#Unearthed: On The Ice

When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time. Today's 'buried treasure' is a piece called "On The Ice" which first appeared in an 1863 volume of "London Society", a monthly periodical subtitled "An illustrated magazine of light and amusing literature for the hours of relaxation". Though the authors of the pieces in this magazine - including this one - were frequently unattributed, contributors included such literary greats as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Charlotte Riddell. The author of this piece, through verbose at times, offered readers some valuable and charming advice that is certainly of historical interest.


An Englishman takes naturally to water. Insular as he is, his sympathies lead him to the element which surrounds his tight little island, and from childhood to old age he never loses his interest in the water. As a child, he must needs splash through every puddle, and even the very slop-basin has attractions for him when it is made the medium of swimming a half walnut shell or a paper boat. As a boy, he hies him to the brooks and rivers, and whether it be to bathe, to fish, or to launch his mimic fleet, he is tolerably sure to spend his half- holiday in the water. Who can tell his delight when he first visits the sea, with its waves, its real ships, and its changing tides?

For my own part, when I was a very little boy, proceeding to Portsmouth on the top of a coach, I was half mad with excitement, and could not be calmed by any offer of hard-boiled eggs or sandwiches. How well I remember the moment when, from the summit of a lofty hill, my attention was drawn to a space between two distant elevations, where a faint blue line was drawn, as if with a painter's brush, and I was told that there was the sea.

None of the famous Ten Thousand felt more rapture at the sight of the sea than myself. I could not sit still. I wanted to get off the coach and run, for the vehicle seemed, to my excited imagination, to crawl at a snail's pace. Looking back to that time, I can realize the idea that I must have been a considerable nuisance to my fellow-travellers, for I fidgetted, and asked questions, and let no one have any peace until I fell asleep through sheer exhaustion.

How grand it is to the boyish feelings to indulge in a sail, the realization of many an ardent dream! How everything seems as if it were part of a fairy tale, as the sun glitters on the white-crested waves, the boat leaps along as if instinct with life, and the sedate old sailor sits quietly in the stern, smelling very much of tar, and chewing real tobacco, just as sailors do in books. Of course I thought that tobacco chewing was essential to a nautical life, and that no one could lay claim to the title of sailor without chewing a quid. So I begged a little piece of pigtail, and gave it just one bite. I never ventured upon a second, and nothing shall induce me to do so. How any human being can deliberately absorb that fiery mixture of pungent abominations is still to me a mystery. I would have given anything to take the horrible, choking, scorching taste away. I drank water until further drinking was a physical impossibility. I nearly ruined myself in apples, and yet bore about that most atrocious flavour for the rest of the day. We hear that across the Atlantic, ladies are accustomed secretly to eat snuff in their boudoirs. Whether or not the snuff bears any semblance to pigtail tobacco, I cannot say; but if there be the slightest shade, or penumbra of a likeness, those ladies must possess a strangely organized nervous system.

To return to our young sailor. The joys of the sea cannot last for ever. Black Monday summons its victims to school, and when next the schoolboy is set free, the winter has begun, and King Frost assert his sway. No more bathing now, no more swimming, and no more boating, for the river is covered with a thick sheet of black ice, and any sports must now be conducted upon its surface rather than in its waters. See, the thermometer marks 230, giving ten degrees to spare before the ice is likely to soften: scarcely a breath of wind is stirring, the ground rings sharp and clear under the feet; there has been no snow to mar the glassy smoothness of the ice, and for those who can traverse the shining surface without falling, the day is perfection itself. I can never find patience to take my breakfast quietly, but am always looking at the clock, fuming inwardly at the waste of time employed in mastication, and countingevery minute as lost until I am fairly on my way to the ice.

To skate in comfort is an art which requires some little practice. The powerful and unwonted exercise will often do more harm than good unless it be performed upon a correct system; and the skater will return home fagged and exhausted, instead of feeling quite fresh and lively as he ought to do. The mode which I adopt is as follows: I keep a pair of boots especially for this one purpose. They have rather thin soles, not very high heels, and fit exactly to the foot and round the ankle. Before starting for the ice, I screw the skates to the boots, slipping the straps loosely into the buckles, so that when the boots are drawn on, all that is required is just to tighten the straps. For walking to the ice I prefer a pair of thick-soled and very easy boots, as the relief to the feet by simply changing the boots is almost incredible. Just before starting, the skate-boots are placed in a little black leather bag, together with a guarded gimlet, a small knife, a tin box containing a piece of oiled linen, a sandwich, and a flask of sherry and water. The coat ought to be of the shooting-jacket style, with as little skirt as possible, and fitting rather closely when buttoned. Nothing but a handkerchief should be carried in the pocket, as severe damage is often occasioned by a fall when any hard substance, such as a knife or a bunch of keys, is worn. I once knew a man killed by falling on a gimlet which he had carelessly placed in his pocket. He was a good skater, and would not have fallen had he not been knocked down by a clumsy novice, who ran against him just as he was performing a difficult evolution. A gimlet is necessary, because straps vary so much in elasticity on different days, that although they will precisely fit on Monday, they may be too short on Tuesday, and so it is often necessary to bore a hole in the strap so as to suit the foot.

On arriving at the ice, let no skate man meddle with the straps. Pay for the use of his chair if you like, and leave your coat and other belongings in his charge, but let no one tighten a strap but yourself. Change the boots, put the walking pair into the bag, and draw up the straps of your skates about half a hole tighter than you are going to use them. But on no account wear the straps tight, as some ignorant persons do, hoping thereby to gain a firmer hold of the ice. Skating ought to depend entirely on balance and not at all on straps, and if you feel the pressure of a strap upon the instep, be sure that your balance is wrong. In point of fact, the only use of straps is to prevent the skate from falling away from the foot as it is raised, and an accomplished skater can manage without any straps at all. Some of the best skaters whom I know never use straps, but have the skates fastened firmly to the sole of their boots, the leather laces holding everything firm and straight. These skates are rather expensive, inasmuch as a pair of specially-made boots is sacrificed to them. But they are delightful to skate upon, look very neat, and give no trouble at all to the wearer.

