Leadville's Crystal Palace

Photo courtesy Denver Public Library

In the late Victorian era, cities from Montreal to Moscow simultaneously embarked on an unusual trend - erecting large 'ice palaces' as novel attractions during winter festivals. Constructed either partially or entirely of ice blocks harvested from frozen ponds and lakes, these structures more often than not played host to ice rinks.

One of the largest 'ice palaces', built in the failed gold boom town of Leadville, Colorado in November and December of 1895, had an 80 X 100 ice rink installed inside and employed over two hundred and fifty men in its construction. It cost upwards of twenty five thousand dollars to build - no paltry sum in 1895! Its construction was ordered through a bid process overseen by the Leadville Ice Palace and Carnival Association and carried out by Tingley S. Wood and Charles E. Jay, who had constructed a similar structure in St. Paul, Minnesota a decade earlier. One of the project's financiers was none other than James Joseph 'J.J.' Brown, the mining engineer husband of famous Titanic survivor 'The Unsinkable' Molly Brown.


The Crystal Palace was located between 7th and 8th Streets, approximately two blocks west of Harrison Avenue. The February 16, 1896 issue of the "New Castle News" reported, "'Palace' is a good name for the structure, as it is a palatial building. At a distance it might be mistaken for a castle built of opals. It is seen to the best advantage at night, when the electric lights, with different colored globes - illuminate its sides and towers, producing an effect never before seen, and only read of in the fairy tales of our childhood. The main entrance - at the north end - is approached by a flight of steps of ice, and guarded by the imposing statue of Leadville, which is also carved from ice. Entering through the turnstyles, visitors find themselves in the lobby. By turning to the left the ball room is reached; to the right the dining room. Following the wall, either way, you will find different exhibits such as fruits, flowers, meats, fished, bottled beer, and even patent medicines, frozen in large clear blocks of ice. A large picture of the Colorado at Glenwood Springs, with the pool and bath house, is thus on exhibition in a cake of ice. At one point you will find several stereopticons protruding from cakes of ice, and looking into them see views of different points of interest. At one end are a number of stuffed animals and birds... The ball room and dining room are each enclosed and heated by stoves. Between them is the skating rink. The side of each, looking on the rink, is entirely of glass and one may sit comfortably on either and watch the skaters. The rink floor is flooded every night, so that the ice is always smooth. If you care to skate there is a room where you can hire skates and a cloakroom where you can get wraps checked. If you cannot skate, you cannot fail to be amused in watching the skaters in their pretty skating costumes and toboggan suits, the latter of which are quite the rage with both sexes. On each side of the rink is a row of large square ice pillars, into which are built electric lights with different colored globes."


The Crystal Palace opened on New Year's Day, 1896, with a lavish carnival including a merry-go-round, skating party opened to the general public, costume carnival, music by the G.A.R. Drum Corps, hockey game, banquet and boy's skating race. The first prize for the race was "a suit of clothes"; the second a pair of skates. Skaters were advised they weren't permitted to participate in the festivities "unless en masque and in fancy dress or carnival costume." Local businesses closed up shop at noon so their employees could attend the spectacle.


On January 18, 1896, The Crystal Palace played host to a figure skating contest. The January 19, 1896 issue of the "Herald Democrat" reported, "The fancy skating contest brought out Otis Richmond, Alex Harvey, Jr. and Merritt P. Walley. These gentlemen went through the fancy figures with varying success, some of the figures being real feats of 'skatesmanship.' Richmond appeared to be in better training and more at ease than his competitors - though it must be said that Walley's evolutions were gracefully accomplished. Alex Harvey did not do his best work, being troubled with a weak ankle and requiring the skaters to execute all the figures without intermission, required too much endurance for Alex's weak ankle. Richmond was awarded first prize." Otis  A. Richmond wasn't your typical well-to-do Victorian figure skater. According to Ballenger & Richards' Annual Leadville City Directory's, he was once a miner.

From January to March of 1895, the Crystal Palace drew in more than twenty-five thousand visitors. Yet, instead of infusing the ailing local economy with some much-needed cash flow, the Crystal Palace's operating costs alarmed investors. In March, there was an early thaw and the building was condemned. Skaters continued to take to the ice rink until June, when it was no longer usable. Ultimately, the project's investors decided not to rebuild the following year and the Crystal Palace was abandoned.

Photo courtesy Denver Public Library

In December of 2009, a writer at the "Colorado Central Magazine" recalled, "Because of the continued depressed economy and a looming miner’s strike, the construction lumber was dismantled and resold. Some of the lumber was used for flooring in barracks erected for state militiamen who were brought in to quell the violence and rioting that were the result of the miners strike. While the strike was preoccupying the citizens of Leadville, the remainder of the Palace was demolished in October of 1896 and hopes for an annual carnival melted away as well."

Replica of the Leadville Crystal Palace. Photos courtesy Myles Gallagher, National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum.

With the liquefication of the Leadville Crystal Palace, one of the most unique venues for a figure skating competition in history became a forgotten footnote in the halls of history. Today, the National Mining Hall Of Fame and Museum in Leadville houses a scale replica of this fascinating venue.

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 1929 U.S. Figure Skating Championships


In February of 1929, The Saint Valentine's Day Massacre occurred in Chicago, Dame Patricia Routledge - better known as Hyacinth Bucket on "Keeping Up Appearances" - was born in Tranmere, England, the first Academy Awards were announced... and many of the top figure skaters in America competed in the 1929 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. The competition was held on February 18 and 19 of that year at Madison Square Garden in New York City and organized by the Skating Club Of New York.

Six competitors vied for the junior women's title. Dr. Hulda Berger, a respected dentist from New York, led the field with first place votes from four of the five judges after the school figures. Though she skated well in the free skate, she lost the title for the second year in a row... this time to Evelyn Chandler, the wife of Bruce Mapes. The bronze medal went to Grace Madden of Newton, Massachusetts. Building upon a strong lead in the figures with a fine free skate, George 'Geddy' Hill of Cambridge, Massachusetts easily took the gold in the junior men's event ahead of Joseph K. Savage of New York and Brooklyn's William Nagle and Robert Reed. In their sixth attempt, Dorothy Weld and Richard L. Hapgood finally won the U.S. junior pairs title. In a show of fine sportsmanship, Hapgood - who penned the report about the U.S. Championships in "Skating" magazine - downplayed his own success in order to praise the efforts of the team who finished second, Ethel Bijur and Bedell H. Harned. He intimated that had Harned not had a bad cold the day of the competition, he and Ethel would have surely won.

