The Third Annual Skate Guard Hallowe'en Spooktacular

It's the ghost wonderful time of the year! Hallowe'en has once again fallen upon us and all of you loyal Skate Guard readers know that means. It's time for a yearly Skate Guard tradition... The Annual Skate Guard Hallowe'en Spooktacular! Dim the lights enjoy this creepy collection of darker stories that have peppered skating's history through the years!


The 1983 Canadian slasher flick "Curtains" was a cult classic for longtime "General Hospital" writer Bob Guza. The film's iconic skating murder scene remains one of the most unique attack scenes visually in that genre. Seriously... can you imagine going out by yourself for a midday skate and ending up getting chased by a masked homicidal skater with a scythe? That's some downright terrifying stuff right there. In a 2004 interview with The Terror Trap, director/producer Peter Simpson explained the back story of the "Curtains" skating scene: "I brought in a real figure skater. I don't remember the girl's name... it was actually one of the few times I was ever embarrassed in interviewing someone. We brought her in to do the stunt double. She was the right height and everything. But she had this big parka on because it was the wintertime. So she came into my office at Simcom and she sat down. And she had the parka off her shoulders. I said, 'I can't look at you with that parka on, would you take it off so we could see what you look like and what the camera's gonna see?' I assumed she had something on underneath it... but she just had... panties on. I'm standing there saying, "You'll look good on camera, you can put that parka back on!" The skater who apparently auditioned in the nude was named Jo-anne Hannah, and she played both the part of Lesleh (the skater being chased) AND her masked attacker. Talk about a pairs team... from hell.


The 1986 disappearance of London real estate agent Suzy Lamplugh in broad daylight made headlines in the eighties and rocked a nation's sense of security. Declared dead and presumed murdered in 1994, her body still hasn't been found. It has been widely speculated in the media that convicted killer and rapist John Cannan might have been involved in Lamplugh's disappearance and it was a skater who actually brought a major break in the cold case in 2000. Cannan's former girlfriend, a former ice dancer named Gilly Paige, told police that Cannan had suggested that Suzie was buried at Norton Barracks in Worcestershire (yes, like the sauce!), a former army barracks. Ultimately, that seemed to prove to be another dead end... however a new investigation began in the Worcestershire area in 2010. This August 2010 article from "The Daily Mail" suggests a whole new twist in the case. Whatever the case may be, Paige is very lucky she escaped the relationship she was in unscathed.


In October 2014, a twenty year old British woman named Jemma Fitzgerald ended up with a depressed skull after bone fragments shot into her brain and no less than twenty stitches. Why? She was attacked by an assailant whose weapon of choice was an ice skate. Certainly puts the famous screams of "why?" into perspective doesn't it? Things could have indeed been much worse. Fitzgerald was walking on foot to a boxing club to arrange a meeting about organizing a charity event for cancer research when a twenty seven year old woman brutally attacked her. In an interview with the Chester Chronicle, Fitzgerald told reporters "I was hit in the head with an ice skate completely out of the blue. I actually didn't feel anything and only realized what had happened when I felt blood running down my face. I wasn't really sure what to do and didn't realise how serious it was at the time to be honest. Apparently I was in intensive care up until my operation where doctors found I had a depressed skull and fragments of bone in my brain which they had to remove. The surgeon told me that realistically I shouldn't be alive." The attack happened close to the Deeside Ice Rink and news sources never really followed up on the story to report as to whether or not the attacker was known to the victim or had any connection to the rink but at any rate, scary stuff.


Ilene Beth Misheloff was an accomplished young figure skater from Dublin, California in the mid eighties. She competed against 1992 Olympic Gold Medallist Kristi Yamaguchi and had finished first in competitions all over the Bay Area of California. On the afternoon of January 30, 1989, the thirteen year old left Wells Middle School and was walking to Dublin Iceland rink for an afternoon skating lesson when she vanished into thin air. Twenty five years after her disappearance, Ilene's parents Maddi and Michael Misheloff remain positive and hopeful for their daughter's return home someday. Over the years, Ilene's family and community have held several vigils marking the anniversary of her disappearance in hopes to not only celebrate her life but to remind the community she is still missing. In a 2012 interview with the Pleasanton Patch Maddi said that "if Jaycee [Dugard] can come back, so can she". Over the years, suspicions have remained that Ilene's disappearance was linked to two other child abductions around the same time in the area. According to Dublin Police Lieutenant Herb Walters, when Dugard was found alive eighteen years after her disappearance, Dublin Police and the Hayward Police Department (who were handling the case of missing Michaela Garecht as well) obtained a search warrant for the residence of Dugard's captor Phillip Garrido. No evidence in the search linked Misheloff's disappearance to Garrido but he has not been ruled out as a suspect. The Charley Project, a website that shares the stories of over nine thousand 'cold case' missing people in the United States, talks in depth about Ilene's case and several suspects including Timothy Bindner, James Daveggio and Curtis Dean Anderson. In reading the information about all three men provided, it doesn't take Jessica Fletcher to deduce that the subject who allegedly sent a letter to one young girl printed backwards, that could only be read in a mirror, drove around trying to lure young girls into a van wallpapered with pictures of children and wrote letters to the FBI about how he thought the victims might have acted stands out like a sore thumb. It's enough to make you sick to your stomach. To this day, no one has been charged with Ilene's disappearance but her parents maintain hope the case will somehow be solved, as well as a website to keep her story in the public eye. There's something so simply heartwearming about her parents continued hope and obvious love for their daughter. We may never get to see Ilene Misheloff compete against Kristi Yamaguchi again, but if we keep sharing her story, there's always the glimmer of real hope that like in the shocking case of Jaycee Dugard, Ilene will one day resurface.


"You're heeeere... theeeeere's nothing I fear..." Engrained in us when we think of one of the world's biggest tragedies are of course the James Cameron film and the Celine Dion song "My Heart Will Go On" but what really stays in our souls when we think of the "Titanic" is the sense of foreboding that comes from the thought of an unsinkable ship sinking with such a high death toll - between 1,490 and 1,635 people - a ship full of people who, without enough lifeboats didn't stand a chance.  It resonates with us to this day. Remember Rose and Jack from the movie? Well this story is about a real life Jack who survived the Titanic sinking - and it's a sad one with - you guessed it - a skating connection. Jack Thayer was travelling first class with his parents on the Titanic. The seventeen year old's mother Marian joined the "women and children first" in a lifeboat but the teenaged Thayer was left with his father to fend for himself. Thayer's father died in the tragedy but Thayer was one of relatively few who survived the exposure after jumping in the water. In the 2011 The Independent article "Curse of the Titanic: What happened to those who survived?", Thayer's daughter recounts her father taking her skating, "One year, when the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia was frozen over, he took us down to skate. I remember being quite scared, in case the ice would give way and I would fall in and get trapped beneath it, but he said, 'Don't worry, I've got my rope with me.' It was a kind of pole with a rope wrapped around it that he said he could use to pull us out of the water if we fell in. Looking back, it is curious that he should want to go on frozen water after what he had been through with the Titanic. Of course, at the time I thought nothing of this, as he never, ever mentioned the disaster. He was not afraid of water, and loved to swim, but he never sailed and would never go on an ocean liner." Thayer, like most survivors, never liked to talk about what happened on the Titanic and lived by all accounts quite a successful life. However in 1943, his twenty two year old son was killed in action while serving in World War II, his plane shot down into the Pacific Ocean. His mother and fellow Titanic survivor Marian died six months later. Whether it was the fact he lost two people so close to him or that his son's death in the ocean stirred up repressed feelings, we'll never know... but it was too much for Thayer for bear. The 2011 Independent article explains that "on the morning of 18 September 1945, 50-year-old Jack Thayer left his office at the University of Pennsylvania and drove through the streets of Philadelphia. At the city's trolley loop, near 48th Street and Parkside Avenue, he slowed down, pulled over, then proceeded to slash his wrists and throat." Tormented by the water perhaps but afraid not of the ice, Thayer's shocking and tragic death serves the reminder that pain can haunt someone for a lifetime.


