, Norway to New York City with twenty six other skaters. Employed by Charles Dillingham to perform in the famous ice shows at the Hippodrome which starred her friend Charlotte Oelschlägel, she received a salary of twenty five dollars a month.

Top: Hilda Rückert, Ellen Dallerup and Katie Schmidt. Bottom: Hilda Rückert.

Only months after her arrival in America, Hilda gave a pairs skating exhibition with Irving Brokaw at the Hippodrome Challenge Cup, which fell somewhat flat. The February 19, 1916 issue of "The Daily Standard Union" recalled, "While the judges were counting up the points Irving Brokaw and Miss Hilda Rückert of the Hippodrome company skated an exhibition and indulged in the most spectacular fall of the week. Miss Ruckert attempted one of the high jumps which she does so well and Mr. Brokaw's hands slipped just as she left the ice. He landed in a heap and she went flying through the air and fell full length on the ice. She buried her face in her arms and never moved a muscle for a moment, and just as the spectators began to think she was badly hurt, jumped up with a laugh and joining Mr. Brokaw skated off at top speed again."


That spectacular fall would prove to be one of the few missteps of Hilda's skating career. Though Charlotte was billed as the star of the Hippodrome ice shows, Hilda, Ellen Dallerup and Katie Schmidt all received considerable attention from New York audiences. After only a year in the city, Hilda had made such an impression that she told a reporter from "The Evening World" that "hereafter she is to be known as just plain Hilda." Though she didn't quite achieve enough fame to be a mononymous skater like Charlotte or later, Belita, her exploits after her stint in the Eisballets and Hippodrome shows certainly played an important role in the development of professional figure skating.

Left: Ellen Dallerup and Hilda Rückert. Right: Advertising card for Healy's Golden Glades.

In the summer of 1917, Hilda was hired by Thomas Healy to appear in the rooftop ice shows at the Golden Glades restaurant on the northeast corner of Columbus Avenue and West 66th Street in New York City. She was billed in Healy's shows as 'The Skating Gazel' and pre-prohibition audiences at the restaurant were astonished by the novelty of the young German skater's spins as they downed stiff cocktails. 

Photo courtesy Library Of Congress

Hilda's stint with Healy led to gigs skating in the Plantation Grill at the Muehlebach Hotel in Kansas City, the Henshaw Hotel in Omaha and the Terrace Garden at the Morrison Hotel in Chicago, but as the temperance movement resulted in prohibition, employment opportunities for skaters in hotel ice shows dried up and Hilda was forced to return to lakes, ponds and outdoor rinks to make a living as a professional skater.


In 1922, Hilda gave exhibitions in Indianola Park in Columbus, Ohio and took on a starring role in an ice revue at the Ice Palace at 45th and Market Streets in Philadelphia alongside Gladys Lamb and Norval Baptie, Katie Schmidt and Howard Nicholson.


Hilda Rückert and Howard Nicholson


The following year, Hilda toured the state of New York giving exhibitions in conjunction with professional speed skating races. The January 14, 1923 issue of "The New York Times" noted that she thrilled an audience of five thousand with her spinning in one such exhibition. That same year, she appeared in "The Masque Of Pandora", an operatic interpretation of Longfellow's poem of the same name staged at Humboldt Lodge in Columbus by Edna Fox Zirkel. With a cast of six hundred, the "New York Clipper" raved it was "the largest outdoor musical and dramatic offering ever presented in Columbus and almost entered the field of pageantry in its massiveness."

 Hilda Rückert and Eugene Mikeler

After a plan to revive the now failing Hippodrome with an ice show starring Hilda, Elsie Donegan and Earl Reynolds fell through, Hilda was struggling financially. She made the difficult decision to cut her losses and abandon her American dream in the late twenties around the time of the Stock Market Crash. 

Hilda Rückert and Howard Nicholson

Hilda sailed to Europe and skated gave a series of exhibitions in Chamonix, France before forming her own 'all-girl' troupe, the Eisballet Rückert, and touring Spain. The troupe performed on hastily set-up rinks in fields, theatres and bullrings.

Hilda with members of the Eisballet Rückert. Photo courtesy National Library Of Spain.

Hilda then headed to the skating resorts of St. Moritz, Switzerland. Wowing crowds with a series of exhibitions at the Grand Hotel ice rink alongside Ellen Brockhöft and Paul Kreckow, she reunited with Howard Nicholson, whom she starred with in the ice revue in Philadelphia almost ten years earlier. 


