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 #Unearthed is a combination of four columns called "Tracings From The Past", which appeared in the October and December 1944 and January and May 1945 issues of "Skating" magazine. The columns are shared here with you with the permission of U.S. Figure Skating. They consist of a series of wartime reminisces of Canadian and American skaters, each highlighting unique aspects of their stories.
EUGENE TURNER (Los Angeles FSC, former U.S. Single and Pair Champion, then professional and now Lt. U.S. Air Force)
Donna Atwood and Eugene Turner. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.
My present occupation is very unromantic, unexciting and boring. I hit the hospital three weeks ago with pneumonia and measles (notice which I put first - less embarrassing that way!) and am recuperating with growing restlessness. Strange to say skating has entered my thoughts, more or less seriously, only since I've been here in the hospital; a concentrated dose of Air Corps being a little too much for me, I guess. But I've had lots of time to think and dream these three weeks, and thus have gone back to those hundreds of wonderful days before the War quite often. Golly, I think I've gone over every program I've ever done several times. You know (just a thought in the passing parade), I don't think I'll ever forget Joan Tozzer's skating - as effortless as a breeze, smooth, graceful but with a grace that was no more stylized (I use the word in its worst meaning) than a lovely veil floating through the air. She didn't have to do anything more than swing around the end of the rink in a lilting step to fill me with a glow of pleasure. And I remember the thrill of happiness I used to get when I'd rush to the rail to watch Joan and Bernard [Fox] do their pair. I think everyone at that moment used to say to themselves, 'I'm going to see something lovely now,' saying it with a feeling of certainty.
And then I remember too, the thrill of Ollie [Haupt's] sweep and gorgeous 'feeling' for skating. He seemed to gather ideas and rhythm out of the heavens themselves. And he always managed to endow his programs with the utmost sureness and confidence, but most of all with spontaneity fresh and pure. Take his Axel, for instance. No one had such a jump as his, and yet he brought it within the limits of music, enhancing its beauty still more.
NIGEL STEPHENS (Minto SC, Canadian Junior Champion)
Nigel Stephens. Photo courtesy Minto Skating Club, Howard Gordon.
Although this carnival aroused my interest in the sport it was not until I became actively interested in competition that I really began working. At my first competition, the accuracy and control with which Mary Rose Thacker skated her figures was what probably impressed me the most. When she came up to our Club to train I was very much encouraged - both by her example of hard work and by the advice that she personally gave me.
I shall never forget my first competition in 1941. [Michael] Kirby undoubtedly earned the Junior Men's title which he won, though Dwight Parkinson gave him close competition in the figures. That was the year that Ralph McCreath last defended his title in the Men's Senior before going overseas. His manly style and control proved his ability as a free skater, and his well-timed movements with Eleanor O'Meara proved his right to the Senior Pair Title against Norah McCarthy and Sandy McKechnie.
Throughout the whole competition I was much impressed with the feeling of good sportsmanship which seemed to prevail. Later I realized that without this feeling no competition would really be of any enjoyment.
PATTY SONNEKSON (Pikes Peak FSC, U.S. Junior Competitor)
How little I knew about figure skating when I first started. I thought school figures were rather stupid and a terrible bore. I soon learned differently when I entered my first Pacific Coast Championship in Oakland.
The first Champions that I saw were Joan Tozzer, Bernard Fox and Robin Lee. I was very much impressed and inspired by their wonderful skating. I shall never forget the encouragement and help that I received from them.
The greatest thrill of all was my first trip East. I flew from Denver to Boston. This was my first National Competition. I had never seen so many good skaters before.
BRITTA LUNDEQUIST (Seattle SC, U.S. Junior Competitor)
Britta Lundequist. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.
Most prominently comes to my mind the fine spirit of sportsmanship among the boys and girls who have reached the top, their helpfulness and understanding of the struggles of the beginner, and the wonderful interest and support a former generation of skaters is displaying.
My first show - I watched from the audience. I had never seen skating before and like most of the kids present, I was promptly determined to become another Evelyn Chandler. She was the featured performer of that show. So my Mother taught me my first steps on the ice as she had taught me to walk not so very many years earlier, and the next season I found myself (or should I say, lost myself) performing at the Shrine Carnival in Seattle together with such fine skaters as Betty Lee Bennett and Johnny Kinney. From that moment on, there passes in review before me, Evelyn Chandler, Maribel Vinson, Hedy Stenuf, Vivi-Anne Hultén, Angela Anderes, Eleanor O'Meara, Robin Lee, Eugene Turner, Bobby Specht and numerous others in the many shows I have skated. In other words, "Britta Lundequist was also present."
My first terrific thrill was skating with Jackie Dunn in Hollywood. Jackie shall always remain in my mind as a skater with more rhythm than anyone I have since skated with. I often think of Freddie Tomlins, the British lad with whom I have skated, for he possessed a daring flash that literally swept me off my feet. He was terrific! Skating in Lake Placid Carnivals will also remain a never-to-be forgotten thrill.
Then in Los Angeles and St. Paul came other thrills, pair skating with Eugene Turner and Bobby Specht. My knees still shake when I remember Sonja Henie in the box at Eugene's and my first performance. Anyway, I apparently did not manage to ruin Eugene's performance altogether, fie shortly afterwards Sonja picked him for her partner. Skating with Eugene and Bobby did not require tedious hours of training. Their skating was natural, in no way forced, with no hard labour and no indecision - it was as if they were born on skates. Such partners have given me some of my grandest moments on ice.
There was a time when I was awed at the performance of Eastern skaters and felt that skaters on the Pacific Coast, particularly our Pacific Northwest, were far behind in their accomplishments. Frankly, when first coming East, I felt somewhat like an ill-clad refugee in the midst of plenty and splendor. I am happy to say that in recent years, thanks to competent instructors and increased interest in the sport here, we no longer feel out of place in skating shows and competitions.
