A Century Of Figure Skating Fashion, Part One (1860-1880)

Perhaps channelling my inner Joan Rivers, my next blog idea came to me almost like an Eureka moment: write about the history of figure skating fashion! I remembered reading a particularly excellent chapter on that very topic in Mary Louise Adams' "Artistic Impressions: Figure Skating, Masculinity, and the Limits Of Sport" so I pulled the book off the shelf, reread a good portion of chapter eight and immediately got discouraged. Adams had nailed it. Little more was to be said on the matter and many excellent points I never could have put together were already pulled together with a keen sense of context. What more was there to write? The next morning as I was walking to work, I thought back on the topic and Adams' book and said to myself, "you know what? People have been skating for centuries. Surely there's more out there I can dust off and share on the topic of figure skating fashion." Lo and behold, after hours of sifting through old books, magazines and newspapers, I had enough for a three-part blog covering one hundred years!

There's no Lulu Lemon in this three-parter, honey. We will get things started with the era from the 1860's to the 1880's in part one, move on to the 1890's to the 1920's in part two and cover the 1930's through 1960's in part three. Then we'll stop right there, basically because when you make it to the end of the sixties in skating history, you just get sidetracked by Peggy Fleming's gorgeous skating and you completely lose focus. Alright! So grab yourselves a nice glass of (Long Island) iced tea and a say something hat, we're going to get all nineteenth century skating fashion up in here!:


I actually lied. We're going to start by getting a little context as to the formality of skating fashion back in the seventeenth century. Adern Holt's 1896 book Fancy Dresses Described; Or, What to Wear at Fancy Balls described an imagination of a seventeenth century ice skating costume as such: "Skating costume of the 17th century is as follows: Short satin skirt, long tunic, turned up all around the waist; long pointed bodice, sleeves with one puff, and then two white satin puffs to wrist; satin fur-lined muff, fur tippets, hood lined with a colour, gauze veil." As we know, ice skating was long a source of recreation and amusement of society's upper crust and Holt's imagination of what a female skater in a royal court might have worn back then probably wasn't too far off. Going forward in time to the start of our journey through figure skating fashion in the 1860's, we'll definitely learn just how formal skating fashion was back then. 

THE 1860'S

Good old Henry Eugene Vandervell! The staunch advocate of the stiff English Style of skating and inventor of the Counter And Bracket Turns was one of the first authors to approach the topic of skating fashion in print that we know of. In "A system of figure-skating, the theory and practice as developed in England", Vandervell wrote that "in considering how a skater should be attired, we have to observe that fashion and custom have not sanctioned, as in other athletic pastimes, a special dress for him, the probable reason being that men rush to the ice before and after business hours, and any peculiar (though comfortable) costume would thus be inconvenient. We need hardly remark that the white cravat, swallow-tailed coat, and pantaloons (the old dress of the Skating Club) are things of the past. We may also remark that, when a man is about to take violent exercise, no matter what the temperature may be, he, if possible, divests himself with great eagerness of all clothing likely to impede him. Numerous are the instances of this fact, from the peaceful rivalry of rustic games and sports to the deadly land and sea fights. Whilst some, perhaps, may regret the want of a more suitable dress for skating in than that in daily use they cannot deny that its absence adds much to the popularity of the art, as it enables all to participate in it. Whilst conforming, then, to the fashion of the day, let the skater take care that his clothes are well fitted, so that the action of the arms and legs is not interfered with. The coat, such as the Beaufort, with rounded skirts and buttoned across the chest to prevent the flapping of the said skirts, will do very well, and better indeed than the frock coat, though, perhaps, not so well as the dress coat. We also recommend a warm vest, flannel shirt, and under jersey, with the trousers tight round the waist, whatever fashion is given to the legs, ordinary warm drawers, and socks of cotton, merino, or silk. The overcoat should be used for coming and going, and standing still, but not when skating, as it is not only unnecessary but apt to make the skater so warm that standing still for a few minutes even may give a chill that will cause a cold." In this passage, Vandervell references "the white cravat, swallow-tailed coat and pantaloons" as the former attire of The Skating Club, London's premiere skating club established back in 1830. Though describing an extremely formal dress that would (by later standards) been considered an impediment to movement himself, even he acknowledges the need for freedom of movement. It's all in relative terms. Although Vandervell doesn't address female skating fashion in the 1860's, the 1863 Magazine "London Society: An Illustrated Magazine Of Light And Amusing Literature For The Hours Of Relaxation, Volume III" most certainly does. The unnamed author wrote: "Of course the costume must be adapted to the occasion, and a lady can no more skate while encaged 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 become than the riding habit, and the best skating dress is neither more nor less than a riding habit with short skirts." If the men in the 1860's had it bad, the women in wire with their corsets and bustles certainly had it much worse.

Meanwhile in America at the United States' first skating club, The Philadelphia Skating Club, the exact same fashion employed across the ocean in England at The Skating Club had been previously adopted and was now growing out of fashion. Nigel Brown in "Ice-Skating: A History", noted that at the Philadelphia Skating Club (founded in 1849) dress was "an important factor, and like the Gilets Rouge, uniformity was essential, and up until 1865, the top hat, swallow-tailed coat, pantaloons and white tie were the official costume for figure-skating in the club." American author Edward Gill, in his 1867 book "The Skater's Manual, A Complete Guide To The Art of Skating" spoke of the new interest in freedom of movement and fashion: "Let your dress fit closely, but at the same time be of sufficient ease to insure freedom of notion. Neither skirts to coats nor full trousers should be worn. Let flannel be worn next to the skin by the delicate, and an extra undergarment by the robust. Let the chest be well defended against the cold. A piece of brown paper laid between the waistcoat and shirt is a cheap chest protector, or use one of Andrew Peck & Co.'s improved chest protectors, which is worn next the skin." That last bit totally felt like a plug for SequinQueen.com on RuPaul's Drag Race... "That's AndrewPeckAndCosImprovedChestProtectors.com!"

I think the best account of 1860's figure skating fashion that really speaks to the acknowledgement that being overdressed was not going to help your skating or cause any would have to be a lengthy passage from Frank Swift and Marvin R. Clark's 1868 book "The Skater's Textbook": "In dressing, it must be remembered that the body requires less covering when exercising than is required when in
repose. Overconsiderate people are very liable to err in this respect, to the detriment of health. No exercise promotes perspiration so profusely and uniformly as skating ; it is, therefore, necessary when at rest, after exercise, that extra clothing be placed upon the body while remaining in the cold atmosphere. The skater should be warmly clothed, but not overburdened with clothing. Overcoats, cloaks, shawls, muffs, furs, and hoop-skirts should be discarded by the skater, as not only useless and incumbering the free movement of the body, but, by promoting a too profuse perspiration, endangering the health. Heavy flannels should be worn next the skin, as they absorb the perspiration more rapidly than any other material, and the wearer is less liable to colds. Skating does not necessitate any unusual change in the dress; men and boys should be dressed as usual in the winter season, leaving off the overcoat; women and girls should wear dresses reaching to the ankle only, as a long dress will hamper the movement, and often throw the skater. Unless a woman desires to make a display of her motive power, she will discard hoops altogether in skating, and as they are opposed to graceful movement, they should not be worn. The limbs should be unincumbered, to allow their free use, and therefore the skater's dress should be as loose as consistent with comfort and reason. Corsets are very injurious during the hours of exercise, and should not be worn by the skater if she has any regard for her health, as they prevent respiration and are dangerous in falls. Frequent bathing is essential, especially to those who skate frequently, and as a precaution against colds it is advisable to bathe the limbs before skating. We wish to impress upon the mind of the skater one very important precaution, which should be remembered at all times: Never sit down nor stand in repose in the cold air when overheated, unless extra clothing is placed upon the body, and not even then if avoidable. Colds are much more dangerous to the system than any disease, and the liability to cold should be avoided by every precaution in our power. Remember, therefore, never sit down nor stand in repose when overheated." Among the many suggestions of the authors is an obvious concern that skaters be appropriately dressed for outdoor exercise in the cold weather, and I think you'll find in all three parts of this blog that weather was absolutely on the minds of skaters before indoor rinks became the vogue... and that the transition certainly played a huge role in dictating skating fashion.