Hilda and Howard formed a professional partnership and introduced Swiss audiences to many of the acrobatic tricks popularized in the American hotel and restaurant shows of the twenties.
   
Hilda Rückert and Howard Nicholson

Though they likely weren't the first team to perform acrobatic tricks like the neck spin and 'airplane' spin which is reminiscent of the headbanger, Hilda and Howard Nicholson were without a doubt pioneers of adagio skating and audiences couldn't get enough of them.

Howard Nicholson, Hilda Rückert and Paul Kreckow in St. Moritz

However, after appearing in Herbert Selpin's 1934 comedic film "Der Springer von Pontresina" skating with 'Baron' von Petersdorff, Hilda's time in the spotlight all but came to an end. She returned to Germany, survived World War II and much like Charlotte, lived out the rest of her days in relative obscurity. She passed away on November 14, 1960 in Nuremberg at the age of sixty three.

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

Switzerland, New Zealand And Egbert The Educated Horse


With its ice capped mountains and beautiful outdoor rinks, Switzerland was once the foremost destination for skating enthusiasts around the world. Over the years, the country has been the fictional setting of three Sonja Henie films ("Everything Happens At Night", "One In A Million" and "Thin Ice"), Claude Langdon's popular ice pantomime "White Horse Inn On Ice" starring Belita, and countless ice shows around the world. One such Swiss-inspired ice show, in the absolute unlikeliest of places, turned out to be a massive hit that the world has all but forgotten.

In the summer of 1939, just weeks before World War II broke out, Australian born businessman Sir John Robert Hugh McKenzie had a brain wave. McKenzie ran the J.C. Williamson Theatre Company which often brought in overseas entertainment for Australian and New Zealand markets and was well aware of ice skating's international popularity. Determined to bring a lavish ice show to Kiwi audiences but without a venue equipped to house such a production, he set to work transforming the stage at His Majesty's Theatre in Auckland into an ice rink.

Megan Taylor

The Williamson Theatre Company's ice show was to be called "Switzerland" and would star two time World Champion Megan Taylor and her father and coach Phil, an accomplished stilt skater and barrel jumper. The production, which had already toured to packed houses in South Africa and Australia, was originally slated to open in New Zealand in September of 1939 but several challenges delayed the production. Seats had to be removed and the stage built up and made perfectly level so that the view from the theatre's front stalls was unobstructed. Then, of course, there was that nasty business of making ice. On December 17, 1939, the Taylor's arrived in Auckland with just six days to rework a Swiss fantasy on ice with their travelling cast of sixty skaters, including Australians, Britons and Canadians.

"Switzerland" opened two days before Christmas on 1939 to a sold out crowd. People from as far north as Whangarei and as far south as Taihape flocked to the New Zealand capital to see what all the fuss was about. They were treated by Leo Packer and his Orchestra performing Merry Tyrolean folk dance music when they sat on their seats. When the curtain opened, they laid eyes upon a glistening stage set with painted mountains, a Swiss chalet and a picture perfect ice rink. In the next day's issue of "The Auckland Star", an enthusiastic reviewer described the show as a "rushing ballet of skaters and skaterinas weaving and inter weaving in the glorious swing of the ballroom waltz. Ere the curtain fell this ballet in winged, steel-shod shoes had not only compelled admiration for the beauty of Tyrol folk dances, Can-Can, dainty minuet and 'Floradora' flourish; enhanced by the swift mobility of dancing on ice, but had aroused unrestrained enthusiasm by flashing into a military parade of kettledrum, flag and general drill with faultless swing, steadiness and precision - spectacle after colourful spectacle of the grace, beauty and exhiliration of skilful skating. Yet the ballet was but the pale halo round the central stars. Megan Taylor was dazzling in the highlights of classic precision and purity of form which had gained her world champion honours in the recognised competitive tests of the mistress. In lighter mood she displayed the expressive fire and colour of a Gypsy dance, and the dash of a champion unleashed in free skating. Phil Taylor champion in his own right both before and after his lovely daughter won her honours, lifted the pitch of the skate-song up to speedway recklessness in stilt stunts, daring jumps, and with Elsie Heathcote as partner, the hazardous refinements of adagio dancing on skates. The MacKinnon sisters [Patricia and Joy], of Canada, included also the thrilling adagio dance, whirling in their specialties, which ran to many beautiful variations possible only to skaterinas of superlative skill. Diana Grafton, Doreen Parr, Rita Bramley and Ronald Priestley concentrated on the expression of humour on skates with comedy dancing, the 'Boomps-a-Daisy' Polka by Miss Parr and Priestley, and Diana's dashing acrobatic numbers being especially appreciated. Scintillating personalities all these, yet none was more brilliant than that merry jester of the rink, Eddie Marcel, to whom the house owed, and gladly paid in laughing tribute, a deep debt of gratitude for full enjoyment and understanding of the show. The artistic blend of character comedy and compering made him a lifelong friend of all patrons. In a cabaret interlude featuring diversified comedy, Connie Graham, with Hal Scott in support, amusingly burlesqued prima donnas and client film actresses, and brought the house down with her dramatic realism in the Tom-cat's 'Midnight Love Song.' Tommy Russell fiddled to nonsensical piano-accordion accompaniments by Ernie Marconi in spasms of original musical comedy. It was a memorable night of fun and glamorous skating highlights, enhanced by capable and inspiring orchestration."


