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.

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

Pierrette Paquin Devine, A Canadian Figure Skating Pioneer

Photo courtesy New York Heritage Digital Collections

"We're probably just as nervous as [skaters] are going into a competition. We have to be in the right frame of mind just as they do. The adrenalin runs for us just like it does for the skaters. Evidently we aren't supposed to show it... Believe me, it takes guts." - Pierrette Paquin Devine, "The Montreal Gazette", January 30, 1975

Born in 1930, Pierrette Cécilia Paquin was the daughter of Donat and Elsie (Lapointe) Paquin. She and her sisters Paulina and Paulette grew up in Hull, Quebec in a Roman Catholic family. Her father was a very prominent businessman who owned many cinemas in the area, including the Odéon and French Theaters in Hull, Victoria Theater in Ottawa, Pix in Aylmer and the Régent Theater in Gatineau.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

A talented piano player in her youth, Pierrette was faced with the task of choosing between scales or school figures. The latter won out and soon she was training ten hours a day at the Minto Skating Club. Training conditions during World War II at the Club were far from glamorous. She would often arrive at the rink before six in the morning, more than an hour before the caretaker arrived, to get the furnace going. It was so cold that the skaters would have to break the ice in the toilet with a hanger and line their boots with newspapers. Despite the fact she shared a coach (Otto Gold) with Barbara Ann Scott, not all of the members of the Club welcomed her with open arms. The Minto Skating Club, like many skating clubs at the time, was very English. Pierrette and the Choquette sisters - Andrée, Connie and Denyse - were part of an extremely small circle of skaters at the club who came from French Canadian families. Despite the fact her mother headed the Club's costume committee and chaperoned the skaters when they went on bus trips to perform in Lake Placid and Montreal, there were some with anti-Catholic and anti-French sentiments who were less than kind.

Photo courtesy New York Heritage Digital Collections

Pierrette's talent on the ice led to starring roles in the Minto Follies and a third place finish in the junior women's event at the 1945 Canadian Championships. After a few years of competing against Barbara Ann Scott in the senior women's event at Canadians, she turned her attention to ice dance. Teaming up with Donald Tobin, she finished second in the Waltz and ice dance events at the 1949 Canadians and won the Tenstep. At that year's North Americans, they finished just off the podium in fourth. In 1950 and 1951, the duo just lost out on winning the Waltz and Tenstep at Canadians but won the overall Canadian title in dance. At the 1951 North Americans in Calgary, they made history as Canada's first medallists at the event in ice dance. Off the ice, Pierrette worked as a buyer for Morgan's Department Store in Ottawa. In her spare time, she enjoyed riding horses, swimming, collecting oriental curios, knitting and reading.



Pierrette Paquin and Donald Tobin. Left photo courtesy New York Heritage Digital Collections, right photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

During the height of her skating success, Pierrette would travel anywhere she could to find ice. In the summers, she teamed up with Bill Kipp to compete in the Lake Placid Summer Dance Competitions. During Easter and Christmas holidays, she'd train in British Columbia and Washington state. By this point, she was also regularly working with famed coach Osborne Colson.

Winners at the 1951 Canadian Championships. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

When Donald Tobin turned professional to skate in shows, Pierrette briefly teamed up with Roger Wickson's brother Malcolm. The duo finished third in the Waltz, Tenstep and dance events at the 1952 Canadian Championships. However, by this point Pierrette's attentions had really turned from skating to judging. In Toronto in April of 1950, she had made history as one of the first skaters in Canada to pass the CFSA's new Gold Dance tests... a testing session she'd both skated and judged at. Her valuable expertise (in dance in particular) was recognized in 1952 when she became Canada's first national level judge... at the age of twenty two. The first major competitions she judged were the 1953 Canadian and North American Championships.

In 1956, Pierrette married Francis Michael Devine at the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce church in Hull. The couple settled in Toronto and raised a daughter and three sons. Pierrette's marriage was a blow to fellow skater Don Laws. He recalled, "Pierrette was the love of my life, the girl I would have married. We had a great time and when, in winter, she would come to Washington to train with [Osborne] Colson, she and her mother stayed with a relative of mine. Pierrette and I went everywhere together and were close; she had a governess always present. It was the way of the times... When I went off to Korea, we wrote frequently and it was through a letter that I found out that I had lost her to a quarterback. Her wedding took place after I had returned from the war and I attended the church ceremony. I skipped the reception."