"In order to form a chain, the twelve persons each place their right hand on the table and their left hand on that of their neighbour, thus making a circle around the table. Observe that the medium or mediums, if there be more than one, are entirely isolated from those who form the chain." - Baron de Goldenstubbe

Lewis Spence's "Encyclopedia Of The Occult" describes a séance as "a sitting held for the purpose of communicating with the dead, an essential requirement being that at least one member of the company be possessed of mediumistic powers." From the Fox Sisters to the birth of The Spiritualist Movement to the famed séances of Madame Helena Blavatsky, I could easily write a whole blog on the history of the séance... but this is a figure skating history blog and with Hallowe'en looming, I couldn't resist sharing one of my favourite Tollerism's of all time, the story of his Sonja Henie Séance. In his 2002 book "Ice Cream", Toller Cranston told the story of how he moved the late Olympic Gold Medallist Lyudmila Pakhomova to tears: "Once, after skating in Graz, Austria, a stop on the exhibition tour, I informed the entire cast of skating luminaries that I had decided to conduct a séance in my hotel room that evening. Many skaters arrived for the event, even some who didn't speak English. [Lyudmila] and Alexander [Gorshkov] sat front-row center. I dimmed the lights and pretended to enter a somnambulistic trance. I confess that my nerves nearly failed me, because I didn't possess any psychic ability that I knew of. However, the lark somehow became high theater and ultimately terrified many of the spectators. I called upon Sonja Henie's spirit for assistance. Then, in what I passed off as Sonja Henie's voice, I expressed exactly what I thought of each person in the wrong. Ken Shelley, American champion, was so enamoured of my performance, that when I requested that Sonja give a sign of her presence, Ken released one of the most enormous farts in history. With that, the rabble cracked up. I assured everyone that Sonja was truly with us, though the channels had been temporarily blocked. An aura of serious purpose redescended on the room. Finally I addressed [Lyudmila] and asked her, in 'Sonja's' voice if she was aware of the important revolution in ice dance she had inspired. Did she understand the importance of her role in the sport's history? [Lyudmila] was one of the victims who bought my schtick. The séance ended with her running out of the room in a flood of tears of awe, followed by 'the waiter'. In those days,, my lack of credentials placed me at the bottom of the international pecking order. After the séance, however, my profile rose to such a level that I was treated with great deference until the end of the tour." Okay... so is that not the best séance story ever? This story got me thinking... and ironically, if I ever participated in a séance, Toller would probably be the skater I tried to contact. The beautiful thing is that through his books, many interviews and a treasure trove of archival material at my disposal as I sift through stories from skating history, I come across Toller's opinions of skaters constantly... and like him, lump him, take him with a grain of salt, you can't get any more entertaining. Speaking of quotes and Toller Cranston's Séance, I found just the perfect one to leave you with. A February 13, 1987 article from "The Globe And Mail" quoted him as saying, "If you allow yourself to become the victim of superstition, every single thing is a sign indicating a positive or negative result." Ever quizzical and ever mysterious... it seems the spirit world and Toller have a lot in common.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

The 1980 Skate Canada International Competition

There was no Cold War on ice in Calgary in late October of 1980. Skate Canada International was held in Alberta fresh on the heels of the U.S. led boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, a protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Canadian Figure Skating Association invited Soviet skaters to compete at Skate Canada International and were told "thanks but no thanks". In turn, Canadians were not invited to Moscow Skate in December of that year. Despite the off-ice politics, the battle at that year's fall invitational did turn out to be every bit as heated even without the presence of the ever-dominant Soviet contingent. Let's hop back in the time machine and take an in depth look at how it all played out back in 1980!


Prior to the competition at The Stampede Corral, the obvious favourites on paper in the men's event were Americans David Santee and Scott Hamilton, ranked fourth and fifth in the world at the time, though twenty one year old three time Canadian Champion Brian Pockar, skating in front of a hometown crowd, was considered a not so outside shot at the title as he'd beaten Hamilton earlier that season at the St. Ivel competition in Great Britain.

Brian Pockar. Photo courtesy "Canadian Skater" magazine.

In the school figures, twenty two year old Scott Hamilton lead the way with a total of 31.8 points and 11 ordinals but was followed closely by Calgarian Brian Pockar, who earned a score of 31.36 and 11 ordinals. France's Jean-Christophe Simond, a specialist in figures, was closely behind in third place, followed by David Santee and a young Brian Orser in fourth and fifth places. The Globe And Mail on October 31, 1980 noted that "a major disappointment for Canada was the performance by Gordon Forbes of Brockville, Ont. Forbes, who was second at the 1980 Canadian Championships, was expected to take a run at one of the top five positions. However, he was 12th after the compulsories. 'Today, I just wasn't into it,' Forbes said. 'I know I didn't do my best. I just made some stupid mistakes.' There were few spectators at the Stampede Corral yesterday, but Pockar said he will get a lift from the home-town crowd when he competes in the men's short program tonight. 'It's just like a hockey team having the home-ice advantage,' he said."

In the short program, Scott Hamilton continued his dominance, nailing a gorgeous triple lutz/double loop combination, double axel and double lutz to maintain his lead. Mandatory for both men and women in the short program that season were a jump combination including a double or triple loop, an axel type jump and a double lutz, and Brian Pockar, too, skated very well in the short, performing a double lutz, triple toe/double loop and double axel in his stylish "Caravan" program to maintain his second place position. A botched combination in Brian Orser's "Fame" short program hurt any chances of him making a big move in the standings and after the figures and short program, he was in seventh place.

Scott Hamilton held on to his lead after the short program with an excellent free skate that featured six triple jumps. Silver medallist Pockar and Santee, who finished third, also both gave very strong performances. The November 3, 1980 edition of The Globe And Mail noted that "Santee and Hamilton take an athletic approach to free skating, concentrating on difficult jumps. Pockar, on the other hand, says he is working toward a 'smooth, elegant, sophisticated and classic' style. 'I want the audience to feel that, 'to see him, is to love him,' Pockar said. 'I want to reach out to the audience, to be a performer, not a skater.'" Brian Orser was the only skater to attempt and complete a triple axel in the men's free skate and despite falling on a triple salchow, he was able to move up to sixth overall. Fellow Canadians Gary Beacom and Gordon Forbes were ninth and tenth.


Predictably, Austria's Claudia Kristofics-Binder led the way after the school figures. Ranked fifth in the world, the previous season Kristofics-Binder had even outranked Olympic Silver Medallist Linda Fratianne at the World Championships in the figures. Her score of 32.08 and seven ordinals, however, was not par with her usual level of dominance in this category and much of that probably had to do with the fact that she was recovering from illness at the time. In second place  with 30.56 points and 15 ordinals was plucky thirteen year old Tracey Wainman of Willowdale, Ontario, ranked fourteenth in the world to Kristofics-Binder's fifth. This was an a HUGE improvement for the young pupil of Ellen Burka, especially considered that she ranked twenty first in the figures at the 1980 World Championships in Dortmund, West Germany. Third with 29.76 points and 21 ordinals was Yugoslavia's Sanda Dubravčić.

Wainman's strong showing in the figures only fuelled the omnipresent Canadian media. Despite suffering an injury in practice, they didn't seem to want to give the youngster a break. The Globe And Mail on November 3, 1980 noted that "beginning last Wednesday, Burka would not allow any interviews with her protege until the competition was over Saturday night. She accused the press of making the extroverted Wainman tense and nervous and causing her to lose her concentration. 'If she had talked to you, she might have ended up in fifth place,' Burka said."

In the short program, Ellen Burka's strategy of secluding Wainman from the media didn't seem effective. She fell on her first of two double axel attempts and failing to turn her second clean one into a combination didn't help her case any either. She wasn't the only one to miss their combination though. Kristofics-Binder faltered on the back half of her double flip/double loop combination as well and was barely able to hang on to her lead after fifteen year old Elaine Zayak of Paramus, New Jersey moved up from fourth to second with a winning short program that included a triple toe/double loop combination, double axel and double lutz. Her American teammates Rosalynn Sumners (who was actually second in the short program) and Sandy Lenz also turned in fine programs to overshadow the performances of the three leaders in the figures.