The judges had their work cut out for them in the pairs event. The top three teams each exhibited three completely different styles of skating, and thusly - the judges had a hard time coming to an agreement. Though Maribel Vinson and Thornton Coolidge - the defending champions - managed to reclaim their title with three first place ordinals, they were actually had just over one point more than the runners-up, Theresa Weld and Nathaniel Niles. Edith Secord and Joseph K. Savage, who finished third, had a first place ordinal of their own and weren't far behind. However, the fourth place team - Delores De Pierce and George Braakman of New York - were a pretty distant fourth.
The February 20, 1929 issue of "The New York Times" noted that Vinson and Coolidge "excelled in speed, executed their figures in perfect unison and then produced a number of rhythmic movements that were judged of the highest type."

Sadly, the event marked the fourth consecutive year that the fours title wasn't contested at the U.S. Championships. In "Skating" magazine, Richard L. Hapgood bemoaned, "It is to be deplored that so little interest is taken in this branch of skating."

At the 1928 USFSA Annual Meeting, the Dance Committee drafted rules for a new format for ice dance competitions, to be tested at the 1929 U.S. Championships. This format combined the traditional waltz contest format - where teams skated both in a group and on their own - with an Original Dance competition, where teams devised their own dances. The rules for the Original Dance were as such:

1. Only one dance would be allowed (a Fourteenstep variation) and it had to be suitable for simultaneous dancing ie. several couples on the ice at the same time, although only one couple would present a dance at a time
2. It would start from a standstill, not entering or finishing figures.
3. It must have continuity of motion and the character of a dance.
4. While underarm and back-to-back turns are allowed, real separating figures are barred.
5. Either waltz (closed) or side-by-side positions may be used, or both.
6. The sequence of steps must be completed at least twice (limited to 1 1/2 minutes).
7. Couples could choose their own music provided due notice was given.
8. Jumps and lifts were not considered appropriate for dancing.

In the Original Dance, couples were judged on difficulty, originality and construction of the dance, teamwork and surety and power, carriage and rhythm or timing. In "Skating" magazine, Richard L. Hapgood noted, "Naturally, as would be expected in a new type of contest, judges and contestants alike were somewhat at sea. All the couples had interesting dances to offer, which were for the most part the working out of individual ideas on the problem, and the result was that the judges differed in their opinions quite as much as the contestants."

Interestingly, Edith Secord and Joseph K. Savage unanimously won the Dance title in 1929... on the basis of their unanimous win in the Waltz. Only one judge (Ferrier T. Martin) placed Secord and Savage first in the Original Dance. Another judge tied Secord and Savage with Theresa Weld and Nathaniel Niles, while two placed Weld and Niles first. A fifth judge had Clara Rotch Frothingham and Roger Turner, who placed dead last overall, first in the Original Dance.

If the Dance competition in New York City in 1929 hadn't been clear cut, the senior women's was something of a landslide victory. Showing much improvement over her efforts the year prior when she'd won her first U.S. title, Maribel Vinson dominated the women's event from start to finish to easily defend her title. Edith Secord of New York was unanimously second and Suzanne Davis of Boston unanimously third. One judge, former U.S. medallist Lillian Cramer, was so impressed by Vinson's efforts that she awarded her over fifteen more points than Secord. The February 20, 1929 issue of "The New York Times" noted, "Miss Vinson is only sixteen years old but has been an actual competitor in amateur figure skating ranks for twelve years, having been initiated into the graceful but difficult art at 4 years of age by her father, who was a famous figure skater some years ago. The execution of the Jackson [Haines] spin, which is named for the man credited with developing the modern American school figure skating, by Miss Vinson was the outstanding factor in her performance, yet she displayed a well-rounded program, showing great speed and accuracy in both the figures and the free skating, in which she brought forth a number of startling new figures."

James Madden, Frederick Goodridge and Roger Turner at the 1929 U.S. Championships. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Defending champion Roger Turner of Boston amassed an impressive lead in the school figures even though Richard L. Hapgood noted they were "not the best of which he his capable". He received three first place ordinals for his free skating and managed to defend his title four judges to one over Frederick Goodridge. James Madden and Dr. Walter Langer, who finished third and fourth, each received a first place ordinal in free skating. Madden's performance included the competition's only Axel jump. The February 20, 1929 issue of "The New York Times" noted, "Turner displayed a skill that won rounds of applause from the gallery. His form was declared to be as nearly flawless as any seen in recent title events. This was especially true in the school figures. His spins were remarkable and the complete assurance with which he ran through the figures attracted the eyes of the crowd as well as the judges."

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.

A Winning Winnipeger: The Philip Lee Story

Photo courtesy Winnipeg Winter Club

The son of William and Mary Constance (Partridge) Lee, Philip William Lee was born July 22, 1913 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He grew up in a newly constructed Queen Anne Revival Style apartment block on Wardlaw Avenue, just off Wellington Crescent - one of the city's most prestigious areas. His father worked as an inspector at the Western Canada Loan and Savings Company, a firm founded by Philip's great great grandfather. Philip's father was a dog fancier who enjoyed hunting and canoeing... as well as skating at the Winnipeg Winter Club.

Winnipeg Winter Club. Photo courtesy University Of Manitoba College Of Medicine Archives.

Though Philip learned to skate as a youngster, it wasn't until he was in his twenties - in the height of The Great Depression - that he began taking skating seriously. On a clerk's meagre salary, he managed to scrimp and save to afford to pursue his dream. In 1965, he recalled, "I would hazard a guess that $1,500 would have covered in my era three complete years of skating. But then we paid only about $1.50 for a 20-minute or half-hour lesson, depending on the pro. Now, I have been told, the charge can be as high as $3 for 15 minutes - and more. We paid about $65 for a pair of boots and skates. Today's skaters pay $150 and more. Today the men wear special free skating outfits that are said to cost in the neighbourhood of $150 or thereabouts. We were not nearly so fancy." Philip received most of his early instruction from Leopold Maier-Labergo, a German Champion who had emigrated to Canada.

Patricia Chown and Philip Lee. Photo courtesy University Of Manitoba Libraries.