At the 1957 World Championships, Pierrette made history as the first Canadian woman to judge at an ISU Championship. At the age of twenty six, she was the youngest woman ever to be appointed a Olympic or World judge by the CFSA at the time... and the only French Canadian judge period. After judging the dance event at the 1959 Worlds, she made history again at the 1960 Worlds in Vancouver, when she made history as the first Canadian referee at an ISU Championship in ice dance.

Photo courtesy Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec

Though Pierrette had something of a reputation as a 'low marker', she was very well-respected among her peers for her honesty - she wasn't afraid to call it as she saw it and go against the grain nor did she have any qualms about standing up for Canadian skaters even if she was outnumbered. At the 1964 World Championships, she was the only judge to place Paulette Doan and Ken Ormsby ahead of the Czechoslovakian winners. At a different event, she dared to place Karen Magnussen ahead of Peggy Fleming. The event's referee praised her, saying, "Madame Devine, you judged that magnificently." Another time, she gave Karen low marks in free skating and afterwards approached her and explained, "I just didn't think you skated that well. Karen replied, "Yes, Mrs. Devine, I know and you were right." She saw the darker side of judging when she refereed the controversial ice dance event at the 1969 North American Championships, where Canadians Donna Taylor and Bruce Lennie defeated Americans Judy Schwomeyer and Jim Sladky in an alleged fix. When she came to the powers that be at the CFSA with her concerns, she was allegedly told to "shut up".

Pierrette's disillusionment with the judging world only grew stronger in the seventies. When she judged the men's event at the 1976 Canadian Championships, she was shocked when the judges on either side of her asked if Ron Shaver had just performed a series of doubles or triples. He had landed three triple loops in succession - a rare feat in those days. Not long after, she retired from judging, frustrated with the dishonesty and incompetence she too often saw around her.

Rather than walk away from the sport, Pierrette moved to Montreal reinvented herself as a coach. Several of her students competed at the national level and later toured in ice shows, including Jaimee Eggleton, who represented Canada at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo. She retired from coaching in 1998 and moved to Luskville, Quebec. She sadly passed away on September 17, 2020 at the age of ninety.

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.

#Unearthed: The Development Of Fancy Skating In Canada


When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time. This month's 'buried treasure' is an article that appeared in the "National Pictorial" back in 1922. Penned by John S. Maclean, this piece offers a snapshot in time of the figure skating community in Toronto during the early roaring twenties.

THE DEVELOPMENT OF FANCY SKATING IN CANADA (JOHN S. MACLEAN)

Figure skating, the most fascinating of winter sports, combines healthful exercise with exhilarating effects. Its advantages may be shared by young and middle-aged, and even the elderly, for, paradoxical as it may seem, the junior championship of the United States was won last year by a gentleman of sixty-five. It brings together the youth of both sexes under most wholesome conditions, and the joy of their first waltz on ice will linger long in the memory.

Figure skating requires a keen sense of balance, which, however, is readily learned, combined with a knowledge of prescribed poses which are plainly described in instruction books illustrated with photographs and diagrams. The skate is slightly curved on the bottom, so that only a small portion
of the blade rests on the ice at one time, and this enables the skater to perform those circling figures which are the admiration of spectators.

The blade of the figure skate is also slightly hollowed on the bottom and the ability to travel on one edge or the other is one of the tests of a good skater. While the fundamentals of figure skating are simple, the combinations of them are almost numberless. Upon the foundation of a few curves,
turns, spins and jumps can be built up a skating performance of the most amazing variety.

One authority has estimated that more than 8,000 skating figures can be based upon the combinations of the fundamentals. The fundamental or 'school figures' adopted by the International Skating Union and accepted as standard in all parts of the world are the result of years of comparison and competition among the best experts of Europe. They include the edges, or gliding along in gentle curves forward or backward, changes of edge, threes, loops, brackets, rockers, counters and combinations of these. Skaters cannot be regarded as skilled until they can execute the school figures. In the enthusiasm to learn waltzing on ice many neglect the school figures, and find that when they enter a competition they are 'nowhere'.

The Amateur Skating Association of Canada which governs figure skating in Canada, is affiliated
with the International Skating Union of Europe and is authorized to hold tests and competitions in accordance with International rules and regulations. The competitions include both the prescribed school figures and also free skating to music, which is marked according to the contents of the programme and to the manner of performing it. The Union has also set up four graded tests which serve to classify club members. The simplest is the fourth class which is frequently used as an entrance test by clubs. The first class is very difficult and few have even succeeded in fulfilling the requirements of it. The badges indicating that skaters have passed these tests are keenly sought, for the tests are accepted by all clubs in the Association to indicate the standing of the members.