Competitions! A very touchy subject. The Nationals at St. Paul gave me my first opportunity to get acquainted with the immensely impressive performance of the Champions. That brought both heartaches and joy, and a realization of the great amount of talent existing in this grand sport which we had regarded as somewhat limited in scope in our neck of the woods. And I firmly believe that - like myself - every skater who has taken part in a National or Sectional Competition has received a great lift, added initiative and determination, whether placing or not.
I could go on forever, but must end. In conclusion, there passes before my eyes - Robin Lee's outstanding figures, his change-loops; Evelyn Chandler's inspired split jumps; Bobby Specht's Axels; Roy Shipstad's unbelievable smoothness and marvelous spins; Murray Galbraith's easy, powerful strokes; Skippy Baxter's amazing jumps, and oh, so many other visions which have brought joy to the heart of a struggling skater.
RAMONA ALLEN (Oakland FSC, third-ranking U.S. Lady)
Ramona Allen with William, Peggy and Fletcher Hoyt. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.
HERBERT COOK (Olympia SC, U.S. Judge and former competitor)
The receipt of a request to jot down a few notes about past events and individuals in figure skating first put ice in my veins, which is turn was gradually melted away by the warm spot in my heart for what I deem the "Sport of Sports." The chill came from the thought that "B-R-O-T-H-E-R, you sure are getting old" when people want to know just how far back you can go. Nevertheless, I am willing to hazard a guess that someone in our grand fraternity can go back quite a few years farther than I can. So I will risk my all just recalling my first observation of real figure skating.
Immediately after service in World War I, I entered Princeton University. There at the Hobart Baker Memorial Rink between periods of a Yale-Princeton hockey match, I had the pleasure of seeing a most graceful performance by Irving Brokaw and his partner. I believe this introduction to modern figure skating was in 1920. I realize that 1920 is no so far back to many of you readers, but then it isn't "just yesterday" either.
Completion of my studies plus two years in business resulted of my travel to Detroit in 1925. Like so many others I was induced to 'walk on eggs for a while,' pushed on an edge by better skaters, told a million and one things per minute and finally 'bitten by the bug.' And if there is any bug which bites deeper and with more telling effect than the feel of an edge, I don't know what it is. Having had a fair amount of athletic experience, I readily appreciated what a grand opportunity figure skating presented for recreation, relaxation and amusement, with always a goal to strive for. And the beauty of it is, "you're never too young or too old" to enjoy it.
In 1927, some public spirited Detroiters saw the need for a stadium. Hockey became a 'major sport' in Detroit and marked the birth of the new era of figure skating. A few of us skated at odd hours for the first year. Largely due to our anxiety to skate and the generosity of Richard Dunn, then superintendent of the Olympia, we - a nucleus of eight people - started the Olympia Skating Club. And my, what a struggle that was! We feel that the present acceptance of figure skating is due solely to the Olympia Skating Club's efforts plus the co-operation of the Olympia management and the local newspapers. I stress our Club development because, as is universally true, our present day carnivals, spectacular shows, and we might include movies, owe their existence to amateur clubs, for it was there that public performances found their origin, and skaters were "made."
Getting back to cases of thrills, disappointments, excitement, etc., my first real skating 'event' was a pair exhibition at a performance in Olympia. A 'full house' was in attendance - about 10,000. In spite of appearing before crowds in other athletic contests, there was still the 'debut' nervousness present. I laced my shoes tight and still "shook in my boots." The shaking lasted through the opening spiral, into a short dance routine which led into a separating figure and waltz jumps. It was at this point that my feet really shook because it seemed an eternity between the time I took off and landed on a perfect 3-point landing - (not including my feet). I literally 'lifted the roof from my shoulders', found my partner and continued through the program. The book says, "A fall does not necessarily hurt your mark,' but oh boy, how it hurts your pride with 20,000 eyes looking at you! The Smith sisters of Toronto were featured skaters on this program and what a thrill it was to see them go through their program!
That same season, 1928, we had the pleasure of securing Eddie Shipstad and Oscar Johnson to "entertain" between periods of a professional hockey match. Remember their routines, "The Old Gret Mare" and "The Bowery". It is my personal opinion that they have often been imitated but never equalled in their particular style of comedy. We always found room on our programs for Eddie, Oscar and Roy who started out as "Three Musketeers" of entertaining on skates and have risen to be the owners of that oustanding show, the Ice Follies.
After the World's Championships in New York in 1930, Andrée and Pierre Brunet visited us. By special sanction, they skated their program between periods of a Detroit-Montreal hockey match. In spite of the natural lightning speed and marvelous play of such hockey stars as the former Howie Morenz, Johnnie Gagnon and Aurel Joliet, the Brunets "stopped the show" with a flawless performance which still stands out in the minds of many Detroiters.
During these years in Detroit, we figure skaters "were permitted" to skate short programs during speed skating events. I say we were "permitted" and that is exactly what I mean - nothing more and nothing less. We could use up a small amount of time to either break the monotony of the continual merry-go-round of speedsters or to fill in between races to allow contestants to get a deep breath before starting out on another heat. This lasted until 1933 when we finally "broke the ice" and stood shoulder to shoulder with speed skaters on a relief program sponsored by the Mayor's Unemployment Relief Committee. We were asked to present one half of the program; the other half was to be devoted to an international (Canadian and United States) speed skating team competition. This was our first real chance! We were at last given the opportunity to show that figure skating was a real sport, and would provide more entertainment for the public than speed skating. And that we did! Although we had no outstanding stars on the program, our local skaters did such a good job that we stole the show. From that time on we presented annual carnivals which started with an attendance of 9000 and increased to 22,500 in 1937, when amateur shows were denied the use of Olympia. During those years we had the honor and pleasure of presenting such outstanding stars as Shipstad and Johnson, Bud Wilson, Roy Shipstad, Eric Waite, Douglas Duffy, Vivi-Anne Hultén, Papez and Zwack, Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier and Sonja Henie, to Detroit audiences.