The show ran nightly with matinee shows on Wednesdays and Saturdays with a twist no one was expecting. Although Megan and Phil Taylor were the headliners of "Switzerland", they were nearly upstaged by Egbert The Educated Horse, played by Ronald Priestley and Eddie Marcel. The crowd just went berserk over the two-man skating horse, cheering him loudly and even yelling for encores. The next day, the newspaper raved, "Egbert is a 'property' horse who has to be seen to believed; he rolls his eyes, blows smoke through his nostrils, and in moments of emotion weeps copiously." 

Megan Taylor

So well received was the show at Her Majesty's Theatre that The Williamson Theatre Company decided to take "Switzerland" on the road. The Taylor's, Elsie Heathcote and of course, Egbert The Educated Horse, received nightly standing ovations for over a month at the Theatre Royal in Wellington, where 'house full' cards had to be displayed outside the theatre before both matinee and evening performances. From there, the cast went to Christchurch, where Megan Taylor was honoured by the New Zealand Roller Skating Association  at a special reception in her honour. After shows at the Theatre Royal in Hamilton, "Switzerland" returned to His Majesty's Theatre in Auckland for an encore performance. On April 29, 1940, "The Auckland Star" raved that "applause and laughter such as has rarely been heard in His Majesty's Theatre rocked the venerable building to its foundations... Of the capacity house, at least half must have seen the show when it was here at Christmas - it is known that one patron had seen it no fewer than nine times - and so members of the company were welcomed back as old friends... Where would they all have been if it had not been for Marcel? Marcel, valiantly coming to the footlights to announce each turn with inimitable patter, although his feet showed a marked disposition to tie themselves in knots, and his 'educated' horse Egbert, who seemed to forget its training or leave the ground altogether."

With a portion of the proceeds donated to the Sick And Wounded War Fund, this unexpected hit inspired a series of popular wartime ice shows in New Zealand that distracted the fine folks of the country from the tumult and horror of the Pacific theater of war. Through the imagination of McKenzie and the J.C. Williamson Company, Kiwis could go to the theatre every night and be transported to neutral Switzerland, a safe place where skating reigned supreme and everyone was happy... especially Egbert The Educated Horse.

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

The Hobbs Trophy

Just two years after The Great War ended, a group of winter sports enthusiasts in Lake Placid, New York formed an organization called the Sno Birds. The Sno Birds aimed to organize and promote figure and speed skating, skiing, tobogganing, curling and other popular winter sports in the area, and were affiliated with the various national governing bodies of winter sports at the time, including the U.S. Figure Skating Association. A man named Ernst des Baillets, who had served on the executive of similar Winter Sports Clubs in Caux, Les Avats and Chamonix as well as the Tuxedo Club in New York, served as the organization's director in its infancy.

Charles Buxton Hobbs

One of the more important goals of the Sno Birds was to organize winter sports festivals... which included figure skating competitions. The first of these festivals took place in 1920, the year the club was formed. That same year, Charles Buxton Hobbs, a well-to-do Virginia born Yale and Columbia grad who worked as a lawyer at the New York City firm Gifford, Stearns, Hobbs & Beard, donated The Hobbs Trophy to the group.

Much like the Hippodrome Challenge Cup which had been much sought after during wartime, the figure skating competitions for The Hobbs Trophy drew a veritable who's who of American figure skating to Lake Placid. Skaters from as far away as Boston, New Haven and Philadelphia - many of the same skaters who vied for top honours at the U.S. Championships during the roaring twenties - made the trek to the village to vie for the prize. Though they competed in separate classes, both men and women were eligible for The Hobbs Trophy. In order to earn permanent possession of the Trophy, all they had to do was win their class of competition at the annual Lake Placid figure skating competition on three separate occasions.