The leading figure skating organizations of Canada are: The Minto Skating Club of Ottawa, The Winter Club of Montreal and The Toronto Skating Club. In Ottawa and Montreal climatic conditions make practicable the use of natural ice each season but the milder weather of Toronto has hitherto impeded the progress of figure skating in this city. The Toronto Skating Club has now completed the erection of an artificial ice rink on Dupont Street, where the sport can be enjoyed for five months each season under ideal conditions. At one end are the club quarters in a two-storey brick building, equipped with dressing rooms and all accessories, parlors, dining and reception rooms. The wall overlooking the ice is glass so that members who do not care to skate can watch in comfort those who do. A hanging gallery along one side gives a magnificent view of the evolutions on the ice below. Three times a week the rink will be thrown open to the public, and for them comfortable quarters are also provided overlooking the ice. The skating surface, 160 feet long by 75 feet wide, is greater than that of any rink in New York. A portion of it will be reserved for those of the public who wish to indulge in figure skating.


The Governors-General of Canada have always taken a great interest in figure skating and make it a
prominent and, in the evenings, a picturesque feature of entertainment at Government House, Ottawa. Among the members of Vice-Regal households who have become accomplished skaters was Lady Rachel Cavendish, daughter of the Duke of Devonshire, who attended the carnival of the Toronto Skating Club last season and afterwards joined the members in one of their band sessions.

"With a view to the encouragement and development of figure skating in Canada," so the deed of gift runs, the Earl and Countess of Minto presented a trophy known as The Minto Cup, open to members of any established Amateur Canadian Skating Club. The winner of it and the title last season was Mr.
Duncan McIntyre Hodgson of the Winter Club, Montreal. The Duke of Devonshire, with a view to "the encouragement and development of individual figure skating for ladies in Canada" presented a trophy known as The Devonshire Cup, open for competition by members of any established Amateur
Canadian Skating Club. Miss Jeanne Chevalier of the Winter Club, Montreal, is now the holder of that trophy with the title 'Lady Figure Skating Champion of Canada'.

Even more delightful than the skating of a single performer is the graceful work shown in the combined skating of lady and gentleman. To encourage pair skating the Earl and Countess of Minto offered The Minto Challenge Cups, and the lady and gentlemen winning them are known as the 'Pair Skating Champions of Canada'. That title is now held by Miss Beatrice MacDougall and Mr. Allan Howard, of the Winter Club, Montreal. A further development of combined work which adds the requirements of great precision in movements is skating in 'Fours'. For this Earl Grey offered The Grey Challenge Trophy and clubs desirous of competing for it must each enter one or more pair of individual skaters (one lady and one gentleman); one or more pair (or hand in hand) skaters and one or more fours (two ladies and two gentlemen) . Thus one club may enter four or more skaters. It was won last season by the following representatives of the Winter Club, Montreal: Miss Jeanne Chevalier, Miss Winnifred Tait, Mr. Allan Howard and Mr. Norman Gregory.

An international aspect has been given to competition by the Duke of Connaught who offered a trophy open to teams of four, consisting of two ladies and two gentlemen from any recognized skating club in Canada, 'or elsewhere'. The deed of gift specifies "the general style and pose approved by the International Skating Union." The New York Skating Club sent a team of four accomplished skaters last season to Ottawa to compete for the Connaught Cup and a most exciting contest took place in the presence of the Governor-General, the Duchess of Devonshire and many other distinguished spectators. The cup, which had previously been held by the Minto Skating Club of Ottawa, was won by the same representatives of the Winter Club, Montreal who had won the Grey Challenge Trophy. The New York Skating Club was second and the Minto Club, third.

These competitions, it will be noticed, have always been won by skaters from Montreal or Ottawa. The Toronto Skating Club, however, expects that it will be able, before long, to bring some of the trophies to this city. In its new quarters it will have the finest facilities on this continent for figure skating and it has resolved to give great encouragement to the junior members for among the rising generation must be sought the coming champions.

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.