Jackson Haines

Before we move on to the swinging seventies - the swinging 1870's, that is - I want to look briefly at two figures who served in complete juxtaposition to everything we have just learned about 1860's skating fashion. Laughing in the face of the staid, cold fashion sense of his era, Jackson Haines exhibitions in lavish, theatrical costumes that were considered by many as more suited to a pantomime than an ice rink. T.D. Richardson wrote that "he was wont to give his exhibitions in the most varied Haines costumes. We see him at different times disguised as a Russian, a prince of fairyland, a lady, and even as a bear." Though unproven, it's conceivable that high society types in both England and America (mad hatters and wire-bound high society ladies alike) might have snubbed someone who simply was not attired appropriately to join their stuffy parties. Another figure whose fashion choices were at odds with the trends of this era was roller and ice skating star Carrie Augusta Moore, who performed in a blouse, matching knee-length trousers and white tights, which really would have been quite scandalous at the time for a woman. Society may certainly embrace diversity in fashion today, but rebellion wasn't just frowned upon back then. It was by many looked upon as a challenge to order and decorum... and they wouldn't have been having that one bit!

THE 1870'S

What makes the fact that Haines' theatrical costuming might have been unappreciated in England and America during that era so absurd was that in Canada during the 1870's, masquerade skating parties were of course in vogue! The flashier the better, sweetie at these fancy dress ice balls. Scotland's George Anderson, long time president of the Glasgow Skating Club, described the costumes at the Montreal Skating Club's masquerades in his book "The Art Of Skating" thusly: "Over the glittering floor sped dozens of flying figures, circling, skimming, whirling, and intermingling with a new swiftness, the bright and varied colours, the rich and grotesque costumes succeeding each other, or combining with bewildering rapidity and effect. The gentlemen, in addition to the usual characters, introduced some novelties - an owl, a monkey, a monster bottle, a tailor at work on his bench, a boy on horseback, all capital representations, and by good skaters. Among the suits of the ladies were representations of 'Night' and 'Morning', a vivandiere, a habitant's wife, and other characters... The skaters presented both a varied and brilliant appearance, their parts being characterised by that grace and skill of movement bred of long practice." Haines would have fit in perfectly and been the star of any of these spectacles undoubtedly.

Trade card for Ball's Skating Corsets.

By the late 1870's, the skating community was starting to wrap their heads around the fact that the answer to freedom of movement wasn't wearing loose fitting clothing; tighter-fitting wear was the key. In the 1878 book "Swimming, Skating, Rinking And Sleighing: Their Theory And Practice" edited by Captain Crawley, this issue was expounded upon with a terrifying footnote: "As regards to the rest of the costume, it should be as tight-fitting as will allow free play to the limbs, with no coattails flowing behind or impeding your movements. A stout suit with short jacket is the best and most graceful. Nothing of a hard nature, not even a latch-key should be carried in any of the pockets; and then a tumble cannot be very serious. I once witnessed a very melancholy accident owing to the neglect of this caution. A young man who was skating near had a tumble. As it was no uncommon sight on the ice, little attention was paid to him at first, but presently a crowd collected, and it was found that the poor fellow was dying. He carried in the pocket of a long-tailed coat the gimlet he used in putting on his skates; and when he fell, it penetrated the base of his spine." I almost think I should have saved that particular cautionary tale for the next edition of Skate Guard's Hallowe'en Spooktacular!

THE 1880'S

Formality continued to be the order of the day in the 1880's but skaters and authors alike began slowly showing more appreciation for a little flashiness here and there. Richard Lovett's 1887 book "Pictures From Holland" described the costume of Dutch skaters near Rotterdam: "It is too near... to see much of the distinctive peasant dress of Holland. Most of the skaters are attired in costume not dissimilar to that seen in Hyde Park when the Serpentine bears. Here and there a Zeelander or a Frieslander is met with, and the dress of the great majority compares very unfavourably with the picturesque costumes, which fashion alas! is fast beginning to drive out of Holland." In 1889, Ladies' Home Journal advocated for female skaters to go big or go home, suggesting "a very bright costume... of scarlet cloth trimmed with black marten", bonnets with fur and matching collars and trimming, Russian sable, sealskin, Black Persian muffs and my personal favourite... "a jaunty jacket". 

Because the amount of material coming in the next two parts of this three-parter that will take us through a century of figure skating fashion are considerable, I think I will end off part one on a high note with that jaunty jacket! Stay tuned for part two. You don't want to miss 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": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

Carrie Augusta Moore Goes On A Carrie Augusta Tour

Photo courtesy Musée McCord Museum. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Born December 12, 1840, Caroline (Carrie) Augusta Moore was a terribly important pioneer in both American figure skating and roller skating. She was from Concord, Massachusetts and the daughter of Captain John B. Moore (the Deputy Sheriff of Middlesex County) and Sarah Augusta (Hunt) Moore. She was the oldest of three sisters and her childhood interest in skating developed into what would prove to be quite a nineteenth century professional skating career. Like Mabel Davidson who followed in Carrie's footsteps, she was absolutely revolutionary in every sense of the word at a time when even speed walking was considered 'an unsuitable sport' for women.

Carrie's first public performance of note wasn't actually on ice skates but instead on rollers. In the spring of 1863 when she was twenty three, she gave an exhibition of the sport at the Boston Theatre. At the time, the ability to achieve success both roller skating and 'fancy skating' on ice was kind of a prerequisite for anyone hoping to make a year round career of it all, and she was pioneering in that respect as well, widely acknowledged as the one of the first female roller skating stars in America.

Photo courtesy Musée McCord Museum. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Carrie had a good sense of humour. While practicing ice skating in Central Skating Park in January of 1866, she was introduced to journalist John Mansir Wing. In his 1865-1866 "Chicago Diaries", Wing said, "She did me the honor to fall upon the ice, and send for me to pick her up." On February 17, 1866, she was in Philadelphia performing as a special guest of the American Academy Of Music in a Grand Skating Matinee. In the Friday, February 16, 1866 issue of "The Philadelphia Inquirer", she was billed as "the greatest lady skater in the world". The paper also noted, "This lady skates to music with all of the grace of the most accomplished danseuse", making it clear she was performing to accompanying music in America only three years after Jackson Haines shocked audiences by doing so at the Championships Of America.

However, Carrie wasn't always embraced with open arms. Henry Roxborough's 1966 book "One-Hundred Not Out: The Story Of Nineteenth-Century Canadian Sport" recounts one such occasion in Canada: "In 1867, for instance, at Hamilton's Victoria Rink, Miss Moore, the widely publicized 'Skatorial Queen' performed. She made her first appearance in an attractive Polish costume, and with the first blast from the volunteer band, she whirled around the portion of the ice that had been roped for her performance. She waltzed for maybe ten minutes, rested for another twenty, then reappeared in a costume described as American in character and glittering with golden stars. While the Skatorial Queen tried hard, the spectators remained cool both physically and responsively. It was reported that Miss Moore had received $300 for two performances, and a paying customer cruelly complained, 'She ain't that good.'"

