The Rogue Legends Series – Chapter 4: Sandwina / 8K


[music] When we look at this era, the real contemporary of Sandow was of course George Hackenschmidt. Probably the strongest man was Louis Cyr from Canada. In Sandwina’s case, we have people’s remembrances about how she struck them. He empowered people to look after their bodies, get fit, improve their mind, and change their lives, and that’s a great gift. I think all of these strength legends, have this desire to express themselves physically, presenting
their muscularity and their strength in creative ways. The fact that they were not just
competing on a standard barbell meant that they had to find ways to
demonstrate strength that the public could identify with, and that at the same
time they could marvel at. He was very modern in his exploitation of lighting, he had a posing box in order to show himself off. We are all trying to invent new kinds of movement activities, but we have such a fantastic,
rich history where we can draw from, that can inspire us in harmonic proportions. The first strongwoman that I was ever aware of was Katie Sandwina. And I always wondered what happened to her. Her story is emblematic of a lot of the
people who worked in vaudeville in that era, who at the end of their lives maybe
don’t have quite the luck that we want them to. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t still honor them, maybe we should even honor them more
because of what they were able to achieve, despite all those odds. I want to show you my greatest Sandwina item. And that’s this large photograph right here, of the Lady Hercules, Katie Sandwina. and this one is signed by Sandwina down at the bottom. She’s so graceful there in her motions, her movements, her balletic. She’s kind of presenting herself in this hourglass figure of hers, in her
high-heeled shoes, saying here is my family, here are my children, here is my husband, and I am 100% all woman. So, you know, I may be strong, but here I am. I’m beautiful. [music] When we talk about people as legends, we have mythic legends from the distant past. Babe Ruth is clearly a legend in baseball. And in our own field in strength, whether it’s weightlifting, powerlifting, bodybuilding, as we go forward, we discover that there are
people whose stories transcend their time. And people want to remember them
because there was something so physically unique about them. I think in Sandwina’s case, although Minerva and other strong women who worked before her, they aren’t remembered in the same way that she was, and they didn’t have the kind of international impact that she had in terms of opening up people’s
ideas to what was possible. Katie was normally advertised as the strongest and most beautiful woman on earth. And you can see from contemporary newspaper accounts how really beautiful and fetching she was although really big, you know, but her skin tone and her hair, and her demeanor, quite ladylike in her
behavior. Female strength performers were always
kind of seen as out of the ordinary, as freakish. They were sold to the public as
just being strength athletes but usually they threw a little sex appeal in there. Like Sandwina, have the strength of Hercules but the beauty of Venus. Most of the stories that you read about Katie Sandwina say that she was born in the back of a
circus wagon outside of Vienna, Austria. That, however, is not true. She was born into a circus family. Her father’s last name, by the way, was Brumbach and so she was actually born as Kathi, which the would have said is Katy or Kotty, so her real name is Kathi Brumbach. She was actually born in Essen, Germany. She was born on May 6th in 1884, so sort of at the very end of the Victorian era. And both her parents were very large, strong people. Her mother had also done a turn
in the circus doing acrobatics and sort of strength related work, but her father
was reportedly 6’6″ and weighed perhaps as much as 260 pounds or so, so a very, very large man. This is the father of Kate Sandwina. This is Philip Brumbach. And so he looks he looks pretty strong to me too. It’s kind of a neat picture. So these were her parents.