Figure Skating Hodge Podge, Volume 8


As autumn crept in over the years, I have introduced you to a Maritime classic: hodge podge.  If you've never had a proper bowl of hodge podge, you don't know what you're missing. It's a traditional Nova Scotian fall dish that uses nothing but the freshest harvest vegetables. It just warms your soul and I'm craving it already by just mentioning it. Atlantic Canadians use the expression 'hodge podge' to describe anything that's got a little bit of everything. Figure skating constantly evolves and changes that much that it's not always easy to keep track of all of the developments, stories and (sometimes) dramas that develop along the way.

I've had several topics that I'd been wanting to write about for quite a while that all seemed to have two common denominators. Firstly, they are all tales that many people may not know or if they did, might not remember. Secondly, they don't all really have enough material to constitute a full blog of their own. Let's take a trip down memory lane and explore a hodge podge of skating stories... with a delicious 6.0 finish!

WEIGHING IN ON WEIGH-IN'S

Photo courtesy "World Ice Skating Guide"

Florence 'Rae' Claire Radosh garnered considerable attention when she burst on the skating scene at the age of three (!) during World War II. Under the tutelage of Helen Herbst at the Rockefeller Skating Pond in New York, she mastered Axels and Arabian cartwheels within a couple of short years. She was soon performing gymnastic tricks on the ice that were as wowing as Adele Inge's backflips and starring at the ice shows at the Benjamin Franklin Hotel in Philadelphia under her stage name 'Florence Rae'. 


In the fifties, Florence signed a contract with the Ice Follies, touring the country and skating several shows a week before she'd even finished school. After four years with the tour, she was suspended without pay because the tour's organizers deemed her overweight. She had grown from five foot five and a half and one hundred and thirty pounds to five foot six and a half and one hundred and sixty pounds.

Florence went home and lost weight but when she tried to rejoin the tour, the Ice Follies folks said no... but they wouldn't let her on the ice because she "had become grossly overweight and unattractive to the general public". They also wouldn't let her out of her contract "because there was still eleven months left". This led to a five-year long very ugly legal battle and the end of her skating career. While we might (rightfully) shake our heads today at the gall of the 'weigh-in's' that occurred on skating tours, they really had the power to make or break a skater.

THE 1918 AUSTRIAN CHAMPIONSHIPS

On February 5, 1918, near the end of the Great War, the Austrian Figure Skating Championships were held in Vienna - just over a month before the German advancement on British troops in Amiens.

Gisela Reichmann

The winner of the women's competition was Gisela Reichmann, representing the Wiener Eislaufverein. Her strength in the school figures was perhaps the crowning jewel in her victory by over ten points over Herma Szabo. An account of the event from the "Illustriertes (Österreichisches) Sportblatt" on March 1, 1918 noted that her figures were skated with "fantastic overall certainty" but that Szabo, had improved considerably in this area. In the free skating, "Miss Reichmann [skated] an extremely rich program at a brisk tempo; Miss v. Szabo showed here more difficult figures and very good disposition."

Paula Hanke and Mitzi Schilling (gold and bronze medallists in the junior ladies event) and junior men's champion Emil von Bertalanffy

Though a senior men's competition was not contested due to the number of men in service, events for both junior men and women were held. Emil von Bertalanffy of the Wiener Eislaufverein won the junior men's event with "smooth, technically graceful skating" ahead of future European and World Medallist Otto Preißecker of the Cottage-Eislaufverein by over ten points. In third was Heinz Mattauch of the Cottage-Eislaufverein, followed by Fritz Fraenkel, Eugen Zwieback and Karl Petzlbauer, all representing the Wiener Eislaufverein. The "expected" winner of the junior women's event was Paula Hanke. She received fewer points than second place finisher Hilda Till but secured her victory by less than a point. In third was Mitzi Schilling, the daughter of European speed skating champion Franz Schilling and in fourth, Martha Strache of the Wiener Eislaufverein.

Ilse Adametz, silver medallist in the middle school girl's competition, representing Frauenerwerbverein

'Mittelschülerbewerbe' (middle school) competitions were also held for younger, less experienced skaters. Fritz Fraenkel and Grete Bresnik, representing Wiener Handelsakademie respectively, both were victorious in their classes. Of note among the competitors was the second place finisher in the middle school boy's competition, Hugo Distler. He would go on to win the bronze medal at the World Championships in 1928 behind Willy Böckl and Karl Schäfer.

That same month in Berlin, senior women, junior men and junior women all competed for national crowns as well. Although The Central Powers were definitely losing the War by this point in history, skaters were absolutely not being deterred from the ice.

