The Empire City Skating Rink

Photo courtesy Major & Knapp Engraving, Manufacturing & Lithographic Co. / Museum of the City of New York. 29.100.1544. Used with permission.

On December 12, 1868, the Empire City Skating Rink - the first covered ice rink in New York City - officially opened its doors, catering to the upper echelon of New York society wishing to escape the elements... and the 'riffraff' who deluded the city's most popular skating ponds. The rink - heralded as "a magnificent structure" by "The New York Times" - was a three hundred and fifty foot long by one hundred and seventy foot wide wooden building with a seventy foot high arched ceiling, brick flooring over which eight inches of ice was laid and a front resembling a Chinese pagoda. The Hervey Brothers and John C. Babcock, the men who had a hand in its construction and early management, thought of every convenience and detail. There were raised platforms for spectators, a gallery for a military band and a lavish refreshment room where suppers were occasionally held for the rink's upper crust patrons. Hundreds of gas lanterns illuminated the natural ice at night, allowing patrons to enjoy skating in the evening... a novelty that would have been near impossible outdoors on ponds because of the risk of collisions and the perils of falling through the ice. W.W. Wallace and Harry Taxter acted as the rink's proprietors and managers.

Trade card courtesy Richard D. Sheaff. Used with permission.

Though members of the New York Skating Club still skated outdoors on Mitchell's Pond on Fifty Eighth Street near Fifth Avenue at the time the Empire Skating Rink opened, many defected and joined the hastily developed and short-lived Empire City Skating Club. One of the club's founders was James B. Story, who went on to win the Championships Of America in 1879 in Manhattan, judge various 'fancy' skating competitions and to act as one of the seven founders of the National Amateur Skating Association in 1886.

Engraving of James B. Story. Photo courtesy New York Public Library.

Beginning in 1869, the Empire City Skating Rink hosted an endless series of lavish ice carnivals and masquerades, among them the Fancy Dress and Civic Skating Carnival and the Grand Masquerade Carnival. Seaver of Union Square supplied the female skaters with their dresses and games of curling and lacrosse on ice were enjoyed. In 1870, the Brooklyn, New York and Empire City Skating Clubs worked in cooperation to "furnish champion skaters" for two hour matinee and evening exhibitions. The stars who performed included Eugene Beauharnais Cook, John Kelly - known as 'Smiling John E. Miller - and John Martin, who according to George Henry Browne "used to rise from an outside edge forward to a pirouette, making one complete revolution and then suddenly dropping his heel, shoot off deftly on the outside edge of the pirouetting foot."

Engravings of skating sessions at the Empire Rink show throngs of skaters - both men and women - circling the perimeter of the ice as better 'fancy' skaters performed figures in the middle of the rink. Christmas was even celebrated on the ice at the Empire Rink. Frank Swift wrote of one such festive gathering in the "New York Clipper" of January 7, 1871 thusly: "The Empire Rink had a fine sheet of ice provided for Christmas, and consequently there was a steady stream of visitors from the overcrowded ponds of the Park to the Rink, where the sport could be engaged in with comfort. At night, when the Park skating ceased, the Rink was resorted to by many, and, with illuminations and music, an animated scene was presented."

Engraving by George Vallée

In the summer months and in fact, prior to the rink's official opening, the rink played host to a wide variety of special events. The New York Athletic Club held its first semi-annual Games there in 1868 and spectators flocked to the rink to enjoy various amusements, including concerts with full military bands, French velocipedes and distance walkers. A man named Edward Payson Weston, billed as 'The Great American Walker', entertained crowds in 1870 by endeavouring to walk "one hundred miles inside twenty-two consecutive hours, for a purse of fifteen hundred dollars."

In October 1869, the Empire Rink played host to the American Institute National Exhibition, which "The Nation" described as "the most comprehensive and important ever seen on this continent, consisting of machinery in motion, magnificent display of novel and ingenius inventions by American hands and brains, implements of husbandry, products of the soil, the workshop of the soil, fabrics of every description manufactured from cotton, flax and silk. Thousands of other attractive novelties." They even served soda water. Imagine!

Engraving of the Empire Roller Skating Rink

That same year, the American Institute leased the Empire City Skating Rink. Two years later, they purchased the venue. By 1875, the Empire Skating Rink Co. - the original owner - was listed on the Bureau Of Arrears list of defaulters. Conventions, dog shows and fairs drew patrons to the space until May 1877, when the rink briefly reopened as the Empire Roller Skating Rink. On January 7, 1878, the Empire Rink briefly reopened for ice skating and on February 4 and 5 of that year, the rink played host to the Amateur Championship of America in speed skating. Through the 1880's, the venue fell into disrepair and in 1893, it was demolished and replaced by a Flemish Revival exhibition hall.

By 1896, when the Ice Palace Skating Rink,at Lexington Avenue and One Hundred and Seventh Street and the St. Nicholas Rink on West Sixty Sixth Street near Columbus Ave opened, the Empire Rink was all but forgotten.

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

History Makers From Hungary: The Olga Orgonista and Sándor Szalay Story

Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland

Born June 6, 1893 and February 22, 1901 in Budapest, Hungary, Olga Orgonista and Sándor Szalay practically grew up on the ice at the Városligeti Műjégpálya. In February of 1914, when she was only twelve Olga and her first partner (a speed skater named Ernő Komássy) competed against World Champions Helene Engelmann and Karl Mejstrik at an event in Budapest. They didn't win, but the Hungarian press remarked that they had a bright "future, especially if their style becomes more polished." It turned out that Olga's bright future was with Sándor, whom she teamed up with in the roaring twenties.

Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland

Olga and Sándor were both members of the BKE (Budapesti Korcsolyázó Egylet) and trained daily on outdoor ice. In their first international competition together at the Wiener Eislaufverein, they finished fourth behind Lilly Scholz and Otto Kaiser, Melitta Brunner and Ludwig Wrede and their training mates Emília Rotter and László Szollás.

From 1928 to 1932, Olga and Sándor amassed an impressive list of honours. They won two medals at the World Championships (their first in 1929 being Hungary's first medal at an ISU Championship in pairs skating) and the first two European pairs titles ever contested. They also claimed the Hungarian title in pairs skating three times.


Disappointingly, Olga and Sándor finished fourth at both the 1932 Winter Olympic Games and World Championships. There was some controversy in Hungary about them even being sent to the Lake Placid Games, as they had skipped the Hungarian Championships in both 1931 and 1932. A  newspaper account of their skating recalled that they had "an excellent program with a beautiful design."

Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland

Olga and Sándor retired from competitive skating at the ages of thirty and thirty eight following the 1932 World Championships in Montreal and went their separate ways. She married and 'embraced domestic life'; he worked as a construction inspector in a rubber factory. After World War II, he played an important role in restoring the Városligeti Műjégpálya, which was damaged so badly by Allied bombings it was for a time unusable. He also served as President of the Hungarian Skating Federation from 1945 to 1950. Sándor passed away on April 5, 1965 at the age of seventy one; Olga died on November 20, 1978 at the age of seventy seven.

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

The 1939 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Judges evaluating the senior women's school figures in St. Paul

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had just met with Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini seeking assurances that Adolf Hitler wouldn't make any warlike moves. In what now seems obviously petty by comparison, the U.S. press was absorbed in a debate over the decision to cast a British actress as the lead in the new film "Gone With The Wind". While tensions mounted overseas, Americans oblivious to the War that loomed on the horizon cut a rug to Benny Goodman's "Don't Be That Way".

The year was 1939 and from January 19 to 21, a charming crew of American figure skaters gathered at the Municipal Auditorium in St. Paul, Minnesota for the second U.S. Championships in history to be held in the Midwest. The first U.S. Championships in the Midwest in 1937 marked the final time Maribel Vinson Owen had won a national title. Incidentally, she was coaching at the six hundred member St. Paul Figure Skating Club in 1939 and played an important role in convincing the USFSA - then governed by a New Yorker - to host the Nationals in the Saintly City.

Joan Tozzer with former U.S. Champions Suzanne Davis King, Maribel Vinson Owen and Theresa Weld Blanchard in St. Paul. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Though at the time school figures counted for sixty percent of a skater's overall score, the free skating competitions were of course what drew in audiences. Music for free skating was played on records, which was a novelty to visiting skaters from the Skating Club of New York, who were accustomed to being accompanied by a live orchestra.

M. Bernard Fox, Joan Tozzer and Robin Lee with their trophies

Though the Skating Club of New York won the Bedell H. Harned Trophy that year for accumulating the most points through all disciplines, skaters from coast to coast excelled in their respective categories. Let's take a look back at the stories and skaters that shaped the final U.S. Championships held before World War II began.


Betsy Nichols, Joan Tozzer and Gretchen Merrill in St. Paul. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Only expanding upon her lead in the figures with a superb free skating performance, Betsy Nichols of the Skating Club of Boston glided to victory in the novice women's competition, besting her Boston training mate Roberta Jenks, Britta Lundequist of Seattle, Caroline Brandt of Cleveland, Joan Mitchell of Chicago and Ramona Allen of Oakland. In the novice men's event, the Galbraith brothers (Sheldon and Murray) from the San Francisco Skating and Ski Club were separated by only half a point after the school figures, with St. Paul's Robert Uppgren third. Rallying from behind with an outstanding free skate, Bobby Specht of the Superior Figure Skating Club made an unprecedented leap from outside the top three to first overall. Murray and Sheldon Galbraith, separated by only 0.3 overall, finished second and third overall, ahead of William Grimditch, Jr. and Uppgren. PJ Kwong and Mel Matthews' article "Sheldon Galbraith: The Early Years" recalled, "When competing 'back East' in the 1939 US Novice class held in St. Paul, Minnesota [Sheldon and Murray] wore Eton jackets and a cravat secured with a special pin resembling a figure eight crafted for them by a jeweller in San Francisco. They also wore heavy wool tights, used in stage performances, but useless against the temperatures they were being exposed to. Sheldon remembers trying to decide between cutting the foot out of the tights, and securing them by a strap under the arch of the boot, or leaving them as is, with the big seam at the back of them, which caused cramping in his feet. Never getting used to performing in their costumes was just another obstacle to be overcome in their rise in the competitive ranks."

Dorothy Snell in 1939. Photo courtesy Minnesota State Archives.

In the junior women's event, thirteen year old Gretchen Merrill of Boston defeated Baltimore's Dorothy Snell by a single point. St. Paul's Shirley Bowman finished third. After the junior men's school figures, Bud Brennan of Minneapolis and Arthur Vaughn, Jr. of Philadelphia were almost in a deadlock. However, the fourteen year old from the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society emerged the victor in the free skate, with Brennan dropping to third overall behind St. Paul's Arthur Preusch. Vaughn and Merrill became the first man and woman to claim novice and junior titles in successive years at the same time. Besting Chicago's Ruth English and L.D. Pitts in junior pairs, Betty Lee Bennett and John Kinney of the Seattle Skating Club became the first pair - junior or senior - from the West Coast ever to claim a U.S. pairs title.