Skates with peaks should always be avoided. Peaks are terribly apt to hitch in any obstacle. I have been more than once thrown by finding the peak of my skate caught in the strap of another person's skate, in the hook of a hockey-stick, or in the folds of a lady's dress. No steel should appear in front of the skate, it is only a superfluity, and has an awkward aspect, increasing the length of the foot, which in most cases seems to be disproportionately large when the skate is on it. Neither should the steel be cut off square behind, so as to leave a sharp edge, but be rounded evenly at either end. Many persons think that such skates are unsafe, because they do not know how to stop themselves except by the clumsy method of raising the toe and digging the heels into the ice. No real skater ever stops himself in this manner, no matter at what pace he may be proceeding. He knows that at the best it is a very awkward proceeding, and damages the ice sadly by ploughing it into deep ruts. Moreover, it is possible to stop much more abruptly, and with much greater certainty, by pressing the outer edge of one skate, and the inner edge of the other against the ice, and so spinning round. In this manner, a good skater will stop himself within a circle of six feet in diameter, though dashing along with the speed of a race-horse.

After passing some five or ten minutes on the ice, by which time the skates will have settled to the
feet, it is better to loosen all the straps half a hole. At the moment, the skates will feel too loose, and
as if they could not withstand th weight of the body. But in a minute or two they will be found to be
perfectly safe, and the increased freedom of the foot becomes an absolute luxury. No one can skate
with any comfort or elegance if the straps are drawn too tight . The circulation is stopped, the feet be-
come icy cold and cannot be warmed, and all the movements of the body are rendered stiff and un-
gainly. No graceful curve can be followed, no just circle can be drawn while the feet are stiffened
by tight strapping, which takes away all the play of the instep, cramps the ankle, and causes no
slight pain whenever the skate is placed on the ice.

Two straps are quite enough for any skater, namely, one across the toes, and another from the heel.
None should be permitted to cross the middle of the foot, as is the usual custom, for in that position
they do not hold the skate to the foot, and only interfere with the play of the numerous tendons that
run along the instep. Whenever you see a person hobbling away from the ice, be sure that he has
been skating with tightened straps. His feet are so cramped that they hardly hold the ground, his ankles are stiff, and refuse to play, and the blood that has so long been repressed is now rushing tumultuously forward into the foot, seeming as if it would burst the veins at every pulsation, and feeling as if molten lead had taken the place of blood.

I do believe that skating is the nearest approach to flying of which the human being is as yet capable.
Gravity, which to a man in boots seems to fetter him to the earth, becomes to a man in skates the instrument of propulsion. A skater flies over the ice as if by pure volition, the impetus being obtained, not so much by the stroke of the feet as by the judicious sway of the body. Therefore, to a bystander, a good skater seems to keep up his graceful circles simply by his will, the gentle oscillations of the body appearing to be, not the cause, but the consequence of his movements.

The true carriage of the body is the great criterion of a skater, and is one of the last accomplishments
that is learned. Books are mostly wrong on this point. They tell us that our right or left arms are to
be raised or depressed in unison with the corresponding feet, and give illustrations which, to the real
skater, afford only food for ridicule. You may as well say that in walking, the hands are to be lifted alternately over the head, as to make that movement one of the rules in skating. I know that at the early part of the present century one admirably elegant skater was in the habit of so using his arms. But even in the master of his art, the waving arms had a decidedly affected aspect, and in an imitator the effect is simply ridiculous. No one ought to see that the skater is using any effort whatever, and the arms should hang easily and quietly by the side. Should the performer be afflicted with mauvaise honte, and feel himself embarrassed with his arms, perhaps he cannot do better than clasp his hands, letting them fall loosely, and at full length.

No stick should be carried; the effect is as absurd as wearing spurs in order to ride in a cab. No one can want a stick while skating, except, perhaps, for the purpose of castigating the tiresome boys with whom the ice is mostly infested, and who mar its bright surface by throwing stones, or deliberately break holes in it with the butt ends of their hockey sticks. Still, I have always found that boys are much more frightened by being run down than deterred by the fear of a stick; and if you dexterously put a boy's head into the hole he has just made, and wet him to the skin with the splash, he will be a beacon and a warning to his companions to let the ice alone for the future.

Nor let the skater fancy that he will fall while he knocks over his foe. It is most curious, but not the
less true, that as soon as the skates are firmly set on the ice, that substance is no longer slippery, but
affords a firm hold which would astound a novice, who holds his feet wrongly, and feels them sliding
away on two different errands. For it is only the edge of the skate that touches the ice, and any one can see how firm is its hold by pressing the edge of a knife against a piece of ice.

The various games that are played on the ice are mostly unworthy of a true skater's attention, and have the further drawback of seriously annoying those who use the skate for its legitimate purpose.
Hockey, for example, ought to be sternly forbidden, as it is not only annoying, but dangerous... Cricket, again, the king of British games, is simply degraded by being transferred from summer and fields to winter and ice. I have seen several cricket matches played on the ice, and must acknowledge that the game was the veriest farce imaginable.

He, however, who wishes to put his skates to their legitimate use will never waste his time by playing
at any game whatever. He will either run races, or learn to perform the figures, the latter being,
of course, the more advisable plan; for, racing on skates is the surest way to ruin the style, and to give
an ungraceful deportment to the body. A figure-skater is all ease and grace and compact elegance. His arms never project from the body, his back is upright as a dart, and his feet are managed as delicately as those of a dancer; whereas, one who runs races is forced to abandon all pretensions to grace, and looks about as awkward an object as can well be conceived. He stoops until he is bent nearly double, like an infirm old man; his legs work like the crank of a locomotive engine; his arms are flapped backward and forward to help him on his course; and there are several noted racers who actually use their hands to push themselves along the ice. This kind of skating is really useless, although the sporting papers seem to measure a skater's skill by the number of miles which he can cover in an hour; for this speed cannot be kept up for any long time, and for really quick transit between distant places is much inferior to the simple Dutch roll on the outside edge, where the body is swung slowly from side to side, like a ship in a calm, and the feet are scarcely moved from each other. For the first mile or two, the racer will be far ahead, but about the tenth mile his opponent will be seen slowly but surely gaining upon him, and when he passes, will be quite fresh and lively, whereas the racer will be out of breath, and his legs thoroughly fatigued. There is nothing like the Dutch roll for getting over the ice at a great pace without seeming to use any exertion. I was told the other day by a gentleman who had lived much in Holland, that even the-market women, carrying their loads and wheeling a barrow full of vegetables, would pass him with the greatest ease. They would actually play with him, letting him keep level with them as long as they chose, and then, without any apparent increase of exertion, they would shoot ahead, and leave him struggling behind.