LAVERNE BUSHER: SELF-TAUGHT AND SENSATIONAL


When Leverne Busher was a ten year old girl growing up in Kansas City, Missouri in the late twenties, she saw her first ice show and knew in her heart she was going to end up doing the same thing someday. Her dreams were realized in a fulfilling and successful professional career as an interpretive skater in shows but her path was quite different than the majority for she was entirely self-taught.

Leverne, who started performing professionally at age seventeen, explained her start in skating in an essay she wrote for the "Deseret News" in April of 1936: "My parents knew nothing of the art. They had already decided my career was to be dancing, singing and playing the piano. They were afraid skating would impair my dancing... I was sure I could, but this would require an instructor, also the right kind of skates. I got the skates with a Christmas gift of a check. To get instructions was the next problem. All the instructors knew how anxious I was to learn; still their time was money to them. But they didn't object to my being on the ice while they taught someone else. So, while they taught at one end of the rink, I was at the other end and benefited from the lesson." 

Leverne soldiered on, taking tips from other skaters about good form and technique but never once having a lesson from a professional coach... and she developed quite a knack for interpreting music once she got the hang of things. Her first performance was an exhibition for Red Cross workers and her parents finally came to see what their daughter had been up to. Leverne wrote, "My parents were almost in tears with pride and joy".


Forgoing competition altogether, Leverne auditioned for shows. Her first professional performance was at Chicago's Century Of Progress Exposition in 1934 and then the following year she received a contract to perform her interpretive performance in the Hotel Sherman's College Inn revue alongside Eddie Shipstad and Oscar Johnson, Norval Baptie and Gladys Lamb and World Professional Speed Skating Champion Bobby McLean. In 1937, she performed at the sixth annual skating carnival at the Chicago Stadium and then joined the Ice Follies. A 1938 "Brooklyn Daily Eagle" article described "the flower ballet, with Miss [Busher] as prima ballerina" as the opening act for a New York performance of the show. She also performed a duet with Valerie Fink and appeared in the film "The Ice Follies Of 1939" alongside Joan Crawford, Jimmy Stewart and an impressive skating cast. Devoting a great deal of her life to performing as a skater, Leverne passed away on September 9, 1992 in Marion, North Carolina, her career as a professional skater a reminder that there's "more than one way to make it in this business."

THE LEGEND OF THE MOROCCAN AMBASSADOR


Skating history is full of as many legends as it is verifiable stories. One fascinating yarn that was widely retold in nineteenth century illustrated magazines seems to have originated in Georg Bernhard Depping's 1827 book "Evening Entertainments; Or Delineations Of The Manners And Customs Of Various Nations, Interspersed With Geographical Notices, Historical And Biographical Anecdotes And Descriptions In Natural History". The aim of Depping's book was "to instruct and amuse youth", so a primary source this is not. Yet, with the amount of skating history he managed to get right, I wouldn't turn my nose up at this tale either.

Depping wrote, "An ambassador of The Emperor of Morocco at the Hague, desirious of giving his master some idea of the amusement of skating, wrote to him, that during a certain season, all the rivers of the Netherlands were covered with a kind of cake, which looked like sugar-candy, and was capable of bearing carriages and horses: that at such times, multitudes of men and women took infinite pleasure in running as swiftly as an ostrich upon these cakes, with the help of a couple of very smooth irons, which they fastened to their feet. The Emperor of Morocco looked upon this account of his ambassador as so incredible, that he called him a story-teller." The author claimed to have originally read of this fascinating tale in "some book of travels" but neglected to provide his source. The fact that Morocco and The Netherlands have had strong economic ties for over four centuries would certainly provide reason for an ambassador from that country to find himself among the ice-loving Dutch. Certainly a reminder that while "you shouldn't believe everything you read", you shouldn't always dismiss it either unless you can prove otherwise.

THE COCOANUT GROVE FIRE


Turn on the news and you are guaranteed to find some sort of tragedy. Whether War, natural disaster or accident, something bad happens every day and you better believe the media is going to let you know about it. Skating has certainly seen its fair share. The 1961 Sabena CrashThe Regent's Park TragedyThe Hallowe'en Holocaust and The Baltimore Armoury Incident immediately spring to mind as some of the worst.  What many may not know is that during World War II, another major tragedy (which didn't even take place in a skating rink) had an almost eerie number of connections to the figure skating world.