In the fours competition, Nettie Prantel, Marjorie Parker, Joseph K. Savage and George Boltres of the Skating Club of New York emerged victorious over a four from Philadelphia. In the pairs event it was Boston's Joan Tozzer and M. Bernard Fox who took home top honours, repeating their success from a year prior at the Nationals in Philadelphia. The silver and bronze medals went to married couples from the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society and Bear Mountain Figure Skating Club, the Penn-Gaskell Hall's and the Bruns'.

Joan Tozzer and M. Bernard Fox. Photo courtesy "Skating Through The Years".

The ice dancers in St. Paul performed Silver Dances, which in 1939 were the Continental Waltz, Reverse Waltz, Three-Lobed-Eight Waltz, Fourteenstep, Foxtrot and Tango. After an elimination round that whittled the number of teams down to four, Sandy MacDonald and Harold Hartshorne emerged victorious, ahead of Nettie Prantel and Joseph K. Savage, Marjorie Parker and George Boltres and Edith and Arthur Preusch. For the second year in a row, the top three teams all hailed from the Skating Club of New York. In fact, Joseph K. Savage was the USFSA's President at the time. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves recalled, "The top two couples were close, but Sandy and Harold added a lovely lilting quality for the win. Tee Blanchard had noticed their improved technique at Easterns."


Joan Tozzer. Photo courtesy "Skating Through The Years".

Interestingly, there were fewer competitors in the senior singles competitions than the Silver Dance event. After the senior women skated their figures, eighteen year old Joan Tozzer of the Skating Club of Boston had a sixteen point lead over Charlotte Walther, the 1938 U.S. Junior Champion who was making her debut in the senior ranks. Audrey Peppe (the niece of Olympic Medallist Beatrix Loughran), Boston's Polly Blodgett and Philadelphia's Jane Vaughn occupied the final three places in the standings. Expanding on her lead in the figures by over ten points, Tozzer successfully defended the women's crown she'd won the year prior in Philadelphia. Walther dropped to third behind Peppe and Vaughn moved ahead of Blodgett to finish fourth.


Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

At the Midwestern Championships in Cleveland just prior, four time U.S. Champion Robin Lee had only managed to defeat Ollie Haupt, Jr. of St. Louis by a fraction of a point. The battle for supremacy between the two talented young Minnesota skaters in their home state was expected to be every bit as riveting at Nationals, but when nineteen year old Lee scored a commanding sixty five point lead in the figures, the competition was all but over before the free skate.

Lee won his fifth and final U.S. title in his home city by over ninety two points, with Haupt second and California's Eugene Turner (making his senior debut) third. As was the case in practically every event he entered, William Nagle of the Manhattan Figure Skating Club finished a distant last.

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 Seventh Annual Skate Guard Hallowe'en Spooktacular

"Black is the clear glass now that he glides,
Crisp is the whisper of long lean strides,
Swift is his swaying - but pricked ears hark.
None comes to Ghost Lake late after dark!"

- excerpt from "The Skater Of Ghost Lake" by William Rose Benét

It's October 31st and all of you loyal Skate Guard readers know that means. It's time for a yearly Skate Guard tradition... The Annual Skate Guard Hallowe'en Spooktacular! Dim the lights enjoy this collection of darker stories that have peppered skating's history through the years.


From 1943 to 1951, Hugh Reamer Hendrickson toured the United States as a featured performer with Shipstad and Johnson's Ice Follies, wowing audiences with his dizzying spins and Russian split jumps.

Hugh was an electrician's son from Kansas who moved to Los Angeles, the city of his father's birth, when he was in his twenties. While touring with the Ice Follies, he met both of his wives - fellow skaters Shirley Ann 'Ginger' Clayton and Pollyanna Crawford. When he decided to stop touring, he took a position managing the San Francisco Ice Arena. The 48th Avenue rink had fallen so badly into disrepair that it was closed for two months in June 1959 so that it could be overhauled.

Hugh Hendrickson. Photo courtesy University Of Washington, Special Collections.

On August 12, 1959, thirty one year old Hugh was in the building's basement, where a 'brine room' was housed and pumps ran brine through cooling pipes in the ice to maintain the ice. He was working on the brine pump while holding a drop light when suddenly the pump came on, splashing water on him and electrocuting him. Though rushed to a nearby emergency hospital, he was pronounced dead on arrival. In 2002, Emiliano Echeverria recalled, "My Dad was on the crew to help repair and renovate the plant. The refrigeration plant... was a dark and spooky place. [After Hugh's death] Polly, then thirty with two young boys, four and six, and all of us were devastated. One of the few times I saw my Dad weep. [Hugh] was a great guy, kind and generous. It just wasn't right... Eventually Polly sold her interest in the [San Francisco] Ice Arena to Joe Thurston, who eventually acquired complete ownership. He was the final owner. The rink reopened in late September '59, but it wasn't the same, and a few years later we drifted away." Though the rink remained open for many years after Hugh's tragic death, it was eventually torn down to make way for residential housing. It's a good thing too. The basement where Hugh's life came to a tragic end took on a very eerie quality.