Even the skates of a racer and a figure-skater are differently made. Those of the racer are long, rather
low, and the edge of the steel is level from end to end, so that the skater can progress forwards with
much speed, but can form no curves or circles unless of very great diameter, and is, therefore, debarred from attempting the figures as long as he wears 'running' skates. But the skates that are employed for figuring are short in the steel, and have the edge so modelled as to form a segment of a circle. By this arrangement it will be seen that only a very little portion of the steel rests upon the ice, and that its curved form is exactly adapted for cutting circles and curves. These are by far the best skates to possess, for although a man on running skates can get over the ice with extreme rapidity, he can do nothing in the way of figuring. Whereas a skater who wears the figuring skates, can race with much speed in case of necessity, and is able to form any curve or circle that he likes.

Artists never seem to comprehend the real movement of the skater, and have a conventional method of representing it, which gives one a pain in the back only to look at. Every one knows the conventional skater on canvas or paper. He is coming straight at you. His arms are folded. His coat-tails are flying in the air. He has a smirk on his manly countenance. He has a comforter round his neck. His spine is perpendicular, but his legs form an angle of 65° with the horizon, and the upper leg is lifted up straight and rigid, as if it were one limb of a pair of compasses. I should like to see the artist put himself in that wonderful posture only for a moment, and then make him write down his sensations. I think he would experience a severe aching about the waist and hips, which would give him a tolerable idea of the feelings of a prisoner just released from the rack.

Artists are apt to draw the oddest things imaginable when they get on sporting subjects. There are of
course exceptions... but as a general fact, the engravings in the many illustrated papers are positively ridiculous when they treat of subjects connected with bodily exercises. See, for example, the impossible Leotards and Blondins that we have so often admired... So it is with skating. I once
undertook to superintend the draughtsman in illustrating a work on this art. I drew all the sketches
myself, explained their bearing to the artist, and yet the perversity of human nature prevailed, and he
insisted on returning to his conventionalities. He put the skaters on the wrong edge of the skate; he made them look the wrong way; he drew the tracks of the steel exactly where the skater could not by any possibility have passed; he insisted on reproducing the objectionable figure which has already been described, and, in fine, worried me to an almost unbearable extent. One drawing was, I think, sent back some eight or ten times. It represented some figure skating; and in order to give the draughtsman a correct idea of the scene, I not only made the original sketch, but traced the figure on a piece of cardboard, and stuck pins on it to show the places and attitudes of the skaters. It was all useless, and even now, after repeated alterations, I find that one of the skaters has his head in a
totally wrong position. It is right that we should pardon those who injure us, but I must say, that
to pardon a perverse draughtsman, who will not carry out your ideas, is a very difficult matter.
There is now before me, an illustration to a well-known work on these British sports, representing,
or rather intending to represent, a lady and gentleman skating together. They are in irreproachable
costume, and the daintiest of attitudes. But it is evident to any skater, that the inevitable result of
the very next stroke will be, that as the gentleman is clearly the worse skater of the two, he will
probably meet with an ignominious fall. The lady is skating on the outside edge, and rests on her right foot. The gentleman is skating on the inside edge, and also rests on his right foot Result of the next stroke, Collision.

Etching of skaters on the grounds of The Crystal Palace in Penge Common, London, 1855

It is a most fascinating amusement, this skating, tempting one to postpone the departure from the ice
hour after hour, and not unfrequently causing such fatigue on the first day, that a forty-eight hours'
rest is needful before the wearied skater can recommence his amusement. Never, on leaving the ice,
should the ankles feel that painful sense of fatigue which renders walking a trouble, and at night bids fair to preclude sleep. It is much wiser to economize amusement, to restrict the first day's skating to an hour and a half at the utmost, and so to gain the required strength by degrees. The ankles always suffer most, as upon those joints the greatest strain is thrown, more especially by inexperienced skaters. I knew one lad who had a most original method of skating. He used to double his feet under him until the outer ankles rested on the ice. On the ankles he would run for a few paces, then jump on his skates, and glide along with the impetus thus gained.

Skating is an art to which all ladies should attain. It is especially feminine in its character, graceful,
elegant, requiring little apparent force, and yet affording good exercise. Ladies soon learn to skate.
I have had the honour of initiating several ladies into the art, and have been surprised by the facility with which they learn it. Whether from some innate quality of the feminine sex, I know not, but it is invariably the case, that if a boy and a girl, or a gentleman and lady, of equal ages, and having enjoyed equal advantages, are put upon skates for the first time in their lives, the lady always manages to skate independently sooner than the gentleman. Of course the costume must be adapted
to the occasion, and a lady can no more skate while engaged in the modern fashionable wire-work, than she can ride while surrounded with those mysterious and voluminous productions of the ironmonger. There are few dresses more thoroughly becoming than the riding habit, and the best skating dress is neither more nor less than a riding habit with short skirts.

I do not recommend fluted skates, or those with a groove or channel along the bottom of the steel. They certainly take an easier hold of the ice than the ordinary kind, but they can only be worn by light weights, and, in any case, are treacherous servants. The tiny shavings of ice which are cut up by the edge are sure to collect in the groove, where they become impacted into a solid mass which can hardly be cut with a knife. By degrees the groove is filled up, and, lastly, the compressed ice projects beyond the steel, and causes inevitable falls. Many a person has fallen repeatedly without any apparent cause, and has only regained the use of his skates when the groove has been cleared with a strong knife. This habit of the skate is termed 'balling.'

If you value your peace of mind, do not take off your skates until you reach the bank, and can walk away on the solid earth. At the best, the removal of the skates is like the clipping of an eagle's wings,
and the slow, plodding walk contrasts painfully with the swift, gliding ease of your previous move-
ments. But to walk upon the ice over which you have just skated is really too painful. The ice suddenly becomes slippery as soon as you tread upon it with shoes. You have no hold upon it, and you slip about in the most contemptible manner. You have to walk slowly and circumspectly, lifting your feet perpendicularly, and setting them down quite flat; and you make your tardy way gingerly along, conscious of presenting a most ungainly aspect, over the very tracks where you lately wheeled on sounding steel, swift and lithe as winged Mercury.

My last piece of advice is, that no one should think of skating when there is the least doubt respecting
the strength of the ice. The sport is not worth the mental anxiety suffered by any one who skates on
doubtful ice. No one has a right to run such a risk for the sake of amusement, and, indeed, there are
few accidents more perilous than the breaking of ice, even in comparatively shallow water. For even
a good swimmer may find himself suddenly sucked under the ice, and from the mud raised by his fall, may find the water so tinted that he cannot see the hole to which he must return to save his life.
I have heard of one lad who saved his life in a very curious manner. He had fallen through the ice, and could not possibly return to the hole through which he had passed. He turned on his back, and looked up to see if there were any other mode of escape, when his father, who was on the spot, pointed out the direction in which he was to swim, and by walking quickly to another hole at a little distance, he guided his son to the place, and received him just in time to prevent him from sinking again from exhaustion. It is seldom, however, that such presence of mind on both sides can be found, or that the ice is sufficiently transparent to allow any person below to see through its substance.