Photo courtesy National Portrait Gallery

In March 1868, Carrie again turned attention to roller skating when she appeared at the Olympic Theatre in New York in a skating scene that was part of a pantomime of "Humpty Dumpty". And no, there are no accounts of her 'taking a big fall'. She popped up again on Christmas Day, 1869 at the Oswego Ice Rink in New York. The "New York Clipper" described her performance thusly: "Miss Moore skates very timely, and gave entire satisfaction, drawing one of the best crowds ever seen in the rink." She followed her Oswego performances up with shows in New York City and Chicago.
Eugene H. Cropsey's book "Crosby's Opera House: Symbol of Chicago's Cultural Awakening" noted "Roller skating had recently become fashionable, and a large roller rink had just been opened on Wabash Avenue. The rink's manager was making a drawing attraction of Miss Carrie Augusta Moore of Concord, Massachusetts, believed to be the first female roller skater. The manager had prepared a gold medal to be presented to Moore in public, and proposed to C.D. Hess that she appear on skates during the intermission of a matinee of Aurora Floyd to receive it. Hess happily agreed and arranged for a member of his company to make the presentation and give a speech in which he bestowed upon her the title of 'Skatorial Queen.'"

Later, Carrie would be billed as 'the Velocipede Queen' when she added gymnastics to her roller skating performances. Her costuming (hardly what you would expect in competitive skating during that era) was described as a feathered cap over her flowing blonde hair, a blue velvet blouse embroidered in gold with matching trousers to her knees and white tights. Yes, she was skating in pants decades before Herma Szabo, Sonja Henie and others popularized shorter skating skirts.

In the July 19, 1871 "Marysville Daily Appeal", Carrie's roller skating performance was praised highly: "By-and-by, after the band had played pretty much all the music out of their horns, Miss Moore appeared, or rather flew into the room. No, she rolled in. No, that ain't what we meant to say. She sailed in. No - she glided in - floated in - that's it - floated in, charming all by the ease and grace of her airy flight, keeping time to the music of a waltz. She floated like a vision (she is rather a tangible version) from another sphere, who had condescended to take a human shape and appear in a skating rink for our amusement, instruction and - money. Seriously speaking, however, to say that her performances on the castors are good, would be to damn them with false praise. They are really wonderful, and the beholder is astonished and filled with admiration of her perfection in her art, for she has made roller skating her study, and has reduced it to a science... She waltzes, polkas, pirouettes, and performs all manner of gyrations that are scarcely deemed possible and have to be seen to be believed. She is by far the most accomplished skater we ever saw. She was dressed with taste, which added to the charm of her performance." Later that year, she brought her roller skating act to San Francisco, California.

Photo courtesy National Portrait Gallery

On August 24, 1872, Carrie married Charles E. Lovett and the following year Carrie put together an ice and roller exhibition tour of Europe (varying dependent on which venues were available) with her newlywed husband, Callie Curtis and E.T. Goodrich (former competitors of Jackson Haines), paving the way for Mabel Davidson and her family to tour London and Paris over two decades later. Europe is where the trail seems to end in the story of Carrie. We do not know much about her later life or her death, so I am going to just assume the best of this groundbreaking skater.

Maybe somewhere in the foothills of the Alps in some small village there is a one hundred and seventy six year old woman still waltzing on Wednesdays in her roller skates and three turning on Thursdays in her ice skates. Stranger things have happened in this sport. Adelina Sotnikova, Olympic Gold Medallist? If you asked me a couple of years ago, I would say that a one hundred and seventy five year old Carrie Augusta Moore on a Carrie Augusta Tour would be more plausible.

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.

A Pause For The Pausin's

Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria

Runner-up's almost as many times as Susan Lucci, Austrian siblings Ilse and Erik Pausin were at their peak as competitive skaters during the tumultuous era in Europe leading up to World War II. They were coached by Pepi Weiß-Pfändler. Although they were Austrian by birth and represented that country for much of their career, we can only speculate that their decision to represent Nazi Germany later on has played somewhat of a role in the fact that their role in pairs skating history outside of Germany has been largely ignored.

Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria

Richard D. Mandell's 1971 book "The Nazi Olympics" offered a wonderful retelling of how the Pausin's stole the show from German winners Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier at the 1936 Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen: "A dazzling figure whom the dark and plain Ernst Baier set off perfectly was his partner in the pairs skating, [Maxi] Herber. She was blonde, small and slim, was dressed in pale satin, wore a tiny black beret, and smiled completely, like a movie star. They combined science and art and everyone knew it. Months before their appearance in front of the nine judges of nine different nations at Garmisch, they had a movie made of their already established set of figures and turned the film over to a composer who then fit the notes of the orchestra to their every movement and gesture... The pair produced the impression that they were something new under the sun. Then, a curious occurrence! Two Austrian children, fifteen-year-old Ilse Pausin and her sixteen-year-old brother, Erik - mere names on a list - took to the ice in an astonishing program that was the opposite of that of the methodical Ernst and [Maxi]. They chose as music a Strauss waltz with plenty of those throat-constricting accelarandos and retardandos. With a youthful verve, they flitted ecstatically across the rink like magic dragonflies. This was supremacy of another sort and the tempo of the new performance caused the spectators to respond emotionally with volleys of applause in an attempt to influence the ranking. There was really nothing to be done. Despite the hissings and grumblings of the predominantly German crowd, the nine judges were compelled by their own judgement to give the gold medal to (Maxi) and her consort. The schoolchildren were second; no one else was even close."

Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland

Although Mandell's book wasn't entirely correct - it was Ilse that was sixteen at the time and Erik that was fifteen - he certainly captured the impression that the young Austrian siblings made at those Games. Growing up in Vienna, the pair trained at Eduard Engelmann's rink. At home, they were six time Austrian Champions and internationally from 1935 to 1939 won - in addition to their Olympic silver - silver medals at three consecutive European Championships and five consecutive World Championships.

Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland

Unable to ever beat Herber and Baier, Ilse and Erik also faced stiff competition earlier in their career from World Champions Emília Rotter and László Szollás of Hungary. When Nazi Germany annexed Austria in March 1938, the Pausin's made the decision to continue skating as representatives of that country. With international competitions cancelled due to the war, suddenly the siblings found themselves in the unusual position of being on the same team as their former German rivals Herber and Baier and in their final competition, the 1941 German Championships in Munich, they again finished second. The rivalry between the two pairs was very much real, as noted in the May 1953 edition of Der Spiegel magazine: "Even today, the Baier's see red when they hear or read the name Pausin. Conversely, it is exactly the same."

I'm not going to sugarcoat their affiliations. The siblings not only indeed represented Nazi Germany during the 1939 season but were friendly with Hitler. They also continued to perform despite the War, entertaining Nazi troops and civilians alike at the Berlin Sportpalast in 1945 during The Third Reich. Der Spiegel magazine further tells us that following World War II, Ilse Pausin married and took a job teaching skating in Vienna with Maja Hutz. There, she worked with Austrian pairs skaters in an effort to pass on the more acrobatic style that she and her brother had been proponents of during their career. The brother and sister also enjoyed success as professional skaters in Austria in the fifties, touring with Holiday On Ice.

Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria

The Pausin's passed away two years apart in the late nineties. Now that you know about their affiliations with Nazi Germany, you'll no doubt remember them as painted with that brush. But one day back in 1936, they weren't the home country favourites. They were two outsiders; teenagers from Austria that came in and stole the show... two teenagers who probably had no clue what their future would hold.

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.

Fancy Dan's And Figure Eights

"When I started to skate I had a coach who used to grab my arm and push it back close to my side when I finished a movement with it in the air. It was natural to me that way, but he hated it. It drove him crazy. 'Don't skate like that, John,' he said. 'Why must you be like that?'" - John Curry

On April 1, 2001, The Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. It was no April Fool's Joke. In the next five years, Belgium, Spain, Canada and South Africa would quickly follow suit. As the world has evolved, figure skating has followed that ebb in the tide and adopted non-discrimination and anti-bullying policies. There are no angry mobs from the Westboro Baptist Church picketing a men's short program but for a sport that loves its sequins and jazz hands, we aren't quite at the stage of embracing same sex ice dancing again - just yet.