As they say, a dog is a man's best friend. In nineteenth century Ireland, one skater's faithful companion came to their rescue when they fell through the ice and paid the eternal price. The book "True Irish Ghost Stories", compiled by John D. Seymour and Harry L. Neligan in 1992 shared, "In the winter of 1840-1, in the days when snow and ice and all their attendant pleasures were more often in evidence than in these degenerate days, a skating party was enjoying itself on the pond in the grounds of the Castle near Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin. Among the skaters was a man who had with him a very fine curly-coated retriever dog. The pond was thronged with people enjoying themselves, when suddenly the ice gave way beneath him, and the man fell into the water; the dog went to his rescue, and both were drowned. A monument was erected to perpetuate the memory of the dog's heroic self-sacrifice, but only the pedestal now remains. The ghost of the dog is said to haunt the grounds and the public road between the castle gate and the Dodder Bridge. Many people have seen the phantom dog, and the story is well known locally."


This fanciful tale first appeared as "Mouser The Skating Cat" in the "New York Recorder" and was later republished in the Illinois newspaper "Rock Island Argus" on March 16, 1896 under the byline "For Little Folks": "Harry Summers is a Harlem boy, and his greatest boast is that he has succeeded in teaching his pet cat, Mouser, how to glide along an ice pond on skates. Mouser did not learn how to skate in a day. As may be imagined, she was a slow pupil, and it was quite a month before she could be induced to keep the little pieces of steel and wood (which Harry had specifically made for her) attached to his feet. Even when Mouser had grown accustomed to her shackles she had to be taught to stand upright, and after that she had to be coaxed into using her skates on the ice. Poor puss had many a bad fall, and if her skates had not been so firmly attached to her hind legs she would have run away from her terrible task long before she had grown accustomed to her unnatural sport. It was only with the utmost patience and kindness that Mouser was taught to look upon her daily exercise as part of her existence. Today she rather enjoys a spin on the little pond in the back yard of Harry's home. Mouser's first real lessons in skating were given on miniature roller skates; it was only a step from roller skating to a glide on the ice. Mouser is a big white and yellow cat, not at all handsome, and more inclined to fight than to skate, but Harry is a lad of fierce determination, and the boys in the neighbourhood of Harry's house insist that the young animal trainer has hypnotized his pet. Be that as it may, Harry has succeeded in doing what no one has ever done before, and he is reaping his reward in the fun that Mouser affords himself and his friends whenever the weather is cold enough to make an ice pond in fit condition for skating. Harry has had several offers from museum keepers who want to buy the gifted Mouser, but the boy would rather part with his ears than give up his clever cat. Mouser is the most remarkable feline in the world, and if she understands her own value she most certainly know that she can do at least one thing that no other cat has ever before succeeded in doing. A skating cat is worth a whole menagerie of ordinary trick animals, and when Mouser dies - as she probably will some day - a fine monument erected over her grave will be the very least that her proud master can do to let future generations know how wonderful a pussy once lived and skated in New York."


Raymond T. Robinson

In June of 1919, Raymond T. Robinson and a group of his friends headed to a swimming hole in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. On the way, the boys stopped on a trolley bridge, where Raymond climbed a pole to reach for a bird's nest. He was badly electrocuted and was so disfigured that he lost his eyes, nose and right arm... but he survived. Over the years, he became something of a living urban legend in town and earned the nicknames of 'Charley-No-Face' and The Green Man, because the legend developed that his skin was green and glowed.

Eleven years prior to Raymond's accident, a stone's throw from that trolley bridge, Zella Wylie and R.C. Patterson met their end while ice skating... after escaping death one year prior in the exact same spot. The below clipping from the February 1, 1908 issue of "The New York Times" illustrates the very real dangers that Victorian and Edwardian era skaters faced when skating on natural ice.


The strange case of Rosa Day reads like something straight out of an Agatha Christie novel. This trio of clippings, just a small sampling of many that appeared in British newspapers in February of 1899, describe the unusual disappearance and alleged kidnapping of a governess from Cheshire, who was out for a day of ice skating.

"A Lady Skater's Mystery" ("Sheffield Independent", February 4, 1899)

Miss Rosa Day, who disappeared from her home at Rowton, near Chester, on Sunday morning, and who was been anxiously searched for since, was found lying unconscious outside her home late last Thursday night. She had a tremendous wound across her forehead, caused either by a kick or a blow, and was bruised all oer. When she had partly rallied Miss Day told an extraordinary story. On Sunday morning, she said, she went to skate on a pit near her home. Finding the ice was not safe, she went to another pit about three-quarters of a mile away. When she was sitting down putting her skates on a man came behind her, blindfolded her, tied her hands and said, "If you scream I will shoot you." The terrified girl says she then felt him put his hand in her pocket, and on finding no money he swore horribly. She became unconscious, and when she recovered she found herself in a strange loft some distance away. She was detained there until the following Thursday, during which time she was unconscious off and on. The man visited her several times but did not bring her anything to eat. On Thursday she succeeded in breaking a hole in the roof of the shed and getting through, and jumped to the ground. A little distance away she found a stream she knew, and managed to partly crawl and walk home. When she arrived there the feeling she was at home overcame her, and she had just strength to throw her hat at the door before fainting away. Luckily one of the servants on subsequently opening the door saw the hat, which led her to look for her young mistress. But for this discovery it is probable Miss Day would have frozen to death, as the household were on the point of retiring for the night. Doctors were immediately summoned from Chester, and though Miss Day is suffering from severe shock and exhaustion due to her not having tasted food since Sunday morning she is now practically out of danger. Miss Day, who is 21 years of age, is well connected and highly respected, and her story, extraordinary as it seems, is generally believed, and has given rise to intense indignation. The police are thoroughly investigating the matter. Another Chester correspondent states that with the exception of the injury to the head, which might have been caused by either a blow or a fall, and which had a more favourable appearance yesterday, there is not evidence of an assault having been committed upon her, beyond her statement that she was abducted while putting on her skates on Sunday morning, and was taken to a loft and bound until she managed to free herself on Thursday, and managed to escape by making a hole in the roof. No explanation has been given as to how she subsisted during the four and a half bitter winter days she was away. The police are investigating the case, and probably some more coherent statement may be expected. The correspondent states that shortly before Christmas, Miss Day had a narrow escape from falling into a deep quarry while collecting greenery for decorating a church. She hung on to some bushes for twenty minutes, and was rescued from what appeared to be certain death by two men. Since then she had been in failing health, and it is feared that her mind had been affected by the incident.

