Jackson Haines: The Definitive Biography

Photo courtesy KHM-Museumsverband, Theatermuseum Vienna. Used with permission.

"I always walk alone." - Jackson Haines, quoted in "Spuren auf dem Eise : die Entwicklung
des Eislaufes auf der Bahn des Wiener Eislauf-Vereines" (1881)

Ready to turn figure skating's history on its head? I sure am. For well over a century, authors, coaches, skating fans and skating historians alike have painted a largely inaccurate picture of American skating pioneer Jackson Haines and using primary sources, I think it's high time the record was set straight. Grab yourself a cocktail, settle in and enjoy perhaps the most challenging research that I've tackled to date on the blog.


Although no known birth records exist for Haines, the 1860 New York State Census tells us that at twenty one years of age, he resided in the E.D. 1, Ward 15 of New York City, which would indicate his date of birth was most likely 1839 or 1840. He was the son of Alexander Frazee Haines and Elizabeth Terhune Earl. The article, "The Father Of Figure Skating" by Winfield A. Hird, published in both "Skating" magazine and the January 24, 1941 edition of the Amsterdam, N.Y. "Evening Recorder", offers first hand information gleaned from extensive genealogical research provided by Haines' niece Mrs. Mary Davis Haines Waldron and nephew Louis Flamming: "His mother was a descendant of the Westervelt family, early Dutch settlers of New Jersey. His father's family came from England in 1635 and settled on Long Island. His grandfather, Jackson Haines (for whom he was named) was a hat manufacturer of New York City, living at 34 Dye Street. His father, Alexander Haines, was employed by Park & Tilford. The family at one time was located at Cottage Row in New York City. Jackson was one of five children, having three sisters and one brother. The entire family was educated in select schools and by tutors, studying French, music and dancing." We can add from The New York Census records that his sister Sarah was older than he by a year and his brother Eugene, an organ builder, six years older. His other sisters, Hanah and Elizabeth, were younger. Although their seventy five hundred dollar brick home would have been considered quite luxurious for that time, the family took in boarders so a young Haines would have been exposed to diversity from his youth, living alongside a musician from Russia, a bookseller from Holland and a merchant from Belgium.

Photo courtesy "Skating Through The Years"

Haines skated for fun on the ponds on the Beekman Estates but first learned formally how to skate at age nine at Mr. Disbrow's Skating Academy at The Winter Garden which predated The Skating Club Of New York. The January 9, 1919 edition of the Troy, New York "Daily Times" noted that 'Jersey John' Engler, another top skater of Haines' era, taught him "how to cut all sorts of fancy figures". Haines Waldron and Flamming explained that "Jackson Haines was of medium stature, had curly chestnut hair and blue eyes and was considered a dapper young man... Not only was Jackson an accomplished skater but his sister, Elizabeth, was also proficient. The entire family was interested in the theatre and as part of its early education it attended all that New York offered in the way of drama and music."

It has been suggested that at the age of ten, he was taken to Europe in the care of a relative, where he studied ballet, returning to America at the age of seventeen and working in an office until the lure of the ice forced him to quit.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine


Jackson Haines was engaged at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York and was actually very well received in an Albany park in 1862. Returning from Albany to New York City, he was recruited by renowned showman P.T. Barnum to roller skate at the Old Bowery Theatre for eighty nine nights alongside Carrie Augusta Moore (who we'll get to know more in an upcoming Skate Guard blog), performing in G.L. Fox's pantomime "Jack And The Beanstalk". Research by Paul deLoca that was included in Steven A. Riess' book "Sports in America from Colonial Times to the Twenty-First Century" noted that it was both skater's popularity on rollers that prompted "Australian promoter George Coppin to recruit [William] Fuller for a world tour of Asia, Australia and Europe from 1865 to 1869." It was also during this period that the talented Haines got married to Alma Bogart, the daughter of Judge Abram Bogart of New York City. The young couple had three children - Clara Louise, Abram and Eugene. Sadly, Clara Louise died in early childhood.

Haines only spent one winter in America devoting his time solely to skating. In late 1863 and early 1864, he toured the United States and Canada, performing in New York City, Buffalo, Chicago and Detroit in the States and in Montreal and Quebec City in Canada. He received his first medal as a skater from Chicago's Board Of Trade on January 30, 1864 and his second from the managers of Detroit's Old Skating Park on February 8, 1864. After performing in Montreal (in front of a three year old Louis Rubenstein) Haines travelled to Quebec City and was presented with a large gold medal by that city's skating club on March 18, 1864. Keeping in mind that with no governing body existing to 'rule the roost' at that time, any city could claim that the best skater in whatever they decided to call their competition was the American, Canadian or World Champion, Haines may very well have been named as 'the champion skater of America', but primary sources don't back up the traditional story of him winning a 'Championships Of America' in 1864 in Albany, New York City or Troy, New York, as varying biographies over the years have claimed.