The really big event was of course our Sonja Henie show. Immediately after her first picture, the late Hugo Quist, her manager, decided upon a free-lance personal appearance tour. At that time there was no 'Hollywood Chorus' as a supporting cast. Consequently, our Club was requested to assemble the supporting cast. Enthusiastically, we organized and directed the five-night performance which attracted approximately 45,000 people. At that time Sonja was still skating her championship program. And skate she did, as she has never skated since. Our program was studded with other top-notch performers. Sonja met her competition as had been her custom through the years, reaching the peak of 14 encores for the last night.
Sorry to say, we skated ourselves right out of carnival productions. That was the last time we were permitted to stage an ice show in Olympia. But then when it comes to "Reminiscences and Memoirs," we who have been through the mill have no regrets and still hope that sometime and somehow there will be a place in Detroit which figure skaters can call "home" and give the "old folks" a chance to provide for the development of future enthusiasts who can pick up where we left off.
BARBARA ANN GINGG SKERRY (St. Moritz ISC, former National Competitor, now Judge)
Barbara Ann Gingg and Eugene Turner. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.
Your series of articles on "Reminiscences and Memoirs" should certainly prove interesting and helpful to all of our younger skaters. They have heard of some of the "oldsters" and yet do not have a clear picture of what they did for skating. So many of the skaters who really fostered our clubs and the popularity and importance of figure skating on the Pacific Coast have since retired from the "active list." Among those who have faded from the scene (to my knowledge) are: Ernest Berry, John Woods, the Jorgensons from Los Angeles; Patricia Prinz and Stuart Ross from San Francisco; Ann Milton, Frances Wright, Mary-Elizabeth Garthwaite, June Rasmussen, Helen Hardy, and Harry Swanson from Oakland. These names are the old reliables who in the past five or six years have given up skating almost entirely, but who in the early stages of the game were most ardent skating followers. The list, of course, does not include those who have given up skating because of entering the Service. Those who started with skating in its infancy on the Pacific Coast and who are still doing a lot for the sport are: Henry Swift, Morgan Doyle, Alex Young, Alice Coldwell, Jack Harris, Gratton Phillips, Howell Janes, Mrs. Allen C. Wright, Mrs. J.K. Ballantine, May Adams, Florence and Bill Radcliffe and Mrs. Kathleen Turner from Los Angeles. I am not very familiar with the beginnings of skating in Seattle.
When competitions were first started in California, two were held every year: the Outdoor Championships and the Indoor Championships. Yosemite was always the scene for the Outdoor Championships, and the quality of the ice was so undependable no one could predict whether they would be held according to schedule. The first Indoor Championship was held in San Francisco in 1933. Soon after that the S.F. Rink burned down, and there has never been a skating competition in San Francisco since. Oakland was the choice in 1934. This was my first year of competing and I entered the Juvenile class. I was very much awed by the older, more advanced skaters and was completely taken by Mary Taylor and Mabel Thorns - the only two contestants in the Ladies Senior. Another striking memory I have is of the Novice Pair of LeRoy Rust and Catherine Laly from Yosemite (ages 11 and 12) and another pair, Mabel Thorns and Pat Prinz, who walked away with the Senior Pair Title. Gene Turner of Los Angeles competed that year and won the Boys Juvenile, and Suzanne Uksila took the Girls Juvenile Crown. The following year, 1935, the competitions were held by the Los Angeles FSC at the Polar Palace, and there was a huge entry list of forty-five. I skated in the Ladies Novice and in the Dance with Bob Scott. For our figures we skated outside and inside forward edges, threes to center and outside back edges. You can see how skating has advanced since then. Outstanding memories are Bob Scott's terrifying jumps, Mary Taylor's back outside loops, Mabel Thorns' 'hair net' costume, Gene Turner's Jackson Haines spin, and Ernest Berry's crossfoot spin. Morgan Doyle, Alex Young and Arthur Murphy all vied with Gene Turner for the Junior Men's Title. Morgan Doyle completely stole the show when he galloped and pranced around the ice to the tune of "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze". (It was a dare, and he later collected ten dollars from my father.)
In 1936 Yosemite was the scene of the first Pacific Coast Championship, although the only entries were from California! Ramona Allen won the Girls Juvenile. I won the Ladies Junior, and Gene Turner won the Men's Senior Crown. As usual, the ice was bad and until the last moment, snow plows were working full blast to clear the snow, which was falling thickly, off the ice surface.
The Seattle SC made its first bid for the Pacific Coast Championship in 1937. It was clear that skating was fast becoming a popular sport out here and the importance of figure skating "contests", as they were always referred to, was spreading. Enough skaters from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland entered so that a private car was hitched on to the Cascade Limited, and off we sped to Seattle. What a riotous trip it was, and when the train stopped at the base of Mt. Shasta, we all piled off, fortified ourselves with snowballs, climbed back on the train, and then started the most disastrous snow-balling you've ever seen! My father and Morgan Doyle were the instigators. Who said skaters were Rowdies? But have you ever seen any group have more fun? I haven't - not even in college or the Navy! This year of 1937, Skippy Baxter made his entry, and it was apparent that a sensational new skater had been born. He skated a daring program and, of course, no one had ever seen such "kangaroo antics" from any human! The Seattle skaters showed amazing ability in spite of having had little instruction and promised to be a real threat to the California skaters. The three most outstanding skaters from the Seattle SC were Britta Lundequist, Betty Lee Bennett and Pat Merrifield.