Ethel Bijur, Bedell H. Harned, Mrs. and Mr. Henry Wainwright Howe, Virginia Slattery and Ferrier T. Martin skating in Lake Placid in 1925. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

In 1925, Beatrix Loughran won the senior women's competition for the third consecutive year and became the first person to be able to take to take the Hobbs Trophy home and rest it on her mantle. Her ownership of the Trophy was short-lived. In 1926, George Braakman defeated Ferrier T. Martin and Heaton Ridgway Robertson to win his third consecutive men's title and earned his right to the coveted prize. That same year, Cecil Smith of Toronto defeated Ada Bauman of New York to become the first Canadian skater to win the women's contest. Over fifty skaters from Canada and the U.S. competed in the event that year. Writing in "Skating" magazine, M.L. Wright recalled, "Stars And Stripes, Union Jacks and Canadian flags floated in the snowy air above the glistening ice as the skaters glided about, their dark formal costumes outlined against the high banks of snow around the rink. Low temperature prevailed and a considerable snowfall added to the picture... Miss Smith gave a more remarkable exhibition than heretofore seen on the Club rink." She defended her title the following year.

The figure skating competitions in Lake Placid during the twenties and thirties also featured competitions for pairs, junior men and women and contests in Waltzing, the Tenstep and the Fourteenstep. Many skaters who medalled at the U.S. Championships during the era, including Roger Turner, James B. Greene, Rosalie Dunn, Gail Borden II, Dr. Hulda Berger and the Weigel Sisters all struck gold in Lake Placid. By the thirties, Mrs. R.W. Allen (who had competed against Beatrix Loughran for the Hobbs Trophy in 1925) had donated a platter for skaters who won their class twice as opposed to thrice. Bedell H. Harned and Henry Wainwright Howe, who both won dancing titles in Lake Placid during the roaring twenties, also donated cups as prizes. 


As all of these contests were held outside, skaters of course had to contend with Mother Nature. Hothouse skaters and seasoned pond skaters alike struggled in 1924. The dance events had to be postponed when temperatures dipped as low as minus twenty nine Celsius. They were back on when the temperatures rose to a not so balmy minus twenty three. In 1936, Boston's Polly Blodgett struck gold in the women's event, her dress caked with snow from an ensuing blizzard.

Though the 1932 Winter Olympic Games have (rightfully) garnered much more attention than these early contests in Lake Placid, it's important to consider that with the cast of characters present, these events were every bit as important historically as the early U.S. Figure Skating 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 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.

Small But Mighty: The Chuckie Stein Story

Photo courtesy "The National Ice Skating Guide"

Charles Philip 'Chuckie' Stein was born on January 11, 1921 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His mother Elizabeth (Keck) Stein passed away when he was only a toddler and he was raised by his father Philip and stepmother Josephine (Gropp), a German immigrant to America. His father worked for a department store as an upholsterer before starting his own business.

The second oldest of four siblings, Chuckie was raised on Pittsburgh's North Side. He graduated from high school in Perrysville, just outside of the city. His first job was at the Perry Theater, where he worked as an usher. The movie house was owned by John H. Harris, who also owned the Pittsburgh Hornets hockey team. Harris offered Chuckie a job as the hockey team's mascot. He wore a hockey uniform with the number '1/2' on it, because of his height. At only four feet tall and sixty two pounds, he was a little person. At the time, he was more often than not referred to by another word that is considered highly offensive today.


Chuckie had zero experience as a skater when he began working for John H. Harris, riling up the crowd during hockey game intermissions. The only lessons, if you'd call them that, he received were from home team's players. Despite this, Harris took a chance on Chuckie, offering him a job in his most famous venture - the Ice Capades.

Chuckie Stein and Nate Walley

Nate Walley took Chuckie under his wing and soon the two men were performing comedic duets together. These numbers, which played on their extreme height difference, had names like "One And A Half". In their most famous act together, Chuckie played a ventriloquist's dummy. In other acts, he appeared as a panda bear, a mouse, Santa Claus, one of the seven dwarfs and even in drag in an ode to Shirley Temple's famous "On The Good Ship Lollipop" number. Chester Hale, the famous Ice Capades choreographer, was responsible for putting together most of his programs.