They were circus people. Not first generation either, they were several
generations back circus people. It would be a hard, hard life. And most of the people who did it, didn’t last very long. They were broken down by the constant travel, the kind of gypsy life that they had to lead. Almost all of the old strongmen from that era died broken down. And so that’s what’s Sandwina had to contend with as a young person. [music] When she was young, all accounts are, is that she very quickly was stronger than the boys her age. And stronger than young men her age. And the more she trained, the stronger she got. She was naturally very well-put-together. She had a very proportionate body. Her shoulders were broad, her breasts were
large, she had a big ribcage, her waist was relative to the size of her chest and the size of her hips, size of her thighs. She was on the grand scale. And weighed somewhere usually between 195 to 210 pounds. And grew to be at least 5′ 10″. [music] There was a collector, Fritz Dillenbach,
this was his photograph and collection material, and he was the one who founded
the first circus Museum in Berlin. Katie Sandwina was born in
Essen, Germany, her father and mother were Philip and Joanna Brumbach. And they had a Brumbach family circus as I understand it. She is the most recognized, most famous woman who’s ever been a professional strong woman, and so I have been doing research on her for a long
time because she was known not just for being so very strong, which she was, but
also for being feminine and beautiful. And so many people think that because of
her, women found the idea of doing exercise and maybe even thinking
about having more strength acceptable, so she’s kind of a role model, a pioneer. That one, that it’s like a dumbbell photo, that’s probably the only one that I have that’s like me lifting, that’s up in the house. That was like for my first nationals. I think that dumbbell was like 90 pounds. And it was like a PR. My name is Liefia Ingalls, I’m a professional strongwoman and a strength coach. I live in Orange County, California. Yeah, I’ve never played any sports like growing up. So I was like, okay, I need to learn how
to use my body {laughs} So I started lifting a little bit and like, you know, just working out in college, but I had seen strongman stuff before, you know, and obviously I’d seen weightlifting, but it was always the weird stuff that I was
attracted to. That’s cool these people lift barbells
or those bodybuilders lift weights but I’m like this guy’s carrying a tree
around, like that’s cool. And so I was on YouTube looking up some
videos of some women doing Atlas stone in competition, and I was like, “What? I didn’t
know this was a thing?!” So that moment was the moment that I was like, okay I wanna be a strongwoman. And I just never stopped after that point. [Announcer] A new world record so far! Three attempts. So the story that introduced me to Katie
Sandwina, was at her size, she would actually, you know, pick her husband up and press him overhead. And besides the fact that’s just cool, trying to maximize overhead presses is one of the things that I’m constantly trying to work on and having this conversation of like what’s really possible. Can a woman do a body weight or above dumbbell press? Because what she did that kind of set a
marker that that was possible. [music] So at the very beginning of my whole
involvement with weights and strength, which began in 1973 in a gym in Austin
Texas where Terry took me for a workout, and I had never met any woman at that
time who lifted weights and it wasn’t really sure if I wanted to lift weights
I was just kind of there because he was my guy and we were hanging out together
having a good time. But I met a young woman there who had been competing on a men’s power lifting team which was really early for that, and she was doing some deadlifts that day and that was intriguing to me and so I started in, did some with her, found that sort of more fun than the light stuff I was doing. And on the way home in the car, started talking to Terry about, you know, women who trained and why didn’t more women train and all of that. And Terry very quickly, you know, used his sort of incredible encyclopedic knowledge to sort of say well you know actually there were a lot of women who
trained with weights at the turn of the 20th century, but most of them were
circus performers or vaudeville performers or people who use their strength to to make a living. In fact the first name out of his mouth
was the name of Katie Sandwina who was by far the most famous of all the the early performers that we’ve had for women and strength. And we went back to his parents house where he had a bunch of stuff stored from when he wrote his
dissertation found a copy of the Guinness record book there, looked it up,
and there she was right there in the record book. [music] Some people say that the name of their
circus was the Sandwina circus and that she, therefore, took the name from
the circus. Other people say that when she began
appearing on stage that she actually chose the name Sandwina as an homage
to Sandow and probably there is some reason to think that that might have made sense. She always wore her hair up like puffed up on her top of her head to
make herself look taller, and she always wore shoes, with little heels, which also made her look taller. She wanted to look big and strong, she embraced that. Which i think is one of the things that I like about her. When she first begins appearing in the United States, they’re references to her between 1900
