|A STRONGMAN'S TRIP ABROAD |
Reprinted with permission from AOBS Newsletter.
Often during my many years in the iron game I dreamed of taking a trip to Europe to visit the shrines of strongmanism and to make the acquaintance of those men in England and on the Continent who have given their lives to the weight game. Several times John Grimek asked me to go abroad with him, but each time something prevented me from going. Several weeks ago, however, a friend suggested that I come along with him to London and then on to Germany. This I knew was really the time to go, and so I made the necessary arrangements.
By jet it is just a few hours--six and one-half, to be exact--from New York to London. Ours was a pleasant flight. After landing and locating at a hotel, I set about making contact with the man I had wanted to meet for many years. Strange indeed is the fact that, when I wish to write something about the present, I must usually refer to my youth back in Cleveland. In those early days when I first became acquainted with weightlifting and bodybuilding, I had a great thirst for knowledge about the "sport of the strong." I haunted the newspaper stands and old bookstores in search of such information. One day at a newsstand at the corner of East Ninth and Euclid Avenue I came across an English magazine devoted to the subject so dear to me. It was a red paper-covered magazine called Health & Strength, and within it appeared quite a number of advertisements. One in particular struck my ! ! fancy. A certain W. A. Pullum was advertising a book called Weight Lifting Made Easy and Interesting.
Of course I just had to have this book, and so I sent for it at once. After some weeks of waiting, the book arrived. Here was a bible on weight lifting. Neither before nor since have I ever read a book on weight lifting that explained the various lifts so easily or that contained such excellent illustrations showing the correct positions of the various lifts, 42 in all, which were practiced by the British weight lifters. What perfect form from toes to fingertips!
Later, when I moved to New York, I found others who had the Pullum book, among them Mark Berry, who became a Pullum devotee, and Marquis Losey, what became so enthused about Pullum that he even went so far as to dress as Pullum did when posing for the illustrations in his book, with white duck trousers, a white pullover sweater, and white tennis shoes. Such influence had Pullum on American lifters that, when George F. Jowett became editor of the Old Strength magazine, he too would write constantly of "Bill" Pullum. English styles, rules, etc., then became the American way of lifting. Mark Berry used to bring his English Pullum-built barbells over to my gym for a workout. And the American Continental Weight Lifting Association was patterned after the British Weight Lifting Association.
For many years I have of course been reading articles that W. A. Pullum has written in Health & Strength for decades. These articles have indeed been a treasure of information that other writers, myself included, have used as reference. His writings are so vivid that one could visualize clearly the scenes of lifting he described, such as the Attila-Sandow partnership, the Saxon Trio, Louis Cyr's visit to London, and so many others.
What kind of person was this man Pullum? For years I asked this question of British visitors who stopped by my gym. Many gave me different stories. Conflicting stories. I knew that John Grimek had met Pullum during one of his trips to London. Grimek liked him. Personally, I had formed my own opinions of the man from his writings. It seemed to me first of all that he was a perfectionist. A serious man. He would not tolerate anyone who did not follow his instructions to the letter. A disciplinarian of the first order. And now, after these many years of knowing him by reputation, I finally was to meet W. A. Pullum.
A phone call had notified the man of my arrival in London. Since I had previously written about my intended trip, he immediately invited me to call on him at his residence. When I arrived at the Pullum address, I noted that the building also housed the Health & Strength Publishing Company, Limited, and the old Camberwell Weight Lifting Club, the club we had read about for so many, many years. There on the windowless wooden door was a door knocker, but before touching it I looked the place over. In the window of the publishing house were many issues of the magazine and an enlarged photo of John Grimek.
A few minutes after my knock, the door opened, and there for the first time did I see W. A. Pullum. A smile, a twinkle in his eyes, and a hand clasp and embrace followed. A few words, and then he asked me to come along upstairs to his living quarters. Upon arriving in the flat, I was introduced to Mrs. Pullum, a most charming woman who, strange as it may seem, reminded me not a little of Mrs. Klein. She immediately excused herself to let Mr. Pullum and I chat about the things so close to our hearts.
I found Mr. Pullum extremely well versed on the subject of weightlifting, of course, but what surprised me was how well versed he was on other subjects and what a wonderful command he had of the English language. His vocabulary was extensive. We conversed for some time, and then Mrs. Pullum came back again to serve lunch. After this pleasant repast came more discussions, following which Mr. Pullum showed me his wonderful collection of medals. This was the finest collection of weightlifting medals I have ever seen. Among them was the famous three barbell medal, which was the highest honor an English lifter could win.
Something else in the Pullum collection caught my fancy. It was a statue of Pullum doing the "Roman column," supporting two athletes with barbells and kettlebells. The statue is about 30 inches high and very well executed.