"Kidnapping Of Miss Rosa Day" ("Penny Illustrated Paper", February 11, 1899) 

This belated young lady, after being absent since Sunday week, returned home on Thursday se'nnight, and related how she had been seized while skating, blindfolded, gagged, handcuffed, and led to some mysterious place of captivity by an unknown man. She had an ugly wound on her forehead, which fractured her skull. The read that the story told by Miss Day is altogether so remarkable that some skeptical people suggest that she may be suffering from mental aberration; but this theory of hallucination does not answer the obvious inquiry where the lady could possibly have been for five days. The family and neighbours, however, believe implicitly the whole story as related by Miss Day. She alleged that when the attack was made she was standing upright by the pond, not as previously stated, putting on her skates. The man approached, and asked the time, and it was when she was feeling for her watch that he secured her hands and made her a prisoner. When he asked for her money, he threatened to shoot her if she did not give it up, and when he found she had none, he cursed and swore horribly, and used violence. It is, however, strange that a gold brooch she was wearing was in its place when she returned home.

"The Rowton Disappearance" ("Cheshire Observer", February 18, 1899)

The police have been making the most strenuous efforts in regard to the strange disappearance of Miss Rosa Day, in order to discover anything by which an opinion can be formed on the probability or improbability of such things as Miss Day describes having happened. Despite every endeavour on the part of Superintendent Pearson - who, judging by his smartness, may be depended upon to leave no stone unturned, no likely theory untested, to get to the bottom of the mystery - no clue of any kind, say the police, has been discovered.

Every theory brought forward as yet is to be met with objections, which make them more improbable than the story itself. An idea which seems to have taken hold of several of the detectives, and many local residences, is that Miss Day was concealed in some building or other not far away, basing the argument on the fact that Miss Day's boots, on her return, were cleaner than one would expect after such wanderings. Against this, however, it can only be stated that on the Sunday she disappeared the thaw had only just set in, and the ground was like adamant, as was also the case when she returned. Her way back seems to have been from the direction of Saighton, as she was found near the pump, which is situated at the back of the house, and which would necessarily have to be passed before her home could be reached from the fields. Had she entered from the front, she would have had no occasion to go near the pump.

Taken all round, the mystery seems to thicken as the days go by, and neither the hut, the skates, nor the weapon are found. Still Miss Day who, in the doctor's opinion, has been perfectly rational ever since her return home, insists that the brutality described was exercised upon her. It may not be generally known that as she was returning to consciousness on being carried to the house, she shudderingly moaned, 'Oh! that horrid man.' Since then she has dreamt about the terrors of the journey home, her experiences on the Sunday, &c. One day last week she asked if the man had been found yet. "No," was the reply. "They are looking for the shed." Miss Day thereupon manifested the utmost surprise, said it was dark when she left it, and that she was so weary, so frightened, and so anxious to get away that she did not look at it. She is of the opinion that it was part of a larger building. On Friday Colonel Hamersley and several police detectives had arranged to interview Miss Day personally, but Dr. Taylor, noticing his patient's condition, said that she was not in a fit condition to be questioned, and the interview had to be postponed. Meanwhile Miss Day is progressing slowly. It is hoped that in a short time she will be able to throw more light upon what is at present a dark mystery.

By March of 1899, the story of Rosa Day's case had been dropped completely by local newspapers. No confirmed explanation was ever announced to the press by Cheshire detectives. The case, it seemed, had gone cold. A little digging in Census records revealed that Rosa had left her family's home in Cheshire by 1901 and was working as a hospital nurse in Liverpool. Ten years later, she was living in High Wycombe, in service to a large family. Her occupation was listed as 'sick trained nurse'. From there, she seemingly disappears from the pages of history - her skating mystery a chilling footnote from another time.

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

Oublié: 6.0 Forgotten French Figure Skating Pioneers

French skaters being photographed by the press, 1927. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Long before Surya Bonaly made jaws drop with her defiant backflip at the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan or Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat made history as the first ice dancers from their country to claim Olympic gold in 2002, the first generations of pioneering French figure skaters were paving their way for the stars of 'patinage artistique' that followed. Today's blog takes a look at the stories of 6.0 lesser known French skating pioneers.


Anita Ben Nahmias and Louis Magnus. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Anne Marie Gabrielle Dite 'Anita' Ben Nahmias was born November 14, 1891 in Paris, France. Her parents were both immigrants to France. Her mother was born in Guayquil, Ecuador and her father, a Jewish banker, hailed from Salonica, the capital of what is now Macedonia. Anita won the French women's title in 1910 and 1912, and the French pairs title with Louis Magnus in 1912. She married Octavio Luis del Monte, the son of an aristocratic Costa Rican family, the August after she won her first French title.

In 1912, she also became the first French woman in history to compete at the World Championships, when she finished fifth in the pairs event in Manchester, England with Louis Magnus. Louis was married to Anita's older sister Esther at the time, though they divorced in 1916. Anita passed away on February 9, 1961 in Paris at the age of sixty nine.