Despite the fact that Chuckie lacked the skating skills or experience of most of his fellow cast members, for over a decade "the tiny funnyman" consistently stole the limelight from his peers, endearing himself to crowds at Ice Capades and Ice Cycles shows from coast to coast. Was there an underlying element of exploitation of Chuckie's height and size? You bet. It was the forties... and to ice show producers and audiences alike, he was in many ways 'a gimmick' and treated as such.

Photo courtesy "The National Ice Skating Guide"

In the height of Chuckie's fame as a skater, "The Knickerbocker News" claimed that he was attempting to get his pilot's license with help from a novel invention devised by an Atlantic City mechanic. The reporter wrote, "The mechanic-friend rigged up a pair of metal tubes about 24 inches long with the ends curved into 'U' shapes. Strapped to Stein's feet much the same as roller skates, the tubes enable him to reach the rudder-pedals which otherwise would be inaccessible." 

Left photo courtesy "International Ice Skating Directory"

Weary from over a decade of constant traveling, Chuckie handed in his notice to the Ice Capades management in the early fifties. He took a job as the head skate guard at Pittsburgh's new North Park rink, where he met his future wife Donna May. He later worked for many years as a property appraiser for Allegheny County and served on the West View Borough Council. He passed away at the age of eighty two on October 30, 2003 in his home city, suffering from complications of kidney disease.

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 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? 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.

The Murder Of Frances Radecop


In 1944, West Seattle Junction was a lively middle-class neighborhood, bustling with workers employed in nearby airplane factories and shipyards. 40th Avenue S.W. was home to a police patrolman, public school teacher and private detective. Parents felt safe when children played in the streets unsupervised until dusk. People didn't lock their doors. Though World War II served as a grim backdrop, suburban life in the Washington city was more or less peaceful.


In the last house on the block lived Cora Radecop and her husband Adry, a pharmacist at the Save-More drug store. They had two daughters - Eudora and Frances. Frances 'Franny' Radecop was an outgoing young woman who excelled at music and acting. She was the President of the Junior Epworth League of the SeaView Methodist Church and served as editor of her high school yearbook. 

Both Frances and her sister were enthuasistic members of the Seattle Skating Club, appearing in club carnivals alongside guest stars like Vivi-Anne Hultén and Gene Theslof. They spent hours training alongside Karol and Peter Kennedy, who went on to be Olympic Medallists and World Champions. Frances made it as far as competing at the Washington State and Pacific Coast Championships and passed her Silver Dance test. When she was offered a music scholarship to Washington State University in her final year of high school, figure skating took the back burner. Many felt that she really could have made something of herself as a skater had she not have made music her number one priority.

Frances Radecop with representatives of West Seattle High School's honors society and cast members of her school play, 1944

Just two months after Frances graduated from high school, her family's world was turned upside down. At six in the evening on August 25, 1944, Cora returned home from a shopping trip and discovered Frances' blood-splattered body in the living room, surrounded by scattered sheet music and an overturned music stand. She had been strangled and beaten on the head with a blunt instrument. The coroner's report found no evidence of rape and police expressed the view that Frances had been murdered by "someone she knew well". Neighbours reported seeing a young man enter the home several hours before Frances' body was discovered.

A week later, Seattle cops grappled with another murder mystery. Twenty two year old Wyona Saikley, a War worker at the Boeing Aircraft Plant, and her husband were viciously attacked with a knife. The woman died of her wounds. Shortly thereafter, fourteen year old George Anderson found his mother Marguerite lying dead in her bed. In what was deemed as 'the pop bottle murder', Marguerite Anderson had been attacked viciously with a glass soda bottle. The violent attacks, which all occurred in the span of less than a week, led fear-mongering reporters to write of a "murder wave" in Seattle, even though police steadfastly believed none of the murders were connected.


Police interviewed a number of people in connection to Frances' case, but they were all released. The case went cold. Eight years later, a twenty three year old motor-lorry driver named Carl Jones confessed to killing Frances when he was undergoing a lie detector test in connection with the theft of an outboard motor. In a statement to Police Chief J.E. Lawrence, Carl Jones claimed that when we was fifteen, Frances had happened upon him ransacking a bedroom in her home. She recognized him as a neighbour and threatened to "tell on him". He choked her and bludgeoned her with a baseball bat, while she pleaded for her life. Carl Jones was required by detectives to re-enact how the killing happened by revisiting the Radecop family home. Before he entered, Frances' father approached him and said, "Carl, I'm sorry." Jones replied, "I'll do anything I can to make it up to you in any way that I can."