Where the time went I don't know, but many hours had passed. I wanted to see the Camberwell Club, but because of the hour I was asked to return the following day, which I did. This was the club where the famous Herman Goerner lifted and where so many records have been made by British lifters. I saw the exact place where "Dad" Pullum had posed for the photos that were used in his book on weightlifting. I met his son, Bill, and also Oscar Heidenstam, the present editor of Health & Strength. Oscar has been known to us for many years as a contestant in major international physique contests and the author of many fine articles.
Many of the older readers of Strength & Health know of Bill Pullum and what this remarkable man has done for weightlifting, but the younger generation probably knows very little about the man. Pullum was born on April 8, 1887. In 1904 he became interested in physical culture as a result of coming to lodge with the Slade brothers, professional strongman competition winners, who worked closely with the Saxons in England. At the time Pullum suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis. Previously he had twice undergone surgery for bone tuberculosis. Through physical culture methods he cured himself of this disease. In 1905 he began lifting weights, his goal being to prove that science could be brought into the lifting of heavy weights. He succeeded to an extent that his own performances completely revolutionized the sport in England. For years Pullum remained at the top. His cl! ! aim of being the 9-stone (126-pound) champion of the world went unchallenged for 15 years. He retired in 1929 at the age of 42.
Pullum never weighed more than 122 pounds during his reign. In March of 1914 he officially equaled his bodyweight of 120-1/2 pounds in the crucifix lift, the only man ever to accomplish this extraordinary feat. In four years he won 15 British amateur championships and open competitions, 53 gold medals, and broke 192 world and British weightlifting records--every one an official performance. When he turned professional, no fewer than four of his records ran right through from the 126-pound class to the heavyweight division. In those days records made by a smaller man stood in heavier classes if they exceeded the record for the heavier class. Some of those records still stand.
In England Bill Pullum is widely renowned as a coach and trainer. He has trained scores of champions and record holders. At one time he and his pupils held 222 records out of a possible 252.
My impressions of "Dad" Pullum were certainly confirmed after meeting the man. He was everything that I imagined he would be, and even more. One who has not met him cannot imagine the warmth, sincerity, and devotion to physical culture that he personifies. He is a rich man in many ways, and I do not mean materially. Although he and Mrs. Pullum have been married for 52 years, I could see, as they spoke to each other, that here was a couple still deeply in love with each other even after all those years of married life.
After my pleasant visit with the Pullums, I had the pleasure of meeting Reub Martin, who is known to bodybuilders here as well as in England. Reub is a famous balancer and still competes in physique events. With Reub Martin was George Kirkley, the well-known author, photographer, and international weightlifting official, who is now the editor of The Strength Athlete, a new British weightlifting publication.
Of course I had to visit our old friends of many years, George Hackenschmidt and his charming wife. I'm only sorry that my visit to their home was so short, for it was pleasant to be seeing this fine couple again. "Hack" showed me his international scrapbooks and we had afternoon tea in the approved British fashion.
Much as I wanted to visit two other oldtimers in the persons of Thomas Inch and Edward Aston, time was running out, and our plane reservations for Munich that late afternoon made it impossible for me to stay in England any longer.
Munich, the second largest city in Germany and the capital of Bavaria, was the heart of weightlifting in the old days. I hoped that I would see many of the oldsters and be able to visit many of the old lifting clubs that I'd heard of for so many years. Much to my disappointment, I could not locate them in the short time I was able to remain in Munich. The war damage to Munich was immense, and although the city is for the most part now rebuilt, many of the old buildings are no more, and with them went most of the scenes of the old time strength performances.
One person I did make certain of seeing in Munich was Lionel Strongfort, who had for many years been in the United States and now conducts a mail order business in Germany as he had done here for years. For a long time I had been wanting to meet this well-built oldtimer who was one of Professor Attila's pupils back in the 1890s. Arriving at his offices, I found the outer office walls bedecked with many familiar photos of this well- known athlete. A young lady came forward as I entered, and after I introduced myself, she told me that Herr Strongfort was expecting me and would be out in a moment. The office and reception room were divided by a portiere; soon it was opened, and there came forward Lionel Strongfort. What a pleasant surprise it was to meet this man whom I have admired for so many years. A most interesting and friendly conversation followed. We conversed in both English and German. ! ! nbsp;It was interesting to note that Strongfort's English was spoken with a heavy German accent even though he had lived in the States for many years and came to this country as a very young man. Unhappily he told me that the kind of strongman clubs I had hoped to find in Munich were no more. Herr Strongfort was kind enough to neglect his business for some time and accompany me to a nearby park to have a few snapshots taken, but unfortunately the pictures did not turn out good.
Lionel Strongfort is now 83 years of age. Readers who recall the old Strength and Physical Culture will remember his photos. The remarkable thing I noticed about this man was that the skin of is face was extremely smooth and free of wrinkles. He looked to be in wonderful condition with not an ounce of fat to be seen anywhere.
Much too soon my visit to Europe came to an end, but the memories of it will linger for many, many years.
IRON GAME/PHYSICAL CULTURE HISTORY