Granddad’s Tall Tales were not so Tall After All

By Thom Van Vleck

Katie Sandwina and her husband Max Heymann

When I was a kid, my granddad told me stories when I would spend the night. He was a great story teller and often, I fought sleep to listen to them. The topics were many, but since he had an interest in weightlifting, he often told me of strongmen of his day or before.

On one occasion he told me of a woman named Katie Sandwina. What I recall from his stories was she was 6’3” tall and 250lbs. She could carry a 1000lb cannon on her shoulder, lift her husband overhead with one arm, clean and push press 300lbs, and she never lost a wrestling match against a man. He told me that she once beat Sandow in a lifting contest.

Many years later, I read an article in an old Iron Man magazine on Katie and found that much of what he told was TRUE. Here are some of the things I have found out on Katie.

Katie Brumbach was her real name and her parents were circus performers Philippe and Johanna Brumbach. Both were large people and her father was said to have a 56” chest. In her early years, Katie performed with her family and her father would offer one hundred marks to any man in the audience who could defeat her in wrestling. It was claimed no one ever succeeded in winning the prize and it is also said Katie met her husband of fifty-two years, Max Heymann when he tried to beat her in a wrestling match and she knocked him out! They were married for 52 years….maybe he was afraid to leave! It was said that when Katie was just a teen she was over 6ft tall, 187lbs, and had 17” biceps and 26.5” thighs and was even larger after that. From what I can tell, she would feign modesty when asked for her dimensions. Perhaps it was modesty, or showmanship, but I do know that an Iron Man article on her listed her at 6’3” and 250lbs, confirming my grandfathers claim.

Brumbach took the stage name “Sandwina” after defeating the Sandow during her show. She offered a cash prize to anyone that could outlift her and Sandow took the stage. Katie lifted 300lbs over head and Sandow only managed to lift to his chest. After this victory, she adopted the stage name “Sandwina” as a feminine derivative of Sandow. I sometimes wonder if these sorts of things are staged by the strongmen to give each other credibility, but at any rate, it is agreed the event happened and it launched her career.

Sandwina worked in the Ringling Bros & Barnum & Baily circus until she was at least 60, possibly 64. One of her standard performance feats was lifting her husband (who weighed 165 pounds) overhead with one hand. She performed many other feats, such as bending steel bars and the pull apart with four horses. She would hold carousels of 14 people on her shoulders and support a half ton of cannons on her back. In between all of that, she also bore a son, Theodore Sandwina who not surprisingly became a large man and was a champion boxer.

There is no doubt Sandwina was quite a strong woman and many of her feats were real or at least close to the claims made about her. She may have been the strongest woman of all time!

Mark Mitchell – New USAWA Official

by Al Myers

Mark Mitchell performing a 505 pound 12" Base Squat at a Record Day at Clark's Gym in 2002. This is the best 12" Base Squat of All-Time in the USAWA. Mark also has the USAWA All-Time Best lift in the Reeves Deadlift, with a record lift of 400 pounds.

Mark Mitchell, of the Dino Gym, just recently passed the USAWA Official’s Test. Mark has been lifting weights for over 25 years. He competed as a 3-lift Powerlifter for many years, but now competes mainly in Powersport Competitions. Powersports is an off-shoot of powerlifting that includes the Curl, the Bench Press and the Deadlift. These events are done without the use of supporting equipment (with the exception of a belt) and are Drug-Free competitions. Mark has been involved in officiating USAWA events in the gym for several years, and has even judged at the National Championships in 2006 and 2009. Mark has competed in several USAWA events throughout the years – mostly postal meets and record days. Mark started weight training many years ago in Columbia under the coaching of Bill Clark – so he has been exposed to All-Round lifting for a long time!! Mark has always been a tremendous squatter and holds the Dino Gym Squat Record with a lift of 810 pounds.

Welcome Mark to the recently growing crew of USAWA Officials!

G.W. Rolandow’s Challenge Barbell

by Al Myers

The Rolandow Challenge Barbell now resides in the York Barbell Museum.

G.W. Rolandow was a Swiss born strongman who came to the United States and became an American citizen in 1896. He lived his entire life in New York City. His Challenge Barbell had a thick handle, and weighed 175 pounds empty, but 299 pounds fully loaded. He was able to Bent Press his Challenge Barbell fully loaded – and lifted it in his nightly strongman performances. The Rolandow Barbell was purchased by Professor Attila, and later owned by Sig Klein. Sig Klein often used it when he was demonstrating the Bent Press.

Sig Klein demonstrating a Bent Press with the Rolandow Barbell.

This was written by Sig Klein shortly after lifting the Rolandow Barbell in 1937.

“It was Saturday, April 10th, on my thirty-fifth birthday that I lifted the Rolandow Bell again. It went up on my first attempt. So pleased was I with this accomplishment that I have not up to this present writing lifted this weight since. I have never tried to lift more in the Bent-Press than 209 pounds. It seems that no matter how much weight I would ever lift again in the Bent-Press, I would never again have the pleasure or satisfaction that I derived when I first succeeded with this ponderous weight. This was in 1937. It was about this time that I published “How to Bent-Press”, feeling that such a booklet was needed for the thousands of weight-lifters whose interest I had now aroused in this lift.”

Siegmund Klein, A man of Two Eras

by Dennis Mitchell

Siegmund Klein was a well-rounded strength athlete and early day bodybuilder.

