by John Grimek
John Grimek prepares to lift the famous Cyr Dumbbell.
The Cyr dumbell we had was always a bone of contention. Men from all parts of the country came to see if they might get it overhead. It weighed “only” 202 pounds empty but it could be loaded with lead shot to over 270. We never loaded it over 269 ½ pounds, and even then it defied most men who tried it.
One time, Milo Steinborn and four or five other wrestlers stopped by on their way to Baltimore. Milo had Primo Carnera with him – truly an impressive individual. When Carnera shook hands you could feel your whole hand being swallowed by something that felt like an octopus. Because all the men were wrestling that evening none of them cared to train that afternoon, but most of the lifters kept on training. In the center of the gym was the awkward Cyr dumbell that seemed to be in the way of everyone. Without thinking I picked it up off the floor and tossed it aside so it wouldn’t be in the way. I remembered the huge hands Carnera had when he shook my hand, and knew if anyone could handle this weight it was him. I called out to him to try it. He smiled as if to say, “that’s easy,” and no one would doubt him. He came over, very casually gripped the stubby handle and made a half-hearted attempt to lift it. A look of surprise came over his face as the weight slipped from his grip. I offered him some chalk to absorb the moisture of his hand. With some disdain, instead, he grabbed the handle and though he lifted it a little you could see that the weight was a great surprise to him.
The Cyr Dumbbell now resides at the York Barbell Museum.
I tried to explain that there was a slight technique to handle this weight. He just kept looking at me and the awkward hunk of iron mass that was defying him. I chalked up, especially the heel of my hand, gripped the weight and tossed it a few feet to one side. Carnera only growled. However, I feel sure that with his banana-like fingers he could have done things with that Cyr dumbell that no one else could do. Others felt much the same way about this big man.
I must point out that many men who tried to lift the small clumsy dumbell failed. This awkward hunk of iron required lots of practice before one learned the little details needed to be successful at lifting it. No one played around with this weight more than I did; and eventually I was the only one who lifted it off the floor to an overhead position using one and only when it weighed 254 pounds. Stanko was the first man who picked it up off the floor in one sweeping movement. Unfortunately, I do not remember how much it was loaded to at the time. The weight of that dumbell was always being changed. It always looked formidable and defying. Those who tried it remember that only too well.
by George Jowett
The strongman who obtained his strength from barbell training, and who took to tossing iron for his particular sport, is still the monarch of strength athletes. No other method can give the same thews, or convey the same inspiring message to those who seek the domain of health and strength. Years ago, after the French Canadian giant, Louis Cyr, had forsaken the stage to take charge of his saloon in Montreal, thousands of his admirers continued to pay homage to him. They constantly patronized his saloon so they could claim friendship with this iron king. They listened to him tell his stories, but always with a hope and a watchful eye to see him perform some feat which to him was common-place, but to others impossible. It was no uncommon sight to see Louis carry a huge cask of beer off the drayman’s wagon on his one shoulder. What was a three hundred and twenty pound cask to him, even if it was terribly awkward to handle. He could grasp it by the chines and lift it from the wagon to the pavement, and then toss it on one shoulder, or throw it back on the truck, according to the need, without registering any sign of exertion. It was all in a day’s work to him, but one feat he often performed to draw patronage as a part of his business routine. Yet, he always performed it in an off hand way, that made him appear to be indifferent to any effect the feat had upon the spectators. They still talk about it in the old haunts, and it is a story worth telling.
Cyr would be reclining on the serving side of the bar and while he was in the midst of his conversation with his patrons, he would be approached by his wife dressed to go shopping. With the interrogative “Louis,” she would announce her presence. Knowing what she wanted, the ponderous giant would neither withdraw his gaze or stop in his speech, but would lower his right hand in a nonchalant fashion, upon which his wife would sit. As gently as a child he would lift her over the counter, and as gently deposit her on the other side without a break in his speech. Madam would be examining her purse during the unusual journey and would then pass on as calmly as though she had made the trip in a modern elevator. Showmanship par-excellence was exhibited by both in this extraordinary feat, but can you imagine the amount of strength that was involved? Although she did not weigh much over a hundred pounds, yet it meant that he curled her weight on the flat of his hand, and passed her over the counter in the manner of a hold-out and with no visible effort. It was a terrific feat of strength, which when performed, was a source of delight to all who witnessed it.