Though Philip held the Winnipeg Winter Club's senior men's and pairs titles, it was far from a given that he would succeed on a national level. In the thirties, skaters from Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto utterly dominated the Canadian skating scene, but Philip broke the mold. In 1934, he became only the third man from west of Ontario to win the Canadian junior men's title. In 1936 and 1937, he medalled in the senior men's event - a feat only accomplished before by two Western Canadian skaters - Lewis Elkin and Rupert Whitehead.


When Philip won the Canadian junior pairs title with Patricia Chown in 1938, he became the first skater from Western Canada to win Canadian junior titles in more than one discipline. That year, he also 'skated up' in the seniors, just missing the podium in both singles and pairs. His free skating program was set to an original composition called "Spirit Of The Blades", while he and Patricia's pair was performed to "Orchids In The Moonlight" and "Zephyr Blown".

Patricia Chown and Philip Lee. Photo courtesy University Of Manitoba Libraries, Winnipeg Winter Club.

Patricia Chown and Philip Lee. Photo courtesy University Of Manitoba Libraries.

Philip's skating career was cut short by two factors - his partner Patricia's decision to turn professional to coach at the Winnipeg Winter Club and World War II. During the War, Philip served as a Lieutenant with the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve. On November 17, 1943 in York Mills, Ontario, he married Ruby Margaret Knox, an airwoman stationed with the Royal Canadian Air Force in Hagersville. Ruby was the daughter of a Major and her maid of honour and attendant were both fellow airwomen. After a short trip home to Winnipeg to visit Philip's family, the newlyweds returned to their respective stations.

After the War, Philip and Ruby reunited and settled for a time in Winnipeg, where Philip briefly taught skating at the Winter Club. In 1950, he served as the business manager of the first summer skating school in the Prairies. One of the unique aspects of this school was a series of lectures on figure skating history. Though he remained quite removed from the national skating scene - not attending the Canadian Championships in person for over twenty years after competing - he regularly penned articles on the sport for the "Winnipeg Free Press". He and Ruby later settled in Calgary and raised three children. Philip passed away on May 19, 1997 at the age of eighty three, his efforts to put Western Canada on the proverbial skating map 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' 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 1966 World Figure Skating Championships


Held from February 22 through 27, 1966 in the open air Eisstadion of the International Skating Club in Davos, Switzerland, the 1966 World Figure Skating Championships paid homage to figure skating's compelling history at the final World Championships ever held in the popular skating destination of Davos. The event also marked the final time that both figures and free skating events were held outdoors, though the free skating competitions at the 1967 World Championships in Vienna were held on an outdoor rink.

Beat Häsler's father Georg, a longtime ISU official, took great pains in coordinating showcase displays that surrounded the rink detailing the sport's history. A who's who of skating history came out of the woodwork for the historic occasion, including Dick Button, Cecilia Colledge, Ludovika JakobssonKarl Schäfer, Megan Taylor, Daphne Walker and Manfred Schnelldorfer. Three notable figures missing were Theresa Weld Blanchard, T.D. and Mildred Richardson. Weld Blanchard's husband Charles had suffered two heart attacks so she opted to stay home in America and care for him and likewise, Mildred had fallen and injured her hip so she and her esteemed husband opted to remain in Great Britain and miss the event.

Gary Visconti. Photos courtesy Stadtmuseum Aarau.

One hundred and nine skaters from thirteen different nations participated; the event was broadcast on television to fourteen different nations. The weather was all over the place, with snow, wind, rain and sunshine all making an appearance. The Canadian team on Alitalia arlines flights to Zürich, then by bus to Davos. They stayed in the official hotel, the Hotel Belvedere. Valerie (Jones) Merrick recalled, "The events in Davos were skated on artificial ice at the outdoor main arena. There was a football field next to the arena that had natural ice and was roped off into four rink sizes where the competitors could get extra practice until the ice began to melt about 11:00 AM when the sun was very warm and very high in the sky. The days in Davos were warm and the nights were quite cold. During the practice days leading up to the competition we had some rain but fair weather most days." The rain put later put some of those secondary practice rinks out of commission, limiting training time for many of the competitors. The poor weather contributed to no less than five of the British contingent's members having to take time off due to illness. Let's take a look back at this historic event and find out what many of us missed!

THE PAIRS COMPETITION


Tatiana Zhuk and Alexander Gorelik. Photo courtesy Stadtmuseum Aarau.

Because they were such absolutely gorgeous and game-changing skaters, we like to think of Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov as pretty much invincible. In reality, they only managed to win their second World title by the skin of their teeth. Although they earned a healthy lead in the compulsory program with a fine performance to Léo Delibes' "Silvia", they were soundly defeated five judges to four in the free skate by their teammates Tatiana Zhuk and Alexander Gorelik and only took the gold medal in Davos by one judge and one placing. Many felt Zhuk and Gorelik, who included side-by-side double flip and loop jumps in their free program, should have won. The winners complained about the altitude and the sun's glare off the ice. Oleg Protopopov told one Associated Press reporter, "Ludmila didn't see a thing. She was so blinded by the reflection off the ice." Interestingly, in the free skate the Protopopov's received one 6.0 for artistic impression, while Zhuk and Gorelik earned one 6.0 for technical merit.

Cynthia and Ron Kauffman. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Americans Cynthia and Ron Kauffman won their first of three bronze medals at the World Championships ahead of European Bronze Medallists Margot Glockshuber and Wolfgang Danne of West Germany, with a performance that included a double twist, throw Axel and split twist landed in a Russian glide.  However, they also struggled with breathing during their performance. Canada's sole entry, siblings Susan and Peter Huehnergard placed an unlucky thirteenth. Valerie (Jones) Merrick recalled, "In the short program the Heuhnergards were penalized for not performing their step sequence as described in the ISU rulebook. The step sequence was to be skated in unison. Paul and Susan skated their step in opposite directions coming together at the end. They performed the same steps but in mirror, not in shadow. The judging panel were instructed to penalize them by the referee Dr. Karl Enderlin of Switzerland. According to their coach Bruce Hyland, they were not informed by the Canadian officials at Canadians or in Davos at the practices that Paul and Susan were not skating their sequence as was required by the rules. Paul and Susan unfortunately placed last in the short program because of this misinterpretation." Two places ahead of the Huehnergard were Americans Susie Berens and Roy Wagelein. Berens reportedly fainted after skating due to the altitude.


Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov

Following the event, Oleg Protopopov remarked, "We train in Moscow always indoors. I think that if skating championships are held outdoors, the performers are not able to show their true skill, the result becomes more of a gamble and the public and the participants alike are the losers."