Just a year before Frances Radecop's murder was solved, the city of Seattle played host to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships for the very first time. If fate had taken her in a different direction, she may well have been one of the competitors that year. 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' 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? 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.

If I Only Had A (Hope) Braine Blog


Born January 30, 1915 in the port town of Folkestone in Dover, England, Hope Braine was the son of Horace and Evelyn Braine. His father, who worked as a boiler attendant at a brewery, served with the Army Service Corps in Great War, achieving the rank of Major. Hope learned to skate when he was a young student, and dabbled in hockey for a time before dedicating himself seriously to figure skating. He achieved the gold medal of the National Skating Association but never competed as an amateur, later recalling that he would have been far too nervous at the time to do so.


Though he earned a motor engineer's degree, Hope decided there was more money in teaching skating. He accepted a position as an instructor at the Queen's Ice Club, Bayswater, where he hobnobbed with some of the top professionals of his day. Following in the footsteps of Sidney Charlton and Phil Taylor, he learned how to perform on twenty inch stilt skates. He also picked up barrel and hoop jumping, eventually becoming so proficient at the novelty that he could jump over a table.


 At five foot nine and one hundred and fifty five pounds, with brown hair and blue eyes, Hope had a striking presence on the ice... and he certainly turned some heads at the 1935 Open Professional Championships of Great Britain in the International Style in Richmond, where he finished second to America's Nate Walley. He won the event the following two years at the Empress Hall, Earl's Court and Harringay Arena, defeating no less a coaching legend than Arnold Gerschwiler in the 1936 event. All three events included both school figures and free skating, and even though they were professional competitions, there was no prize money in those days as the events were organized by the National Skating Association. Hope later told reporters, "While training for the championship I started at 8:15 each morning and practiced for about two hours, then worked for another hour about midday... I try to keep myself fit by neither drinking nor smoking, and making an effort to get into bed before midnight every night - rather difficult at times."


In the late thirties, Hope was something of a globetrotter. He performed in ice ballets in South Africa and taught in St. Moritz. He also spent some time in America teaching at the Ice Club of Baltimore and performing in carnivals. At an Ice Gymkhana in Philadelphia in 1937, he faced off with Kit Klein in a speed skating race. While summering in Australia, he taught skaters at the Sydney Glaciarium. In 1939, he accepted a position as the chief instructor at the newly opened Ice Palais in Sydney and toured Australia and New Zealand with Megan and Phil Taylor's "Switzerland" ice revue. His goal, he told reporters, was to make enough money to buy a farm.


On October 9, 1939 at St. John's Church, Darlinghurst, Hope married Sylvia Law, a South African skater he'd met back in London, when she was secretary at Queen's Ice Rink. Sylvia told Australian reporters, "The only way I could join him in Australia was to sign up with the Switzerland Ice Show, which was coming here. Girl skaters were rather rare, so it was not hard to get a job with the company. I skated professionally for the last time on Saturday night at the Theatre Royal. I shall be content now to watch Hope. Our wedding will be a quiet affair, because of the War." Sylvia's bridesmaid, Hazel McCulloch, left the wedding in time for the "Switzerland" ice revue's 8 PM curtain call. Hope joked to Australian reporters, "We're so keen on skating  that we should like to have a drawing-room fitted up as a rink. But an ice-box is about all we can afford at present." While honeymooning in Canada, Hope performed in a carnival in Winnipeg. He and Sylvia liked the Prairies so much they stayed, and Hope spent a winter teaching at the Glencoe Club in Calgary.

Photo courtesy National Archives Of Australia

After his Canadian adventure, Hope returned to Australia, settling in Pott's Point and resuming his position at the Ice Palais. He and Sylvia staged an Empire Ice Carnival in support of the Red Cross Society. In January of 1941, he enlisted in Royal Australian Air Force at the age of twenty six. He served as a Flying Officer in missions in Shandur and Shellufa, Egypt but was reported missing, then killed, in a battle off the coast of Sardinia on February 7, 1943. He was only twenty eight years old.

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.