Building on her superb short program, Elaine Zayak killed it in the free skate, performing six triple jumps to catapult to the top of the podium with mostly 5.7's and 5.8's. Despite one fall, Tracey Wainman moved up from third after the short program to second overall. She finally spoke to the media lying in wait, saying to The Globe And Mail "I could have done better but I'm quite pleased with my marks." Nineteen year old Claudia Kristofics-Binder dropped to a disappointing third after falling on her opening double axel and doubling two triple salchow attempts. A tenth place finish in compulsories eliminated any chance of Rosalynn Sumners making up enough ground to medal. Wainman's Canadian teammates, fifteen year old Kathryn Osterberg of Calgary and eighteen year old Sandra Matiussi of Cambridge, Ontario were ninth and fifteenth.


In the absence of a pairs competition, which wouldn't be added to the Skate Canada roster until 1984, there was an immense amount of focus on the ice dancers. Canada was well represented by two Nova Scotian teams, Marie McNeil and Rob McCall and Gina Aucoin and Hans-Peter Ponikau (the silver and bronze medallists at the 1980 Canadian Championships) as well as Kelly Johnson and Kris Barber and Joanne French and John Thomas.

Lynn Copley-Graves' book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice" recalled that "this early competition already indicated that the cha-cha OSP would be hard to interpret. Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert used British technique to defeat the Brits, Karen Barber and Nicky Slater, in Calgary's Stampede Corral. Karen and Nicky contrasted with their futuristic program. The success of the Canadian couples bode well for the renewed development of dance in Canada." Blumberg and Seibert actually kept the same high energy free dance that they'd used to take the silver medal at the U.S. Championships the previous season, earning a standing ovation and marks ranging from 5.5 from 5.9 and winning over Barber and Slater in quite the convincing fashion. McNeil and McCall finished third, ahead of Americans Elisa Spitz and Scott Gregory, Johnson and Barber, French and Thomas and Aucoin and Ponikau. In eighth through twelfth places were France's Nathalie Nathalie Hervé and Pierre Béchu, West Germany's Birgit Goller and Peter Klisch, Japan's Noriko Sato and Tadayuki Takahashi, West Germany's Maria Kniffer and Manfred Huebler and Italy's Paola Casalotti and Sergio Cesarani. To put things in perspective in terms of upsets, Aucoin and Ponikau were the second ranked of the four Canadian ice dance teams participating but even more surprisingly, the French team in eighth place had actually bested the TOP ranked Canadian team at this event in the previous year's World Championships. How's that for a non-assisted jump in the standings?

Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert. Photo courtesy "Canadian Skater" magazine.

Science historian James Burke once famously said "if you don't know how you got somewhere, you don't know where you are." With Skate Canada International returning to Alberta thirty five years later this weekend, new edges in skating history will be carved out on the frozen stage and it couldn't be any more exciting.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Joseph Späh: Hindenburg Survivor And Ice Comedian

As a child, I remember watching Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade with my family and being absolutely fascinated by the scene where Indy and his father (played by the legendary Sean Connery) boarded a Greek bound zeppelin to escape Germany. There was something about the zeppelin that completely piqued my curiosity. It was completely fantastical and foreign to me - something I could draw absolutely no comparison of anything to. Little did I know that a good twenty years later, I would be writing about a figure skating connection to the world's most (in)famous zeppelin, the Hindenburg. It's funny how things like that work out.

For those who aren't familiar, Dean Nicholas offers an excellent primer on the Hindenburg air disaster in "The Hindenburg Disaster and the End of the Airship Era", his 2011 History Today article on the subject: "On May 6th 1937, the German airship LZ 129 Hindenburg was destroyed in a fire whilst attempting to dock at a station in New Jersey. Theories about what exactly happened differ: at the time, the accident was thought to be an act of sabotage, but it is now generally understood that a spark, possibly caused by static build-up, ignited a fire that blazed through the hydrogen-filled craft. The ensuing inferno, which took the lives of 13 passengers, 22 crew, and 1 person on the ground, was captured on cine film and memorably commented on by an emotional newsreader, Herbert Morrison: This is the worst of the worst catastrophes in the world! [...] There's smoke, and there's flames, now, and the frame is crashing to the ground [...] Oh, the humanity, and all the passengers screaming around here!" For more information beyond Dean Nicholas' article, I definitely recommend giving Stuff You Missed In History Class' 2013 podcast on the subject. I know being a smoker myself I was shocked to learn that smoking on an airship filled with seven million cubic feet of highly flammable hydrogen gas wasn't only possible but all the rage.

Highly combustible smoking rooms aside, the Hindenburg air disaster marked the end of an era of luxurious zeppelin and dirigible air travel and I was blown away (pardon the absolutely inappropriate and unintended pun) by the number of people that somehow survived this horrific accident. One of those who did manage against all odds to survive was Joseph Späh, a vaudeville comic acrobat who emigrated as a young child from Strasbourg to Douglaston, Long Island, New York. At the time of the disaster, Späh was in the portside dining salon. When trouble began, he smashed the window with his movie camera which he had been using to film the landing of the zeppelin. As the ship neared the ground, Späh lowered himself out of the window and hung onto the window ledge. When the airship was approximately twenty feet from the ground, Späh let go. He kept his feet under him and attempted to do a safety roll when he landed. He did injure his ankle but incredibly survived the fall. He was attempting to crawl to safety when a U.S. sailor slung him over his shoulder and ran him out of arm's way. Let's stop and think about this for a minute. That's simply incredible... like seriously, that's insane!

After making his way away from the fire, Späh spoke briefly to Chicago radio announcer Herb Morrison and reunited with his wife and family who had been on hand to meet the ship. His wife noticed his ankle injury and suggested that they go to the air station's infirmary to have it looked at. The Faces Of Hindenburg blog explains the grim turn of events that followed: "a doctor informed him that he had broken his ankle, then bandaged his foot for him. As they were leaving the dispensary, a nurse called for anyone who could speak German. Späh said that he could, and the nurse led him into a nearby room where a terribly burned young crew member lay in a bed. He said his name was Erich Spehl, and he wanted to send a telegram to his girlfriend back in Germany. Späh wrote down the woman's name and address, and then asked Spehl what he wanted to say to her. Spehl replied with a simple two-word message: 'Ich lebe.' (I live.) Späh told the young man that he would go and send the telegram right away. As Späh turned to leave the room, however, Erich Spehl died."

The Faces Of Hindenburg blog also discusses a shocking after the fact allegation that Späh himself was responsible for the Hindenburg disaster: "Several Hindenburg crew members, including Chief Steward Heinrich Kubis and Captain Max Pruss, were convinced that Späh had sabotaged the ship. These suspicions were raised, at least by implication, in no less than two books on the Hindenburg crash. The 'evidence' of Späh's involvement in a sabotage plot was that he was caught several times walking unaccompanied back to the aft freight room to feed his dog, Ulla (who, sadly, ended up being killed in the crash.). This was against the ship's rules and Späh got some fairly sharp words from the chief steward about it on at least one occasion. Since the cargo room in which the dog was stored was not far from the spot in the aft portion of the ship where the fire started, some took this as evidence that Späh had used his visits to his dog as cover to climb up into the interior of the ship and plant a bomb. Several of the Hindenburg's stewards also claimed to have noticed odd behaviour on Späh's part during the flight, particularly his impatience to land when the ship's mooring was delayed for several hours by thunderstorms. This impatience was, of course, understandable, as Späh had been away from his family for months, and was in all likelihood merely anxious to get home. In the end, there was no solid evidence whatsoever to support these accusations. The FBI investigated Späh fairly extensively before concluding that he had nothing to do with the Hindenburg fire. His wife Evelyn would later recall that when word of the FBI's interest in her husband as a potential saboteur first appeared in the press and she read about it in the newspaper, she went outside to tell Joseph about it. He was cleaning windows at the time, and when she told him that he was suspected of having destroyed the Hindenburg, he was so shocked and upset at the news that he almost fell off the ladder on which he'd been standing. In fact, most of the suspicion of Späh having intentionally destroyed the ship was likely psychological in nature, particularly on the part of Captain Pruss who, for the rest of his life, would insist that his last command had been sabotaged by 'the man with the dog.' If the ship wasn't destroyed by sabotage, then it of course stands to reason that it may well have been an operational failure, and it is understandable that the ship's crew wouldn't exactly be anxious to believe that the disaster had been due to a flaw in either their handling of the ship, or in its design. In other words, those who believed that Joseph Späh had sabotaged the Hindenburg seem to have done so primarily because they needed to believe it." Modern research largely dismisses the sabotage theory and instead purports that static electricity was the culprit in causing fire that ignited the highly flammable and explosive hydrogen gas aboard the zeppelin.