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Bernard Ford lamented, "You travel so much faster on outdoor ice that if you don't adapt your usual performance to suit the conditions you would crash into the rink barrier." He did just that in practice and quipped, "I forgot to cross my fingers and crossed my legs instead." When the competition began, Ford and his partner Diane Towler, who trained under Gladys Hogg at the Queen's Ice Club, found themselves with some stiff competition.


In the compulsory dances, Bernard Ford had an uncharacteristic fall in the Paso Doble and he and partner Diane Towler found themselves a surprising fourth. After three dances, U.S. Champions Kristine Fortune and Dennis Sveum held a narrow lead, but a strong Blues allowed Towler and Ford to gain a slim lead overall. Three judges voted for Towler and Ford, three for U.S. Champions Kristin Fortune and Dennis Sveum and one for U.S. Silver Medallists Lorna Dyer and John Carrell. In the free dance, Towler and Ford blew the competition out of the water and won their first World title with the support of seven of the nine judges over their American rivals, earning marks ranging from 5.7 to 5.9. Dennis Bird described their performance as "by far the most original, with an embryo death spiral and a sit spin, and executed with style, smoothness and near-perfect timing." Their coach Gladys Hogg was fighting pneumonia while in Davos, but "gallantly struggled to give her pupils technical and moral support when they needed it the most."

Photo courtesy Stadtmuseum Aarau.

Canada's entries, twenty two year old Carole Forrest and twenty six year old Kevin Lethbridge and eighteen year old Gail Snyder and twenty four year old Wayne Palmer (all of Toronto), placed a discouraging ninth and twelfth places overall. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves recalled the event thusly: "[Towler and Ford] won compulsories despite a slip in the Paso Doble. Then [their] ankle-high one-revolution lift and half-turn mini death spiral in the free attracted attention and the gold medal... Lorna and John had fuller content, but Kristin and Dennis skated more together. Dennis Sveum received a classification of 1A from the draft board and applied for assignment to Special Services so that he could continue skating. Otherwise, he could be sent to active duty in the Vietnam War... Lyudmila Pakhomova and Victor Ryzhkin, ice dance champions of the USSR since 1964, were the first Soviets ever to enter World Dance. No Soviet judges would sit on the panel until 1970. After poor compulsories, their expressive free dance pulled them to tenth place."

Following the dance event, Britons celebrated their first victory in ice dance at Worlds since 1960 with a champagne party at the Hotel Bristol. Dennis Bird recalled, "As I was leaving the party at about two in the morning, I met Dennis Sveum in the street. 'Well,' he said, 'the best couple won.' It was sporting of him, and it accurately summed up the result."

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION



At the 1966 Canadian Championships in Peterborough, a young Karen Magnussen had finished a surprising second in the free skate and stolen much of the spotlight - and support - from reigning World Champion Petra Burka. Magnussen placed fourth overall at that competition but Doug Kimpel, the manager of the Canadian team in Davos, lamented, "This kid will be a world beater. I only wish I could take her to Davos." It was clear before the Burka's even left for Switzerland that support for her from the CFSA was waning. Friends told Ellen Burka, "Don't even bother going to Davos." The Americans allegedly started a propaganda campaign. Canadian team member Kevin Lethbridge asserted, "They made certain everyone knew about Petra's brush at home with a 13-year old skater." Journalist Paul noted that Kimpel acknowledged that before Burka even competed, "One foreign judge was alleged to have said it wasn't Petra's year; she wasn't going to make it." In the meantime, Hugh Glynn asserted, "The U.S. was blowing its horn". Lethbridge later reflected, "We on the team should have gotten together and fought. We should have protected Petra."

Photo courtesy Stadtmuseum Aarau.

The night before the men's school figures, the Canadian women left Davos and travelled by taxi to Arosa to practice their own school figures, as the main rink was of course unavailable. Valerie (Jones) Merrick recalled, "When we woke up in Arosa, the village was experiencing a snow storm and the ice rink was covered with snow and no one to clean it for us... The ladies had very sunny weather for their event. I remember wearing pilot sunglasses with very large lenses to help with the glare on the ice during figures. There was a lot of interest in the ladies event with Petra and Peggy. Petra was competing as reigning world champion and had lost considerable weight since her win in 1965. Her style had changed with her new body and perhaps the power she had when she won was not as evident." Unfortunately, Petra Burka drew first to skate in the figures and finished second to East Germany's Gaby Seyfert on the second figure. All but the Canadian judge ranked Peggy Fleming first in the first phase of the women's event.

Peggy Fleming (left), Sheldon Galbraith and Valerie Jones (right) in Davos. Photos courtesy Valerie (Jones) Bartlett.

If the figures were a decisive win for Fleming, the free skate was another matter entirely. The West German judge tied Burka and Seyfert, while the East German judge tied Seyfert and Fleming. The Canadian, Austrian and British judges placed Seyfert first, while the American, Japanese, French and Czechoslovakian judges all opted for Fleming. Although the free skating ordinals were a little more all over the place, Fleming's win over Seyfert and Burka was certainly decisive... a whole thirteen points decisive! She performed her trademark spread eagle/double Axel/spread eagle sequence, earned a standing ovation and one 6.0 for her effort. Fleming credited her mother's drive for her to focus on the task at hand and Carlo Fassi's coaching for her victory. Quoted in the March 7, 1966 edition of "Sports Illustrated", a proud Fassi exclaimed, "It is her determination that makes Peggy great. She has an excellent disposition which makes her forget a bad practice in 10 minutes. But at the same time, she learns from her mistakes. There is no doubt in my mind she is the best in the world."


Peggy Fleming

Some blamed Petra Burka's loss on the fact that it was her first time competing outdoors, some a twenty five pound weight loss on a crash diet, some said she omitted a jump and two-footed another and others argued she outskated Peggy Fleming. In her interview, Burka reflected, "It's too bad that people seem to remember my loss more than my championship. You know, losing was even better for me, as a person, than winning. I learned more by losing - about life in particular."

Although Canada's Valerie Jones and France's Nicole Hassler struggled in the free skate, they managed to hold on to the fourth and fifth spots ahead of Czechoslovakia's Hana Mašková, Hungary's Zsuzsa Almássy and Japan's Miwa Fukuhara. Tina Hoyes placed fourth in the free skate with the only double Axel/double loop combination of the event, but placed ninth overall after a disappointing showing in the figures. Canada's third entry, Roberta Laurent, placed fifteenth of the twenty entries. Austria's Regine Heitzer did not compete, having announced her retirement following that year's European Championships in Bratislava.