Members of the LGBT community comprise an extremely large faction of the sport's viewership. There are countless sisters doing it for themselves on the ice and in the coaching and judging worlds. Yet, the long history of a certain demographic in the skating world turning up a nose at males with a little spring in their steps is absolutely an echo that still painfully resonates. Mary Louise Adams addressed the history of the skating's reluctance to embrace skating's - ahem - more feminine side in her meticulously researched 2011 book "Artistic Impressions: Figure Skating, Masculinity, and the Limits of Sport". Blair Blaverman eloquently called out the glittery elephant in the room in his 2014 Buzzfeed article "Why Is The World's Gayest Sport Stuck In The Closet?" Two years later, Eric Radford and Adam Rippon, two of North America's elite skaters are out, proud and winning medals in international competitions. The consensus of many - and rightfully so - is "who cares about people's personal lives? It's what they do on the ice that counts." It's not that simple.

When professional figure skating became serious show biz back in the thirties, there were grumblings that Sonja Henie - with her lavish ice shows - was to blame for a 'sissy' trend in skating. In the December 21, 1938 issue of The Free Lance-Star, reporter Gayle Talbot bemoaned, "Henie must be charged with having a made a lot of... fancy Dan's out of this country's ice skaters."

A decade before the Stonewall riots in the late fifties, heterosexual dancers and skaters alike started piping up and defending the masculinity of their mediums. In a 1957 newspaper interview, reporter Earl Wilson asked dancer Gene Kelly the question, "You admit there are some raving sissies in the shows?" Kelly responded, "Yes, but what about your real men like Fred Astaire, Ray Bolger and guys like that? My brother Fred and I used to do a roller-skating act. We tapped danced on roller skates. Does that sound effeminate? I belted a guy in a night club for saying it about me. I was in Sharon, Pa. I went over and hit him and then I quit the job which I needed very much. I wouldn't do it now, but I still wonder why dancing has to have the stigma of sissyism attached to it."

That same decade, Olympic Gold Medallist Dick Button's coach Gustave Lussi claimed to have introduced "the masculine style, as becomes the athlete on skates" noting that there "is poetry in skating, but there is strength too." In 1969, Tim Wood said, "I think there was a time that figure skating was regarded as an effeminate sport and most of the guys looked down on the men who got into it, but no more." Nine years later, Charlie Tickner waxed in "The Day" that "the rap was that all male figure skaters were effeminate. So to counteract that, male figure skating became just a lot of strong moves and high jumps. Then John Curry and Toller Cranston began expressing themselves to music. It took some time but the judges came around."

In 1969, a skating instructor and minister at a Spiritualist church named Marion Proctor penned an instructional book called "Figure Skating". In an attempt to draw more young men to the sport, she made a point of clarifying that figure skating wasn't a "sissy" sport. Heaven forbid!

Excerpt from Marion Proctor's 1969 book "Figure Skating"

In his controversial February 12, 1976 article "John Curry's Path To Gold Strewn With Judges' Bias", Associated Press writer John Vinocur wrote, "The way [John] Curry skates... has been considered an insurrection, an offense, by the most crotchety of the figure skating judges. A German named Eugen Romminger two years ago said Curry was not virile enough and, that if he lived a lifetime, he could not vote for Curry as the best skater in the world. A former German champion, Sepp Schoenmetzler, admitted to having an irrational aversion for Curry as a skater. In each case the phrase that was never pronounced, but gnawed at the surface was this: John Curry does not conform to the only model of manliness that the old guard allowed." John Curry was not the only skater of his era the judges could not reach a consensus on.

In a March 2013 interview with PJ Kwong on the Open Kwong Dore podcast, the late, great Toller Cranston recalled his experience at the hands of the judges at the 1968 Canadian Championships in Vancouver, where he finished fourth: "I had marks (and there were twenty competitors) from first until last... from one until twenty. And that is so controversial really, actually so cruel... It was so hard to digest. That said, that event was the fuel that pushed me on for the next fifty years." It can be argued that Curry and Cranston both had the last laugh, winning medals at the 1976 Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck, but it really wasn't that simple. In a sea of gray, both skaters courageously added bright strokes of colour to the landscape of skating.

John Curry, Toller Cranston, Rudy Galindo, Shawn Sawyer, Johnny Weir... they all have one thing in common. Reporters have termed their styles as "flamboyant". John Blanchette of the "Spokesman-Review" even claimed that Weir was "relentlessly" so. The irony is that these very same "flamboyant" skaters have excelled at interpreting music far better than many of their peers... one of the very things they are required to do.

From John Curry being told that performing spirals after he reached 'a certain age' was inappropriate to coaches choosing soundtracks from "Rocky" and "The Lone Ranger" for young boy's skating programs, there's no denying that the skating world has historically perpetuated a restrained stereotype about what a male figure skater should look like. After all, skaters are often being evaluated by judges that are usually decades older than them. One wouldn't market a Nikki Minaj CD to a seventy year old anymore than they would be putting advertisements for denture adhesive in the latest edition of Teen Scream. If a little boy wanted to skate to Madonna or Britney Spears, there are absolutely coaches out there who would say no... and that's a real shame. Is homophobia rampant in skating in the modern day? Absolutely not. However, if history has one lesson to teach us it is that the skating world has traditionally - and continues to - subtly expect certain things from male skaters. Old habits die hard.

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 1949 Canadian Figure Skating Championships

After Barbara Ann Scott turned professional and Wallace Distelmeyer retired following the 1948 World Figure Skating Championships in Davos, one might have predicted a dearth in Canadian figure skating. That simply was not the case. However, things became very complicated in 1949 when the Canadian Championships and World Championships ended up being scheduled at the exact same time. As a result, Canada's best figure skaters convened at the Minto Skating Club in Ottawa to vie to become Canada's next champion and the country went completely unrepresented at that year's World Championships.

Donald Gilchrist

In the senior pairs event, Marlene Smith of Toronto, who had won the junior women's title the previous year, teamed up with Donald Gilchrist to take the title ahead of Pearle Simmers and David Spalding of the Connaught Skating Club and fellow Toronto Skating Club representatives Joyce Perkins and Bruce Hyland. As only one fours team had entered, an official competition was not held but a quartet from the Toronto Skating Club added comedic flair to their performance and earned some laughs from the packed audience, which included Their Excellencies, The Governor General and Viscountess Alexander of Tunis.

In ice dancing, the Tenstep was won by eighteen year old Pierrette Paquin of Quebec and twenty year old Donald Tobin of Ottawa, who had passed both the Canadian and U.S. Silver Dance tests together. However, in the Silver Dance and Waltz competitions, Joyce Perkins and Bruce Hyland reversed the result. Placing third in both events were Joy Forsyth, a stenographer, and her partner Ronald Vincent, a graduate of the University Of British Columbia with an honours in genetics who played the violin in his university's symphony.

Maintaining a slight lead of 3.9 points over Toronto's Bill Evan Lewis in the school figures, Roger Wickson of the University Skating Club in Vancouver delivered a strong free skate to secure his first of two Canadian senior men's titles and The Minto Cup after skating in the shadow of Distelmeyer and Norris Bowden in years previous. Bowden, who had won the senior men's title in 1947, dropped from third after the figures to finish fourth behind Donald Tobin.

Norris Bowden

There were nine entries in the senior women's competition. Jeanne Matthews of Vancouver, who had finished second behind Barbara Ann Scott at the previous year's Canadian Championships in Calgary, lead after the figures with 742.9 points ahead of Suzanne Morrow with 738.0. Patsy Earl of The Granite Club was third with 734.8 ahead of Marlene Smith, Vevi Smith, Pierrette Paquin, Patsy Scully, Cynthia Kirby and Betty Hiscock. Morrow, a fifth year student at Lawrence Park Collegiate from Toronto, came from behind to win the gold. The February 19, 1949 issue of "The Ottawa Citizen" noted that she gave "a dazzling display of free skating" to snatch the title and The Devonshire Trophy. Patsy Earl finished second and Jeanne Matthews third.