Now... what is Joseph Späh's connection to skating you wonder? After recovering from his broken ankle, Späh returned to his life of vaudeville entertainment under the stage name Ben Dova. His shtick involved staggering onstage in a rumbled top hat and tails, searching in his pockets for a cigarette which was in his mouth the entire time then shimmying up the pole of a gas street lamp to light his cigarette. At that point, the lamp would begin to way wildly and he would perform acrobatic tricks while holding on to the lamp. He performed his act atop New York City's Chanin building and even appeared on the silver screen acting alongside Laurence Olivier in the 1976 film Marathon Man. Following the Hindenburg disaster, Späh revised his Ben Dova act and performed it on ice. According to a March 25, 1957 article in the Long Island Star-Journal "the broken ankle he suffered turned out to be a lucky break, after all. He took up ice skating to help regain its strength, on advice of the family doctor, Dr. Joseph Mooney of Jackson Heights. Naturally, the whole family took it up with him. And today, the talents of the Spahs are almost all 'on ice'. The youngest of the brood, Evelyn, 17, will join her father's act next fall, in a sketch called The Lady And The Tramp. Richard, 21, is a hand at pro skating, as was Marilyn, 22, who met her husband on the rink and has retired to play the role of a landlubbing wife". The article may have been a little backwards - Späh's wife was named Evelyn and likewise his daughter named Evelyn - but it did give some insight as to why Joseph decided to translate his popular 'drunken vaudeville' act to the ice. Following in his father's footsteps, Richard Späh (who had been at the airfield with his mother to meet his father the day of the Hindenburg disaster) too became an ice comedian who went by the name Dick Dova and toured with Ice Follies with comedy team partner Bill Wall. Even more incredibly, Joseph Späh wasn't the only Hindenburg survivor with a skating connection. Werner Franz, one of the last Hindenburg Survivors, passed away in August 2014 at the age of ninety two. He was a member of the airship's crew that also jumped and from the zeppelin and lived to tell the tale. After taking on the role of cabin boy on the Hindenburg, he became a figure skating coach... to two time World Champion Marika Kilius. It appears in the case of the Hindenburg that having skating in blood was a lifesaver all around.

Dick Dova and Bill Wall in Ice Follies

Späh's incredible tale of survival and turn to skating as the result of an injury suffered in one of the world's most well known and horrific air disasters is simply remarkable. James Baldwin once said that "all art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique. All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story; to vomit the anguish up." Up until his death in 1986, Späh was constantly asked by fellow performers and strangers alike about his harrowing escape from the Hindenburg, and every time he was asked he told the whole story... and along the way, he provided a lot of laughter to the world. That's the sign of an artist.

This piece originally appeared as part of a six-part podcast series called Axels In The Attic. You can listen to Allison Manley of The Manleywoman SkateCast and Ryan Stevens of Skate Guard's audio version on Podbean or iTunes.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Past Lives On The Ice: Reincarnation And Figure Skating

Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko's 1995 program to the music "Vision (O Euchari In Leta Via)" performed by Emily Van Evera, Sister Germaine Fritz, Catherine King and Richard Souther and composed by Hildegard von Bingen was aptly titled "The Psalm" and was intended to evoke the feeling of transporting you through the ages to a different life in a twelfth century cathedral. The music gives you the distinct feeling of your soul returning to a different time and place and the skating and choreography engenders the ultimate Déjà vu. Is that sense of returning to a different time through skating uncommon? Hardly.

Rahkamo and Kokko's "The Psalm"

Perhaps, just perhaps it was much bigger than that - if you have an open mind to some of the real stories shared below by real people on online message boards about past lives:

Lisa: "(My daughter) just wanted to know where her ice skates were. She was three years old when she first asked me. She grew agitated when I told her that she's never had ice skates and was very upset that it didn't snow at Christmas saying, 'how can it be Christmas if it's not snowing' and 'now I can't skate on the lake.'"  

Mimsey: "I did experience a flash from a past life when I was sixteen or seventeen. It was of ice skating from some earlier life perhaps in the 1800's in the Netherlands? Dunno exactly. But it happened to me before I was ever exposed to the concept of reincarnation or past lives. It was just a knowingness or concept or picture of having ice skated before that popped into my head, but had the particularity of containing a knowingness I had ice skated in a earlier life. Mind you, I have never skated this life nor wanted to even though being raised in snow country. It wasn't my imagination giving me the memory or impression of skating backwards with my leg raised, arms spread (that I am aware of) but, at that time, it made me aware that I had lived before. I just sort of accepted it as real that I had lived before this life and went on with being a teenager. Like realizing your mom packed an apple in with your lunch. Not astounding. Just is."

These stories shared by everyday people looking for answers on an internet message boards about reincarnation are just two of millions of past life memories shared by people around the world, and fascinatingly, more than you'd think trace back to the ice. Denise Linn's book "21 Days To Master Understanding Your Past Lives", she speaks about how many abilities and talents that come to you naturally and seemingly out of nowhere can be attributed to our aptitudes in past lives by offering a story from her very own family: "One Saturday morning my daughter, Meadow, announced that she wanted to go ice-skating. My husband, David, is usually very slow to move in the morning, so I was astounded when he immediately agreed - especially as he had never skated in his life". Linn went on to explain how though she and her daughter had skated before but not in some time were more than a little rusty, her husband who had never skated "sailed past us effortlessly with the most smooth, graceful movements. He glided around us in circles. He skated backward. He completed wondrous spins and turns. Astonishing!" Linn stated that in a past life recollection or regression her husband David had recalled a life in the Netherlands where he worked as a city official and often skated on frozen canals and ponds in the city where he lived in that life. In her book "Climbing The Spiritual Ladder", Joan Price also talks about prodigal success and relates the astonishing success of Sonja Henie at such a young age to composers like Hadyn and Mendelsohhn, who played and composed at mind blowing levels of aptitude before they even reached ten years of age... and attributes this early and easy success in life to past life talent. Price pointed out that great minds and talents - and prodigies themselves - like Goethe, Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin, Voltaire, Longfellow, Yeats and Edgar Allan Poe all believed in the plausibility of past lives.

The topic of reincarnation and figure skating has even been the subject of a 2000 made for TV movie. "Ice Angel" featured Olympic medallists Tara Lipinski, Rosalynn Sumners, Nancy Kerrigan and Peter Carruthers as well as Nicholle Tom, who played one of the daughters on the popular nineties sitcom The Nanny ("oh! Mr. Sheffield!"). The comedic film tells the story of a hockey player and figure skater who both die on the same day. The figure skater's soul passes on but the hockey player's soul is 'reborn' in the body of the skater. Although this 'immediate reincarnation' contradicts just about everything that we know about how reincarnation actually works through studies and past live regressions, the movie was comedic in nature and the reincarnation element of the plot was obviously for comedic effect and not really meant to be 'accurate'.