Should any one who reads these lines be unfortunate enough to get under the ice, let him bear in mind that the only hope of escape is to remain quite still, looking upwards to discover the spot where the light seems strongest, and then to make the best of his way towards it. Let him not attempt to get upon the ice, as it is sure to break again under the pressure of the knees, and its sharp edges cut like broken glass. But let him stretch out his arms upon it, and wait quietly until assistance arrives. Still, the safest plan is - never to venture on the ice whenever there is the least danger.

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": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

The 1924 World Figure Skating Championships

February 1924 cover of "Motor" magazine

American newspapers covered The Teapot Dome scandal, while in Europe readers were mesmerized by tales of archaeologist Howard Carter's work in the tomb of Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun. George Gershwin's composition "Rhapsody In Blue" had just been debuted in New York City and flappers from Chicago to Cannes embraced the latest dance craze, The Charleston.

On February 16 and 17, 1924, many of the top women's skaters in the world gathered in Oslo, Norway for part one of the 1924 World Figure Skating Championships. The men's and pairs events were held at the Manchester Ice Palace in England on February 26 and 27, 1924. The Winter Sports Week in Chamonix, later recognized as the 1924 Winter Olympic Games, had wrapped up two weeks prior, allowing women's competitors ample opportunity to make the sea voyage from France to Norway. However, only three of the eight women who competed in Chamonix opted to compete - Herma Szabo and Beatrix Loughran, the winner and runner-up, and eleven year old Sonja Henie, who was making her World debut. Why was there such a low number of entries? One reason may have been the fact that an international senior women's championship was included alongside the World men's and pairs events in Manchester. Another possibility might have been the fact that at least one potential competitor was warned off competing. In a letter sent to Theresa Weld Blanchard from a Swedish skating official in November of 1923, she was cautioned, "If you go to France it will be convenient to stop as well at Christiania as at the Manchester meeting. You and Miss Loughran certainly have a chance, though I think the little Vienna lady will hold her own."

Herma Szabo

The women's competition in Oslo was held in conjunction with the European Championships in speed skating, where decorated champion Clas Thunberg of Finland was shockingly beaten in three of the four races. The event marked the first time the 'ISU Championship For Ladies' was referred to as a World Championship. Shortly after the event, the ISU retroactively deemed all previous 'ISU Championships For Ladies' dating back to 1906 to be World Championships. All but the German judge, who patriotically voted for Ellen Brockhöft, had two time and defending World Champion Herma Szabo first in the school figures.

As predicted by Viktor Lundquist, the former President of the Svenska Skridskoförbundet who had written Theresa Weld Blanchard, Herma Szabo was impossible to defeat in the free skating. The judges placed her unanimously first, giving her a convincing win once again. Sonja Henie and Ellen Brockhöft each had two second place ordinals in free skating to Beatrix Loughran's one. However, Henie's sixth place showing in the figures held her back in fifth in her first World Championships. Brockhöft and Loughran took the silver and bronze. Loughran made history as the first U.S. woman to compete at the World Championships and also became first North American woman to medal. A report from the Viennese paper "Neues Montagblatt" alternately praised Brockhöft's school figures and Szabo's free skating. There was a lot of hype in the Austrian press about a potentially close contest between Szabo and Gisela Reichmann, but the latter Viennese skater's nerves kept her off the podium entirely.

The two British skaters who competed in Chamonix, as well as Canada's Cecil Smith, skipped the Oslo event in favour of competing in the women's championship in Manchester. Smith, who had painfully competed in France with chilblains on both feet, finished second to Ethel Muckelt, the hometown favourite. Kathleen Shaw, the bronze medallist, also hailed from Manchester.

Gillis Grafström

Defending and three time World Champion Fritz Kachler did not compete in Manchester, nor did World Champion Gösta Sandahl, who was third the year prior, or Georges Gautschi, the Olympic Bronze Medallist. In the school figures, Gillis Grafström defeated Willy Böckl in a three-two split of the judging panel, with both British judges voting for Böckl and the Austrian, Norwegian and Hungarian judges for Grafström.

Willy Böckl

In the free skating, three judges had Gillis Grafström first, the Austrian judge tied Willy Böckl with Ludwig Wrede and the Norwegian judge tied Grafström and Böckl. Overall, Grafström was unanimously first. Only one ordinal placing separated Ernst Oppacher, Jack Ferguson Page and Wrede. Oppacher and Page only had one third place ordinal apiece. Wrede had two and Otto Preißecker, who was sixth, had one. Oppacher took the bronze, narrowly ahead of Page and Wrede. Martin Stixrud, Norway's sole representative, placed last.

Defending champions and Olympic Silver Medallists Ludovika and Walter Jakobsson did not compete in Manchester, nor did 1923 World Silver medallists Alexia and Yngvar Bryn and 1924 Olympic Bronze Medallists Andrée Joly and Pierre Brunet. Like Gillis Grafström in the men's event, Helene Engelmann and Alfred Berger had skipped the 1923 World Championships but won gold in Chamonix. They easily defeated Ethel Muckelt and Jack Ferguson Page and Sweden's Elna Henrikson and Kaj af Ekström to win their second World title together. Engelmann had won the World title with her former partner Karl Mejstrik prior to The Great War. The "Wiener Sporttagblatt" called Engelmann and Berger's win "a civil victory... not just earning a major title, but also proving that they earned it rightfully so." The Manchester Worlds ended with an informal Waltz and Tenstep contest. Future Australian Champion Cyril MacGillicuddy and H.W. Allen, vice-master of Ormond College at Melbourne University, helped judge.

The weekend after the World Championships concluded, the Club des Sports d'Hiver de Paris hosted a black-tie fifteen franc skating gala featuring Gillis Grafström, Helene Engelmann and Alfred Berger, Beatrix Loughran, Ethel Muckelt and Jack Ferguson Page as well as France's Francis Pigueron and Andrée Joly and Pierre Brunet.