Although the Toronto Skating Club won sixteen of the twenty seven medals offered in all events that year and earned the Earl Grey Trophy for most points accumulated by any one skating club, it wasn't for the host club's lack of trying. The aforementioned article from "The Ottawa Citizen" noted that "the tense atmosphere of the titular contests was relieved by the cheering antics of the 'Mintoettes', the youthful club members who lustily supported their Ottawa favourites. They were doing their best to 'sway judges and influence people,' according to one remark. There was always a loud cheer when the judges held up high score cards. Following the spirited and colourful competitions, the Minto Club was host to all officials, contestants and guests at a party at Landsdowne Park, when they were greeted by President and Mrs. D. Cruikshank."

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.

A Spring Skating History Roundup

When I'm digging around for ideas for blogs, I sometimes come across the most unexpected and random stories. Today on Skate Guard, we'll sift through several fascinating tales that didn't quite have enough meat on their bones for a blog of their own. Grab yourself a nice cup of coffee, open the windows and let the fresh air in and enjoy a little spring skating history roundup:  


Toronto born Frederick 'Casey' Walker Baldwin earned his rightful place in the history books as the first Canadian to fly an airplane. What on earth does this have to do with skating? Before we get there, I want to start with the back story... which starts right here in Nova Scotia. The article "The Walkway Of Time: Highlights In The History Of Canadian Aviation" from the Canadian Aviation Museum talks about the development of the Aerial Exploration Association by telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell: "The younger members of the A.E.A. included Glenn Curtiss, an American designer of internal combustion engines; Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge of the U.S. Army; and two Canadians, John A.D. McCurdy and Frederick W. 'Casey' Baldwin, both recent engineering graduates from the University of Toronto. The A.E.A.'s purpose was an ambitious one - no less than the construction of a 'practical aerodrome or flying machine driven through the air by its own power and carrying a man.' The Association operated alternately out of Hammondsport, New York, where Curtiss had a machine shop, and Bell's estate at Baddeck, a tiny Maritime village on Cape Breton Island. The A.E.A. was extremely successful, building and flying four airplanes in rapid succession. The last of these was the Silver Dart, designed by John McCurdy and considered one of the more advanced airplanes of its day. On February 23, 1909, McCurdy made the first airplane flight in Canada in the Silver Dart, taking off from the ice of Baddeck Bay and flying for about 800 metres." We know now that McCurdy was actually the first man to fly an airplane in Canada, but it was actually Baldwin who first flew it on March 12, 1908... but he did it down in the States. Here's where the skating comes in. In order to gain momentum and get the plane going, A.E.A. members took to the icy surface of Keuka Lake in Hammondsport, New York. Mark Kearney and Randy Ray's article "Casey Baldwin's Airplane: First In Flight" explains how the A.E.A. actually SKATED to try to get this plane moving and off the ground: "Baldwin got to fly the plane, named the Red Wing, because on the frigid say he was the only one of the aviation team who wasn't wearing ice skates. Since he was slipping on the ice, the others decided he would be most useful sitting in the cockpit." When the plane began to skid across the ice, the skaters (including Curtiss and McCurdy) managed to hold it in place while the skateless Baldwin climbed aboard. Henry Serrano Villard's "The Story Of The Early Birds" offers a great more detail about this momentous first flight: "The Red Wing, piloted by Casey Baldwin, sped over the icy surface of the lake on runners, bounded into the air, and actually flew for a distance of 318 feet 11 inches. Being virtually uncontrollable since it lacked any stabilizing device, it flipped over on one side and crashed. However, disregarding the practically unpublicized flights of the Wright brothers, this was the first time than an aeroplane was flown puclicly in America. The Red Wing was followed in a few weeks by a resplendent White Wing, designed by Baldwin. This model, because the ice had melted, was put on a tricycle undercarriage and taken for trials to an abandoned race-track known as Stony Brook Farm. It was soon apparent that to get the White Wing into the air was one thing, but to get back down without wrecking the machine was quite another. Smash followed smash in discouraging succession---fortunately with no injuries save to the feelings of the operator. 'It seemed one day that the limit of hard luck had been reached,' wrote Curtiss of these first ventures, 'when, after a brief flight and a somewhat rough landing, the machine folded up and sank down on its side, like a wounded bird, just as we were feeling pretty good over a successful landing without breakage.' The only way to learn was the hard way: by trial and repair, by study of stresses and strains, by provisional changes in details of construction. But on May 22, the White Wing, with Curtiss at the controls, flew a distance of 1017 feet in 19 seconds and actually landed intact in a ploughed field outside the old racetrack. It was cause for elation---and for the prompt construction, under Curtiss's direction, of a bigger, better, prize-winning plane: the June Bug." A replica of The Silver Dart, which McCurdy and Baldwin designed together, can be seen at the Atlantic Canada Aviation Museum here in Nova Scotia. It's near the Halifax airport - you can't miss it!


Born in Höxter, Germany in 1951, Wolfgang Beltracchi was the son of a house painter and church restorer who supplemented his income by creating inexpensive duplicates of Rembrandts, Picassos and CézannesIt suffices to say Beltracchi had been around art his entire life and considering his father's side 'job', it was no surprise that he himself admitted to copying a Pablo Picasso painting at fourteen years of age... in a single day. After being expelled from school at age seventeen, Beltracchi took to a nomadic life. He travelled extensively, spending time in Amsterdam, Spain, Mallorca, Paris, Morocco, London and Paris, experimenting with LSD and putting on psychedelic light shows at an Amsterdam nightclub. He also paid his way across Europe by forging painting after painting after painting and selling them to the highest bidder. According to a 2012 interview with Joshua Hammer in Vanity Fair, "one day during his wanderings, he bought a pair of winter landscapes by an unknown 18th-century Dutch painter for $250 apiece. Fischer had noticed that tableaus from the period which depicted ice skaters sold for five times the price of those without ice skaters. In his atelier, he carefully painted a pair of skaters into the scenes and resold the canvases for a considerable profit. Thirty years ago, fakes were even harder to detect than they are now, he tells me. 'They weren't the first ones I made, but they were an important step.' Soon he was purchasing old wooden frames and painting ice-skating scenes from scratch, passing them off as the works of old masters."

In 1993, Beltracchi married his wife Helene and took on her last name. They worked together a husband and wife con-artist team with an elaborate fictional back story about grandparents who had been art collectors in the twenties. While police have identified almost sixty paintings they suspect to have been forged by Beltracchi, he admitted to have forged hundreds of paintings by over fifty artists. This went on for almost four decades until the husband and wife "team" were finally arrested in 2010. Both were given prison terms which they are serving in an 'open prison', meaning they both are allowed to leave and work 'day jobs' and return to prison at night. Although like in any good story the bad guy 'got his' in the end, he sadly bilked millions out of art collectors worldwide. An exact figure of how he much he swindled out of buyers is really anyone's guess at the end of the day. It's especially saddening to me that he decided to drag skating into his art forgeries. Perhaps more heartening is the story of Marei von Saher (a former West German Junior Champion skater and mother to British Champion and Olympian Charlene von Saher) who has in recent years made considerable headway in long-standing legal battle to have several paintings stolen from Jewish relatives by the Nazis during World War II returned to the family. The universe has a funny way of dishing out justice in its own funny ways and it's heartwarming to see a some positive come to the life of a German skater in the wake of a German forger who spent so many years making money using depictions of skaters to rip people off.