Photo courtesy KHM-Museumsverband, Theatermuseum Vienna. Shared with permission.

After giving his last performance in Quebec on April 14, 1864, Haines returned to America. The June 16, 1864 edition of the "Sacramento Daily Union" noted that "Jackson Haines, the champion skater, has been engaged by the popular Boston Minstrels, Morris Brothers, Pell and Trowbridge." From pantomime actor to champion skater to minstrel show performer... that's quite a jump now, isn't it Historian Nigel Brown noted that "during the Civil War, he appears to have varied his accomplishments as opportune. Sometimes he was on stage in a juggling act, swinging Indian clubs, sometimes an exhibition-skater, a teacher of physical culture and finally a ballet master. But as the Civil War lingered on, such occupations were destined to suffer."


Several authors have suggested that no concrete proof that Haines first visited England when he decided to leave America and spread the 'skating gospel' overseas in Europe, but this simply isn't true. The August 27, 1864 edition of "The Baltimore Sun" noted Haines' plan to move to move to England and try to make a living performing in Europe and British newspaper accounts note that he made his first skating performance at Cremorne Gardens in London later that year. He left by way of Boston on August 17, 1864. The December 8, 1864 edition of "The London Evening Standard" placed him as performing in Weston's Music Hall in Holborn and the Birmingham Daily Gazette indicates that he entertained audiences at The Prince Of Wales Theatre in October of the next year. Several authors, both esteemed and dubious at best, have claimed that Haines' artistic style was met with great opposition in England. And you know what? Considering that the English Style at the time would have been the complete opposite to what Haines was doing on the ice, they were probably right. However, primary sources don't offer any true indication as to what the Britons really thought of Haines. We do know from Haines Waldron and Flamming that while in England, Haines sent for his sister Elizabeth and she joined him there as his skating partner, but after one year, she became homesick and returned to America. Wondering where Haines' wife and sons were in all of this? While in Europe, Haines' two sons were tragically drowned in the Hudson River while visiting their grandparents who had moved from New York City to Lansingburgh. His wife Alma, left behind in America, died in 1890.


An illustration of Jackson Haines performing in Germany in 1865. Photo courtesy Matthias Hampe.

Following his stint in England, Haines travelled to Germany, where he gave a series of performances in February of 1865. German skating historian Matthias Hampe noted, "He gave three exhibitions on the Tiergarten-Eisbahn and four exhibitions in the Victoria-Theatre. Ten thousand spectators came to every of his shows in the Tiergarten rink. The engraving by Hermann Scherenberg (1826-1897) shows Haines skating near by the Rousseau Island in Berlin."


From Germany to Mother Russia... The Marysville Daily Appeal, on August 17, 1865, informs us that "Jackson Haines, the American skater, is still in Russia. The Emperor has given him a diamond ring valued at 100 pounds and the Navy Club of Cronstadt have presented him with a gold and diamond medal. He is to visit Moscow soon, and from thence returns to London." The next evidence of where Haines actually popped up and wowed audiences comes from Scandinavia. We know that he came to Stockholm, Sweden in March 1866 and remained there until the beginning of 1867, performing roller skating shows at the Manege Theatre and the Great Theatre and ice shows during that winter in Stockholm. This evidence comes from the Swedish newspaper Söndags-Nisse, which notes that his roller skating shows began in June and continued through the summer. The January 29, 1867 issue of the newspaper "Jönköpingsbladet" confirms that his performances in the winter were not on rollers but instead on ice. A C.G. Hessler testified that "Jackson Haines' behaviour on the ice won't possess me sooner."


The January 17, 1868 edition of "Die Presse" recalls Haines' debut in Vienna, Austria, where he in fact did make quite an impression in late 1867. Skating at the Wiener Eislaufverein in sixteen degree weather, three thousand spectators gathered for Haines' performance. George Browne's book "Figure Skating" describes Haines' 1867 performance in Vienna thusly: "[He] shot in on a long outside roll (spiral) which took in the whole circumference of the area, and gradually narrowed down until he came to the centre, where he performed a pirouette and took off his hat to a Grand Duke who was present, continuing with a series of evolutions on both feet, something in the style of a Philadelphia twist or grape-vine; and when the band turned from the overture to the waltz-tune, he broke into a double cross-roll backwards... Haines' advent caused a great sensation, and I have no doubt that this was the beginning of the modern art in Vienna." He was indeed idolized by the Austria people for his graceful style, which became known as the Viennese Style and later the International Style. With numerous rinks (outdoor and later indoor) in Austria, many people who otherwise had no inclination or knowledge of the sport were inspired to take up the craft. Haines taught the Viennese to waltz on the frozen Danube to the music of Strauss.