The inspiration for the Western skaters was largely derived from visiting amateurs and professionals. Maribel Vinson Owen and Guy were guest stars at an informal skating carnival that the St. Moritz Club gave in 1936. Maribel's interpretation of "Valse Triste" and her dashing "The Lady In Red" were rare treats to all. And Guy was a tremendous success and an inspiration to all the men skaters as the "Gaucho". We out here had never experienced anything so spectacular, so the result was that an improvement in most everyone's style took place.
Evelyn Chandler was another inspiration, as she skated frequently at the Oakland Rink. Much of her acrobatic skill was imitated (but not as successfully!) and I believe she was about the first to introduce the Camel Spin and the Axel Paulsen to us.
Sonja Henie made her debut to all "West Coasters" at the Polar Palace in 1936. Many of the Northern California skaters journeyed South for her opening show. I was tremendously impressed and copied her toe runs and Mazurka steps.
As we had little instruction in those days most of what the skaters learned was from copying someone who was more advanced. Hence, no one really had an individual style, and it has not been until fairly recently that any real originality has been developed.
My first trip to the National Championships, Philadelphia, 1938, showed me that an individual can "stylize" his skating. That was proved by Joan Tozzer's smooth, free style and Jane Vaughn's interpretive quality.
Summer skating in Colorado Springs and Lake Placid has really done a lot for our skaters. I certainly benefited by all I absorbed from watching the Eastern skaters, and I think that our youngsters out here should really have the advantage of traveling to Eastern rinks before they can ever consider themselves "finished products". Let's hope that soon - with a return to normal times - that may be accomplished.
NADINE PHILLIPS (Toronto SC, third-ranking Canadian Lady)
I remember my first carnival, in about 1932. This was, I think, one of Sonja Henie's and Karl Schäfer's first Canadian appearances and they both brought down the house. The odd thing that impressed me about Karl Schäfer was that he carried a small piece of paper in his left hand, and every few seconds kept stealing a glance at it, and then continuing his solo. I only discovered later that it was his routine written it, for as he changed his solo continuously, he found it difficult to remember exactly what move came next. I will never forgot how effortless and smooth his skating was, and how well he executed his Schäfer jump, spin and spiral.
About this time I felt absolutely surrounded by my skating family. Cecil [Smith] had just stopped skating competitively, but was still performing in carnivals, and always led the ballet. She, Jim and Ruthie Ross had a very snappy trio, and I particularly remember one carnival when Cecil represented 'Mercury' and was perched up on a huge silver ball, with Jim and Ruthie kneeling on the steps below her. Somehow, she managed to step daintily off the ball and on to the ice, but each night my heart was in my mouth for fear she would slip, and thus ruin the whole effect.
The first championship I ever saw was the 1939 North Americans, held at the Granite Club. One thing that impressed me was the lady judges down on their hands on knees, scrutinizing the figures. I thought this very funny at the time, but now simply take it for granted.
Another more recent memoir is that of our good skaters turning pro. For, one year we were skating with Norah McCarthy, Eleanor O'Meara and ever so many others, and then presto, the next season they were gone. I remember going to the big shows when they made their first local appearances, and the thrill of speaking to them backstage between acts. We were so proud to think that our own former club mates were doing so well professionally.
One thing that sticks out in my memory was my great disappointment in not skating at Madison Square Garden. This was about four years ago when I was skating in the Granite Six. It so happened that the Six was a military number, and we were all going to come down in parachutes from the Garden rafters. My mother put her foot down and said that I most certainly wasn't coming down in any parachute, and so I had to get out of the Six, which went gaily off to New York. But apparently they had some trouble with the insurance companies, for they didn't come down in parachutes after all but simply jumped out of a pink paper drum. I, of course, was furious, but have managed to get over it, and two years ago I did get to go to New York, where I saw the Nationals and had a marvelous time skating at Iceland.
JOAN YOCUM (Chicago FSC, third-ranking U.S. Junior Lady)
I didn't become interested in figure skating until our first club carnival, when I had a small single in the children's group. It was at this carnival that I saw my first galaxy of international skaters, among whom were Karl Schäfer, Louise Bertram and Stewart Reburn, Dorothy and Hazel Caley, and Robin Lee. The effortless grace and smoothness of Karl Schäfer, the flawless co-ordination of Bertram and Reburn, the dynamic exhibition of Dorothy and Hazel Caley, and the championship program of Robin Lee were truly inspiring.
It was not until 1942, however, when both the Mid-Westerns and Nationals were held in Chicago that I became seriously interested in competitive skating. It was in this year that Joan Mitchell of our club won the Mid-Western Ladies' Senior title. The Nationals, however, proved even more exciting; especially the Ladies' Senior, when Jane Vaughn Sullivan retained her title and Gretchen [Merrill] placed second. That year, too, the Men's Senior proved very interesting; Bobby Specht of our club won and Bill Grimditch and Buddy Vaughn placed second and third respectively.
It was at that time that I decided to emulate the example of these great skaters and become, if possible, a national champion in my own right.
JANE WEISS (Commonwealth FSC, National Novice Competitor)
I started my figure skating on a beautiful lake in Walpole, Mass. The club in Walpole is known as the Skridsko Club. I feel that I was very fortunate in being able to start with such a fine instructor as Edi Scholdan, with whom I have been happy to study ever since.
I joined the Commonwealth FSC and have had four pleasant years with its members. At that time the leading skaters at the Club were Doris Tufts and Joyce Brownell.
I saw my first Nationals at The Skating Club of Boston. The skater who impressed me most was Dorothy Goos of New York, who entered the Nationals for her first time that year.
In my first competition at the Easterns, held at the New York Skating Club, I was one of 33 Novice entrants and placed seventh. After being in such a competition, I began to realize the importance of school figures.
I have skated in carnivals at Colorado Springs, Lake Placid, The Skating Club of Boston, and at our own Commonwealth Club, and look back with much pleasure on the fine friendships I have made through skating.