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": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

Son Of A Preacher Man: The Sakari Ilmanen Story

Sakari Johannes Ilmanen was born November 3, 1880 in Loppi, a historic municipality in the Tavastia Proper region of Southern Finland. His father Reverend Johannes Ilmanen hailed from Ilmajoki in Finland’s South Ostrobothnia region and served as the vicar and parish priest in Orimattila until 1915, a decade after Sakari graduated from a Helsinki law school. His mother Mathila (Mandberg) Ilmanen raised Sakari and his siblings Martti, Lyyli and Armas and carried out the duties of a turn of the century vicar's wife. Sakari married Aili Lybeck in July 1907 and the following May, the couple welcomed their only child to the world, a daughter named Ilona.
Karl Ollo, Herra Rosenberg, Walter Jakobsson and Sakari Ilmanen in 1907

Details of Sakari's early skating career are murky at best. We know that early in his career he represented the Viborgs Skridskoklubb in Vyborg. In 1905, he gave an exhibition of pairs skating in Porvoo with Nadja Franck and in 1907, he competed in an international competition between Russian and Scandinavian skaters, placing fourth in the singles event behind Per Thorén, Richard Johansson and Fedor Datlin and fourth in the pairs event with partner Neiti Gallén. That same winter, he finished second in a similar competition behind Karl Ollo. However, in both competitions he placed ahead of future Olympic Gold Medallist Walter Jakobsson.

Sakari Ilmanen and Gunnar Jakobsson

After winning the 1908 and 1912 Finnish Championships, Sakari's career was interrupted by both the Great War and the three-month long Finnish Civil War of 1918 between the 'Reds' (the Social Democratic Party) and the 'Whites' (non-Socialist, conservative-led Senate). Sakari would have definitely been on the side of the 'Whites', as he worked as an official with the Vyborg Provincial Administration, was a representative of the President's Office in the Supreme Court and a secretary to Finnish Conservative politician Frans Oskar Lilius.

Sakari Ilmanen, Anna-Lisa Allardt, Ludovika and Walter Jakobsson and Gunnar Jakobsson

In February 1916, two years prior to the Civil War, Sakari won a competition hosted by the Helsingfors Skridskoklubb which aimed to revive skating during wartime. The February 2, 1916 issue of the "Ussi Suometar" reported, "His skating is to be seen by one who generally gives value to artistic motion... It is pleasing to see the gentle and smooth performance and the versatile composition of his free skating program."

Sakari Ilmanen and Ludovika and Walter Jakobsson at the 1920 Summer Olympic Games in Antwerp

In 1920, Sakari reclaimed the Finnish men's title and travelled to Antwerp to compete in the figure skating competition held in conjunction with the Summer Olympic Games as the first skater from Finland to compete in the men's event at the Olympics. Though he was thirty nine years old by this point, he defeated 1908 Olympic Gold Medallist Ulrich Salchow in the free skate and finished an impressive fifth overall, almost twenty points ahead of the sixth place finisher, American Nathaniel Niles. Two judges had him in the top three in the free skating. He went on to place sixth at the 1922 European Championships in Davos, write reports of the 1924 Olympic Games for the "Suomen Voimistelu-ja Urheiluliiton" and win another three Finnish titles before retiring from competition in the mid twenties.

Working for the city of Helsinki as a government secretary for much of the rest of his life, Sakari passed away on February 16, 1968 at the age of eighty seven... the very same day that the men performed their free skates at the Winter Olympic Games in Grenoble.

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": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

The 1936 European Figure Skating Championships

The winner's table... Karl Schäfer, Maxi Herber, Sonja Henie and Ernst Baier in Berlin. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

Prior to the 1936 Winter Olympic Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, many of Europe's top skaters got their first taste of what competing in Nazi Germany would be like at the 1936 European Figure Skating Championships. 

Photo courtesy Národní muzeum

The event was held from January 24 through 26, 1936 at the Berlin Sportpalast. As at the Olympics, the arena was swimming with S.S. Guards. High-ranking Nazi officials including Reich Minister Of Propaganda And 'Public Enlightment' Paul Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Wilhelm Göring and Hans von Tschammer und Osten watched from the stands.

Christine Engelmann, Karl Schäfer and Sonja Henie in Berlin.  Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

In Berlin, the amateur statuses of both Sonja Henie and Karl Schäfer were hot topics. Reporters jumped on a rumour that ISU officials were investigating "the conditions in which Schäfer's name was used in an advertisement in a sporting goods publication" but nothing ever came of it. If Schäfer kept his mouth shut, Sonja Henie took the opposite approach. Calling a press conference, she denied rumours surrounding her amateur status and announced to reporters, "I will defend all my titles for the last time this year then withdraw from active sport to do only fancy skating for my numerous friends in the world. Preparations for competitions take too much time." Let's take a look at how things played out in Berlin that year!


Violet and Leslie Cliff in Berlin. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

Seven teams vied for supremacy at the Sportpalast. Skating to music specially composed for them by Rudolf Zeller, Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier easily defended their European title with first place ordinals from all seven judges. With four second place ordinals, Violet and Leslie Cliff, who trained at the Westover Ice Rink in Bournemouth, narrowly defeated Hungarian siblings Piroska and Attila Szekrényessy for the silver. Ilse and Erik Pausin and Emília Rotter and László Szollás, the teams who would win the silver and bronze in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, did not participate.

The January 27, 1936 issue of the "Wiener Sporttagblatt" offered a review of many of the pairs performances: "The mood in the audience was understandably a very good one as we knew that Herber-Baier, the German couple, had to win. The bad luck of the excellent Hungarian siblings
Piroska and Attilla Szekrényessy was to continue, though some of the judges changed their view of them. The Hungarians are very good, have a lot of energy, but despite bringing difficult figures an interplay doesn't exist at all. Second to skate were the Czechoslovakian combination of [Vera] Treybal and [Josef] Vosolobe. It was evident they had not trained at the Sportpalast. Besides, Fraulein Treybal fell once, so no favourable overall was made. Herber-Baier came next with cheers. With powerful energy, they performed a nice spiral, original pirouette combinations, an Axel Paulsen and new lifting figures. The lifting figures do not quite work out, but they are amazing. Surprisingly, many irregularities were observed as [other teams] attempted them. After the masters the Polish combination of Stephanie and Erwin Kalusz. They skated a really nice program without big highlights but with strong effect in some positions. The audience loved the Berlin couple [Eva] Prawitz and [Otto] Weiß and rightly, since [their program] was formulated according to the Viennese Waltz. They had excellent pirouettes and a lot of difficulty. The couple Violet and Leslie Cliff were next. He was tall and strong, she small and graceful. Despite their differences, they were excellent. Three times, he turned her in a deep pirouette. The Belgians [Louisa] Contamine and [Robert] Verdun skated a light program, but this was almost error-free. The judges completely disregarded the fact that the Hungarians should have been second and the Berliners third."