1910, and in those she’s actually performing with an act called The Sandwinas. They performed in Europe. There’s a great poster of her holding up three men on a bicycle. They were not, though, the big stars of those acts, I mean, they’re way down in the bill. They’re like little tiny notices of the Sandwinas performing. She has probably more posters that have survived than almost anybody I know. And that’s why this is interesting to me because now I have a date for 25 on this. So it helps me to figure out this. And I’m pretty sure this
is when she had come back to Europe. Because, you know, if you were a German
artist working in the circuses and music halls in America after World War One, not so good. [Katie] One time, he come up on the stage. I pick him up, and throw him down. Then he say, “I love you.” “Will you marry me?” So we get married. How lucky for him. [Max] All my life, I have to keep young and strong. With a wife like, Mama… …you have to keep young and strong. Maybe only strong. Max Heymann, her husband, was
already an acrobat. Not a famous performer but he was like Katie also German, and of Jewish extraction. In his youngest prime years he was about 5′ 6″ and weighed at the most about 160 pounds. She in her prime weighed about 210 pounds. Some reports have her as heavy as 220. When they married then the juxtaposition in their sizes made it interesting to people, and so a lot of the acts that she did really involved lifting him when she was later working with the circuses. Oh this picture is famous. It’s the one of Kate and her husband. Where she’s putting her arm on his shoulder. Probably consoling him because he’s not
nearly as strong as she is, but he seems to be taking it pretty well. I wrote a book called, Venus with Biceps and it’s basically pictorial history of women’s strength. There’s a beauty in strength. And there’s a beauty in being able to
express yourself as who you are, and Sandwina, if she emphasized that part of her character in that part of her appearance then instead of people turning away in
horror, they would actually start to respect her. She was someone who practiced the
standard events done by strong men. It’s mentioned that she was able to raise over her head from the floor a barbell weighing 286 pounds. This is 130 kilos. A lot of weight. They did not have these revolving barbells, they were solid bells. Stiff and very hard to lift. So when you lifted one, you had to turn the handle as
you turn the handle, the bells had to turn, or the wheels had to turn. So she had to be strong enough in her wrists in arms and shoulders and put 286 pounds above her head, a good 60, 70, 80 pounds more than she weighed. That’s just remarkable. What I have here is a picture of Katie Sandwina doing her circus act where she’s carrying two guys on a stick there. This is from the Ringling collection. And it’s from about 1911. We know that she is actually lifting
those people because it’s kind of blurry and we know that it was moving around so
she’s not faking it. She is actually lifting two guys. And some of the talent scouts, I mean, they watch everything. And they see a woman who’s so huge but yet majestic. Walks very powerfully and looks athletic. It was her calling card, it was
the thing that separated her but her real break came in Paris, where she was playing at one of the theaters there and that night John Ringling came and sat in
the audience to watch them perform. One of the things about the circus was that,
the circus kind of presented people with an idea of things that they might not have ever thought about as being humanly possible before. To see a woman, coming out of the Victorian era, who was feminine and therefore still kind of
within the bounds of social acceptance but who was markedly stronger than her
husband, than most of the men around her, this was a game changer. She was hired and she debuted at the Barnum & Bailey Circus in New York City. And so naturally the New York journalists began looking at her and thinking this is really
unique and different and asking questions. And so the circus management
decided that they wanted to single her out. They saw that she had star potential. And they talked her into changing the name of the act, and so at that point it became Katie Sandwina & Troupe. She was a headliner at this point so she was in the center ring. She knew that she had arrived at that point
when she was the main attraction. And that’s when they started doing posters of her and she starts getting all of this attention. [music] So this came to us as many of our
collections do as a donation from a relative in this case, Sandwina’s widower, her husband, whose name was Max. So I’m Doug Reside. I am the Dorothy and
Luis B. Coleman curator for the Billy Rose Theatre division at the New York
Public Library for the Performing Arts. So in 1952 right after she died, her
husband reached out to us the first curator of the division George Friedley, and said that he had this material from his wife and would like to give it to the library so that it would be kept safe for the future and now over 60 years later we are able to look at it again. So we have a scrapbook that
includes a lot of clippings from her career. So she was clearly an international star and so there are a lot of clippings from German and