Austria, as a result, has been a country who has had remarkable success in international competition. One hundred and seventeen world medals have been won by that country alone. Surely successful Austrian skaters like Willy Böckl, Trixi Schuba and Karl Schäfer wouldn't have had the foundation or opportunity to succeed had their predecessors not learned from Haines or someone who learned from him and helped develop the country's skating program. The October 30, 1987 edition of the "Montreal Gazette" aptly noted that "members of the Vienna Skating Club made notes of Haines' movements and incorporated them into a formal series of figure-eight practice movements which, since the ISU was formed in 1892, have formed the basis of all figure skating competitions." The reverence towards Haines as 'the king of skating' is noted in numerous Austrian sources, including the February 19, 1912 edition of "Wiener Sonn-und Montags-Zeitung". Josef Fellner, president of Austria's Skating Federation, echoed this sentiment by saying "the seed [that] Jackson Haines planted on Viennese ground bore rich fruit very soon, so that he, when he appeared again in Vienna in 1870, not enough words of praise and surprise at the level of art and arrived at the large number could find the good skater." The 1881 book "Spuren auf dem Eise : die Entwicklung des Eislaufes auf der Bahn des Wiener Eislauf-Vereines", written by Demeter Diamantidi, Carl von Korper, Max Wirth, both praised Haines highly and offered instructional information based on several of Haines' figures and dances on ice.

Photo courtesy Wiener Eislaufverein

Photo courtesy Illustreret Tidende, 1869

On March 11, 1869, Haines performed both solo performances to the overture from "Zamba" and Verdi's "Ernani" as well as duets with Leopoldine Adacker at the Maskinisten Bergsten i Teaterhuset in Sweden, according to the Swedish newspaper "Jönköpingsbladet" of the same date. It was around this time in Scandinavia that he developed a comic program depicting Lord Dundreary (a character from the British play "Our American Cousin"). This act became a trademark program for Haines that he used repeatedly in many of his shows over the coming years.

News of his skating talent travelled to his next stop, Finland, per the research of Finnish historian Kent Sjöblom: "Haines first appeared in Turku in July 1869 for three consecutive days and then went to Helsinki. In the capital he performed at the Nya Teatern (now the Swedish Theater...Rumors may have spread [of his skating prowess] from Stockholm, where Haines often stayed and acted and where he also gave lessons. According to some articles in domestic newspapers, he had been a choir of 'Skridskokungung' by Swedish king Karl XV, who was so impressed by the performances in Stockholm."

The October 17, 1869 edition of "The Era" noted his return to England and the following May, "Blekingsposten" noted that Haines would return due to Sweden by popular demand. After returning to Vienna in 1870 and debuting his "Jackson Haines Schlitt-Schuh" mazurka, Haines visited Hungary the following year and was exceptionally well received there as well. The Hungarian newspaper "Tiszavidék" in January 1871 enthusiastically wrote of Haines' 'korcsolya polka mazurka'.


From Austria and Hungary, Haines made yet another trip to Scandinavia. Archives of the nineteenth century Finnish newspaper "Åbo Underrättelser" prove that Haines performed his polka-mazurka and ice ballet (with live orchestral accompaniment) for at very least three weeks in April 1872 in Finland. The October 9, 1872 edition of Swedish newspaper "Wermlands läns tidning" advertises the same "Stort Potpourri" show he performed earlier that year in Finland in conjunction with a performance of "En Episod fran Revolutionen 1789" at the Christinehamns Teater. The June 6, 1873 issue of "Bergens Adressecontoirs Efterretninger" in Norway notes that Haines offered a 'Nyt Program' for members of working class society to learn the art of skating.

While in Norway in 1873, Haines met Axel Paulsen, whom he encouraged to adapt his 'Axel' jump to figure skates. Axel had a toe-pick welded on a pair of his skates and did just that. This meeting would prove incredibly important years later, when British skate maker Henry Boswell would take this adaptation from Paulsen's skates (that came from Haines) back to England and start adding toe picks to British skates. Remaining in Scandinavia, Haines performed his comedic ice ballet "NEJ!" in Finland in 1875, with a full cast of charismatic skaters in lavish costumes.