JEANNE LEROUX (Tulsa FSC, U.S. Junior Competitor)
My first visit to an out-of-town rink was to Colorado Springs in 1938. Watching all the experts perform that day, I was amazed and awed at the spectacular display, and not at all impressed by a young, blonde boy quietly doing figures in a corner whom my grandfather kept calling to my attention. Why should I waste my time watching those dull, uninteresting figures when so many other exciting things were going on? My grandfather proved his point that night, most empathetically, as the star of the show was none other than the same blonde boy, Robin Lee!
Two years later, bitten by the skating bug, I made my way to Lake Placid for treatment. After having been one of the "stars" of the Tulsa FSC, although having had very few lessons, I received quite a shock on my first day on patch. On my right was Gretchen Merrill, then working on her Eighth Test; on my left, another Seventh Tester, Roberta Jenks; and the top it off, across from me a very tiny boy, Arthur Levy, was doing back changes-of-edge. Imagine my embarrassment with the difficulty I had in getting around an outside forward eight.
One of my fondest memories occurred in Lake Placid last summer. After vainly trying to get me to land more than one double loop jump in a lesson, my instructor, Howard Nicholson, offered me a bribe of a box of candy, if I could succeed in landing three double loop jumps in a row. I put forth a valiant effort and made it. P.S. I got the candy.
MARGARET GRANT (St. Paul FSC, U.S. Senior Competitor)
Photo courtesy "Rink Link", Twin City Figure Skating Association
As I look back, nearly all my skating has been done after school and in summer sessions. Before we had ice in St. Paul, we spent two happy summers in Lake Placid where I first met Gretchen Merrill and Barbara Ann Scott. My skating was just supervised play until my first National competition on our St. Paul Rink in 1939. From that time on, a driving determination to adhere to a rigid schedule of practice, day in and day out during the skating season (regardless of the mood one may be in) seemed absolutely necessary until I passed my Gold Test in 1943. Since that time, it seems as though I have worked harder than ever trying to analyze the figures and positions from the First Test up.
I shall never forget my first champions, handsome Robin Lee and beautiful Joan Tozzer. Joan was the essence of grace. She was dressed very simply, but her skating took the place of all the glittering costumes now worn on the ice. I shall never forget how badly everyone felt when she skated her last competition in Cleveland with Bernard Fox, to the tune of "Poor Butterfly". Joan seemed so young to leave competition. Our unassuming champion, Robin Lee, made almost perfect figures with ease. I remember how thrilled I was when he helped me with my jumps and gave me his first lesson after turning professional. Robin excelled at swimming and golf too, and I am sure he will be marking his mark in the service for Uncle Sam now.
Two club carnivals are high spots in my memory, one being my first solo in the part of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears". It was decided to paint my curls with gold enamel. The carnival lasted three nights. Imagine how peaceful my slumbers were with those cast-iron curls. After the last performance I was taken to a beauty parlour where the gold was removed with banana oil that hung so heavy in the air, we almost suffocated. The other high spot in my memory is my first fall in a sportsman's competition. The small sheet of ice was covered with a canopy of pine boughs which had dried and dropped their needles on the ice. Every time I tried to jump, I lost my edge on the needles, and down I'd go. After a series of falls I was so embarrassed that I stopped, located my mother, and made a bee-line for cover under her coat, refusing to come out to finish. I think I was about six years old.
Carnivals and exhibitions always thrilled me; in fact, they still do. I used to envy the quick changes of Shirley Bowman and Dorothy Snell, both advanced skaters then, and wish that I too were big enough to be in more than one number.
Now my biggest thrill in skating comes year after year from competition - from meeting all the competitors, judges, and friends. It's just like a family reunion. And it is all such fun and keeps me very busy.
SHIRLEY LANDER (Seattle SC, runner-up, U.S. Junior Ladies and Pacific Coast Senior Lady Champion)
I became interested in ice skating more by accident than design. After seeing Sonja Henie in her first movie, I borrowed my sister's Christmas present of a pair of figure skates to try and emulate the great Henie.
Not long after, I joined the Seattle SC and, after an interval of hard work, entered my first competition in 1940 - the Pacific Coast Novice. I made my debut in National Competition at Chicago in 1942. I think every competitive skater learns a lot from each trip to the Nationals, and one thing above all is to take the good with the bad. I am sure this has been the lot of most competitors at some time or another.
The following season, after the Pacific Coast, accompanied by other competitors from Seattle, I made the trip to New York for the 1943 Nationals; of all the trips to date, I think this was the most enjoyable, in spite of the long distance. The conditions for competition in New York were ideal, and the New York Skating Club is to be congratulated on their excellent handling of the competition.
A few of the high-lights of past competitions and carnivals, which impressed me most, were the free style of Bobby Specht and Dorothy Goos; the exhibition by the U.S. Fours Champions at Chicago in 1942; Ramona Allen's figures in 1943 Nationals; the free style of Freddie Tomlins, Bobby Specht, Norah McCarthy, and Donald Gilchrist at our 1941 Shrine Carnival; and more recently, Bobby Uppgren, Janette Ahrens, Michael Kirby, Dorothy Goos and Barbara Ann Scott; and last but not least the double jumps of Skippy Baxter.
GEORGE MILLER (of Kansas City, former U.S. Junior Competitor)
I don't know how you could solve the problem, fellow skaters, but I found it rather difficult to write "memories" of skating while my whole outlook is to the future of skating - of the many important things yet to be done. Some stimulus was definitely necessary. And last night I received that stimulus.
For the first time in over three years I walked through the door of a rink, and don't laugh now, it was the smell of the place that brought a flood of memories. Honestly, skaters, doesn't a rink smell wonderful?