From the infamous McDonald's hot coffee lawsuit to an American inmate who sued himself and asked the state to pay, history is peppered with stories of litigious lawsuit lovers. Sadly, the skating world has not been immune. On January 8, 1956, a married, thirty six year old mother of three from Billings, Montana named Ada Cassaday gathered up her family and headed over to the City Of Billings Municipal Park skating rink for a refreshing morning skate. She had her figure skates on when she arrived and before taking to the same ice she had enjoyed skating on since 1945, she noticed that the ice had frozen in a pitted manner. Although she acknowledged that conditions were less than ideal, around the rink she went three times. Ada and her husband suspended their four year child in the air between them as they glided along. Surprise, surprise, down came the rockabye baby, mother and all... and an injured Ada decided to sue the city. In district court, Ada's case was deemed a nonsuit because the law assumed the risk of falling on the ice, adding that her child dangling had been 'contributory negligence'. Unwilling to take 'no' for answer, Ada appealed... and the case was submitted to the Supreme Court of Montana on April 16, 1959. Curiously, there was discussion as to whether or not the fact that she wore 'sawteeth edge' (figure) skates had added to the risk in the fall. Ada's lawyer Joseph P. Hennessey, argued that his client " did not know whether the saw teeth on the front of her skate caught in the ice or not" and the transcript of the legal proceedings acknowledged that "skating on observed and tested rough ice with sawteeth edge skates certainly is a risk." In the end, Ada's case went nowhere. It was noted in the legal transcript that "the only cases which have imposed liability are cases where there was a hidden, lurking, structural defect, or where the defendant permitted rowdy, rambunctious, dangerous use by patrons or employees which were the proximate cause of the injuries. We have been unable to find any case, nor was one cited, which allowed recovery in the circumstances herein set forth." The moral of the story? Ice is slippery, honey.


For decades, a flooded field on the corner of Mount Auburn and Willard Streets in Cambridge, Massachusetts was home to the Cambridge Skating Club. Conceived by Frederick Swift and established in 1898, the club boasted such eminent members as George H. Browne, Maribel Vinson, Theresa Weld Blanchard, Nathaniel Niles, Sherwin Badger and Bernard Fox. Joan Tozzer and Grace and Jimmie Madden all won competitions at the club in its first fifty years. Largely overshadowed by the who's who of figure skating that graced the ice at the club over the years are two siblings who dedicated their life to skating in Cambridge: The Milligan Brothers. Frank L. Milligan came from Nova Scotia in August 1887 at the age of twenty two to Cambridge to work as a labourer. Two years after his arrival in Massachusetts he was 'discovered' by none other than eminent skating author George Browne. Impressed by Milligan's skill in cutting fancy figures on Fresh Pond, Browne got Milligan a job as an assistant to the club's superintendent Stanford Smith and a skating instructor. Frank Milligan taught the club's members figures, the Waltz and Tenstep and by 1904, he was so in demand as a teacher of skating that he brought his brother Jim in from Nova Scotia to take over his off-ice responsibilities so he could focus solely on teaching. For over twenty five years, Jim sat in the club's old gate house guarding the entrance to the rink. Arthur M. Goodridge's 1948 historical record of the club recalled, "It is believed that Jim can call by name more Cambridge people than anyone else and that Frank knows more Cambridge grandmothers by their first names than any other person. Frank and Jim are full of stories of the old days. One night when something went wrong Jim had to go down the man hole in the poorly lighted Willard Street sidewalk to turn off the water. Dressed in white cap he emerged in the darkness to confront the trembling form of the most frightened lady he had ever seen. Frank delights in one about the night his former boss, thinking few likely to come, permitted skating on ice not strong enough. Fifty came. One broke through. Forty-nine gathered to witness the rescue. Fifty waded out!" In 1917, Frank Milligan took over as the club's superintendent but continued his work as a skating instructor. Goodridge recalled, "If record of such things had been kept it might be possible to prove that Frank has taught more people to skate and taught more people to dance the ten-step than anyone else in the world. Be that as it may, no one can deny him his record of hours of the night nursing ice and fighting snow in order to have skating on the morrow. He has a great knowledge of ice and is weather wise beyond belief. For his marvelous understanding of children the Club and many fathers and mothers owe much. Frank loves the Club as its members as they love him." In 1929, The Milligan Brothers even installed a sound system so that club members could skate to photograph records. Both brothers served the club for over fifty years, passing away in the fifties.


Blogging about skating history is (on a good day) ninety percent detective work and ten percent happenstance... and it was through the latter that I came upon this charming story from Scottish skating history about a twenty two year old potato farmer who went on vacation to Switzerland and returned an international champion. Shared in its entirety, here's the blurb from the Monday, January 27, 1947 edition of the Dundee Evening Telegram: "When 22-year old James Best, of 34 Victoria Terrace, Dunfermline, left last week for a fourteen-day holiday in the Swiss Alps, he had no intention of entering any skating competition. He took his skates just in case he would be near a rink. But he will return an international figure-skating champion, having beaten 12 French and Swiss entrants in the contest for the Arthur Cumming Cup at Wengen. Younger son of Mr. William Best, market gardener and potato merchant, Jimmy learned to skate himself and later had tuition from Mr. Cartwright, former instructor at Dunfermline Ice Rink. He started skating in 1930 when Dunfermline rink was opened. He holds a silver medal for the intermediate examination of the National Skating Association, and with Miss Margaret Young, of Kelty, was runner-up in the Scottish Pairs Championship at Paisley last year. Miss Young, who is also a silver medallist, and Miss Sheena Balfour, of Kirkcaldy, who is Scottish Junior Champion, are among the party holidaying with Mr. Best. He works in his father's business in Baldridgeburn, Dunfermline." You know, the stories that jump out and charm you sometimes aren't about the skaters who 'make it'. More often than not, they are about the skaters whose stories we only catch a fleeting glimpse of, whose special moments on the ice as skaters are only one adventure in a much bigger life story. That's something that any of us who have skated  can probably relate to, myself included. Belated congratulations to this skating Scot on a wonderful vacation surprise almost seventy years ago. Returning home to the potato fields, I am certain it had to have been a memory that provided great comfort.

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.

Searching For Fritzi: Talking Fritzi Burger With Author Carol Bergman

An important part of sifting through history is making deductions. Perhaps most the memorable segment from the documentary "Reflections On Ice: A Diary Of Ladies Figure Skating" is a montage of a half a dozen or so of Sonja Henie's contemporaries offering some rather veiled shade towards their former rival. Print interviews over the years have been far less complimentary. The recollections of Sonja's competitors have cast a less than brilliant light on the Norwegian skating sensation. Over the years, some critics have predictably cried "sour grapes!" but in digging even deeper into the subject - which I will do in an upcoming blog - I learned that the complaints of Henie's former rivals who lent their voices to that documentary certainly weren't the only ones. At some point, it became reasonable for me to deduct that Henie's rivals were telling the truth.

One of the most women in that documentary was Austria's Fritzi Burger, perennial runner-up to Henie in the late twenties and early thirties. To say that Fritzi's competitive résumé was impressive is an understatement. She won two Olympic silver medals, four World medals and four European titles. Yet, she was only able to claim the European title once... in 1930 when Henie opted not to compete. Maribel Vinson once described her as "bubbly", yet Fritzi's disdain towards Henie in print interviews was palpable. While Sonja has taken serious flack for hobnobbing with Hitler at the 1936 Winter Olympic Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Fritzi has largely gotten off the hook. Enter Carol Bergman's 1999 book "Searching For Fritzi".

Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria

In happier times, Carol's mother Gerda Grätzer Poll skated hand in hand with her cousin Fritzi Burger on the glittering ice of the Wiener Eislaufverein in Vienna. Like skater Anne Frank, years later Gerda's parents Berthold and Nanette Grätzer were among many family members murdered in Nazi Concentration Camps. Both Gerda and Fritzi survived, but their lives couldn't have been any more different. "Searching For Fritzi" recounts Carol and Gerda's at times reluctant, at times determined quest in the nineties to reconnect with Fritzi and reveals several disturbing truths and questions about her story.