After making history as the first skater from France to compete in the men's event at the World Championships in 1927, Jean Henrion became the undisputed star of men's figure skating in France during the thirties. From 1932 to 1939, he won eight consecutive French men's titles - a record broken only by Alain Giletti, who won ten.

Georges Torchon and Jean Henrion. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Jean finished second in the pairs event at his National Championships in 1934 and 1935 with Gaby (Barbey) Clericetti and took the pairs title in 1937 and 1938 with a second partner, Suzy Boulesteix. Known as a specialist in school figures, Jean's best finish in international competition was a fourth place at the 1933 European Championships in London, England.

Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France

Although the powers that be in French figure skating recruited Swiss Olympian Alfred Mégroz to train Jean and Gaby Clericetti for the 1936 Winter Olympic Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, neither skater ultimately competed. Little is known of Jean's fate during World War II or afterwards, although genealogical sources do seem to suggest he might have served with the French Navy.


The son of Louis and Séverie (Valenciennes) Torchon, Georges Louis Torchon was born September 25, 1896 in Paris, France. From 1924 to 1933, he was a perennial competitor in the senior men's event at the French Championships. Though he placed second in 1924, 1931 and 1933, he finished as low as fifth in 1925. In his only major international competition, the 1932 European Championships in Paris, he placed dead last on every judge's scorecard. However, that same winter he had the honour of serving as France's flagbearer and judge at the Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid.

Interestingly - even while he was competing - Georges prioritized judging over his own skating. At the French Championships, quite often he and fellow competitor Gérard Rodrigues-Henriques would rush from the ice to the dressing room after the men's event, take off their skates and judge the women's and pairs events. As a judge at the 1932 World Championships in Montreal, he found himself in the unique position of assessing the same skaters who had defeated him weeks prior at the European Championships.

During World War II, Georges coached skaters at the Rue Saint Didier rink in Paris and following the War, he resumed his judging duties at several European and World Championships in the late forties and early fifties. One of his more controversial decisions occurred at the 1947 World Championships  in Stockholm, when he placed the French pair - Denise Fayolle and Guy Pigier - in a tie for second and the silver medallists, Karol and Peter Kennedy, sixth. The following year, he drew ire for daring to place the champion - Canada's Barbara Ann Scott - third in free skating.

Off the ice, Georges served as the long-time treasurer of the Club des Sports d'Hiver de Paris and travelled extensively to South America for his work in an industrial trade. The entire time he was competing and judging, he was a married father of two.


Guy Pigier was the son of a French diplomat; Soumi Sakamato the daughter of a Japanese diplomat. They paired on the ice up in Paris, fell in love and won the pairs title at the 1939 French Championships but her father whisked her back to Japan in 1940, ending both the relationship and partnership. French skating historian Jeanine Hagenauer sadly remarked, "The war came between the children in love." Guy went on to skate in shows with Denise Fayolle and join the cast of Holiday On Ice. Little is known of Soumi or her ultimate fate.


His competitive career spanned four decades, he competed at two Winter Olympic Games and the book he penned was one of the most widely read instructional texts on figure skating in the French language. However, chances are you haven't heard the name Charly Sabouret.

Born in 1884, Charles 'Charly' Sabouret was the son of esteemed road and bridge engineer Victor Sabouret and Aména Fraisseix de Veyvialle. He was raised in Paris, France with his brothers Henri, Antoine,  Étienne and Bernard and in his youth, studied anatomy before attending l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts on rue Bonaparte, where he studied fine arts. A gifted sculptor, Charly would often play hooky from school and sneak off through the bushes to the Palais de Glace to skate.

A member of the exclusive Club des Patineurs, Charly would often travel to Chamonix to give figure skating exhibitions with Louis Magnus and Francis Pigueron, two of his contemporaries. In January 1907, he entered one of the first pairs skating championships at the Palais de Glace. Teaming up with Anita Nahmias, he finished second of the four teams participating, just behind Louis Magnus and his wife. The "Journal de la jeunesse: nouveau recueil hebdomadaire illustré" reported, "Miss A. Nahmias and M. Ch. Sabouret executed the compulsory figures, rockers and a Viennese Waltz to unanimous applause." The following year, Charly placed third in the French Championships for men behind Magnus and Robert Lacroix. That same year and the next, the well rounded artist/athlete was France's speed skating champion. In 1911, Charly and partner Mademoiselle Aysagher claimed France's pairs title. He also finished second in the men's event behind Magnus. Over the next two years, he won another four medals in both men's and pairs skating.

Simone and Charly Sabouret

His career interrupted by the Great War, Charly married Simone Roussel, a talented skater nine years his junior. Simone was the cousin of renowned painter and photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue, who was good friends with Francis Pigueron and his wife. Husband and wife Charly and Simone teamed up as skaters as well, placing second at the 1920 French Championships behind Pigueron and his step-sister Yvonne Bourgeois.

That summer, Charly and Simone travelled to Antwerp, Belgium to compete in the Olympic Games. They placed a disappointing seventh but earned the distinction of being the first French figure skaters in history to compete in the Olympics and the only ones to have competed in the Summer Games.

Yvonne Lacroix and Charles Sabouret

The following year, Charly - now thirty seven - returned to the French Championships, placing third in the men's event behind Francis Pigueron and a young Pierre Brunet. In the pairs event, he and wife Simone were victorious, defeating Bourgeois and Pigueron and Brunet and Andrée Joly. The following year, Charly and Simone again finished above the future three time Olympic Medallists at the French Championships. Not to diminish these victories, but the fact that Charly and Simone twice defeated the Brunet's would've been because they necessarily outjumped them - keep in mind this was the early twenties - but because they outdanced them. The line between pairs and ice dance was very thin in those days and whereas the Brunet's veered off in what we would think of as the pairs direction with athletic lifts, the Sabouret's would have been to some degree moreso ice dancers, as Charly was a strong advocate for free skating programs heavily comprised of figures, dance steps and pattern dances.