Credit: The Key to Might and Muscle by George Jowett
by John McKean
Statue of Louis Cyr in Montreal
While attending the 1987 Master’s Pan Am weightlifting championships ( I believe I was 41 at the time and had trimmed down to 132 # -too much aerobics!), my friend & driver John Harrison and I got slightly lost in the suburb of Montreal between the meet venue and our hotel. This was the third or fourth time we had become lost in that sprawling city during that exciting weekend! Since the hotel was only about 2 miles away, we knew we couldn’t be that far off course! Another group of lifters were following us back and, of course, they didn’t know exactly where we were either. So we pulled off beside a tiny park to check the map. As we got out of the cars some one pointed over and exclaimed “Look at that!! Isn’t that Louis Cyr?!” We all eyeballed the massive, well weathered statue and couldn’t miss the inscription! We lifters were like school kids over this find! Was this the neighborhood that Cyr himself once roamed?
In case anyone is not sure, Cyr is the big one in the background and the tiny figure in the bottom right in a similar pose (I think at that bodyweight I had the advantage in shape & definition over ole Louie for this pose-off!!) is yours truly! I captioned the photo as ” Louis Cyr asking John for All-Round training advice!”
Later we asked our Canadian hosts ( who did one heck of a job in hosting this big event) about the statue and they seemed completely mystified, not knowing of its existence. Since that time, in fact, NO ONE who I’ve ever heard of has seen this really cool statue! We couldn’t even locate it again ourselves when describing it to other lifters back at the hotel. Thank goodness we took the photo! I thought it would be neat to display this since the recent article appeared in a recent Daily News below.( the pic since has inspired me to bulk up!!).
by Dennis Mitchell
Cyprien Noe Cyr was born October 10, 1863 in Saint Cyprien Napierville Canada ( now Quebec ). He was the second child of seventeen children born to Pierre and Philomene Berger Cyr. He was never a frail or slight child as he weighed 18 pounds at birth. His father was quite strong and worked as a lumberjack and farmer. However Cyprien Noe inherited his exceptional physical power from his mother who stood 6′ 1″ tall and weighed 265 pounds, and could toss around 100 pound sacks with ease. At the age of 8 years, it is reported that he carried a calf in from the field when it did not want to return to the barn. He went to school from age 9 to 12 years, and then went to work in the lumber camps in the winter, and on the farm in the summer. Though gentle by nature, he soon had the admiration of his fellow workers for his unusual strength. Legion has it his mother decided he should let his hair grow long like Sampson in the Bible, and was said to curl it regularly. In 1878 the Cyr family moved to the United States in hopes of greater financial gains. It was at this time that Cyprien Noe changed his name for a more American of Louis. By age 17 he weighed 230 pounds, liked to play the violin, dance and work out with weights. In spite of his size and strength, his chubby pink cheeks and long blond curls gave him a babyish look, and made him the butt of jokes and teasing. At the age of 18 he entered his first strongman contest in Boston where he lifted a full grown horse off the ground. The horse stood on a platform that had two handles attached. The total weight was three quarters of a ton. There were no more jokes or teasing. His family moved back to Quebec in 1882. He was married that year to Meline Comptois and for a while worked as a lumberjack. From there he and his wife moved to Saint-Helene, where his parents had moved to. They soon organized “The Troupe Cyr” and performed through out the province with great success. For about two years he worked as a policeman, and for a short time owned a tavern. But soon organized another troupe of wrestlers, boxers, and weightlifters. He later defeated Canadian strongman David Michaud in one hand lifting and by lifting 2,371 pounds on his back. He also worked for Ringling Brothers Circus for a year and then with Horace Barre opened their own circus, with jugglers, strongmen, and acrobats. They performed for five years. In 1900 Cyr’s health started to fail. His over eating and large size and the onset of Brights disease put an end to competition and performing. He died at his daughter’s home November 10, 1912 at the age of 49. Dr. Dudley Sargent of Harvard University measured Cyr when he was 32 years old. He measured him at 5’8.5″, neck 20″, biceps 20″, forearms 16.3″, wrists 8.2″, chest 55.2″(expanded 60″) waist 47.4″, thighs 28.5″, and calfs 19.2″. His weight at that time was 291 pounds. He did reach the weight of 365 pounds later. Some of his bests lifts were: 500 pound one finger lift, back lift 4,337 pounds, bent press (more of a side press) 273 pounds, hand and thigh 1897 pounds, crucifix 94 pounds right , 88 pounds left, one hand dead lift with 1.5″ bar 525 pounds, and a “Platform” squat of 2,371 pounds.