Scandinavian newspapers that were collected. I think the posters are always exciting to me. They really give you a sense of what the show was and how it was marketed to audiences. It certainly tells part of the story of vaudeville which is
an important part of theater history it’s also interesting to show that she
doesn’t appear to be portrayed as a freak in the way that a strong weightlifting woman might have been seen that way but she doesn’t seem to be
marketed in that way from this poster. She’s described as the Wonder Woman
which also seems again like they’re still recognizing her femininity,
they’re not erasing that in the way that some of the advertisements for similar
kinds of acts might have. She clearly is an interesting individual that I think has a story to tell that I would love to know more about. [music] She is this really strong woman and she
performs these feats that verify that fact. But she’s always sold as womanly,
ladylike, almost dainty. You’ll never see a picture of Sandwina flexing her biceps. She always wanted to be seen as this very feminine creature who just had extraordinary strength. and of course the press love that, they ate it up. There was a woman who worked in the early 20th century who was a journalist who was kind of like an early twentieth-century Barbara Walters. Kate Carew was her name
she’s quite well known. She only interviewed really important big shots. So she had interviewed Mark Twain, she had interviewed Teddy Roosevelt. And she did a big full page article on Sandwina. But the other thing that she did which
was quite wonderful was she did caricatures. And so she did these great
illustrations of Katie and of what it was like doing around her and so there’s
this like wonderful little cartoon that she did showing her sort of having to
deal with what she calls stage-door Johnnies, because even though she was
married had this, you know baby, and she’s all this, she became this sort of beauty
icon in very real ways that allowed her to transcend a lot of the sort of
concerns that other people might have about women lifting weights. So Sandwina’s star took off. She was physically large. She was much bigger than an average-sized woman. And she came from a family of people that
were also large and strong so she also grew up in an environment where strength
was not necessarily an oddity but even with that it still would have taken a lot of persistence and a lot of passion not only to gain the physical abilities
that she had but to perfect the skill. She probably wanted to not only like
show off her ability but just like inspire that moment of awe. [music] In the 20s, as she continues working and of course by this time think about she’s into her 40s now. She’s begun not to do as much of the overhead lifting and supporting work as she used to do and what she’s now specializing on is something in which apparently she was always gifted which is grip and hand strength. But what she really becomes sort of identified then with is bending iron. And so she would bend iron bars into horseshoes. She begins advertising herself, in fact, as the Iron Queen. So when they start calling her the Iron Queen, that’s a
direct reference to Sigmund Breitbart, who at that time, one of the most successful strong men working in Europe. And Breitbart billed himself as the Iron King, and there was a rivalry between them. So a lot of people sort of report
that, you know, they really hated each other. I’m actually not sure if that’s true because when she was 14 she and Breitbart supposedly appeared together, when she was still very young. The kind of strength that she had, often if you really have a big measure of it given to you by nature, and you nurture it just to a degree and you pay some attention to it, it’s gonna stay with you for a long time. She was very strong when she was well up into her 50s and 60s. Her son, Teddy, Theodore Roosevelt Sandwina, he became a first-rate boxer and was actually the heavyweight champion of Europe. A big man weighed over 200 pounds. Here’s a great picture of Ted boxing and
you can see the Star of David on his trunks. But Ted’s the one that we remember because he really was apparently a very talented boxer. There’s a wonderful photograph of her holding him over her head, with one hand no tricks, and it seemed to have been casually done. So this goes along with being strong early and being strong late. The Depression of course was really hard
on all of the strength performers because most of the vaudeville theaters
began to close. That enormous industry was killed by, you know, the lack of money for entertainment but also killed by the movies. And so people would much rather go watch a moving picture than they would a bunch of performers on a stage. So in the 30s, Katie worked some off and on in what was called the WPA circus. So the federal government, here in the states, funded what was called the Works Progress Administration, which built bridges and playgrounds and did
all kinds of public works. They helped also fund artists and so for here and
there they also did some circus performances in the 30s which she
participated in. But clearly things were playing out, She was on into her 50s although she was still quite strong, and so at a certain point she and Max
decided they needed another line of income and so they bought a bar and