Simone and Charly Sabouret competing in the 1924 Winter Olympic Games. Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland.

When Charly and Simone returned to the Olympic stage in Chamonix in 1924, it was clear that their perhaps old-fashioned interpretation of pairs skating was falling out of vogue. The Brunet's won the bronze; they finished dead last. Discouraged by this result, Simone quit skating.

Marguette Bouvier and Charly Sabouret

Ever the competitor, Charly returned to the competitive scene, placing third at the French Championships in 1929 and 1930 with Algerian born skier, journalist and aviatrice Marguette Bouvier. In 1931, he won another bronze with Lucienne Bonne... at age forty-seven. The following year, he penned the book "Patiner", one of the most widely read instructional texts on figure skating in the French language - certainly at the time at least.

Marguette Bouvier and Charly Sabouret. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Throughout the thirties, Charly covered figure and speed skating for "Sports de neige et de glace: organe portant les bulletins officiels" and was extremely active as an international judge, officiating for France at several European and World Championships. He also served on the executive of the Club des Sports d'Hiver de Paris.

Lucienne Bonne and Charly Sabouret. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France.

At the 1934 World Championships in Oslo, Charly was the only judge not to place Sonja Henie first in the free skate. In fact, he had her third, behind Liselotte Landbeck and Megan Taylor. This was before the days of open judging, so there were no angry Norwegians tossing their Smörgåsbord at him protest. However, it's possible he received a reaming behind the scenes for not once did he ever make that 'mistake' again. Perhaps tired of towing the line, he briefly returned to competitive skating in 1939, winning a silver medal in a domestic event.

Charly Sabouret's incredible story seems to fade into obscurity around the time of World War II. Those 1939 French Championships were his last and he never judged internationally again. However his story ended, Charly's pioneering spirit and love of competition deserve a special place in skating history.

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 1994 Skate Canada International Competition

Photo courtesy "Chatelaine" magazine

From November 3 to 6, 1994, an international cast of skaters from fifteen countries gathered at the Centrium Arena in Red Deer, Alberta for the 1994 Skate Canada International competition. The event boasted seven and a half hours of coverage on CTV. Ticket prices ranged from twenty two to thirty two dollars, with the free skating finals playing to a packed house.

Though the competition offered a total purse of one hundred thousand dollars in prize money, the winners in singles 'only' received five thousand. One reporter speculated that France's Philippe Candeloro, who withdrew from the event with no explanation provided, did so because the prize money at Skate America was higher.

Incidentally, it was the final year that Skate Canada was held as a standalone event. In 1995, the event was first included in the Champions Series - now called the Grand Prix. It was during Skate Canada that David Dore of the CFSA first announced discussions to "combine Skate Canada and Skate America into a two-event championship... [called] North American Skate with combined prize money... We plan to increase the Skate Canada prize money, anyway, but if we combined our prizes together with the U.S. payout, it would be a good purse that could attract good fields. It also would eliminate competition for skaters."

Just as the prize money being offered at professional competitions enticed skaters to leave the amateur ranks behind, the pressure for skating federations to offer big bucks at amateur international events was already becoming 'a thing'. Let's take a look back at how the competition unfolded!


During the off-season, twenty year old Kristy Sargeant and twenty four year old Kris Wirtz spent a couple of weeks training with Igor Moskvin in St. Petersburg, Russia. They couldn't wait to get home to their training base in Brossard, Quebec. Kris Wirtz told reporter Cam Cole, "The things people don't have there is frightening. There was a woman at the end of our street, I could see the bones through the skin of her legs. Her face was black from exposure. I don't understand how they live. They have to be such strong people. I mean, I will work with Igor again... just not in those conditions. We were so out of our element, we couldn't concentrate on the things we went over there for.''

In the warm-up for the pairs short program, America skater Cheryl Marker collided with Kris Wirtz. Her shoulder smashed into his ribs, but he decided to compete anyway. Kristy Sargaent tumbled on the side-by-side triple toe-loop in their program, but the Canadians were still second heading into the free skate.

Photo courtesy Skate Canada Archives

Kristy Sargeant and Kris Wirtz managed to score their first major international victory in Red Deer - the city where Sargeant was born - skating a strong program that was only marred by a faulty death spiral. After the event, Sargeant told reporters, "Winning our first international event is very big for us because it shows that we have a chance to be on the ladder towards the next Olympics. Our skating was a little rough, but we executed the things we were trying to do up until the last little problem.'' The silver medal went to Latvia's Elena Berezhnaya and Oleg Shliakhov and the bronze to crowd favourites Sarah Abitbol and Stéphane Bernadis of France. Danielle Carr of Australia, who finished fifth with her brother Stephen, celebrated her twenty fifth birthday in Red Deer.


Germany's Marina Kielmann, ranked fourth in the world, was the favourite entering the competition after the withdrawal of China's Lu Chen. However, she tumbled twice in the short program, taking herself out of the running for the gold medal. France's Laetitia Hubert rose to the occasion, delivering a strong performance to René Duprée's "Tango" from "Cirque du Soleil" and taking top spot after the short program. She was working with Evy and Mary Scotland down in the United States at the time.