As you inhale that atmosphere in which you have spent so many of your most memorable hours, (Don't mind me, I've 'got the bug' and so have you or you wouldn't be reading this) can't you picture carnival nights years ago, when you felt so important at being a part of that exciting world, Skating; when you felt the thrill of skating on the same ice with, say, Ollie Haupt or the imperturable Robin Lee, or sunny Maribel Vinson, or suave Gene Turner?
Do you remember Everett McGowan and Ruth Mack? My first carnival program, dated February 22, 1934, says of them, "Skaters: If your insurance is paid up, you can try this." Do you remember Myra Jean Azbe, William Cady, Jeanne Schulte, Ruth English and Len Fogassey, Virginia Bucher, the four Nelson sisters, Jack Smalley, Nancy Meyer and Eleanor Hellmund? These are some of the people whose skating I remember as thought it were yesterday.
Do you remember the tense atmosphere of the first competition you saw, or skated in? And how omniscient the judges appeared? The Mid-Western Championships of 1937 were the first that I saw, and I still have the bit of ribbon used on the bouquet presented to Frances Johnson of Minneapolis, the Ladies Senior winner.
And do you remember the Galbraith brothers, Murray and Sheldon? Their 'shadow' pair was grey magic. And Jack Might teamed up with little Patty Vaeth? I remember when a Lady World Champion took a tumble on my home ice, and how much brighter the future seemed to be after that. And again how amazed I was to find that Roger Turner of Boston, seven times National Senior Champion, was a lawyer. He worked!
I can remember Evelyn Chandler having trouble with her dress as she was coming around the right side of the far end of the rink in a carnival in 1936. What a memory! And of a circle of gold formed by the hair of Gladys Lamb, as Norval Baptie swung her in ther 'death-defying' spin. And one of my most vivid memories is that of the first Lutz jump I ever saw. It was a jump without a flaw, done by my good friend and teacher, William Swallender. After seeing that, I even tried to dress and talk like that perfectionist from the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes. I could go on like this for pages, but I'd rather read your memories than write my own. But honestly, skaters, doesn't a rink smell wonderful!
ANN ROBINSON (New Haven SC, 1943 Novice Champion, now professional)
Ann Robinson and Eldon Adair
During my second year of skating, our club decided to hold a competition among members of the club. I entered and won first place and received a beautiful silver cup. It is hard to describe my emotions about it, because they were awfully confused: a mixture of thrills and excitement. That same year we had a Junior Carnival under the direction of Maribel Vinson. Joan Tozzer and Bernard Fox were two of the visiting stars, and their pair was so beautiful that it furnished an incentive for me to really get down to some hard work. Joan had a lovely flowing style, and I hoped one day to become a champion too.
As a result of my desires, I went to Boston to take lessons with Willie Frick. After some lessons and good hard work, I was ready to enter the Eastern Novice. My hopes and hard work were rewarded when I won first place: a Sectional Championship! Gosh, I really was overjoyed.
In 1943 I entered the National Novice Championship with Gus Lussi as my instructor. I placed first and received a medal; it was quite thrilling to realize my attempts were successful. It made me feel as though I had accomplished something; thought it was only a beginning. That summer I was at Lake Placid and had an offer to turn professional. It was very hard to decide what to do. After discussing it pro and con with my family and instructor, Gus Lussi, I decided to accept the offer. It was to be a 'spot' at the St. Regis Hotel in New York under the direction of Gus Lussi. Since it was my first experience with professional skating, I would like to say there is a vast difference between that and amateur skating.
To begin with, I was skating on a small tank, whereas I had been used to skating on a big rink, and I found it difficult to adjust myself to a limited space. However, I did enjoy my 14-week engagement at the St. Regis and, as time went by, I became accustomed to the small space.
I returned to New Haven in February, and the Ice Capades came into town the following week. I had an audition and was accepted into the chorus. While in California last June, we were rehearsing the show of 1945, and I was fortunate enough to be given a solo as well as being paired with Jimmy Lawrence. I like travelling with the show. It gives me an opportunity to see the country. We do have a lot of fun.
ELEANOR O'MEARA (former Canadian Single and Pair Champion, North American Pair Champion, now professional)
To begin with, the Eastwoods (Jack's family) were next door neighbours of ours in town, and when I didn't even know what a figure skate was, I can remember Mommy calling me to look out our kitchen window which faced the Eastwoods' back garden. There were Jack and Bud Wilson skating on the rink in Eastwoods' yard and doing all sorts of things that to me were just sensational! I guess that was my first inspiration. It was certainly the first time I had ever seen figure skating, and now, as I think back, their efforts must necessarily have been somewhat frustrated by a small outdoor rink. But I have never forgotten my first peep at figure skating, and to me then it was just too wonderful.
I can remember in 1937 when I was invited to skate my single at the Toronto Skating Club Annual Carnival. Cecilia Colledge was the only other girl's solo on the program. Would you believe that at the dress rehearsal I decided to try new music different even in type from anything I had ever used? I had always skated to a waltz and decided it would be a good chance for me to see whether I liked foxtrot tempo. So, during the five minutes' orchestra time that was allotted me in rehearsal, I tried my single to a medley of Irving Berlin tunes which were popular at the time and to which I skated my number in the Carnival! Can you imagine such utter stupidity? And that was in 1937 which goes to show the tremendous strides that have been made toward working routines to music during the last seven years. Why, now, if a similar occasion arose, I would have chosen my music weeks in advance, taken all kinds of time in the creation of my number to the music I had chosen, rehearsed it well, and then used those precious five minutes allotted me at the final rehearsal to make sure of any particular points of accelerations or retards with the leader of the orchestra and to familiarize myself with the sound of my music (instrumentation, I mean) by the orchestra in question.