From the comedic to the questionable at best comes the theory of author Robert Urbanek that skating's 'bad girl' Tonya Harding was a reincarnation of Lee Harvey Oswald. His e-book "Tonya Harding Shot JFK: Dreams, Symbols & Synchronicity" purports: "Consider the evidence of reincarnation. Both Tonya Harding and Lee Harvey Oswald have the letters 'Har' in their names. Both of their victims were Irish Catholics from Massachusetts whose last names began with the letters 'Ke': John F. Kennedy and Nancy Kerrigan, and both were attacked in cities beginning with the letter 'D': Dallas and Detroit. Time magazine also saw a connection in the assaults on Kerrigan and Kennedy. Margaret Carlson wrote in the February 21, 1994 issue, 'The videocam verite of the clubbing [of Kerrigan] provides the same gritty realism that the Zapruder footage brought to Oliver Stone's JFK.' Harding and Oswald came from poor dysfunctional families and learned to use a rifle. Both were about the same age when they became infamous: Lee at 24, Tonya at 23. And they have similar facial features. Kennedy doesn't look like Kerrigan, but Kerrigan looks a bit like Jackie Kennedy. Perhaps God's joke is that JFK, the womanizer, should return in a body resembling his own wife." Although I am the first to admit that Urbanek's theories and hypotheses come off as a stretch at best; completely kooky at worst, you have to admit it's certainly QUITE the theory he has there.

That said, whatever your beliefs are on the topic of reincarnation, you have to have an open mind in life. Sects of almost every major world religion including Christianity, Islam and Judaism do refer to or believe in reincarnation and other religions such as Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Voodoo, Celtic religions, Native American religions and Gnosticism all place faith in the process. Whether you really take the time to become well read and researched on the topic by familiarizing yourself with the writings of authors like Edgar Cayce, Ruth Montgomery and Jess Stearn or simply review the stories of famous reincarnation cases like Ruth Simmons/Bridey Murphy, Imad Elawar and Parmod Sharma, there's certainly enough information and proof out there that you can't dismiss the possibility of reincarnation with a finger wave of derision. Whether or not Sonja Henie (for instance) was the reincarnation of some prodigal figure skater from many moons ago, we may never know, but who's to say the stars of today may not only be building on the talents that they learned and honed in previous lives? It's certainly something to consider with an open mind.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

The 1986 Skate America International Competition

Eighteen countries, sixty seven competitors... the international competition that got its start as an Olympic test event in 1979 - Norton Skate - had by 1986 already transformed itself into one of the most prestigious fall invitational amateur figure skating competitions out there. As we get ready to watch all of the action unfold in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on the first stop on the ISU Grand Prix series, let's set our time machines to October 1986 and revisit an earlier edition of this event held at the Cumberland County Civic Centre in Portland, Maine and hosted by the Kennebec Skating Club of Augusta.

Record ticket sales at the time - over twenty six thousand in fact - evidenced the huge popularity of skating at the time on the Eastern seaboard. Nineteen year old Tiffany Chin of Toluca Lake, California (a last minute replacement for World Champion Debi Thomas, who withdrew) took a healthy lead in the school figures and despite winning neither the short program or free skate, coasted to victory over a young skater you might have heard of named Tonya Harding,

Agnès Gosselin of France took the bronze when Patricia Schmidt of Edmonton, Alberta dropped down from third to finish fifth overall. Another Canadian entry in the field of twelve, Pamela Giangualano of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, too dropped from seventh place to eighth overall. In the October 15, 1986 issue of the Bangor Daily News, Chin explained the challenges of competing at the event on such short notice when her long program was in fact not even complete: "We still had six seconds left on the long program when [Mr. Nicks and I] were called. Six seconds that had to be choreographed and worked out. And I thought I had three more weeks to work on stamina."

Although flawed, Ludmila Koblova and Andrey Kalitin of the Soviet Union won the pairs short program ahead of Denise Benning of Windsor, Ontario and Lyndon Johnston, of Hamiota, Manitoba. However, a brilliant free skate from Katy Keeley and Joseph Mero of Costa Mesa, California allowed the American pair to move up in the free skate and claim the gold medal ahead of the Canadians and Soviet team. Laurene Collin and John Penticost, both from Ontario, placed fourth in both phases of the competition and overall. In fifth were a young American pair with names you just might recognize: Kristi Yamaguchi and Rudy Galindo.

After finishing third at the St. Ivel competition in England (where many thought they should have won), Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay, Canadians now skating for France, made a strong statement at Skate America when (after finishing second in all three compulsory dances and the Viennese Waltz OSP) they delivered a spirited and daring free dance featuring a swing-around and an upright variation on a death spiral. Wisely, the siblings consulted with the referee in Portland regarding the legality of some of the 'tricks' in their free dance and got the nod. Their win in the free dance ahead of Americans Suzy Semanick and Scott Gregory but most importantly, the Canadian team of Jo-Anne Borlase and Scott Chalmers, gave them the gold medal in Portland and certainly made a 'your loss!' statement to the CFSA at the time. Although the audience gave them a standing ovation, the judges were (as ever) divided on the Duchesnay's at the time; their marks ranged from 5.2's and 5.3's to 5.8's and 5.9's. Another Canadian pair, Melanie Cole and Martin Smith, were eighth.

Untouchable at the top of the men's field was today's birthday boy, Brian Boitano, who confidently won the school figures and short program and landed his triple axel and triple lutz in the free skate to earn 5,8's and 5.9's and easily win ahead of Viktor Petrenko of the Soviet Union and fellow American Daniel Doran. Matthew Hall of the Minto Skating Club placed seventh in the short program in his first major international competition and moved up to sixth overall ahead of Paul Wylie with an even stronger performance in the free skate  In an interview in the October 18, 1986 issue of The Ottawa Citizen, Hall explained, "My short program went excellent ... I usually have trouble with it. In the long program, I was only a little nervous, and I put together a perfect program for me. Now that I've gotten through my long program without any flaws I can add more triple combinations into it. And I'll have to work hard on my spins as well. Artistically, I think I can improve and catch the top guys." Canadian Medallist Jaimee Eggleton of St. Bruno, Quebec dropped from twelfth after the school figures and short program to thirteenth overall.

Americans claimed the gold medals in three of four disciplines on home soil back in 1986. Will they continue to dominate in Minnesota? The history books will soon find out.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

The Haunting Of Hagadorn

From haunted rinks and skating devils to the ghost of Sonja Henie, there's certainly no shortage of terrifying tales that pepper figure skating's history. Today on the blog, we'll go all the way back to 1898 and meet a restless skating spirit from the Victoria era in a unique ghost story now in the public domain by American author Elia Wilkinson Peattie. Turn off the lights, light a candle and get ready to be transported back to a starker time with this chilling tale!


The winter nights up at Sault Ste. Marie are as white and luminous as the Milky Way. The silence which rests upon the solitude appears to be white also. Even sound has been included in Nature's arrestment, for, indeed, save the still white frost, all things seem to be obliterated. The stars have a poignant brightness, but they belong to heaven and not to earth, and between their immeasurable height and the still ice rolls the ebon ether in vast, liquid billows.

In such a place it is difficult to believe that the world is actually peopled. It seems as if it might be the dark of the day after Cain killed Abel, and as if all of humanity's remainder was huddled in affright away from the awful spaciousness of Creation. 

The night Ralph Hagadorn started out for Echo Bay -- bent on a pleasant duty -- he laughed to himself, and said that he did not at all object to being the only man in the world, so long as the world remained as unspeakably beautiful as it was when he buckled on his skates and shot away into the solitude. He was bent on reaching his best friend in time to act as groomsman, and business had delayed him till time was at its briefest. So he journeyed by night and journeyed alone, and when the tang of the frost got at his blood, he felt as a spirited horse feels when it gets free of bit and bridle. The ice was as glass, his skates were keen, his frame fit, and his venture to his taste! So he laughed, and cut through the air as a sharp stone cleaves the water. He could hear the whistling of the air as he cleft it.

As he went on and on in the black stillness, he began to have fancies. He imagined himself enormously tall -- a great Viking of the Northland, hastening over icy fiords to his love. 