Through her contact with Fritzi, Carol was able to deduct that Fritzi denounced her Jewish roots and went on to live a life of privilege in Japan during World War II with her businessman husband Shinkichi Nishikawa, a descendant of pearl tycoon Kokichi Mikimoto before moving to America and remarrying. After warmly connecting with and then being threatened by Fritzi, mother and daughter travelled to Vienna to revisit their roots. And then, a retired American soldier who met Fritzi in Japan provided the final, shocking puzzle pieces, allowing further deductions to be made about Burger's life during wartime. Wrote Bergman, "We do not know if the irony of her position in Japanese society troubled her in any way, or if she understood that the dignitaries and officers she entertained were the same individuals who were perpetrating the genocide against her own family in Austria. There is no evidence to suggest she tried to save anyone in her immediate or her extended family, though she would have been well placed to do so. There is no evidence to suggest she made use of the Mikimoto pearls as currency, though she would have been well placed to do so...I have asked myself often how I might have behaved during the Nazi reign of terror. And though it is impossible for any of us, I feel, to answer this question, I always come back to the available facts: Fritzi Burger was not like others in my family; she was privileged; she was rich; she lived in luxury and relative safety; she showed no remorse about the loss of family when we talked to her in America."

The book left me astounded, angry and contemplating the concept of privilege. The privilege granted to Sonja Henie when her servant sat the autographed photo of Hitler on the piano of her Oslo home and her precious worldly possessions were spared. The reality that by hopping a steamship to America, Belita Jepson-Turner and her mother Queenie avoided the bombs that showered over Hampshire, the Anderson shelters, gas masks and meagre rations while many of her teammates from the 1936 Olympic Games contributed to the war effort. The privilege of the countless other European figure skaters who came to North America for safety and ended up making a pretty penny touring with American ice shows. The privilege of sportswriters who roll their eyes at bloggers for doing the same work they get paid to do for free, out of the love for the sport. The privilege of the anonymous SkatingFan1234's of the world who get their rocks off trashing skaters who can do things on the ice they could never dream of. The privilege of the white, rich, Christian, heterosexual males who largely dominate our ballots and dictate the world we live in. It's all a bunch of nasty business.

I asked Carol if her perceptions of Fritzi had changed in the years since she wrote "Searching For Fritzi". She reflected that "they have shifted in an interesting way: I feel more compassion for her. Needless to say I also was angry and I still do feel angry. But I also know more about the history of her growing-up years. And as a young protégé what choices would she have had? None. Her parents made sure she was registered as a Catholic so she could skate. I have another cousin who survived the war years in Vienna as a registered Catholic. That's Dorrith in the book. I don't have any bad feelings about her or her parents. And if Fritzi had welcomed us as family I would have felt the same about her. There is no way we can judge such survival strategies so long as we own up to them. This is what we had to do... As a grown-up Fritzi did have more choices, of course, but she also still might have felt afraid or ashamed. And the fear of exposure in the midst of a war machine is traumatic. She carried the trauma of exposure with her to Japan, married into a family close to the Emperor, and then endured the bombing, albeit probably at a distance. Then a return to a bombed-out Tokyo must really have been difficult, a divorce, a young son, and so on. There remains the question of her great gift. She had a great gift. So did Picasso and he was a cruel misogynist. But he created masterpieces. I do separate the artist from the work."

One doesn't even really have to dig too far in skating history to see that the pictures often painted aren't exactly how they seem. Is the answer to despise Sonja Henie or her father for their off-ice scruples while she was competing? No. Is the answer to despise Fritzi Burger for the choices she made in her life? No. Hate and fear are the omnipresent undercurrents that ruin our world. The most valuable thing we can do is call things as we see them, make our own deductions and realize that like both privilege and history, not all things are black and white or how they appear on the surface.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

"Searching For Fritzi" is currently available as a digital download for Kindle on Amazon.com for the incredibly low price of $2.99. You can learn more about Carol Bergman, her books and writing workshops on her website. She would also love to hear from readers! "Once someone reads the book it belongs to them," she explained. "Our conversation becomes part of our continuing study of history, and ourselves." I could not agree more!

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.

Brackets In Brooklyn: The Oscar L. Richard Story

From the day Oscar L. Richard was born on June 2, 1855 in Brooklyn, New York, he never wanted for anything. Oscar was the son of German immigrants Charles B. Richard and his wife Julia Heller. His father founded the New York Stock Exchange firm of C.B. Richard and Company and raised Oscar, his younger sisters Flora, Olga and younger brother Edwin in the lap of luxury.

Oscar Richard learned to skate at the old Fifth Avenue Pond at 59th Street and Central Park and Hugh Mitchell's pond on the side of 5th Street in New York City. At age sixteen in 1872, he went to work at his father's firm for four dollars a week. That same year, he won his first of sixty trophies for 'fancy' figure skating. As he rose to prominence as a skater, it was evident that he had a knack for business as well. By the time he was in his twenties, he was making considerably more than his initial salary and earning quite a reputation of his own as a financier. The "Milwaukee Sentinel", on June 6, 1948 recalled that in addition to skating and banking, "he was one of the first members of the New York Athletic Club and excelled in boxing, fencing, horseback riding and the hurdle races. He was a dancer, too. His partners ranged from Princess Nicholas of Hesse to the young ladies of the skating rinks." In 1876, he won the New York Athletic Club's high jump and hurdling contests.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

On December 20, 1883, Oscar married Anna Littauer and together they had three sons: George, Harold and Walter. During the first twenty years of his marriage to Anna, Oscar gave up ice skating entirely to focus on his business, which required him to travel extensively throughout America. An avid motorist as well, Richard got his first speeding ticket in 1896. The same "Milwaukee Sentinel" article cited earlier noted that "in his first brush with traffic policeman, in 1896, he was riding a motor tricycle of French make down Fifth Avenue. Brought into court for speeding, he told the judge that the motor company needed at least $100,000 more to improve its vehicle so that it could go 15 miles an hour, much less exceed it. Case was dismissed." He also travelled countless times across the Atlantic and it was on a 1907 trip to the skating resorts of St. Moritz, Switzerland where he learned to skate in the freer Continental Style. It reinvigorated his interest in the sport.

Richard returned to the New York City skating scene just as this 'new style' was really making waves in America. In 1920 - at age sixty five - he entered the junior men's competition at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and won. The senior men's champion that year, Sherwin Badger, was only nineteen. As a reminder to those of you who may be baffled by this, back then the difference between junior and senior events had nothing whatsoever to do with age and everything to do with which tests you had passed. At any rate, a junior national title at age sixty five was NO small accomplishment, even back then. Ten years later in 1930, then seventy five year old Richard skated to gold in a waltzing competition in St. Moritz, Switzerland. His partner was none other than a nine year old Megan Taylor. To this day, this partnership likely represents the one of the biggest age differences (sixty six years) in any winning ice dance couple. Six years later on Christmas Eve, 1936, eighty one year old Richard was one of six amateur skaters who gave an exhibition at the Rockefeller Center's skating rink. Skating lore goes that he was the very first person to ever skate on the newly finished rink.

A shrewd negotiator, Richard had his second brush with the law the following year at age eighty two. Arrested for double parking and with a paltry two dollar fine at stake, The Milwaukee Sentinel describes how he won what he called 'the biggest legal battle of his life': "Mr. Richard sent a barrage of letters to police officials and magistrates. He went into court flanked by witnesses and armed with figures. His chauffeur had indeed double-parked, he said, but only while he himself went into a flower shop to make a purchase. The car was there not longer than two minutes, he asserted... The judge dismissed that case, too."