Siegmund Klein was born on April 10, 1902, in Kronisberg Germany, also known as West Prussia. His family moved one year later to Cleveland Ohio. He still has family living in the greater Cleveland area. Siegmund was never a 97 pound weakling and was a sturdy healthy child. His father was a strong and muscular man, and Siegmund said he got his desire to be strong and well built from his father. At age 12, his first set of dumbbells were two discarded iron weights used to counter balance the raising of windows. He got his first set of real weights when he was 17, and trained in his secret attic gym. Siegmund was a true All-Rounder, not only doing the standard lifts but the odd lifts as well. He was a physique man, an excellent poser, and muscle control artist. He was an admirer of Professor Louis Attila, the man who invented the Bent Press. The Professor died before Siegmund could meet him. However he did meet his widow and with her permission took over running the gym which was located in New York City. He also married their daughter Grace. He eventually opened his own gym. His gym was a show place known through out the weightlifting world. It was equipped with the old time globe barbells and dumbbells.

Sig Klein was also a very accomplished tumbler and hand balancer. Klein owned and ran one of the most popular gyms of all-time in New York City for over 50 years.

He is credited with inventing some new equipment – the “Feet Press Machine, The Iron Boot, and the ‘In-Klein’ Board”. Somehow he managed to be friendly with the two barbell super powers – Bob Hoffman’s York Barbell Club, and Joe Weider’s IFBB organization. He wrote articles for both organizations and was not only written about in their magazines but his photographs were on their magazine covers. He also was on the covers of Iron Man, Vim Magazine, LaCulture Physique, and Macfadden’s Physical Culture Magazine. He even published his own magazine, The Klein’s Bell, from June 1931 to December 1932. After that he wrote for Hoffman’s Strength & Health magazine. He was inducted into Joe Weider’s Bodybuilding Hall of Fame in 2006. At a body weight of between 147 to 150 pounds he did the following lifts: Strict military press 229.25 pounds, strict press behind head 206 pounds, one arm snatch 160 pounds, one arm clean and jerk 190.5 pounds, crucifix 126.75 pounds (total), alternate dumbbell press with two 100 pound dumbbells for ten reps, a bent press of 209 pounds and a side press of 174 pounds. He also did 10 reps with 300 pounds in the deep knee bend. Notice that I did not say squat, as in his day they were done on your toes, not flat footed. The Association of Old Time Barbell and Strongmen began with a birthday celebration for Siegmund. It was so well received that they have been meeting yearly since then. Siegmund Klein passed away May 24,1987. The end of an era.

The Life of a Physical Culturist

by Al Myers

Sig Klein was one of the prominent Physical Culturists in the United States in the early 1900's.

Yesterday’s story of Thom climbing the mountain in Scotland got me thinking. First – Why would Thom do something like that? Thom is a guy with no experience in mountain climbing. He took no gear and items that may be needed for survival. He is obviously not built like a professional hiker. And top of all this – he took on this formidable adventure by himself!!

Well, the answer “crazy” first comes to mind.

But truthfully, I understand why he did this. It is all about seeing the physical challenge in front of you, setting a goal, and then having the mindset to make it happen. You “trust” that your training will carry over and allow your body to be able to “rise to the occasion” and achieve whatever physical obstacle you may encounter. You have confidence in your body that it will not let you down.

I have been doing a lot of reading lately about Old Time Strongmen and one term that is always brought up is the term “Physical Culturist”. Just what does this mean? Physical culture is more than weightlifting, more than running or walking, more than being able to throw a hammer far, and more than being able to pick up a big stone. It is the combination of all of the above – plus living a lifestyle that allows the body and mind to grow and develop both physically, mentally and spiritually. This sums up Thom Van Vleck. Thom living the life of a Physical Culturist prepared him for this challenge.

The Old Time Strongmen knew something about training that modern day weightlifters have forgotten. The Oldtime Strongmen’s training focus was based on not only developing strength, but maintaining good health and fitness. Today, everyone has to specialize in order to excel in any type of lifting – whether that be Olympic Lifting, Powerlifting or Bodybuilding. I understand that. But much is lost and sacrificed in order to achieve a high level of performance in these specific lifting sports. Living the life of a Physical Culturist requires one’s training to be well-rounded. I have been there and made those mistakes myself. When I was heavy into powerlifting and could Bench Press over 500 pounds I thought I was strong. But take me outside of my comfort zone of pressing a weight while lying on a bench, I found that other things suffered. At that point in time I couldn’t even play softball with my daughters because my shoulders were to tight to throw a ball. My cardio fitness was very poor – just walking short distances would tire me out. After all, I didn’t want to do any other training on my legs besides squats because I feared it might adversely affect my recovery time and my squat wouldn’t improve. My flexibility was terrible. I had trouble bending over and tying my shoes. I could deadlift over 750 pounds, but I knew that I couldn’t spend the day picking up rocks in a plowed field all day long like I could when I was a kid. My health was suffering. I was weighing close to 300 pounds (more than my frame could take) and was starting to have problems with high blood pressure. Gaining body weight was always the answer when I would hit lifting plateaus. I had become a prisoner to my own training.

These things are what lead me to All-Round Weightlifting. I want my training to be more than just about strength. I want to live the life of a Physical Culturist, just like the Old Time Strongmen did. Now I go on ten mile bike rides with my wife. I spend time playing catch with my daughters. When I go hunting, I can walk all day long now and not get tired. I have lost about 50 pounds body weight and my blood pressure is under control. My approach to training has changed completely – thanks to All-Round Weightlifting!!

1 321 322 323 324 325 341