And that reminded him that he had a love -- though, indeed, that thought was always present with him as a background for other thoughts. To be sure, he had not told her that she was his love, for he had seen her only a few times, and the auspicious occasion had not yet presented itself. She lived at Echo Bay also, and was to be the maid of honor to his friend's bride -- which was one more reason why he skated almost as swiftly as the wind, and why, now and then, he let out a shout of exultation.
The one cloud that crossed Hagadorn's sun of expectancy was the knowledge that Marie Beaujeu's father had money, and that Marie lived in a house with two stories to it, and wore otter skin about her throat and little satin-lined mink boots on her feet when she went sledding. Moreover, in the locket in which she treasured a bit of her dead mother's hair, there was a black pearl as big as a pea. These things made it difficult -- perhaps impossible -- for Ralph Hagadorn to say more than, "I love you." But that much he meant to say though he were scourged with chagrin for his temerity.

This determination grew upon him as he swept along the ice under the starlight. Venus made a glowing path toward the west and seemed eager to reassure him. He was sorry he could not skim down that avenue of light which flowed from the love-star, but he was forced to turn his back upon it and face the black northeast.

It came to him with a shock that he was not alone. His eyelashes were frosted and his eyeballs blurred with the cold, so at first he thought it might be an illusion. But when he had rubbed his eyes hard, he made sure that not very far in front of him was a long white skater in fluttering garments who sped over the ice as fast as ever werewolf went.

He called aloud, but there was no answer. He shaped his hands and trumpeted through them, but the silence was as before -- it was complete. So then he gave chase, setting his teeth hard and putting a tension on his firm young muscles. But go however he would, the white skater went faster. After a time, as he glanced at the cold gleam of the north star, he perceived that he was being led from his direct path. For a moment he hesitated, wondering if he would not better keep to his road, but his weird companion seemed to draw him on irresistibly, and finding it sweet to follow, he followed.

Of course it came to him more than once in that strange pursuit, that the white skater was no earthly guide. Up in those latitudes men see curious things when the hoar frost is on the earth. Hagadorn's own father -- to hark no further than that for an instance! -- who lived up there with the Lake Superior Indians, and worked in the copper mines, had welcomed a woman at his hut one bitter night, who was gone by morning, leaving wolf tracks on the snow! Yes, it was so, and John Fontanelle, the half-breed, could tell you about it any day -- if he were alive. (Alack, the snow where the wolf tracks were, is melted now!)

Well, Hagadorn followed the white skater all the night, and when the ice flushed pink at dawn, and arrows of lovely light shot up into the cold heavens, she was gone, and Hagadorn was at his destination. The sun climbed arrogantly up to his place above all other things, and as Hagadorn took off his skates and glanced carelessly lakeward, he beheld a great wind-rift in the ice, and the waves showing blue and hungry between white fields. Had he rushed along his intended path, watching the stars to guide him, his glance turned upward, all his body at magnificent momentum, he must certainly have gone into that cold grave.

How wonderful that it had been sweet to follow the white skater, and that he followed!

His heart beat hard as he hurried to his friend's house. But he encountered no wedding furore. His friend met him as men meet in houses of mourning. 

"Is this your wedding face?" cried Hagadorn. "Why, man, starved as I am, I look more like a bridegroom than you!"

"There's no wedding to-day!"

"No wedding! Why, you're not -- "

"Marie Beaujeu died last night -- "

"Marie -- "

"Died last night. She had been skating in the afternoon, and she came home chilled and wandering in her mind, as if the frost had got in it somehow. She grew worse and worse, and all the time she talked of you."

"Of me?"

"We wondered what it meant. No one knew you were lovers."

"I didn't know it myself; more's the pity. At least, I didn't know -- "

"She said you were on the ice, and that you didn't know about the big breaking-up, and she cried to us that the wind was off shore and the rift widening. She cried over and over again that you could come in by the old French creek if you only knew -- " 

"I came in that way."

"But how did you come to do that? It's out of the path. We thought perhaps -- "

But Hagadorn broke in with his story and told him all as it had come to pass.

That day they watched beside the maiden, who lay with tapers at her head and at her feet, and in the little church the bride who might have been at her wedding said prayers for her friend. They buried Marie Beaujeu in her bridesmaid white, and Hagadorn was before the altar with her, as he had intended from the first! Then at midnight the lovers who were to wed whispered their vows in the gloom of the cold church, and walked together through the snow to lay their bridal wreaths upon a grave.

Three nights later, Hagadorn skated back again to his home. They wanted him to go by sunlight, but he had his way, and went when Venus made her bright path on the ice.

The truth was, he had hoped for the companionship of the white skater. But he did not have it. His only companion was the wind. The only voice he heard was the baying of a wolf on the north shore. The world was as empty and as white as if God had just created it, and the sun had not yet colored nor man defiled it.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Point Breeze: The Ghost Of King Joseph Bonaparte

Love him or hate him, Napoléon Bonaparte's role in history is huge. Although the story of how a young Napoléon (then a student at the Ecole Militaire) narrowly escaped drowning while skating on the moat at the fort at Auxerre in 1791 could be a blog in itself, this Skate Guard blog isn't about the little corporal. It instead has everything to do with his big brother Joseph, who reigned as both the King Of Naples and the King Of Spain and the Indies successively from 1808 to 1813.

After the defeat of the French in the Battle Of Vitoria in his final year as the King Of Spain, Joseph Bonaparte abdicated his throne and returned to France. From there he made the unorthodox move to North America, settling first in New York City and Philadelphia before moving into an estate called Point Breeze in Bordentown, New Jersey. Point Breeze was a controversial spot in itself as it was formerly owned by Stephen Sayre, a former merchant, city sheriff and diplomat who while in London was arrested for his part in a plot to kidnap King George III of England. Enough royals for you yet?

While at Point Breeze, the elder Bonaparte entertained a who's who of anyone who was anyone in New Jersey at the time including the Marquis de Lafayette, John Adams, John Clay and Daniel Webster, but Joseph ultimately returned to Italy where he died at age seventy six in 1844. Here's where things get spooky. Patricia A. Martinelli, Charles A. Stansfield's book "Haunted New Jersey: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Garden State" shares a bit of local folklore about the elder Bonaparte... with a skating connection: "On the north side of Bordentown is a housing development known as Point Breeze, where some residents report strange noises - sounds of footsteps coming from beneath their feet, underground, and the faint sounds of partying: conversations just too low to be understood, laughter, clinking glasses, and faint music. On occasion, in deep winter, a mysterious figure appears to watch ice skaters on a local pond. The figure rolls oranges and apples out onto the ice toward the skaters. But as the skaters chase these gifts, the fruit disappears. Is the dark spectator of the ice skaters the ghost of the one-time king of Spain and former king of Naples?"

The English Style of skating popular in the nineteenth century (which we'll get into more in a later blog), which involved tracing figures around an orange placed on the ice as a point of reference. The fruit being rolled onto the ice almost makes you think that maybe someone with more of a skating background (like Napoléon Bonaparte himself?) might be the culprit but Martinelli and Stansfield's book offers some great insight as to exactly why an ghostly apparition might be making offers of Vitamin C to local skaters: "Calling himself the Count de Survilliers, Bonaparte allowed his neighbours to use the park he had created from wilderness and encouraged them to ice skate on his pond in winter. It was Bonaparte's habit of rolling oranges and apples out on the ice for his visitors to chase that seems to be perpetuated by his ghost... Joseph Bonaparte really liked Americans, and his neighbours liked his generosity and the glamour of his social life. Bonaparte had a carefree life here, out from under the shadow of his famous younger brother... His ghost may have preferred to return to the scene of his happiest days. Bonaparte's wife, an unpleasant woman, refused to come to America with him, and Joseph had a series of lovely young mistresses while at Point Breeze - another reason to lure his ghost back to New Jersey!"

"Skating on Bonaparte's Pond" (mural study, Bordentown, New Jersey Post Office) by Avery F. Johnson. Photo courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum. 

Not that I didn't want to take Martinelli and Stansfield's word as gospel, but it never hurts to look through historical sources to back up your facts... even if what you're ultimately chasing is a ghost. E.M. Woodward's 1879 book "Bonaparte's Park and the Murats" was just the source material I needed! Woodward wrote that "The Count was very good to the citizens of the town, and allowed them all the privileges of his park, and in winter, of the lake. When the skating was fine, he and his household would come down to the shore to see the sport, and it was one of his greatest pleasures to roll apples and oranges over the ice to see the skaters scamper after them." Now would you look at that? 