Karl Schäfer and Sonja Henie in Berlin.  Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

Unphased by the rumours surrounding his amateur status and clearly in a class of his own, Karl Schäfer was unanimously first in both the school figures and free skating on every judge's scorecard in Berlin. However, he struggled on the final two of his six figures. Once Marcus Nikkanen and Freddie Tomlins took themselves out of the running with dismal showings in the school figures, the battle for silver became a four way one between Ernst Baier, Henry Graham Sharp, Felix Kaspar and Elemér Terták. The German judge actually tied Kaspar with Schäfer in the free skate, but three judges actually had Terták second in that phase of the competition. However, once the marks were all added up, Sharp was in second, Baier third, Kaspar fourth and Terták fifth. Despite rallying back with a fine free skate, fifteen year old Tomlins was only able to finish seventh behind Nikkanen and Japan's Toshikazu Katayama, who had learned to skate largely by studying a translated copy of T.D. Richardson's first book. Belgium's Robert van Zeebroeck, the surprise bronze medallist at the 1928 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, placed only tenth in a failed comeback attempt. More than twelve thousand spectators watched the men's free skate, many standing as the seats were all taken.

The January 27, 1936 issue of the "Wiener Sporttagblatt" offered a review of many of the men's free skating performances: "First, [Ernst] Baier skated into the arena and brought in his elegant, somewhat feminine way, a program which was meant for the audience. His soft, round movements remind one somewhat of [Gillis] Grafström. He was not fully acknowledged by the judges, as his program was full of poses although his program contained the most difficult figures. His Axels were flawless, free and perfect. His varied pirouettes found colossal applause. Kaspar's skating seemed wonderful. His jumps were of a fantastic height and had an unmatched security. His rapid succession of pirouettes had an excellent attitude and technical skill... He made just one mistake but his program was not well distributed. He piled the jumps at the beginning... The German and Finnish judges gave him for the contents the maximum score of 6.0. Nevertheless, that score was not quite right as there was no doubt in the rink he was the second best man in the place. [Freddie] Tomlins (England) skated surprisingly well. To be against the temp was nothing to complain about and his program was good. [Marcus] Nikkanen also received applause, especially for his peculiar zigzag steps and change-over pirouettes. He related extremely well to the audience. The Pole [Walter] Grobert and Berliner [Herbert] Haertel were pretty weak. Then came Schäfer... He received giant applause and showed a fine attitude, security and boldness in his program's conception skating to a combination of waltzes and modern music... He received the mark of 6.0 for both content and execution from the Austrian and Czechoslovakian judges. [Robert] van Zeebroeck skated with an injured foot and failed to make an impression... [Freddy] Mésot was even weaker. [Jean] Henrion skated very slowly, without any momentum. Then came the Hungarian [Elemér] Terták. He showed a program of good humour but without much difficulty. His jumps and repeated pirouettes pleased the audience and the judges were met with curses and whistles for their marks."


Sonja Henie and Howard Nicholson (left) and Megan Taylor (right) in Berlin. Photos courtesy National Archives of Poland.

Sonja Henie won the school figures with first place ordinals from five of the seven judges. British judge Ian Home Bowhill and Austrian judge Fritz Kachler gave the nod to Cecilia Colledge, with Bowhill actually placing Henie in third behind Colledge and Megan Taylor. Controversially, Bowhill placed Austria's Liselotte Landbeck only twelfth in the first phase of the competition... while every other judge had her in the top five.

Jackie Dunn, Cecilia Colledge, Victoria Lindpaintner, Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier training in Berlin. Photos courtesy National Archives of Poland.

The free skating results mimicked those of the figures, with five of the seven judges placing Henie first and one placing her second and another third. This time, it was the Swedish and German judges who placed her behind Colledge. Interestingly, that same Swedish judge had Vivi-Anne Hultén only seventh in the free skating and the German judge had Maxi Herber only fifth... stopping any cries of nationalistic judging right in their tracks.

Karl Schäfer, Sonja Henie, Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier in Berlin. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

However, after the marks were all tallied Henie was once again first on every judge's scorecard overall, with Colledge and Taylor a firm second and third. Landbeck settled for fourth, ahead of Hultén, Hedy Stenuf, Maxi Herber and Viktoria Lindpaintner.

In ninth place was Etsuko Inada, the first and only woman representing an Asian country to compete at the European Championships. Crippled by low marks in the school figures, the pint-sized star from Japan became something of a media darling in Nazi Germany after delivering an outstanding free skate.  

The January 27, 1936 issue of the "Wiener Sporttagblatt" offered a review of many of the women's free skating performances: "As the first skater, Pamela Prior with a mourning band on the arm, like all the English women, skated surprisingly well. Her dainty figure came off especially well in the pirouettes in her frilly dress. Sonja Henie came out to some heckling, which was not very nice. She showed a wonderful program, without even the slightest technical mistakes. Her program was not too severe in its difficulty, but was perfectly put together. Especially good with her Axel, loop jumps and ballet steps. When she finished, flowers were thrown down and when the German officials left the place, she still boasted of the applause. [Mia] Macklin (England) fell once. Cecilia Colledge's program was similar to [Karl] Schäfer's with maximum difficulty. She did Rittberger jumps, Axel Paulsens and pirouettes, one more beautiful than the other. Her presentation was just wonderful. On the other hand, [Jacqueline] Vaudecrane was too weak for this competition. The Hungarian Éva Botond was liked. She struggled on an Axel Paulsen, but showed a nice, well developed program. The Swiss woman [Anita] Wageler fell in the same place as the Hungarian. The Englishwoman [Gladys] Jagger was a surprise. She skated very quickly and musically and won over the audience. Maxi Herber skated to a waltz and appeared uncertain in her jumps. Twice she had to lean on the ice to avoid a fall. Her program was well-developed. Megan Taylor's program was full of colossal difficulties. She managed smoothly, only the slow pace harmed the overall effect somewhat. Her presentation was wonderful, especially her ballet and dancing steps. Our little Austrian Hedy Stenuf had a big success. She skated without errors, though perhaps not quite as good as in Vienna. She was applauded for her pirouettes and certainly improved her place. The Swedish woman [Vivi-Anne] Hultén skated disappointingly to Hungarian music. Her tempo and swing left much to be desired and a fall on simple [footwork] decreased the impression of her performance. [Györgyi] Botond skated a light program without dificulties. The Czech [Věra] Hrubá skated smoothly as well. [Viktoria] Lindpaintner brought a pleasant program that was technically up to date. In the case of the Japanese [Etsuko] Inada there were differences of opinion between the audience and the judges. She has in the fourteen days since she has been in Europe improved greatly and her Rittberger and Axel were very nice. After her perfect performance, the audience cheered and cheered and when the marks were revealed, the audience jeered. Liselotte Landbeck was also better than at the competition in Vienna. She brought the usual technically first class program full of difficulties and her pirouettes had great effect. Her performance was excellent."