DOROTHY WELD GRANNIS (The SC of Boston, 1929 U.S. Junior Pair Champion)
Of all the carnivals I have ever seen, I think the first one I took part in is the closest in my memory. I was one of six bunnies. It is not difficult to recall my costume, as my children wear it today to fancy dress parties. It's a one-piece white cotton suit with a hood completely covering the head, except for the face. Two pink cardboard ears are supposed to stand up straight, but the left one always had a tendency to droop, giving the wearer a rather rakish expression. Completing the costume is a large bunch of cotton batting for a tail.
The cover of the program reads: "The Enchanted Forest, A Skating Pantomime by Clara R. Frothingham, given by The Skating Club Of Boston for the benefit of the Boston Metropolitan Chapter, American Red Cross, Boston Arena, March 26, 1918, 4:30 P.M."
The Gypsy Queen was Miss Martha Brown, and Miss Edith Rotch and Mrs. Frothingham were gypsies. Sherwin Badger was Jean, a boy with magic skates, and the stars of the show were Miss Theresa Weld as the Good Fairy, and Mr. N.W. Niles as the Fairy Prince. The carnival was a very simple one compared to those we behold today; only 17 took part in it, so that rehearsals were not the task they are nowadays, and everyone enjoyed themselves immensely.
The next carnival I took part in was two years later on March 12, 1920. It was held in the Ice Pavilion in Cambridge. The Skating Club of Boston had moved across the river that winter, as fire had destroyed the old Arena, and a new one was being built. I see by the program that Mr. [Haycock], our club pro, did a single as did Miss Weld and Mr. Niles. A pair was contributed by Miss Rotch and Mr. Badger, and the group number done by the adult club members was the Lancers.
I do not remember anything about the carnival, not even my costume, as it was erased from my mind by a most unfortunate experience. Eight of us children did some sort of number. All I can remember is a great many spirals from one end of the rink to the other. After the dress rehearsal, quite unexpectedly it was announced there was a prize for the child who had skated in the best form, and I had won it. My pride knew no bounds. I was determined to win the prize again the night of the carnival. Never had a skater had such perfect carriage; my head was held high, my skating knee bent, my arms nicely crooked, my back arched until it ached. After the show was over I stood around waiting for the presentation, knowing how proud my friends and relatives would be. Finally, when no one seemed to be in any hurry to make the award, I unbecomingly went up to one of the committee and demanded it. There was no prize that night!
I have had many a chuckle over my first competition. It was in 1921 for the Girl's Junior Championship of The Skating Club of Boston. Messrs. Browne, Tower, Niles and Howland were the judges, and my competitors were Molly Frothingham, Madeline Post, Emily Davis, Ruth Sabine, Maribel Vinson and Priscilla Rhodes. Emily Davis won it with Maribel and me tying for second place. In a burst of generosity I persuaded the judges to give her the second place prize because she was such a little girl. I wonder, Maribel, if you could ever find it now among your hundreds of other medals. I know I'd love to have it to place beside the one other I won.
MARY ROSE THACKER BAER (Winnipeg WC, former North American and Canadian Champion)
Mary Rose and Lillian Thacker in 1941. Photo courtesy University of Manitoba Archives and Special Collections.
I tried out my first pair of figure skates at three years of age when that outstanding pro, [Ferdinand] G. Chatté, persuaded my mother to "let the baby begin". I can thank Mr. Chatté for eight years of untiring patience while I did everything in my power to avoid my lessons so that I could play tag with my brothers. Somehow he persevered and I acquired the groundwork of skating.
In our club the annual event was always the carnival. Every year a different pantomime brought excitement with new parts and costumes. Each time I did a little solo.
To those carnivals came an awesome parade of the visiting celebrities who seemed to belong to another world. Far back I remember the great Charlotte, Shipstad and Johnson in their original comedy, Constance and Bud Wilson, Evelyn Chandler, the Minto Four and a host others. There was always tremendous excitement when the celebrities finally came, and our hero-worship must have been overbearing.
Every January our club competitions were held. For many years our Lady Champion was Frances Fletcher, now of Rochester, Minn. Lewis Elkin and Rupert Whitehead followed each other for the men's honours, and later Philip Lee, who went on to win the Canadian Junior Men's Championship. Audrey Garland and Fraser Sweatman were our outstanding pair; they went to the 1936 Olympics at Garmisch-Partenkirchen and brought home glowing accounts of international skating.
The Western skaters were always clannish in Canada, and for many years a group of our best skaters went to Banff to perform in the Annual Winter Sports there. Later were had another pleasant link with Banff when the Simpson sisters spent a season training at our club.
I was thirteen when I entered a new skating sphere by competing in the Junior Canadian Championship. There I met all of the skaters with whom I was to compete for the next few years; the Caley sisters, Eleanor O'Meara, Norah McCarthy, etc. Among the men, Montgomery Wilson was undisputed leader, with Ralph McCreath, Wingate Snaith and Jack Vigeon following up. Two years later when I had won the Junior Championship and was to first compete in the Senior, I injured my knee and could not skate. That was a blow, for I had spent the previous summer in England preparing for the events to come.
That visit to England was in 1937 and Streatham Rink in London was my first stop. Champions of fifteen nations were skating there at that time, and outstanding among them were Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier. Their pair, of course, was sensational, but even more so were Maxi's simple edges around the rink; so perfect were her style and form that everyone would stop to watch. I spent a few weeks at the Westminster Rink, then went down to Brighton where Phil Taylor was teaching, and Megan was practicing for the Winter competitions. Later at Bournemouth, I first studied under Otto Gold, whose star pupil at the time was little Hazel Franklin.
In 1939 I won the Canadian Championships and was sent to Europe for the Olympics. I went in June to England in order to train under Howard Nicholson; there I met many good skaters and old acquaintances. 'Nick' was at Empress Hall in Earl's Court, London, and he had quite a family of pupils: there were Freddie Tomlins and Daphne Walker, two of England's best; Per Cock-Clausen, Champion of Denmark; two young Californians, Ramona and Susan Allen; several promising English juniors; and the noted Sir Samuel Hoare (then Foreign Secretary), who already had his silver medal and Hazel Franklin. Horst Faber, a German bid for the Olympic title, was training there, also Hedy Stenuf, and many other European skaters. We little thought when we parted for the August holiday that a month later all Europe would be plunged into war.