The date was November 28, 1942 and the scene was The Cocoanut Grove, a former speakeasy that became Boston's premiere nightclub during the War. Although the capacity was only four hundred and sixty, more than a thousand party goers packed the club that night. What these innocent patrons didn't realize was that they were were walking into a death trap. The Polynesian decor consisted of fake trees made of paper, cloth draperies and decorations which hid exit signs from view. Shortly after a busboy replaced a lightbulb that someone had removed so they could have some privacy while making out with their date, one of the fake palm trees caught fire. The paper decor was the perfect storm for the blaze and within five minutes, the flames had spread from the downstairs lounge to the main clubroom. The patrons were basically doomed. Side doors were barred and windows boarded up to prevent anyone from sneaking in and with only one turnstile exit available jammed with a pile of trampled bodies, exiting in a haze of smoke was nearly impossible. The death toll was four hundred and ninety two -among them Hollywood movie star Buck Jones.


So what connection could figure skating possibly have to this horrific event? Well, the night of the tragedy Ollie Haupt Jr., who was in the Naval Air Corps and Benjamin T. Wright, who was in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps  at Harvard, heard an announcement that all enlisted men and reserve officers were to consider themselves on Active Duty and report to the scene. They acted as stretcher-bearers, taking the injured and dead out of the nightclub. Elizabeth Bliss, a member of the Skating Club Of Boston, was a volunteer with the Red Cross who assisted at the scene. Another Massachusetts skater, Sara E. Noonan, served as a nurse at the Boston City Hospital and cared for many victims. Among the victims were Henry and Jimmy Fitzgerald, enthusiastic hockey players and pleasure skaters and Charles Andrew Duhamel, an accountant at figure skating events who also served as the Skating Club of Boston's treasurer.


However, the story that's perhaps most eerie is that of Alice Quessy. She was actually scheduled to work at the Cocoanut Grove the night it burned down but a bad case of strep throat kept her home sick. In an interview in the July 25, 1979 issue of "The Evening Independent", she recalled the club's Polynesian decor and a sky-roof that opened so that "on a clear night, you could see the stars." So, a waitress at the Cocoanut Grove who by a stroke of good luck managed to escape almost certain death... incredibly fortunate but what does it have to do with skating? I'm getting there! 

Professional figure skater Alice Quessy and her young son

Harkening to the story of multiple shipwreck survivor Violet Jessop, Alice Quessy was actually one of the professional skaters on the ice during The Hallowe'en Holocaust. She narrowly escaped serious injury in that second disaster, but a bad accident while performing gymnastics on ice while touring with Holiday On Ice almost ended her professional career. It's odd how stories come together, isn't it?


Much like the skating disasters mentioned at the start of today's blog, the Cocoanut Grove tragedy could probably have easily been avoided with a dash of common sense and some sincere concern for the safety of those involved. It only goes to show you that a little vigilance and awareness of your surroundings might someday save your life.

NOVA SCOTIAN HODGE PODGE RECIPE


Sop up what's left with some nice hearty bread and be sure to double or triple up so that you have leftovers... this is always better the second day! This recipe is for four to six people:

Ingredients (fresh from a farmer's market or garden):

10-12 new potatoes – scrubbed/not peeled, and halved – quarter any large potatoes, and don't cut the small ones – you want the potato pieces to be about the same size
2-3 cups chopped new carrots – scrubbed/not peeled, cut into bite sized pieces (you can peel them if you like)
1 cup chopped yellow beans – 1 inch long pieces
1 cup chopped green beans – 1 inch long pieces
1 cup shelled pod peas – you want just the peas, not the pods
1.5 cups cream
1/4 – 1/2 cup butter
salt and pepper to taste

1. Fill a large, heavy pot about halfway with water, and salt lightly (about 1/2 teaspoon of salt). Bring to a boil.
2. Add the potatoes to the boiling water. Cook for about seven minutes.
3. Add the carrots to the pot, and continue cooking for about seven minutes.
4. Next add the yellow and green beans to the pot, and continue cooking for about five minutes.
5. Finally, add the peas, and continue cooking for about three minutes.
6. Drain off most of the water – leave about an inch of water (no more) in the bottom of the pot with the vegetables. Return the pot to the stove, and reduce burner heat to low. Add the cream and butter, and some salt and pepper (I start with a 1/4 teaspoon of each).
7. Gently stir to combine, allowing the the blend and butter to heat through. As you’re stirring, the potatoes might break up a bit. As the the blend and butter heat through, the broth may begin to thicken. This is normal. Don’t allow the mixture to boil.
8. Once the mixture has heated through, it is ready to serve. Season with a little salt and pepper to taste. Serve with bread.

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