THE MEN'S COMPETITION



During the men's school figures, twenty one skaters from thirteen countries had to endure not only the scrutiny of steely eyed judges but inclement weather while they traced their threes and loops. The men's school figures were skated during a windy snowstorm which covered the ice with heavy, wet snow and obscured the tracings, making the job of the judges particularly challenging. Efforts to sweep and resurface for some skaters and not others raised eyebrows. In his book "Winter Sports", British sportswriter Howard Bass asserted that "after completing one figure on particularly rough ice, Donald Knight, the Canadian men's champion, looked aghast when he saw the next competitor was about to commence his figure on a shining patch of ice freshly cleared by the mechanised resurfacer. He protested in vain to the referee. Other skaters, while trying to concentrate on the accuracy of their tracings, were disturbed by moving ice sweepers only a few feet away. The participants often found the ice bumpy from the snow left where the judges had been standing. Sometimes the judges had to examine figure tracings which were partly obliterated by the new snow." Knight, whose ordinals in the school figures at the 1965 World Championships in Colorado Springs were mostly in the first, second and third place range, received one third place score from Canadian judge Suzanne Francis. The rest of the judges had him down around seventh place. West German judge Eugen Rommenger had Knight (the reigning World Bronze Medallist) all the way down in twelfth place. In the end, seven of the nine judges all placed European Champion Emmerich Danzer first in the school figures. The other two placed him behind his teammate Wolfgang Schwarz. One of the two judges who opted for Schwarz, Canadian judge Suzanne Morrow-Francis, placed Danzer fifth and alleged he stopped three feet from the center on his first figure a total of three times and was held up by a backroom deal involving the Austrian and West German judges. In the February 24, 1966 edition of "The Montreal Gazette", America's Scotty Allen admitted the weather "was terrible" and that he "didn't see a thing" and Danzer claimed "the snow was so dense" that he thought he "wouldn't be able to see anything."

But the snow wasn't the only problem! Jay Humphry recalled, "My most indelible memory of that competition was that the Zamboni broke down in the middle of the men's figures competition. By the time we got to the fifth and sixth figures were doing the figures over ice that had been used three or four times, both for competition and then for practice. It was impossible to see the centers where figures were started and as the day went along several skaters had to actually hop to keep up speed on the bracket change bracket figure which was done last. After it was over I am pretty sure they judged the figures on the first few that were done on good ice and then if you looked reasonably in control later on, you kept you place as marked earlier. I never did chat with any of the judges in later years as to what they did or how they judged the competition. I do recall Charlie Snelling coming to the figures event with black under his eyes like a football player, as the sun was really bright. His coach Marcus Nikkanen was not sure it was good idea, but Charlie did. Eventually the black ran down Charlie's cheeks as the day progressed."

Valerie (Jones) Merrick later recalled, "Mr. Galbraith showed me films of this after the event. There were long squeegees that had three to four men pushing them to clear the ice for a competitor to skate their figure. By the time the Judges had finished judging that figure they had to squeegee the ice again. At one point the Zamboni broke down while flooding the ice and was parked at one end of the ice. The competition continued."

Wolfgang Schwarz in Davos. Photo courtesy Stadtmuseum Aarau.

In contrast, the weather was outstanding during the men's event. Though Japan's Nobuo Sato gave one of the most spirited performances of the event, he fell on a triple Salchow, which Emmerich Danzer managed to land. Despite struggling with the altitude late in his program, Danzer gave a fine performance that also featured two double Axels and a double Lutz.  He took the win in the free in a five-four split over America's Gary Visconti, who also landed a triple Salchow and more than one double Axel. Wolfgang Schwarz, who missed a triple toe-loop and double Axel in his free skate, relied on his strong showing in the figures to give him a one placement edge over Visconti for the silver, and Danzer won the gold.

Emmerich Danzer. Photos courtesy Stadtmuseum Aarau.

Canadians Donald Knight, Jay Humphry and Charles Snelling ended up seventh, tenth and eleventh. Although four judges ranked Visconti in a tie for first or first on his own in the free skating, the only judge to rank him first overall was Suzanne Morrow-Francis. She was criticized for her decision at a judge's meeting and then later suspended for a completely different matter: the fact she had apparently shown national bias by placing all three Canadian men higher than their final placements... and Gary Visconti first. Ironically, Visconti was an American... not a Canadian.

Not everyone was thoroughly impressed with the calibre of men's skating in Davos. In the April 1966 issue of "Skating" magazine, Dick Button bemoaned, "The men's free skating performances were marked by unpointed toes, unstretched legs, bent backs, a notable lack of spinning ability and very little interest in relating choreography to music."

Gary Visconti. Photo courtesy Stadtmuseum Aarau.

In his book "Falling For The Win", Gary Visconti recalled the event thusly: "As I remember it, my start order for the long program was thirteenth (Carol Heiss' favorite number) out of something like 28 competitors. I do remember stepping off the ice (no security, no kiss and cry area) right into the arms of my new biggest fan, Monica Torriani. Her mom ran the music room and her father was a famous Swiss Olympian, ice hockey player and skier. Monica herself was an elite skater. Well, flowers came my way at the hockey rail, and then a fan threw something for me to catch. I missed and it went on the ice as the next competitor went out. It was a little Swiss Troll, with 'Einstein' crazy green hair. Even Dick Button was surprised. I guess this was the first toy tossed in fan appreciation, ever! He proudly sits on my desk today. When my marks went up just after my performance, they were all 5.8s and 5.9s. I could not imagine who could or would do much better. It didn’t seem fair to the 15 other skaters, but I was proud and completely happy. My standing in preliminaries was fourth so a medal seemed in sight. I could hold my head up high now! Even though I was not the U.S. Champion, I was now on the podium at Worlds!"

The real story in the men's event in Davos was that of the fourteenth place finisher. After turning in a good performance to Giuseppe Verdi's "Nabucco", East Germany's Ralph Borghard snuck away from his hotel and went to the West German consulate in Zürich, where he asked for and received a West German passport. Gary Visconti, who helped him escape, recalled in his book "Falling For The Win" that "the big challenge was to get Ralph out of sight of his Communist chaperones. We managed to do just that by hosting an athletics celebration at the hotel and distracting them so much that they had no idea that he was missing." Borghard escaped by train to live with his father in West Berlin.