restaurant in Queens. They called it the Circus Bar, which is kind of great, but apparently it was a place where you could go in and get a meal, there were obviously drinks there and then sometimes on the weekends she would perform. She would do, for example, the bed of nails act where you lay on a bed of nails and then she would put a block of on her thing, then people would pound on it with sledgehammers and that was, of course, dramatic and exciting but not really very hard if you could tighten your abdominals. Max did the cooking at the restaurant. And Katie tended the bar. She was also, supposedly, the bouncer. [Katie] All our customers be nice and quiet. The get respect for us. What you have? [Customer] I’ll have a beer, please! [Max] You see boys, when it gets a little bit too rough and tough at the bar, You know what I’m doing? I call Mama. She take care of everybody! That’s enough! That’s enough for you. Come on! And there were a number of newspaper articles published about them at that time, sort of showing her in the bar, you know, and she would sort of pick up some small guy and throw him outside if there was trouble. She always did it very nicely and she would always ask her husband,
“Papa please open the door,” and he would open the door and she would toss them out! We have deer on Staten Island, in more recent years, this is something
relatively new for Staten Island. They swim across from New Jersey. They avoid the bridge and the toll by swimming. My name is Shmuel Plafker and I’m a chaplain here at the cemetery. Kate Sandwina was buried 1952. I wasn’t working here in 1952, but I would imagine that funds were issue. For many people not having enough money to go to a funeral home is a major, major issue. And therefore we were the organization the family was able to turn to, and say we need assistance. She’s the Jewish religion, she passed away, we cannot afford to go to a funeral home, we need help. And that’s where we step into the picture. It was inspiring to me as somebody who had never trained before to think about what she had done. I didn’t really aspire to break her records which were mostly overhead lifts, of course. But it was the notion of her and also as I learned more about her, how she was perceived because
she was really regarded as very different in that she sort of had this ability to be perceived as a feminine, attractive, beautiful woman and at the same time she could do feats of strength that no man could do and she was really prodigiously strong. And it’s actually very, very sad to think that at the end
of her life after that long illustrious career that there was not enough money
for her to have been taken care of as we might have imagined the great stars of
the circus would have been. [music] We were asked recently, you know, if we
were gonna make a statue that would sort of celebrate female strength what kind of a woman physically would be sort of the great embodiment, there was no question that for me, and for Terry, it was like, oh it has to be Katie Sandwina. So Michael Deming is working on a statue and I thought that one of the things that he really did so well was sort of to capture her body, you know, the sweep of her hamstring, the calves, the sort of small joints that she has. And and I think the statue is going to just be fantastic and iconic. Like the Louis Cyr statue has become, like the Sandow statue. The Sandow statue, has been given at years at the Olympia at the bodybuilding contest. The Louis Cyr statue is what we give every year at the Arnold Strongman Classic. And I think now to receive the Sandwina, that’s going to be very meaningful. That’s gonna be a treasure that that I think people will really appreciate. She’s heavier than I remember. I’ve got weaker. So 2017 was the first ever professional strong woman championship at the Arnold and choosing Katie Sandwina as the symbol, not just for the trophy because it looks cool but for the event itself, because the symbolism of here’s something that seems like it shouldn’t be possible or that
the general public has kind of dismissed as not being possible but it turns out
we can do it. It was a really big honor to be a piece of that. Sandwina, she has become one of the legends of strength because she combined that physical ability with a showmanship that many other athletes were lacking. She was called the Hurculean Venus of her day. She combined beauty and strength. And that’s what a lot of people remember about her. And what still inspires them. My opinion is Katie Sandwina will always reign as the sort of queen of the early days, the pioneer days of strength athletics. In her case she went through
two world wars. Lots of dislocations, but she’s going to
be remembered for the things she did, and the gifts that she had. How she husbanded those gifts and added to them with her efforts. She was indeed one of life’s true wonders. When I think about Katie Sandwina and I think about the people in our field that we regard as legends, it seems to me that of all those strong women, she is clearly the most significant woman
figure from the past. And her multiple achievements in the circus, demonstrating her strength over this long, long period of years, makes her I think a figure who really does reserve our respect and our admiration. I’d also think she’s kind of
a great role model for us. You know, scholars talk often about what they call a paradigm shift which is where you have this sort of dominant way of thinking
and then gradually over time everybody comes to believe something else and I
think that with women and strength we’re we’re almost getting there to where
that’s fully in place

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