The 1935 European Figure Skating Championships

Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

"Although [Sonja Henie] is only twenty-two it is held that she has ceased to improve, while each year the opposition is stronger." - "Yorkshire Post And Leeds Intelligencer", February 11, 1935

Held from January 23 to 26 at the Suvretta House rink in St. Moritz, Switzerland, the 1935 European Figure Skating Championships proved to be somewhat of a nightmare for ISU officials and the Swiss organizers. For starters, there were far more entries than initially anticipated. Nineteen women, fourteen men and ten pairs registered to compete in the senior events as well as a couple dozen more in international junior men's and women's competitions included in conjunction with the event. Despite a few withdrawals, organizers still had to start the competition a day earlier than originally planned in order to accommodate the higher than expected number of entries. Then there was the weather. When the competition began, the weather was cool. Then it became warmer, hot (by Swiss standards) and cooled off again. The ice became mirror smooth but very brittle, far from ideal conditions for both the competitors and the judges, who struggled to see the figures traced on the ice.

Austria's Herbert Alward was the unanimous choice of the judges in the junior men's competition. Eight young girls and one married woman, Italy's Anna Cattaneo Dubini, vied for the junior women's crown. The victor was Austria's Maria Schweinburg, with a young Daphne Walker and Belita Jepson-Turner placing an impressive second and fifth.


After one withdrawal, nine couples took to the ice to compete in the pairs competition. Germany's Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier, who had arrived in St. Moritz well in advance to train at the Kulm Rink, showed off their combined strength as singles skaters with a program that included shadow skating, side-by-side jumps, lifts and dance steps. Seven judges had them first, but British judge Kenneth Macdonald Beaumont had them fourth, not appreciating their athletic approach. One judge apiece had silver medallists Idi Papez and Karl Zwack of Austria second and bronze medallists Lucy Gallo and Rezső Dillinger of Hungary first. Of the top teams, Gallo and Dillinger's marks were the most all over the place. They received one first place, a second, two thirds, a sixth, a seventh and a ninth (last) place!

Karl SchäferPhoto courtesy National Archives of Poland.

To the surprise of literally no one, six time and defending European Champion Karl Schäfer was first on every single judge's scorecard in the men's school figures. The January 24, 1935 issue of the "Wiener Sporttagblatt" noted that he skated "without any nervousness... calm, but still attentive in almost every figure, especially those with higher difficulty." All but German judge Artur Vieregg - who preferred his countryman Ernst Baier - had Schäfer first in the free skate as well. The marks in the men's event were quite all over the place, but silver and bronze medallist Felix Kaspar and Ernst Baier were extremely close in the free skate. Four of seven judges actually actually had Great Britain's Jackie Dunn in the top three, but he settled for fourth on account of his score in the figures, ahead of Finland's Marcus Nikkanen, Austria's Erich Erdös and Hungary's Elemér Terták.

Ill in Zürich, Austria's Bianca Schenk withdrew prior to the start of the women's competition. France's Jacqueline Vaudecrane and Great Britain's Mia Macklin also pulled out, dropping the number of entries from nineteen to sixteen. Notably absent were Sweden's Vivi-Anne Hultén and Great Britain's Megan Taylor. To the surprise of few, Sonja Henie amassed a fifteen point lead over Cecilia Colledge in the school figures, earning first place ordinals from every single judge. The women performed the exact same figures as the men that year, and despite poor conditions, many thought the women fared just as well as the men - if not better - in the compulsories.