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": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

Dancing Queen: The Nettie Prantel Meier Story

Joseph K. Savage, Ardelle Kloss Sanderson, Nettie Prantel and Roy P. Hunt. Photo courtesy "Skating Through The Years".

Born July 2, 1902 in the South Tyrolean municipality of Sterzing, Italy, Maria 'Nettie' Brandt emigrated to America with her mother and younger sister on the S.S. Furnessia when she was six years old. Her Swiss born father Jacob followed not long after, and the family anglicized their name to Prantel. They took up residence on Fourth Street in Manhattan, in the heart of New York City's Bohemian district, taking in another German man who drove a wagon as a boarder to help pay the bills. Nettie's father worked as a driver for a milk company; her mother took in washing.

The S.S. Furnessia. Photo courtesy Library Of Congress.

How a young woman who came from a family that wasn't well-to-do at all found herself accepted in the rather elitist circles of the Skating Club of New York in the roaring twenties is something of a mystery. Perhaps she was simply too good of a skater to be turned away?

In both 1930 and 1931, Nettie was a member of the Skating Club of New York's four that struck gold at the U.S. Championships. In 1932, she won an informal waltzing contest at the Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid. In 1934 and 1935, Nettie and partner Roy Hunt claimed the U.S. waltzing titles.

Nettie Prantel and Roy Hunt

In 1936, Nettie teamed up with Harold Hartshorne to win the Sno Birds Competition and two back-to-back U.S. Silver Dance titles and in 1939, Nettie was part of the Skating Club of New York's four that won bronze at the North American Championships. She also won the Waltz title at North Americans that year with Joseph Savage.

Top: A who's who of figure skating at the 1935 North American Championships. Left to right: (top row) Roger Turner, Polly Blodgett, Robin Lee, Veronica Clarke, Osborne Colson, Ardella Kloss, Joseph K. Savage; (second row) Roy Hunt, Donald B. Cruikshank, Estelle and Louise Weigel, Wingate Snaith, Louise Bertram; (third row) Nettie Prantel, William Bruns, Suzanne Davis, Frederick Goodridge; (fourth row) George E.B. Hill, Maribel Vinson, Mrs. William Bruns, Mrs. Margaret Davis, Frances Claudet, James Lester Madden, Grace Madden, Stewart Reburn; (bottom row) Prudence Holbrook, Melville Rogers, Guy Owen, Constance Wilson-Samuel and Bud Wilson. Photo courtesy "Skating Through The Years". Bottom: Joseph Savage, Ardelle Kloss Sanderson, Nettie Prantel and George Boltres.

Also an accomplished singles and pairs skater as well, Nettie won the Eastern junior pairs title in 1939 with George Boltres and finished third in the U.S. junior women's event in 1933. In fact, Nettie placed in the top three in practically every competition she entered for close to a decade, setting the 'gold standard' for American ice dance during a period in which the discipline's popularity was growing by leaps and bounds.

While she was still competing, Nettie served as First Chairman of the USFSA's Dance Committee, becoming the second woman to take on a position which still had 'man' in the title. She also served as a national level dance judge and took the time to assist in judging roller dancing tests. In her spare time, she enjoyed playing golf.

Nettie Prantel with partners Harold Hartshorne and Joseph Savage. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

In November 1940, Nettie married Mahlon Martin Meier of Glen Ridge, New Jersey, the son of a leather belt maker who worked as an attorney for the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in New York. The couple settled in East Orange, New Jersey for a time. Nettie later taught ice dancing at the Winter Club of Washington. She passed away in Dennis, Massachusetts on January 4, 1998 at the age of ninety eight.

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": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

Skating In The Sands: Middle Eastern Skating History

In the nineteenth century, the British sent multiple shipments of ice skates to Brazil. In 1950, Soviet book distributor ezhdunarodnaya Kniga accidentally exported a shipment of books about figure skating to Albania, yet another country where frost, snow and ice were a completely foreign concept. Tales like these may provide more of a chuckle than anything, but the stories of how ice skating has been embraced in some of the most unexpected of places are quite enthralling. Grab your skates, hop into the time machine and hold on tight! Today on the blog we'll be taking a trip through the history of skating in the Middle East.


Photos courtesy "World Ice Skating Guide"

Holiday On Ice toured the Middle East in 1960, bringing hundreds of skaters and its portable ice rink with it. When the show came to Amman, Jordan, a Roman amphitheatre that had been destroyed by earthquakes some two thousand years prior was reconstructed at a great expense to house the show and some thousand spectators packed the seats for a three week run. King Hussein bin Talal attended the show's second night and posed for pictures with the skaters.


Ernest Thompson lived in Afghanistan from 1903 to 1909 with his wife Annie, building an operating a plant that manufactured boots for the Afghan army. In his book "Leaves from an Afghan Scrapbook: The Experiences of an English Official and his Wife in Kabul", he recalled, "Snow generally begins to come early in December, though it seldom lies on the ground for long, and it is not until the end of the month that we get a heavy downfall. The winter of 1903-4 was exceptionally severe, and did not break up until February was over. One week everything in the tannery was completely frozen up, and I was looking out for a decent stretch of ice to skate on, when I heard that the overflow from Kabul River was frozen and clear of snow, some boys having swept it in order to slide. I took my skates, and was soon spinning over the smooth surface. A crowd collected who had never seen skates before, and when I tried outside edge or cutting figures, they exclaimed: 'Name of God, now he's down! Ah! The four friends of the Prophet are keeping him up!' and so on. When I removed my skates, these folks were anxious to examine my skates, these folks were anxious to examine them, and asked how it was that a man could stand with one leg on them and still travel backwards. To keep a very forward questioner quiet, I suggested that, as he was wearing English boots, he ought to try a pair of English skates. He showed some reluctance to, but his friends egged him on, and soon the skates were firmly fixed on his feet, and I set him off on his first trip. Never shall I forget the sight. I laughed till I was obliged to sit down and cover my eyes. Shouts of encouragement from the spectators failed to drown the skater's yells and curses. Up and down he went, till his long turban fell off, and unwinding itself, got mixed up with his legs, whilst his shaven head seemed to bounce about like a large tennis-ball. 'Take these arms of the devil off my feet; for the love of God take them off!' he called to me... News of this new form of entertainment soon spread, and the following morning His Majesty the Amir sent a firman requesting me to appear before him. At 2:30 I presented myself at the arrk, when he asked a good many questions, and ordered his gardeners to prepare me a sheet of ice in his gardens. A few days later, all being ready, I turned out to show him what English skating was like. Habibullah Khān took great interest in it, and said, 'Yes, this is good. Now one of my gholam butchas [court attendants] shall put the skates on.' As a young fellow struggled to obey his orders, the Amir laughed until the tears came. During an interval he observed: 'It is good that all should learn.' No sooner was this remark made than several portly officials, standing by, found that they had urgent business to attend to, and begged leave to go. Prayer-time was near at hand, so the afternoon's entertainment was brought to a close. Habibullah Khān went off to prepare for his devotions, dryly remarking: 'I am pleased to see that my courtiers are more anxious to work than to learn a new sport.'"