Joseph Bonaparte's ghost gets around more than Casanova. In addition to the lake on his estate, he's been linked to several hauntings at the Keene Mansion in Pennyslvania, the home of a woman named Sarah Keene who apparently broke the former king's heart. Perhaps though, civil war skating ghosts aren't the only ones haunting the Delaware River. The only way to find out is to hit up the produce department and head on down to Point Breeze and kindly ask the Catholic missionaries who now own the land to give you permission to trespass for an evening skate. If your fruit starts rolling out onto the ice towards you, be sure to tell Joseph Bonaparte that this skating lover says hi!

Here's where things get even creepier though... and this is a cool (if not icy) note to end on. Joseph Bonaparte also has a connection to another ghost story with a skating connection that was explored last year in October on Skate Guard - The Jersey Devil. Like the two teenage boys who spotted the frightening figure in 1978, Bonaparte himself reportedly saw The Jersey Devil. According to S.E. Schlosser who retold the legend in his book "Spooky New Jersey": "the ex-King of Spain was hunting alone in the woods near his house when he spotted some strange tracks on the ground. They looked like the tracks of a two-footed donkey. Bonaparte noticed that one foot was slightly larger than the other. The tracks ended abruptly as if the creature had flown away. He stared at the tracks for a long moment, trying to figure out what the strange animal might be. At that moment, Bonaparte heard a strange hissing noise. Turning, he found himself face to face with a large winged creature with a horse-like head and bird-like legs. Astonished and frightened, he froze and stared at the beast, forgetting that he was carrying a rifle. For a moment, neither of them moved. Then the creature hissed at him, beat its wings, and flew away. When he reported the incident to a friend later that day, Bonaparte was told that he had just seen the famous Jersey Devil, who had haunted the Pine Barrens ever since he was born to Mother Leeds one dark and stormy night in 1735. Bonaparte was impressed by the story of the Jersey Devil, and thereafter kept a lookout for the fabulous creature whenever he went hunting. Once things settled down in Europe, Joseph Bonaparte returned to Europe and was reunited with his wife in Italy. He never saw the Jersey Devil again." Perhaps maybe Joseph Bonaparte has another reason for hanging around the ice of New Jersey... he's protecting the skaters!

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

The Rink That Commemorated A Ghost Town

The Zetra Olympic Hall in Sarajevo played host to one of figure skating's most iconic moments - Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean's gold medal winning "Bolero" - and stunning performances by 1984 Olympic Medallists Scott Hamilton, Katarina Witt, Elena Valova and Oleg Vasiliev, Brian Orser, Kitty and Peter Carruthers, Rosalynn Sumners, Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin, Jozef Sabovcik, Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, Kira Ivanova and Larisa Selezneva and Oleg Makarov. The ultimate destruction of the rink in 1992 during the Bosnian War proved as inspiration for Witt's memorable 1994 "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?" program skated at the Lillehammer Olympics. I hate to use the words 'good news' when discussing a topic such as this... but the good news was that the Zetra Rink was rebuilt in 1999 as the Olympic Hall Juan Antonio Samaranch.

Many ice rinks around the world have closed their doors or suffered destruction at the hands of war, fire or wrecking ball but very few suffered a fate like the Phoenix Ice Rink. Before we get to the rink, let's start by talking about Phoenix... because this wasn't Phoenix, Arizona baby. This Phoenix was in beautiful British Columbia. Phoenix, B.C. was a booming mining town from 1899 to 1919 northwest of Grand Forks. In fact, at the time it was one of the province's largest towns boasting a population of four thousand. It had a post office, a hospital, three schools, an opera house, tennis courts, seventeen saloons, four churches, brewery, thriving copper mine and yes... a skating rink. Garnet Basque's book "Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of the Boundary Country" explains that skating was an early favourite activity for residents and that "back in November, 1900, William Drever announced plans to construct a skating rink in Phoenix. 'The building,' noted The Pioneer, 'will be 70 X 170-feet in size and will have an ice surface of 50 X 150-feet.' A month later the newspaper announced that the rink was nearing completion and that plans were 'underway to organize a hockey team.' On December 25, the skating rink was opened to the public for the first time. Winter athletes from Phoenix thrived. Figure skaters and hockey players alike competed at the 1911 Rossland Winter Carnival and skiiers from Phoenix won the Jeldness Cup and Sullivan-Seagram Shield.

Typical of many mining ghost towns, the depths provided what they would and business quickly dried up. The decline of Phoenix was also exacerbated by two fires and a political scandal. It dissolved in 1919 and the majority of the residents moved elsewhere. The town's skating rink would however play an enduring role in commemorating the town's existence. T.W. Paterson wrote: "In a race against winter, salvage crews began to tear up railway tracks, as residents packed up what belongings they could take with them and the city council... concluded the work of wrapping up the town's affairs by selling the skating rink to a Vancouver company for $1,200. The money received was invested in the erection of a cenotaph, which despite the fact that Phoenix was no more, would continue to honor those of its citizens who had died for their country during the First World War. A portion of the $1,200 was given to the Royal Canadian Legion in Grand Forks to insure that the monument would be cared for, and a further sum was used to create a fund to pay a town watchman for a year, by which time all Phoenix residents would have moved away. This post went to an old resident, Adolph Cirque, better known as 'Forepaw' because of the crude iron hook and braces he wore after losing most of an arm. Carrying a billy club and wearing a homemade star cut from a tomato tin, Forepaw moved into the steepled city hall and proclaimed himself mayor and chief constable of Phoenix. Two others also remained: carpenter W.H. Bambury and Robert Denzler, the miner who had coined the name Phoenix for his claim and for which the town was later christened."

The buildings in Phoenix slowly either became dilapidated and crumbled or were scavenged by neighbouring communities for lumber. Within several decades, only the cemetery, old shaft houses and cenotaph remained. It's heartening to think that the only monumental reminder of a long-lost town exists in the ruins BECAUSE of its long-lost rink. Quite the story!  

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Carol Wayne: The Mysterious Death Of A Teenage Skating Sensation

So far in Spooktober on Skate Guard, we've had a skating bat and a murder mystery written by a figure skater. Our next chilling story proves that not all stories begin and end with figure skating. In the case of Carol Wayne, her earlier accolades as a talented young skater were eclipsed by her tragic and mysterious death in Manzanillo, Colima, Mexico in 1985. As a teenager, Wayne and her sister Nina were plucked from a Chicago rink and offered contracts to tour with the Ice Capades. They were billed as The Wayne Sisters and performed a shadow skating act. 

John Austin's book "More Of Hollywood's Unsolved Mysteries" shared in Carol's own words the story of her time as a figure skater: "During a polio scare many years before her death, Mrs. Wayne thought not polio germs could live in an ice rink. 'Such logic,' laughed Carol, resulted in years of ice skating lessons. 'Our grandmother made all of our clothes. We were never in fashion. We were Chinese one year, Pilgrims another, Japanese the following year. We did shadow skating, and because we were tall and had long legs and stupid ponytails, we were offered a professional contract when we were 15 and 16. Yes... neither of us finished high school. Yes, zip education!' For three years the 'nerd' Wayne sisters - Carol's expression for them - did their 42-city tour with the Ice Capades - that is, until Carol's big accident. Exhibiting a five-inch scar on her knee, Carol explained, 'Sometimes, people would unconsciously, or perhaps on purpose, throw pennies that would stick on the ice and make you fall down. It was... a very unforgiving sport. When your blades hit something that wasn't meant to be, you crashed...' Like Carol did. Carol later returned to the Ice Capades to finish the tour, but it was the end of the Wayne Sisters skating career. 'When you train for something so young and become good at it as we did, you never know if that's what you were meant to do in the scheme of things of life, or if it was just because it was someone else's idea. We missed a childhood of growing up, dating, junior and senior proms and all those goodies,' she observed solemnly."