Ralph Borghard 

The competition ended with a lavish banquet on the Sunday evening after the women's free skate. Prizes were awarded, dancing was had by all and a midnight buffet was served. Kristin Fortune recalled, "There were ice or butter sculptures to show off each kind of food, and every type of food imaginable was served. There was an excellent band that played mostly polkas."

In today's fast-paced world, many view figure skating competitions with a certain detachment. "64.64, 66.21, 130.85, 4th place," read the tweets. The further down the rabbit hole of fanatical quantification figure skating drifts, the more we seem to overlook its humanity. The pair who missed their shuttle from the hotel to the rink and barely made their warm-up group; the skater who was more worried about their bootstrap breaking than back loading their program. The stories behind the skating are what people ultimately remember more than the math, and if we don't take the time to observe and preserve them, we are missing a big piece of the puzzle. The 1966 World Championships certainly had some fascinating stories indeed.

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.

Lutzer From Linden Hills: The Erle Reiter Story

Photos courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

The eldest son of Charles and Elma (Wheeler) Reiter, Erle Charles Reiter was born December 29, 1916 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His father was a buyer of hardware and radio supplies for the mail order company M.W. Savage Factories, Inc. and his grandfather hailed from Luxembourg. He grew up on York Avenue in Linden Hills, South Minneapolis and started skating with his younger brother Ralph at the age of seven on a backyard pond flooded by his father.

Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

Though he suffered from a congenital eye problem that made skating outdoors challenging, skating became a winter passion for young Erle. However, it wasn't until he made his way to the Minneapolis Arena, where he began learning the fundamentals of skating from coach Julius Nelson at the age of sixteen, that he began pursuing the sport seriously. He spent time at the Skating Club Of New York taking lessons from Willy Böckl and in 1935 at the age of eighteen, he claimed both the Midwestern and U.S. Junior men's titles.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

In "The New York Times", Maribel Vinson noted, "He can be seen every morning of the week practicing his advanced figures. He gets on the fresh ice at 7 o'clock and usually trains for three to four hours, sometimes returning for the evening session as well. Even with such intense concentration, it is remarkable that in a sport as involved as figure skating he has been able to master senior technique in only two years. Fast footwork, fine knee-action in his dance steps, high, sure jumps of every variety, and unusual spins of great speed and length make Reiter a find prospect for the Olympic team." Maribel called it! A second place finish at the U.S. Championships in New York City earned Erle a coveted spot on the 1936 American Olympic and World teams.


Although he placed an unlucky thirteenth at the Winter Games in Garmich-Partenkirchen, Erle moved up two spots to eleventh at the World Championships that followed in Paris... certainly creditable results for a skater competing against the best of the best in men's figure skating in their first trip abroad.

Left: Erle Reiter. Right: Geddy Hill, Robin Lee and Erle Reiter.

In the two years that followed, Erle placed second in the senior men's competition at the U.S. Championships to Robin Lee, a talented young skater from St. Paul who always seemed to be one step ahead of him. For example, at the 1937 U.S. Championships in Chicago, Erle wowed audiences with a one-and-a-half Lutz jump which reporter Charles Bartlett claimed to have called for "the combined talents of a trapezist, tight rope dancer, and six day bike rider." Robin Lee responded with two double Salchows. During this period he had upped his game by training at the Skating Club of New York and had become only the seventh skater in America to pass the elusive Gold Medal test. Rather than stick it out until the 1940 for a chance to compete at the Olympics a second time - a wise move as those Games were ultimately cancelled by World War II - Erle turned professional, performing for a time in the popular ice shows held in the Iridium Room of the St. Regis Hotel.

Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

Erle's professional career was cut short when he enlisted in the United States Armed Forces. He began his stint in the military as a tank driver in Fort Knox but was transferred to a desk job due to his eyesight, reaching the rank of Sergeant. Military service was nothing unfamiliar to Erle, as his father had signed up for the draft in both World War I and II. After the War, he worked at alongside his father and brother at the family hardware business C.F. Reiter and Co. In the early fifties, he took over the company's reigns, married and had two sons.

Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

In addition to skating well into his eighties, Erle competitively raced sailboats in regattas. He was a member of the Minnetonka Yacht Club, Calhoun Yacht Club and Inland Lakes Yachting Association and also ran five and ten kilometer races with the Minnesota Distance Running Association. Fit as a fiddle for much of his long life, he passed away on December 3, 2008 in Bloomington, Minnesota at the age of ninety one, leaving behind a legacy as one of America's great men's skaters of the pre-World War II era.

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.

Axels At The Aquashow


Presented in the giant New York State Marine Amphitheatre at the 1939 World's Fair, Billy Rose's Aquacade was the real deal. While Morton Downey warbled "Yours For A Song", audiences revelled at the 'aquabatics' of Johnny Weissmuller and Eleanor Holm, a light show and a cascading waterfall, all for eighty cents.


Willie, West and McGinty, three physical comedians who clowned around as carpenters on a raft in Rose's show, later joined the cast of Sonja Henie's Hollywood Ice Revue. Following in Rose's footsteps, impresario Elliot Murphy staged lavish aquashows at the Flushing venue throughout the forties, introducing musical, vaudeville and roller skating acts to the watery spectacles.


In 1953, the Roxy Theatre had a change in management. The venue had played host to a seemingly never ending series of ice shows, but when new management took over they opted to put the kibosh on the Lutzes and loops. Enter Elliott Murphy to save the summer. He had a 40 X 60 foot artificial ice rink installed in his Flushing venue, told his roller skaters to scram and signed on a small cast of ice skaters to perform as part of his aquashows, which by the fifties featured such recognizable names as Esther Williams, Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington. Each act in the two and a half hour show was announced with great fanfare by John McKnight. The June 23, 1954 issue of the "Long Island Star-Journal" noted, "The gay scenic backgrounds, designed by Albert Johnson, help nature set the mood and atmosphere." Now who wouldn't love a gay background?


Choreography for Elliott Murphy's show was done by Dolores (Pallet) McCall, Helene Vincent and Lela Rolontz. In a February 25, 1998 interview in the "Calhoun Times and Gordon County News", McCall recalled that doing choreography for the aquashow was "really weird because it was choreography for water, ice and stage. Doing choreography for water was very hard because I didn't swim either. The stage was my best part." Although Dolores was never a skater herself, she later did choreography for Holiday On Ice.