I skated in three more Canadian Championships and the 1941 North Americans. A new crop of skaters was coming along and gradually the older ones dropped out. But the excitement of competitions and carnivals is never forgotten by one who has experienced those thrills, no matter how far he may wander, and it is always like coming home to enter a rink and watch the skaters, hear the same old waltzes, and recall all the skating fun of years gone by.
JEAN STURGEON (Los Angeles FSC, former U.S. Junior Competitor, now professional at Center Theatre)
The first thing I remember (thought it was not the beginning of time for me, it might just as well have been) was my father taking me to see a personal appearance of Sonja Henie at the Polar Palace in Los Angeles. Miss Henie immediately became my idol and inspiration and, of course, I couldn't have picked a better one. On the same program were three other skaters who rated, in my estimation, almost with the champion. They were Jack Dunn, Eugene Turner and Mary Taylor. I think those four contributed more to my skating than any single thing or group of things; for a long while, they were my inspirations!
One night Maribel Vinson and Guy Owen gave exhibitions at our club. I remember practically hanging over the railings as they skated and telling everyone around me how wonderful they were; not that anyone needed telling, but I felt I just couldn't see skating like that and not say something.
My first competition - the California State Championship held at Yosemite Valley - was almost too much for me all at once. The beauty of Yosemite itself is enough, but the thrill of the championship and seeing more skaters such as Barbara Gingg, Skippy Baxter, Marianne Lindeloff, Meryl Baxter, Noel Coffey, was all too wonderful. Winning the Novice Championship that weekend made me about the happiest girl in the world. This followed by the Pacific Coast Championship (about a month later) where I saw still more skaters, Britta Lundequist, Pat Merrifield, Betty Lee Bennett and Johnny Kinney, and where I again won the Novice Competition, comprised the first and most outstanding events in my skating world until the time of my first Nationals in Cleveland.
The Cleveland Nationals indeed opened new horizons for me and for the first time I began to realize the enormity and wonders of the skating world. In the first place I'd never heard of a skating club owning their own rink and having a membership large enough to support it entirely without the "aid" of public sessions. Imagine walking into your own club and being able to skate, skate and skate some more any time of the day or night! The mirror covering a whole wall at one end of the rink was, to me, the most amazing thing of all. At first it rather frightened me as I'd never seen myself in 'action' before, but getting used to it finally, I appreciated how interestingly advantageous it could be. Since then I have seen innumerable reflectors in the various rinks around the country, and it is my contention that every club should be equipped with one. And the skaters at Nationals...
Well, now I'd seen everything, or thought I had, and as I think back, I believe I was right - the variety and quality of excellent skaters, both amateur and professional, seen during the course of the championships would be difficult to match. There, for the first time I saw Ollie Haupt, Bobby Specht, Jane Vaughn, Hedy Stenuf, etc. and to say nothing of my old friends from the Pacific Coast. And believe me, I was proud to be in their midst.
VIRGINIA WILSON (Toronto SC, 1941 and 1942 Canadian Four Champion)
Top (left to right): Virginia Wilson, Will White Jr., Diana Baldwin, Fred Fletcher. Bottom: William Thomas and Margaret Leslie.
Of all the articles in "Skating I find "Tracings From The Past" one of the most enjoyable. I never took my skating as seriously as most skaters, but through it I have enjoyed a world of fun. As I look back countless funny experiences loom up and here are some of them.
The first championship I ever tried was the Junior Canadian at the Granite Club. Norah and Taisie McCarthy were in it too. The three of us played 'hide and seek' and went up and down in the elevator (it was one of those you work yourself) until we were so dizzy we could hardly stand. The time came for our singles... Norah's, mine, then Taisie's. We all forgot them completely but, as I nearly always forgot mine anyway, I went ahead and made mine up as I went along and placed third to Dorothy Caley and Mary Rose Thacker. It was the only time I ever beat Norah.
One of the smartest club carnivals was the one the Granite Club had at Varsity Arena when Jackie Dunn was the star. Every skater from eight to twenty-eight was in love with him, and although I was about ten years old, I was no exception. Though I had the lead in the Junior Ballet I could think of nothing but the handsome skater and found a little seat where I could watch him come in and out of his dressing room. That was where they found me one minute before I was to go on, and I could not imagine why they were so angry with me.
One of my skating thrills was when Cecil and Jim Smith asked me to go in the "Granite Six," and being very young at the time, I was carried away with all the glamour. We were firemen in the New York Carnival, and were driven in on a huge fire-reel by six boys dressed as firemen. The act was very impressive. Cecil said we would each have a turn sitting away up on top to clang the large bell. I could think of nothing but sailing through Madison Square Garden up on the reel. My turn came, and when I got up there it seemed miles above the ice, and I was so thrilled and excited I completely forgot to clang the bell; so I lost my chance to be the star that night.
At the end of the season the King and Queen came to Canada, and we were included in the invitation to skate at the Minto Club, where the King and Queen were to be the honoured guests. Unfortunately, their boat was two days late, and they were unable to attend. The carnival was held just the same for the many celebrities assembled. I will never forgot how kind Colonel and Mrs. Scott were to me, as I was their guest, and believe me Barbara Ann and I did not miss a thing.
In the last two years I have had the honour to skate for the Red Cross, Navy League, and other war charities and have skated in most of the large cities from Vancouver to Halifax and in a great many of the American cities also. I was delighted to meet friends in practically every city, and it was always a thrill to meet skaters who had joined up in the different services.