Photo courtesy Wiener Eislaufverein

Returning to the Continent, it was during this time period that Haines worked with Leopold Frey and Franz Belazzi... and Belazzi joined Haines on the ice for some same-sex ice dancing, which we explored in a Skate Guard blog earlier this month. I personally find it quite intriguing that Haines, a graceful skater who left his wife and children behind in America, obviously found great freedom on both stage on ice in Europe, performing in women's dress and on the ice with a male partner. You can (like I did) make of that what you will.


Woodcut of Haines performing in St. Petersburg

Haines returned to Russia, performing in St. Petersburg, the home of the Kirov Ballet, which was founded in 1738. After performing in a celebration of the Balagani at the Winter Festival, he planned a return to America. Haines planned his return to America, but travelling by sled from St. Petersburg en route to Stockholm, he was overtaken by a severe snowstorm, contracted pneumonia and died in Finland. He was buried in the small village of Gamla-Karleby and his tombstone lists his date of death as June 23, 1875. The inscription of his tombstone, translated to English, reads: "For there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest."


Perhaps, perhaps not. He won medals in both Canada and the United States, however in the 1881 book "Spuren auf dem Eise : die Entwicklung des Eislaufes auf der Bahn des Wiener Eislauf-Vereines", written by Haines' disciples, claimed that Haines was "denied by all the Americans who only find beauty in the practical." An article from the March 2, 1866 edition of the "Marysville Daily Appeal" gives the impression that Haines was celebrated but just wasn't the best skater out there. After praising 'skatorial queen' Carrie Augusta Moore, the writer said, "if your ideas on the subject are only those acquired by your boyhood experience, it may have been on the Mohawk or the Erie Canal, why then you know nothing about modern skating. The best skaters in America, or in the world, are the Meagher brothers, now performing in various parks here, with great profit to themselves and pleasure to our people. Beside these the celebrated Jackson Haines is a bungler." Absolutely nothing in historical evidence even remotely suggests that an unruly mob of skating fans with pitchforks and torches ever stood rinkside or drove Haines 'outta town'. If anything, most American newspapers from his era were nothing but complimentary.

The earliest known criticism of Jackson Haines came from Massachusetts headmaster and skating aficionado George Henry Browne, well after Haines' death. Late NSA historian Dennis Bird recalled that in one of two letters from 1891 and 1901 to George Herbert Fowler, Browne recalled, "None of our skaters seems to care much about him. He was a Bowery boy of low extraction and pretty common tastes."


I think it's important to point out that while Haines' disciples praise him highly in "Spuren auf dem Eise : die Entwicklung des Eislaufes auf der Bahn des Wiener Eislauf-Vereines", the contributions of fellow Americans Callie Curtis and E.T. Goodrich to Viennese skating are also noted with regard.

In the January 7, 1912 edition of "The New York Herald", James A. Cruikshank wrote, "While Jackson Haines received scant recognition from the social leaders of his day, the present revival of the new international style of skating has the advantage of exponents and advocates of the highest social prominence, here and abroad. Then, too, Haines was a professional, while those who are at the front of this new movement have the additional prestige of amateurs, giving their services as a labor of love." He made a very valid point. Haines' appreciation in America didn't take the decades and decades some historians suggest. His rounded toe, two stanchion skates were already popular in America by 1910 and in 1918 at the Crystal Carnival Ice Rink on Broadway and 95th Street in New York City, the Jackson Haines Skating Club was formed. For many years in England, the winners of the BITA World Professional Championships were awarded a 'Jackson Haines Cup'. Haines was of course, later in the century, inducted into both the U.S. and World Figure Skating Hall Of Fame.

Franz Calistus' recollection of Jackson Haines' performances

The winner of the bronze medal at the 1906 World Figure Skating Championships (the first official World Championships to include a ladies event) was aristocrat Lili Kronberger of Austria. Inspired by Haines, she brought her own orchestra to the 1911 World Championships, insisting that she "felt the music and interpreted it", rather than have it play a supporting role in the background. Said Kronberger, "it is necessary to first hear the music internally and then interpret". Over the years, Haines' courageous and artistic journey has either consciously or subconsciously affected many other revolutionaries of the sport. Without free skating being created and popularized, it never would have been again transformed by artistic geniuses like John Curry, Toller Cranston, Robin Cousins, Janet Lynn, Torvill and Dean and their contemporaries of today. Robin Cousins once said "you cannot differentiate between the sport and the art because the idea is to make the sport like an art". I'm sure Jackson Haines was smiling somewhere when Robin said that, wearing a fur hat and pälsbrämad jacket with medals on his chest, performing a gorgeous arabesque spiral and perfectly centered
spin in his finery.