Evelyn Chandler (top) and Andra McLaughlin Kelly (bottom) in action

The skating cast in Elliott Murphy's aquashow included Evelyn Chandler, Andra McLaughlin Kelly, Bob and June Ballard, Johnny Melendez, Fred Hirschfeld, Tony LeMac, the eight woman Aquablade chorus and Jo Barnum Wallace, the great-grandniece of P.T. Barnum himself. The July 3, 1954 issue of "Billboard" magazine recalled, "Evelyn Chandler, who was the star of the ice show here last year, won the crowd with her agile and exciting skating. She projects all the time, and the audience loved her highland fling and her Arabian cartwheels... The Ballards, an adagio team, were effective with their pair skating number, showing some pretty lifts. Tony LeMac pulled a fair hand with his one-foot spins, his trademark. The Aquablades, however, demonstrated some cute footwork in some smart and flashy chorus routines that they sold stylishly." Though the Flushing aquashows continued well into the sixties, the ice skating component was axed within a couple of years. Oh well... it was a great summer job while it lasted!

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.

#Unearthed: Skating: The Fashionable Sport Of The Season


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 from the 1880-81 issue of "Bretano's Monthly" extolling the virtues and health benefits of skating in New York City. It was penned by Henry Chadwick, a renowned English-born American sportswriter and historian.

"SKATING: THE FASHIONABLE SPORT OF THE SEASON" (HENRY CHADWICK)


Group of women preparing to go skating. Circa 1880-1881. Photo courtesy New York Public Library.

The winter of 1880 and 1881 promises to be quite an exceptional one in regard to the facilities which are to be provided for a full enjoyment of the invigorating and graceful exercise of skating, both as
regards the indoor exercise and the outdoor sport, inasmuch as the Manhattan Polo Association has arranged to transform their grand sporting field into a fashionable skating lake for the winter, and
already we have a very fashionable resort for roller skating at Mr. Greffen's Madison Avenue Rink, near 59th street, which is provided with a splendid asphalt floor surface for the use of the Plimpton roller skates, and with the accessories of music and a select and fashionable patronage, has already become an attractive place for the enjoyment of 'rinking,' as roller skating is called in fashionable circles in England.

There is an attraction about skating - whether on the ice or on an asphalt surface - which is exceeded by no other recreative exercise in vogue. In providing facilities for its enjoyment hitherto, resort has
been had to ice surfaces under cover, such as the artificial ice surface at Gilmore's Garden last winter and at the Madison Avenue ice-skating rink. But all these experiments have proved failures from the
excessive frequency of colds, resulting from standing or even skating in the chill-damp atmosphere of a covered ice rink. In fact, ice skating can only be enjoyed in the open air. Under cover it is dangerous to health; out of doors it is the very reverse. Now, with roller skating everything is different. In the covered roller-skating rink the exercise is at command in a pleasantly warm atmosphere, and nothing but the greatest carelessness can yield any injurious results in the way of catching cold. On the ice-covered lake also, the regular skating can be indulged in with an impunity from colds which is impossible in a covered rink where an ice surface is provided. For the great mass of the public, the park lakes afforded ample fields for skating, both in this city and in Brooklyn. Hitherto the Capitoline
Lake, in Brooklyn, and the Union Pond, in Williamsburgh, have been great family resorts for the skaters of those sections of the metropolis. But the Capitoline is no more, and until the Manhattan
Club enterprise started, we had no fashionable private skating lake at command in this city.

Looking at skating from a moral point of view, there are many excellent characteristics of the sport worthy of special commendation. It is very surprising to people who are thoughtless observers of
cause and effect in things about them, to see the general good humour which prevails on a well-ordered skating-lake. They cannot account for it. They do not see why skating should yield this peculiar result when kindred gatherings of people do not. The matter is easy of explanation. The philosophy of it is this: there is amoral medicine in the oxygenated air of a skating-lake which seems to purge the system of the ulcers and sores of ill-nature, uncharitableness, and bad temper, which so often break out in the public assemblages of city life. There is a wonderful power of exhilaration attendant upon breathing the pure oxygen of a winter atmosphere while engaged in so enjoyable a recreative exercise as skating; and one effect of this is to relieve us of those morbid affections resulting from a general neglect of healthy out-door exercise. Skating sends the blood to the
surface of the body in healthy circulation, and by rousing up the dormant functions of the skin, relieves the over-worked internal organs and gives new life and vigour to the general system. This naturally affects the mental power beneficially, and with the strong breath of restored health the ill-nature incident to a disordered body, and the bad feelings engendered by a neglected physique, disappear and are superseded by the natural good feelings of a healthy human being.

Sickly people - we do not mean actual invalids, but people who, by their neglect of proper exercise, bathing, and other essentials of health, are always indisposed - necessarily become sour-tempered and uncharitable. If you want to realize the truth of this theory, visit the park skating-lakes of New York or Brooklyn of a fine wintry afternoon, when good skating is at command, and watch the pleasant smile of the rosy-cheeked lass on skates, and listen to the gay laugh of the happy youth, and contrast these effects of the exercise with the pale countenance and serious manner of the over-housed girl, and the languid movements of the office-confined clerk, and you will then perceive what a gain it is to indulge in such healthy recreative exercise in the open air. The healthy condition of things above referred to, seems, too, to have an equal telling effect in developing the inherent honesty of man's nature. At any rate more honesty is found on a skating-pond than is found in other public assemblages. It is shown in this way: if a person picks up any lost article in a car or ferry-boat or on
the street, how rarely does it find its way to the lost owner! How does this work on a skating-pond? The answer is to be found in the innumerable instances of lost articles found on the ice being returned
to the office for the owners to call for. A sport which yields such healthy results as these, mentally and physically, is one to be heartily commended to family patronage.

The prominent cause of the delicate and sickly constitutions of the majority of our city ladies arises from their great neglect of outdoor exercise and recreation. Two-thirds of their lives are passed in the
artificial and poisonous atmosphere of their furnace-heated and poorly-ventilated apartments. The result is the prevention of that exhalation of carbon and inhalation of oxygen which are of such vital importance to the health of every human being. This requisite action of the lungs in the reception of the life-giving elements of the air we breathe; and the expulsion of the refuse carbon from the blood, is never better promoted than when the individual is engaged in the vigorous exercise of skating, and inhaling the oxygen of the pure, frosty air, at the same time bringing into activity every muscle of the body, thereby causing the blood to circulate healthily to the surface of the body, and giving life to the dormant functions of the skin.