After Carol's skating career ended abruptly with injury, she and her sister got jobs as topless showgirls at Folies Bergère in Las Vegas. They both travelled on their days off to Hollywood and auditioned for television and film roles. Carol found success in the glamorous world of show business, appearing on episodes of "Bewitched", "I Dream Of Jeannie" and "I, Spy". In 1968, she appeared alongside Peter Sellers in the film "The Party". Although she also made many appearances on The Red Skelton show, Wayne's biggest claim to fame was her role as The Matinée Lady on "The Tonight Show" in Johnny Carson's 'Art Fern's Tea Time Movie' comedy sketches. After Carol was replaced by Danuta Wesley, her acting career started to dwindle. Her on screen appearances were limited mostly to game shows like "Hollywood Squares" and a D list 1984 film (which would be her last) called "Heartbreakers". That same year, she filed for bankruptcy and posed in "Playboy" magazine. By 1984, Wayne was on her third marriage, had a son... and by all accounts, a pretty bad drug habit. Apparently Richard Pryor had even offered to pay for Carol's rehab, but like Amy Winehouse, it appears the answer was "no, no, no".

The circumstances surrounding her death are a bit blurry at best. We do know that she was involved with a man named Ed Durston and that they had checked into a rather posh Mexican hotel, despite her bankruptcy. On January 10, 1985, the couple checked out late and missed their flight back to the U.S. When they returned to the hotel after missing their flight, they were told there was no room at the inn and were pointed towards a less upscale hotel that had rooms. Apparently Carol wasn't interested in staying there, the couple got in a fight and Carol stormed off to take a walk on the beach. When she didn't show up in their new hotel room that night, Durston checked out and left her luggage at the airport under the impression that she would probably come by to claim it. She never did. Her fully clothed and bloated body was found in the shallow Santiago Bay three days later by a fisherman. She couldn't swim and apparently didn't like to go near the water, so the fact her body was found in shallow water was even more suspicious. Leaving many to speculate that she had come on the trip to clean up her act, no alcohol or drugs were found in her system when an autopsy was performed. Her death was eventually ruled as accidental but theories as to whether it had really been murder, suicide, an overdose or a simple case of drowning were all out there. Adding fuel to the conspiracy theories, Durston was also present in the apartment of Diane Linkletter (daughter of TV personality Art Linkletter) on the morning of her 1969 apparent suicide. Durston was however never reported to be officially a suspect in either case. U.S. Consular William LaCoque said in 1990: "Carol Wayne's death is unsolved, certainly... But I don't think it was a drowning. A drowning, yes, of course, but there is much more to it than that."  

Although the stories of Carol's fall that ended her skating career parallels in many ways her fall from grace and tragic death, the fact that her story to this day still intrigues so many is a reminder to us all that no matter what twists and turns our lives may take, our stories can and will always be remembered.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

There's Always A Murder: The First Skating Mystery Written By A Skater

I'm definitely someone who has always been more comfortable on a stage than behind a computer. I've either skated, danced and performed as a drag queen in front of many thousands of people over the years but another of my great loves is the theatre. One of the best parts of growing up in Chester, Nova Scotia was having chance to act in several plays with the Chester Drama Society and KIDS Into Drama Society at the extremely popular Chester Playhouse. Much like skating, I'm a firm believer that community theatre is one of the most fulfilling pursuits you can get involved with so when I came across this particular story I knew it just had to take center stage on the blog right away and what better a time than during October, where I love to feature spooky skating stories!

First copyrighted in 1946 under the title "Four Flights Up" and later sold to Samuel French, Ken Parker's play "There's Always A Murder" was the very first traditional stage play to have an ice skating background in its plot. It was first presented on January 6, 1948 at The Provincetown Playhouse in New York and has been performed by professional and stock touring companies over the years throughout the U.S. The script explains that "the plot centers around Kim and Drucilla Taylor, a young married couple, who, by answering an ad in a Boston paper, move into an apartment four flights up. Almost as soon as they move in strange things begin the happen. They are plagued by mysterious phone calls, a statue is left at their door, and a girl climbs in their window. The haughty Katherine Horton, pianist and daughter of a judge, visits them and tells how her piano partner, Lawrence Sheppard, has suddenly disappeared. It seems Sheppard was also the step-brother of the former tenant, Steve Haywood, and slowly, piece by piece, Drucilla tries to solve the mystery. She tries, too, to convince Kim that not only has a murder been committed but the body chopped up in their bathtub! Kim just laughs at her foolish notions, but Drucilla, undaunted, continues to find more clues, which include a broken record, a newspaper clipping, and a bottle of formaldehyde. However, not until detectives arrive on the scene does Drucilla realize she is right and becomes panicky. To add to her fright, part of the body has been left in the apartment and the murderer is on his way back to destroy the last remaining bit of evidence... Kim, who has been rehearsing for an ice show, hurts his foot and returns home on crutches... Kay comes to take Drucilla off for a radio audition and Kim is left alone. The supposed murderer returns... there is a terrific battle... Kim has to protect himself with his crutches, and the detectives arrive in time to save his life. Kim, in turn, proves that Haywood isn't the real murderer... it seems he only cut up the body!"

This dark comedy's skating connections are more than meet the eye. The character Kim Taylor is described as "a professional ice skater of about 26. Well built and good-looking, he is one of those happy-go-lucky chaps who gets a great kick out of watching his pert little wife go through her antics." The skating references in the script are plentiful. Drucilla at one point says to her husband, "See, Kim, don't count your outer an inner edges before you skate them" and Haywood says to Kim "Oh, an ice skater, eh? Well, that's interesting. I once stepped out on a sheet of ice and did a spread eagle right away. Only trouble was, I spread a little too far." The most important skating connection to this play of all was indeed its author and how he came up the idea in the first place.

The play (and Kim's character) certainly had their roots in autobiography. The October 31, 1948 article "Skater Parker Yearns To Act And Playwright" from The Brooklyn Daily Eagle explained that it was Parker's own broken leg that allowed him the time to pursue his passion for writing: "Ken Parker skates in 'Howdy, Mr. Ice' at the Center Theater. He is almost 26, but doesn't look it. This is his third Center Theater ice show. The break came the first year, when he was rehearsing, so at first it looked pretty bad for him. But Mr. Parker is not the brooding type. He took an apartment four flights up and since he couldn't go out for meals with his leg in a cast, the landlady used to bring them up to him. He had considered himself lucky to find the apartment at all. Then one day the landlady said: 'It's nice you don't mind living here.' Ken asked why. 'Don't you know about the corpse that was cut up in the bathtub by the last tenant?' asked the landlady." I don't know about you, but I'd be packing up as fast as I could and getting out of that freaking lease however I could. Just sayin!

Parker was drafted for the Air Corps show "Winged Victory" during World War II and then returned to his passion for skating. He had played on his school's hockey team, took up speed skating at the Boston Arena and figure skated as well. In the 1948 article, Parker explained that "In 'Howdy, Mr. Ice' I'm one of the four turkeys. Of course, there's no future for most skaters. That's why I want to become a playwright." Between three Center Theater ice shows (Ice Time, Ice Time of '48 and Howdy, Mr. Ice), Parker performed over two thousand performances to sellout crowds. Here's where things got confusing for me. It turns out Ken Parker wasn't the only skater named Ken Parker out there at the same time. In May of 1949, Kenneth Parker, the son of Clarence Parker and brother of Nancy Lee Parker (both accomplished professional skaters) sadly drowned in Lake St. Clair, Michigan. It turned out that the professional skater/playwright Ken Parker didn't meet a premature and tragic end like the victim in the play or the other Ken Parker. He moved to Glen Rock, New Jersey and continued his work writing plays throughout his life, passing away in 1991.

I don't know about you, but considering the popularity of skating in films of the thirties and forties with stars like Sonja Henie, Belita and Vera Hrubá Ralston I wasn't at all surprised to learn of skating making its way into traditional stage theatre around the same time. The fact that the play's leading man was modelled after its skating author was just a fascinating plot twist that I never would have expected in a million years. I'll give this one a standing O.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

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