In the free skate, Laetitia Hubert faltered and Marina Kielmann rallied but it was fifteen year old Krisztina Czakó of Hungary who rose to the occasion and snatched the gold medal over Hubert and Chicago's Jessica Mills. Czakó was six weeks shy of her sixteenth birthday,

Czakó was the youngest woman in Red Deer. She tried eight triples, including a triple/triple combination, and landed six. All but the Canadian judge, who had her fourth, placed her first overall. Czakó had arrived in Red Deer with an unusual quandary. The hem on one of her dresses was too long and she almost had to skate in a costume donated by the Red Deer Figure Skating Club. She eventually found suitable dresses in a skating boutique. Canada's two entries, Angela Derochie and Jennifer Robinson, placed fifth and sixth. Robinson had been a last-minute replacement for an injured Susan Humphreys.


Photo courtesy Skate Canada Archives

Taking an early lead in the compulsories, Canadian Champions Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz dominated the ice dance event in Red Deer from start to finish, easily besting Lithuanians Margarita Drobiazko and Povilas Vanagas and Americans Renée Roca and Gorsha Sur. Bourne and Kraatz received marks ranging from 5.4 to 5.7 for their winning free dance, a credit to their new coaches Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko. The Canadians had recently made the move to Lake Arrowhead to work with the Olympic Gold Medallists. They also worked with choreographer Uschi Keszler. Bourne told reporters, "With Marina and Sergei, everyone is going to be involved. Everyone's working toward the same thing. They're helping us to grow and become adults. Like a flower blossoms, we're going to blossom.'' Canada' second team, Jennifer Boyce and Michel Brunet, placed fifth of the eleven couples entered.


Elvis Stojko

Ticket buyers who had been anticipating a showdown between Elvis Stojko and Philippe Candeloro may have been disappointed, but Stojko more than gave them their money's worth, even if his competition wasn't as stiff. The twenty two year old had performed his new free skate to "1492: Conquest Of Paradise" every night on his Tour Of Champions, but had ditched a short program that wasn't working over the summer in favour of a new program to music from "Total Recall". He landed a triple Axel/double toe-loop, double Lutz and double Axel to take the lead in the short. His marks ranged from 5.5 to 5.9. He earned marks ranging from 5.7 to 5.9 for his "1492" free skate, landing six triples; two in combination. He tried the quad but just missed it. He told reporters, "There's still a lot left in the program. I left out some things, like the triple/triple combination, the quad-triple combination, and a second quad I want to put in and there's a lot of in-between's I want to improve on.'' Sébastien Britten landed five triples to take the bronze, just behind Michael Shmerkin, who made history as the first Israeli skater to win a medal at Skate Canada. Canada's third entry, a young Jeffrey Langdon, placed tenth.

Thanks to a generous donation of VHS tapes by Skate Guard reader Kate, you can take a trip back in time and rewatch the gala from the 1994 Skate Canada International competition in digitized video form. The YouTube playlist can be found above or at

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

Sonja Meets The Press

Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection. Used with permission.

One the most talented and incredibly complex figures in figure skating history, Sonja Henie brought skating to a new audience on the silver screen after winning three Olympic gold medals and ten World titles. Enthralling audiences from Oslo to Oklahoma City, the Norwegian darling of the ice had plenty to say to reporters at the height of her success and today on the blog, we'll let her words speak for themselves. From backstage interviews to society pages to press conferences, here's an eclectic collection of Sonja Henie quotables.


"Norwegians are a hardy race with rugged constitutions and athletic tendencies. With this, and the long, cold winters, they become great consumers of sweets, cakes and cookies. The severe winters and strenuous life make their demand for sugars very high."


"I wanted so much to be a picture star but I knew enough not to make the big mistake of going to Hollywood and begging for a job. No - that is not good showmanship. I gathered together a group of good skaters and took them to Hollywood with me. Then I rented the ice rink and put on my show. I told myself that this was the best way. If I was screen material, the studios would make me offers. If not, I would go back to Norway."

Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection. Used with permission.


"I learned to bake, cook and keep house about the same time I learned to skate. In Norway, it's a lasting disgrace for a girl to fail to become a first class housekeeper."


"No. Sonja Henie is a lovely name."


"When we moved in Myrna had the house filled with flowers and everything beautifully arranged for us, so we invited her to come and pay us a visit. She and Arthur [Hornblow] came together and I was glad to find them so happy. I suppose when we move out they will return here to live, it's so quiet and peaceful."

Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection. Used with permission.


"I've never had so much fun on skates as I do in the Hula, and in the 'Little Brown Girl' number which follows it."


"I love to skate. It's a part of me, but I have told Dan that I won't go on tour, at least not until we spend a whole year together. We want to have a home. I am a Norwegian, my ancestors have all been homemakers. I want a garden, a place in the country."

Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection. Used with permission.


"No. I don't smoke. I think there is little honesty in endorsing things one doesn't believe in... As an athlete, I have no use for cigarettes. I think I have a large audience of children on the screen, too. To smoke, it seems to me, would be to teach them a poor lesson for their age."

A later ad that depicted Sonja endorsing Chesterfield cigarettes


"Where is this Mortimer? Others like me and like my show. But always this critic says bad things. And I have never seen him. Really, I would like to meet him. If we do meet, I will have to hold Dan [Topping] back or he will punch that Mortimer's eyes and that would be too bad. I really do want so badly to see what he looks like."


"I drive our orchestra leader crazy. You see, I usually spin through one full chorus, but I can push him out to holding a chorus and a half. And sometimes I spin and spin until his musicians are blue in the face. Eighty-five times I can spin; I can spin more now than when I was younger, for some reason."

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