Sonja Henie

The January 28, 1935 issue of the "Wiener Sporttagblatt" offered a wonderful summary of many of the women's free skating performances in St. Moritz: "Mme. de Ligne started off in a green velour shipyard dress with rainbow tulle volants. The elegant appearance of the Belgian woman had strong effect, even after she twice touched hands on the ice after jumps. Hungary's young champion Nadine Szilassy appeared in a white velvet dress. Her attitude is very much too decorative, and she skates without tempo and momentum. Mme. Gaby Clericetti, French champion, skated to the song 'Im Salzkammergut, da kann man gut lustig sein', but in French. She wore a beautiful velvet dres with white ermine trim. Her skating was elegant and powerful, but without the least difficulty. Nanna Egedius can be very good, but she slid once after a pirouette out of fatigue. Grete Lainer skated in a white dress and again showed her well-known spin combinations and jumped the Axel Paulsen beautifully. It was the first success of the afternoon. Gweneth Butler is considered an excellent compulsory skater but a weak free skater. She skated very softly, with swing, had her highlights in the standing pirouettes. There were moments when it appeared she would do something [but she didn't]. The English cheered after the final whistle of the referee. She wore a dark velbet dress. The small, graceful Mollie Phillips skated to 'Dein ist mein ganzes Herz' in English. One noticed her courage in training, but her program contained no particular difficulties. Diana Fane-Gladwin wore a white dress with silver trim and was much weaker than her predecessor. She fell once and, as the Viennese say, was very much hearty. The Viennese Hertha Drexler appeared in a black dress with a rose. One clearly noted the contrast between the Viennese and the English school. She skated very lightly, performed an Axel half-way, and so got strong and deserved applause. Cecilia Colledge, well developed for her 14 years, skated one of the most difficult programs of all. She included the Axel, Rittberger and Lutz jumps, and pirouettes, ballet jumps and combinations. Everything with this 'little one' is done with complete security. There was no idle moment in her performance, but her performance speaks not to our taste but to that of the Englishman. She wore a blue woollen dress. Our master Liselotte Landbeck was next. She was enthusiastic about the elegance and attitude of her movements. She turned both slow and fast pirouettes, one better than the other, jumped Axels three at at a time and performed everything in the modern skating repertoire. It was a masterly performance and our master skated in a fraise, feathered dress. The German Lindpaintner skated next. She skated a lot of pirouettes, which had some effect in her waltz to 'Wiener Praterleben' in a lime green dress. 13 year old Emmy Puzinger, who ended the European championships in thirteenth, skated as naturally as poor Hilde Holovsky. She had a wonderful feeling for her music, lots off momentum and a soft bounce after her jumps. The little one wore a white crepe-de-chine dress. 'Hello, hello. Miss Sonja Henie, Oslo Skating Club' said the announcer, and thunderous applause passed through the arena. Everyone was eager for the Queen Of The Ice. Sonja began in a fabulous posture and she looked as beautiful as no other. Sonja jumped an Axel Paulsen, but her balance could not hold and she came down on the ice. For a fraction of a second, Sonja sat on the ice, but then she rose smiling and skated on. But it was no longer the real Sonja. She had become uncertain, she had no more time to dare to do risky jumps. She went on to do a pirouette and ended with a wonderful Lutz, but it was not the great performance that one had expected of her. She appeared in a blue-green shipyard dress and a uniform hat. Hedy Stenuf had the audience [behind her] within seconds. Her program was overloaded with the most beautiful and difficult things ice skating has to offer. She jumped six Axels, three of them in the last minute. Yet she skated at a pace that could almost be described as insane. Had she included more ballet and made less of a sporty impact, her performance would have had a greater impact. Still the people in the stands cheered and wanted an encore, which of course was not possible. So the little one went in her white silk-dress to the dressing room. Germany's young champion Maxi Herber skated last. She skated well and showed original figures, jumped the Rittberger and Axel jumps, although they were, of course, both on two feet. Her pirouettes, because of her long legs, were not always beautiful. She wore a light green simple silk dress."

Grete Lainer in 1935. Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria.

As a result of her uncharacteristic tumble and the fact she ended her program before the regulation four minute time, only three judges had Sonja Henie first in the free skate. The Hungarian, German and Austrian judges actually had her in fifth, sixth and seventh! Several judges may have had the balls to mark the Norwegian ice queen down for her uncharacteristically poor free skating performance, but journalists from Zürich and Davos took French judge Charles Sabouret to task, questioning how he could have given her such high marks when she clearly didn't have the performance of the night. In the February 4, 1935 issue of "L'Express", one Swiss journalist wrote, "One would have liked to be able to eliminate the judges who consider the competitors not according to their real value, but rather by serving certain particular interests and showing an obvious bias, thus influencing the judges who wish to classify competitors objectively on their merits alone." Once the math was all done and the school figures taken into account, Sonja Henie was actually first on every judge's scorecard ahead of Landbeck, Colledge, Herber, Butler, Lainer, Stenuf and Phillips. Though Papa Henie celebrated yet another victory for his prize pony, the Swiss audience was less than enthusiastic about the final result. The "Svenska Dagbladet" noted that after the results were announced, Colledge's coach Jacques Gerschwiler "threw his arms up in a fit of anger". Sonja, annoyed by the whole incident and rumours she was washed up', allegedly remarked privately, "My fall resulted in my finding out just how cruel and bitchy people can be, if they wish you no good."

Ilse and Erik Pausin, Hedy Stenuf, Karl Schäfer and Emmy Puzinger in 1935. Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria.

Following the competition, a large banquet was held at the Kulm Hotel, attended by skaters, ISU officials, the representatives of ten national skating associations and many Swiss political figures. Competitors were presented with awards, the kirschwasser flowed and a good time was had by most. The Austrian medal winners were congratulated via telegram by Vice-Chancellor Ernst Rüdiger Starhemberg and Ulrich Salchow raised a glass to toast the unbeatable Sonja Henie.

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