Exercise, to be beneficial, should have the effect of increasing the insensible perspiration, for in the increase of the circulation of the blood to the surface of the body, and the consequent relief given to
the overworked functions of the lungs and bowels, lies the great benefit of exercise. It is from the lack of this circulation of the blood to the surface of the body that people unaccustomed to out door exercise take cold so readily. Those in whom the functions of the skin are in active play know not what a cold is, and hence the hardihood of those constantly in the open air and actively exercised, in comparison to those engaged in sedentary occupations, and who scarcely know what exercise is.

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 Royal Doulton With The Hand-Painted Periwinkles


'Skipping the dishes' may be the new in trend, but as I gulp down my coffee in my "I'd Rather Be Skating" mug from Chapters, I thought I'd take you through a trip through time to look at the history of skating dishware.

Hand-painted Holiday On Ice plate, 1956

Over the years, many of the world's top touring ice shows have produced plates as keepsakes for those in attendance who weren't quite satisfied with their program, pin and autographed photos. In 1982, the Ice Capades issued a plate featuring ice comedian Freddie Trenkler and in the forties and fifties, a Danish artist hand-painted a rare series of plates for Holiday On Ice.

Walt Disney's World On Ice mug, circa 1984

For those who preferred a beaker instead of a teacup from Hyacinth Bucket's collection of Royal Doulton with the hand-painted periwinkles, there was even a plastic Walt Disney's World On Ice mug! However, it hasn't just been ice show producers who have been making 'skate plates' over the years. In fact, some of the finest dinnerware companies in the world have tried their hand at it.

One of the oldest known 'skating plates' was an 1838 English plate depicting skaters from Charles Dickens' "The Pickwick Papers". It was once owned by Gladys McFerron, an enthusiastic collector of skating objets d'art from Seattle. In the fifties, Mrs. McFerron grew African violets in a one hundred year old potty on the coffee table in her living room!

Sarreguemines plates, circa 1919

The Sarreguemines line of earthenware and porcelain was founded by Nicolas-Henri Jacobi in 1790, but Messrs Utzchneider and Co. took possession of the firm's factory in 1800. One of the company's best customers was Napoleon I. Their dinnerware was frequently painted with transfer pictures, including multiple sets of plates based on the months of the year called "Les mois de l’année à la campagne". The two post-Great War "Janvier" plates pictured feature a man wearing old Dutch style skates pushing a woman on a sledge and a man skating in a pond in the forest, his arm outstretched in the Salutation pose. Utzchneider and Co. weren't the only company to produce dinnerware featuring skaters during the Victorian era. English, Dutch, Belgian and German pottery firms all got in the game as well.

1907 Royal Doulton skating plate 'Pryde Goeth Before A Fall'

Royal Doulton first showcased skaters on a rare rack plate in 1901. Designed by American illustrator Charles Dana Gibson, the plate depicted his Gibson girl 'B.A. Widow' sitting on a bench waiting for her partner to finish tying his skates. Introduced in 1907 and withdrawn in the roaring twenties, the famous British company's Skating series included fourteen different skating scenes with small variations. These scenes appeared on rack plates, trivets and jugs.

Left: Royal Copenhagen plate, 1989. Right: Bing & Grondahl plate, 1927. 

Founded in 1775 as the Royal Danish Porcelain Manufactory, the Royal Copenhagen company began producing an annual collectible Christmas plate in 1908. Its 1965 "Little Skaters" plate featured a young boy skating on a frosty morning. Its 1989 plate, entitled "The Old Skating Pond" featured a boy and girl clasping hands while skating in the forefront while an adult teaches a child to skate and a woman glides on the edge in the background. The pond they are skating on is in front of a windmill. However, Royal Copenhagen wasn't the first Danish company to produce a collectible Christmas plate featuring skaters. In 1927, Achton Friis designed a plate for the company called "Skating Couple".

Royal Doulton plate, 1977

Interestingly, the trend of producing collectible Christmas plates featuring skaters didn't entirely take off until the seventies. Numerous companies, including Coalport China, Metawa, Limoges, Avon and Corelle, produced plates featuring skaters during this period. Royal Doulton's 1977 Christmas plate, entitled "The Merriest Idea Ever", featured a happy twosome gliding merrily along a frozen lake in the forest surrounded by trees.

Rien Poortvliet plate, 1980

In 1980, Rien Poortvliet's "Winter" plate from its series of the Four Seasons featured a gnome skating at night on a frozen Dutch lake. The same year, Viletta China produced a limited edition series of Elke Sommer plates. The second from the series of "Weddings Around The World" was a plate called "Dutch Wedding" featuring a happy couple encircled by friends and family. All are wearing skates.

Elke Sommer plate "Dutch Wedding", 1980

Joseph Csatari, an American artist who worked with Norman Rockwell, began producing Grandparent plates in the early eighties. His 1981 creation, "The Skating Lesson", featured a Grandpa skating his delighted wife and grandchildren, giving the 'thumbs up' sign. Grandma got a turn to be "Skating Queen" in 1984, but was unfortunately relegated to rollers. Another charming plate that popped up in 1984 was Spode's "Skating" plate, one of six plates in its "Christmas Pastimes" series. In 1986, Furstenburg issued a collectible porcelain plate called "Ice Skaters In The Evening Sun", the first in its Romantic Winter Impressions collection. Two years later, the CFSA sold a collector's plate called "Shaky Beginnings" as a fundraiser. It featured young members of a Canskate class.

Mug and plate from Spode, 1996

Incolay Studios began producing a series of Roger Akers Christmas Cameos plates in 1990. Its 1991 plate, "Skaters At Twilight", features a Victorian couple skating on a frozen pond. In 1996, Spode also came out with a plate and mug as part of its Victorian Christmas series featuring a trio of Victorian era women leading the pack on a skating pond. It seems Victorian nostalgia was in full swing in collectors circles in the second coming of the gay nineties.

If the idea of a cupboard full of collectible dishes with skating scenes on them makes you a little anxious, consider this... just one of these historical plates could make a very interesting conversation piece. Failing that, they make a perfect serving dish for humble pie the next time a fellow skating fan's competition predictions prove dead wrong.

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.