In 1937, Irving Brokaw recalled, "Some forty years ago a pair of skates and a leather pocket book bearing the inscription 'Jackson Haines' were bought in Gamla-Karelby at auction by a famous sportsman... The inhabitants of that quaint village, ever since death have kept his grace covered with fresh flowers even to this day."


One important factor to consider with regards to Haines were the quality of his skates as compared to many of his contemporaries. The Southeast Missourian, on March 7, 1966, noted that in 1850 "when crucible steel was brought to ice in Philadelphia, [it] was rare then and was used sparingly where it was needed most, for example in tools, knives and surgical instruments. At least one skate of that year still exists - the drill holes and saw marks testifying to laborious handicraft." These skates were expensive, selling for fifty dollars at the time and Haines, coming from a family of some means, would have been one of few that could afford the cream of the crop. Haines probably owned an early pair of these Philadelphia skates but it was the alterations in length to the skate's platform and introduction of two small plates which screwed into special boots that gave Haines the edge. In making these adjustments, he eliminated the need for straps and for special shoe-heel sockets which accommodated the studs in the conventional skates of that area. His two stanchion, all metal blades with the toe pick variation of the old Dutch toe made toe-pick jumps possible and would have changed the way figures were skated entirely, adding a world of possibilities.

Legend goes that the 'Jackson Haines spin' (described by sources during his time as a one-foot ringlet spin on the left foot) took its inventor nine years to perfect, but again - you ready for it? - primary sources don't confirm this! We do know from William H. Bishop and Marvin R. Clark, contemporaries of Haines who would have seen him skate, that the 'Jackson Haines spin' which Haines invented was not a typical sit spin as we'd think of it today. In their 1868 book "The Skater's Textbook", they describe it thusly: "The world-renowned skater's great specialty is doing a 'one-foot spin' and, while revolving, stooping so low that his balance leg must necessarily be perfectly horizontal to clear the ice, then rising gradually and finishing the spin upon his toe." So basically, upright, sit, upright and then up on the toe pick. Think about skaters of the twenties and thirties and the kinds of spins they were performing at the time. The Jackson Haines spin in its true form was definitely something we definitely saw from competitive skaters back then. Now? Not so much.

Haines also built on a figure developed by a New York City contemporary, E.B. Cook, known as 'pivot circling'. Irving Brokaw described that Cook "made a great deal in the way of substituting one
toe in the ice in the place of the other, the succeeding toe taking the place of the other by coming exactly into the same spot located by the outgoing toe. He made many substitutions of one toe for the other in this way, and some very peculiar ones from what he called the 'Intoto' position. Moreover, besides circling the pivot, he made the performing foot skate a succession of linked angles around in a ring. Also, taking a pivot, he made the other foot go far away on an edge (almost to half length) and make a connected set of pivots, forming a star." Brokaw notes that this was also a specialty of Haines also, but that Haines surrounded his pivot figures with a circle. The result, curiously, produced a pentagram my ancestor Anna Maria Conrad might have quite impressed with.

Poem courtesy "Skating" magazine

As for Haines' style itself, Irving Brokaw wrote in "The Art Of Skating" that he "had less enthusiasm than his contemporaries (the New York Skating Club and the Philadelphia Skating Club and the Canadian skaters) for the invention of one-foot, continuous figures, many of them made in small, kicked circles. His temperament affected artistic display and correct body positions (after the manner of the Russian dancers, now so much in popular favour), too, but in long, graceful curves or in dance strokes and steps." In 1913, George Browne clarified that "since Jackson Haines left before rocking-turns were invented and died five years before a bracket was ever skated, or at least described, he obviously could not have been much of a performer of modern American 'stunts'."

As far as I'm concerned, the real story versus all of the legend out there reveals a man who was wholly committed to enacting change and had a great passion and verve for performing. His travels alone back and forth from country to country are testaments to this indefatigable determination to prove to audiences just what skating could be. Haines showed that skating had more potential for creativity than rigid figures traced around an orange on the ice in a top hat and tails; more than speed skating races on frozen canals. With his same-sex ice dancing, female dress and elaborate ice ballets, he broke down barriers and reminded us that skating doesn't have to be as linear as a quad/triple combination on one end of the rink, a triple Axel on the other and a haircutter spin in the center. I can only hope, in demystifying his story and separating fact from fiction, that people can finally have a clearer picture of his true role in the sport's rich and colourful history.

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