Jane Nicholson Bratt and Oscar Richard. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Remaining active both as a financier and regular soloist at skating shows in New York, Richard also continued on his whirlwind travels. The Milwaukee Sentinel noted that "in June 1941, he went to Maine, returned in August, took a plane to Chicago, a train to Sun Valley, Idaho, where he skated a few days, and then motored through the Canadian Rockies, Yellowstone Park and Colorado Springs. After climbing Pike's Peak in a snowstorm, he went to St. Louis for the wedding of a grandson, drove back to New York, went out to Sun Valley again for six weeks, returned to New York, and took off a few days later, in February, [1942] to attend the wedding of a granddaughter in Miami." He was well known in skating circles from St. Moritz to New York to Sun Valley and even had an honorary lifetime membership with the oldest skating club in America, the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society.

Sadly, his wife Alice died in November 1942 but this didn't slow Richard down one bit. Lynn Copley-Graves, in her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", noted that "from 1919 to 1947 he skied at St. Moritz until a shoulder injury made him fear that future injuries might interfere with his skating." He remained a fixture at the Rockefeller rink and at age ninety, gave one of his final solo performances on ice in the Skating Club of New York's club carnival at Madison Square Garden. Noted by many sources for his muscular physique well into his eighties, he was asked at age eighty five how kept in such great shape. His response (which I absolutely love) was, "well, I eat everything I want, drink as much as I want, and smoke six or seven cigars a day. I feel fine."

Before he passed away at age ninety two on March 9, 1948, his three sons had a reluctant conversation with their father about his estate. They were all well off themselves from the family business and wanted their father to leave his considerable fortune to other family members who may have been in greater need. He did. His daughter-in-law's split four hundred thousand dollars. A further sign of his benevolence was the donation of the Oscar L. Richard Award, which was given to the U.S. Figure Skating Association to be rewarded for the 'most outstanding free skating performance at the U.S. Championships'. In 1953, Ronnie Robertson won Richard's award, passing the torch from one generation of inspiring skaters to another.

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.

Revisiting The Royals: Skating With The British Monarchs

Without question, the British Royal Family has long been the subject of endless fascination and admiration around the world. Back in August 2013, we investigated the story of "The Royal Skating Mishap That Could Have Changed History" and looked at Prince Albert's skating accident and Queen Victoria's connection to ice skating. The fact of the matter is, England's royals have long had historical connections to the ice and today on the blog, we will explore some of these fascinating stories.

Let's begin by going way back to the seventeenth century and looking at how James Scott, the first Duke Of Monmouth, came to introduce English skaters to the Dutch Roll. Elsie Weirich Reighard's column "The Ice Patch" in the December 14, 1971 edition of the Observer-Reporter noted, "recalling the political history of 1653, we find the royal Stuarts from Scotland still exiled in Holland. While there, the Duke of Monmouth taught English contra (country) dances to the Dutch court ladies. In return, they taught him to execute the 'outside and inside edge.' He skated with the Princess of Orange who tucked up her cumbersome long skirts for easier footwork. Horrors! She showed her knees! These wealthy youngsters were darlings of the 17th century jet set, so no eyebrows were raised. Meanwhile in England, the Lord Protector, Richard Cromwell, was making a mess of things. The Scottish army marched in, overthrew the government, and restored the Stuarts as rulers of England. Returning from Holland, the Stuarts brought two novelties - iron-bladed skates and the 'Dutch Roll' (the natural method of stroking we use today). Introduced in 1662, this new recreation spread like wildfire."

Henry Eugene Vandervell, pioneer of the English Style of figure skating, noted in his 1869 book that "The Skating Club has been more than once honoured by an invitation for a limited number of its members to skate in the presence of the Royal Family. On the first occasion the invitation was to the water in the rear of Buckingham Palace. A thaw suddenly set in, which sadly disappointed the members, no skating being possible. On the next occasion the invitation was to Virginia Water, and seventeen of the members of the Club, including one of the writers, went there. This was during the life of the late lamented Prince Consort. A sudden thaw again set in, and the Royal Family consequently did not attend, but sent General Seymour to receive the members. It is pleasant to record his courtesy on the occasion. A little skating was carried out, but the thaw was fatal to the complete enjoyment of the expedition."

In December of 1874, Queen Victoria's son Prince Albert Edward caused a stir in Paris, France when he crashed a figure skating practice of the Club de Cercle de Patineurs and proceed to go pigeon shooting on the ice while the men skated their figures. The Public Ledger reported on December 1 of that year that, "making all due allowance for court etiquette, and the fact of the game being beaten up to a particular spot, everyone admits the prince is more than an average good marksman, and the French sporting men do not hesitate to express an opinion that he would hold his own against the best of them, among the pigeons at the Cercle, if he could only be prevailed upon to spend a day there previous to his departure."

Photograph from the McCord Museum's Archives: H. R. H. Prince Arthur, ice skating, Montreal, QC, 1869-70; William Notman (1826-1891)1869-1870, 19th century

In March 1878, Queen Victoria's fourth daughter, Princess Louise, celebrated her birthday with a fancy dress skating party at Victoria Rink in Montreal. The March 19, 1879 edition of The Montreal Daily Witness described the masquerade thusly: "At eight o'clock the band of the Victoria Rifles struck up, and shortly after the doors of the dressing-rooms were thrown open, and out poured the masqueraders in a continuous stream until the whole glacial surface was alive with the most motley crowd imaginable. The many gas-lights overhead caused the moving figures to be reflected in the mirror of ice, until by the gradual cutting up of its surface deep shadows took the places of the inverted skaters." Costumes included Old Mother Hubbard, Little Red Riding Hood, Elephant, Fairy King and Clown. Even Louis Rubenstein appeared dressed as a rag-picker from Paris.

Princess Patricia skating at Rideau Hall with Major Worthington, 1914

For a twentieth century account of the British monarchy's role in skating history, we can easily turn to Howard Bass' wonderful 1960 "Winter Sports" book: "The Duke of Windsor recounts in his memoirs how, when the life of his father, King George V, was slowly ebbing away, Princess Mary was summoned to the King's bedside. A sharp frost during the night had frozen the pond outside and, as he roused himself, the King asked his daughter whether she had been skating. The Duke writes: 'My father's mind must have been travelling far back into the past and the wonderful skating parties that he and the rest of us had had there when we were young. Then he dozed off again.' The thought that the pleasant picture of a happy skating party may have been paramount in the King's mind just before he passed away must appeal to all devotees of the rink. It would seem that the British royal family have enjoyed many such 'wonderful skating parties' on the frozen lakes at the royal residences, particularly at Sandringham. When Prince of Wales, the Duke of Windsor frequently skated at the old Westminster Ice Rink with his brother, King George VI, the Duke of York. Queen Elizabeth, when a child, skated at the rink formerly at Grosvenor House, and her sister, Princess Margaret, has skated at Queen's Ice Club, Bayswater. Both Princess Charles and Princess Anne have taken lessons at Richmond Ice Rink." Prince Andrew, Duke Of York, learned to skate at the age of seven, eventually playing hockey at Lakefield.

Perhaps my favourite of any the British Royal Family skating stories I have encountered is that of Sonja Henie meeting Queen Mary, Mary of Teck, the Princess Consort to King George V. This humorous account, retold from her autobiography in Bass' book, serves as a delightful ending to a look at a centuries old love affair between skating and the British monarchy: "Mention of royalty and skating recalls to mind an amusing episode which Sonja Henie described as 'the worst faux pas of my career' when, in 1928, as a very little girl, she was presented to Queen Mary and responded to the Queen's disarming expression of interest in the sport with a suggestion that Her Majesty might take up roller skating, as it might be less hazardous. The ageing Queen broke the pause which followed to say: 'I will think about what you have said.'"

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 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.