Catherine Brumback aka Sandwina

by Dennis Mitchell

Sandwina breaking a chain, which was a common act in her performances.

Catherine Brumback was born in Viena, Austria in 1884.  She was the first of fourteen children born to Philip and Joanna Brumbach, who were acrobats who performed in circuses and theaters in Europe.  Her father stood six feet tall and weighed 260 pounds, and had a 56″ chest.  Her mother had 15″ biceps.  Her father could snatch 80 kilograms with one hand, which was a very good lift in the 1800’s.  At the age of fourteen Catherine, who was now called Kathe, stood 5’7″ tall, and weighed 167 pounds.  She had been performing with her parents for quite some time.  She could clean and jerk 50 kg with one hand, and 70 kg with two hands.  By age of sixteen she had also become a very good wrestler.  Her father offered 100 German marks to any one who could defeat her.  At one performance a young 19 year old strong man named Max Heyman accepted the challenge, thinking the publicity would help his career.  Max was rather slight, weighing only 155 to 160 pounds.  Kathe had no trouble quickly defeating him.  Afraid that she had hurt him, she picked him up and carried him to her tent, a most unusual way to start a romance.  Three years later they were married.  They performed together under the name of Les Sandwenes.

As time passed Kathe grew to 5’9″, weighed 200 pounds, had a 44″ chest, a 29″ waist, 16 ” calves, and 14″ arms.  She could bend bars, brake chains, and juggle cannon balls.  She could support a 1200 pound cannon on her shoulders.  Another one of her acts was to lie on a bed of nails while someone from the audience would pound an anvil she supported on her chest.  She was earning $1500 per week.  For a time she had an act with her three sisters, Eugenie, Marie, and Barbara. They performed under the name of the Braselli Sisters.  At a performance in New York City she challenged anyone in the theater to a weightlifting contest.  Eugene Sandow was in the audience and accepted the challenge.  Kathe cleaned and jerked 300 pounds.  Sandow could only  lift it to his chest.  After this contest Kathe changed her name to Sandwina, which said was a feminine version of Sandow.  During her career she performed with several circuses, the most notable being the Barnum and Bailey circus.  After she retired from preforming she and Max opened a cafe in Queens New York . She passed away January 21, 1952.