Gençlik Parki in Ankara opened on May 19, 1943 during a Turkish national holiday for 'youth and sports'. Designed by Hermann Jansen and constructed by landscape architect Theo Leveau, one of the park's most unusual features was a manmade artificial lake that was engineered by diverting the waters of Benderesi Creek. Although winter temperatures in Turkey's capital rarely dip below zero, back in the forties the Gençlik Parki proved a popular and unlikely skating destination.


Opened in 1980, the ice skating rink at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Dubai was the United Arab Emirates' first. In my June 2015 interview with Richard Dwyer - Mr. Debonair himself - talked about his experience teaching there. He explained, "It was from about 1982 to 1988 and I'd go for a few weeks each time but I was there for one whole summer during that time. Ted Wilson had been with Ice Capades and I went over a number of times to do two week shows at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. It was one hundred and twenty degrees outside but nice and cool inside and the kids were phenomenal."


In the late seventies, a French construction firm was contracted to construct a two-rink facility in Kuwait City. It was an incredible feat for a city which at the time had no running water and relied solely on water delivered by truck from desalinization plants. The Ice Skating Rink facility opened to the public in March 1980 with a full-sized rink exclusively for the use of men and a second, smaller rink relegated to women and children. Sadly, this rink doubled as a morgue on multiple occasions.

Surya Bonaly performing to "The Cry Of Beirut" by Dana Dragomir at the 1994 Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway


Photo courtesy "Skate" magazine

Designed by French architect Jean Royère, the popular Le Bristol Hotel in Beirut, Lebanon offered a unique attraction in the fifties, sixties and seventies: a lobby level ice rink with skate rentals. The small, circular rink was a popular destination for locals and hotel guests alike. Richard Bevis recalled skating at the hotel rink in 1959 in his travel memoir "Wanderjahr: An Odyssey of Sorts": "The ice was rough and my skates were dull, but I had a good time, despite taking a glorious fall while skating backwards." The Le Bristol Hotel wasn't the only Lebanese rink to install an ice rink during the fifties. The Casino du Liban, a popular casino twenty miles north of Beirut, once staged an ice revue as well.

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": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

Fashionista: The Mary Wills Story

Photo courtesy Ingrid Hunnewell

"Designing for the Ice Follies is like painting in action. Ice Follies has the greatest scope and the fastest pace of any form of theatrical entertainment. I consider this one of the biggest challenges of my career." - Mary Wills

The daughter of Mary (Champie) and Dr. Euclid Clarence 'Doc' Wills, Mary Lillian Wills was born July 4, 1914 in Prescott, Arizona. Her father was a family physician and when Mary was a teenager, his work brought the family to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Left: Dr. Euclid Clarence Wills. Right: Mary Wills. Photo courtesy Ingrid Hunnewell.

Blonde-haired, blue-eyed Mary studied theater and art at the University Of Arizona and University Of New Mexico. She was described as having a "bubbling personality [and] astonishing vitality" by her Theta sorority sisters. After completing her studies, she went east to New York City - ignoring the advice of her family and friends - with big dreams of being a big actress, or failing that, a set designer. She maade ends meet by working as a counter salesperson at Saks Fifth Avenue then got her first big break - a scholarship to enter Yale University's Art And Drama School. She earned her masters there and made history as the first woman to graduate from the Costume Design department. Her very first job out of Yale was designing costumes for an ice show in New Haven, Connecticut.

The lure of designing costumes for the silver screen brought Mary to Hollywood. Her exceptional talent for costume design led her to design dresses for plays, summer stock companies, operas, television and film. She even created uniforms for the staff of the Space Needle Restaurant in Seattle. Legendary actresses like Bette Davis and Joan Collins wore her creations. Her many film credits included "The Diary Of Anne Frank", "The Virgin Queen", "Funny Girl", "Hans Christian Anderson" and "Paint Your Wagon". She received no less than seven Oscar nominations for Best Costume Design between 1952 and 1976, winning the coveted award in 1962 for her work on the MGM film "The Wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm." Like Midas, anything she touched turned to gold. In Hollywood, they called her special flair for fashion 'The Wills Touch'.

Mary Wills' fashions for Ice Follies skaters. Photos courtesy Ingrid Hunnewell.

Largely passed over is Mary's role in shaping the fashions of professional figure skating. She began working as a costume designer for the Ice Follies in 1962, at a time when the show was already hugely popular. With a whopping four hundred thousand dollar budget, Mary and her team at the company's Hollywood costume shop took the look of the tour's skaters to a whole new level of glamour.

Left: Eddie Shipstad and Mary Wills. Right: Mary Wills at the drawing board. Photo courtesy Ingrid Hunnewell.

Mary had lace imported from Belgium and Luxembourg, marabou feathers and ostrich plumes brought in from Africa and white swans breast and stripped peacock feathers delivered from India. Working with everything from nylon tulle to Thai silk, the gowns she created for the women featured in Richard Dwyer's famous Young Debonair act had jaws dropping. In 1966, she remarked, "I used to think the skates hampered me as a designer but now I see them as an advantage. They give you height where you need it - in a long leg line. That's better than putting a tall hat on a little girl."

Mary Wills' fashions for Ice Follies skaters. Photos courtesy Ingrid Hunnewell.

Mary left her position at the Ice Follies in the capable hands of Helen Colvig in 1967 and moved on to other projects but one of her very last jobs before retiring in 1983 was designing Dorothy Hamill's dresses for the television production "The Nutcracker: A Fantasy On Ice". She died of renal failure in Sedona, Arizona at the age of eighty two on February 7, 1997, her contributions to figure skating fashion largely overlooked.

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": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

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