Thursday, 27 October 2016

Death Stalks The Ice Rink

"Oh, there is nothing like the skater's art - The poetry of circles; nothing like the fleeting beauty of his crystal floor. Above his head the winter sunbeams dart, Beneath his feet flits past the frightened pike. Skate while you may; the morrow skates no more." - Eugene Lee-Hamilton, "The Academy"

The shinigami, La Santa Muerte, Hel, Giltinė... whatever your culture, whatever corner of the globe you hail from, chances are that you have some concept of Death being culturally personified. Just in time for Hallowe'en, our special guest on today's Skate Guard blog will be The Grim Reaper. They will be taking us on a tour back through time where we will explore some of the most tragic and unusual deaths that have ever been connected with the sport over the years.

On Valentine's Day in 1910, an eighteen year old student at Albert Lane Technical High School in Chicago named John W.G. Plaskett was reprimanded by his mother for staying out late... ice skating. "The Urbana Daily Courier", on February 15 of that year tragically tells us that, "only a few hours later he was found dead in his room by his eight-year old brother, Charles, who had been sent to awaken him for breakfast. The elder boy had committed suicide by shooting himself in the mouth with a 22-caliber rifle. The body was lying on the floor near the bed and the rifle was found lying near by. Charles, after realizing his brother was dead, ran downstairs and summoned his mother. 'O, why did he do it?' she cried as neighbours tried to calm her. While no one in the house heard the report of the rifle, it is believed the act was committed shortly after he entered his room."

Seven years earlier, twenty eight year old steam fitter and accomplished figure skater Frederick Short and his wife both drowned in a lake in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania... in the middle of a skating performance! The January 19, 1903 issue of "The Reading Eagle" recalled that "separate funerals were held for young Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Short, who were drowned while doing fancy skating and entertaining a large crowd on the ice. Mr. Short was a Presbyterian and Mrs. Short, Catholic. The funerals took place at the homes of their parents, and at their churches. The husband was buried in Smyrna, Del. and the wife in Phila."

That same year in Chicago, a visitor from New York City named William H. Kline committed suicide in full view of hundreds of ice skaters at Lincoln Park. "The Chicago Tribune" noted that Kline "was well dressed and of prosperous appearance. In his pockets were $8 and the following letter, addressed to Mrs. A Lester, 468 One Hundred and Fifty-seventh street, New York: 'Mrs. Lester - Dear, Kind Friend: In my hurried departure from the city I regret I did not see you for a few minutes to sat what would now be a farewell, for I have decided to go away and you will never see me again. Thanking you for all you have done for me, I bid you good-by and also all the folks. Your friend, William H. Kline.' The following quotation from Longfellow's 'Resignation' was attached to the letter: 'There is no Death! What seems so is a transition; This life of mortal breath // Is but a suburb of the life elysian, Whose portal we call Death.' The man had been seen in the park for nearly an hour before he drank the poison. He walked nervously up and down the bridge, occasionally stopping and glancing around as if expecting to meet some one. When he raised the bottle to his lips he was at the east end approach of the high bridge. A park policeman, who was standing nearby, says he heard the stranger utter something in a language which he could not understand just before he drank the poison."

Great Britain's William Harris learned how to skate on the ice during the Victorian era in England but was best known for his prowess on roller skates. He found success in British music halls before bringing his Vaudeville style act to America. Tragically, Harris passed away at the age of fifty during a show in Detroit, Michigan in December of 1924... and no one knew. An article from the December 16 issue of "The Reading Eagle" tells us that "while an enthusiastic audience applauded for a fourth encore, William Harris, 50, known to the stage world as 'Willie Rolls,' fell dead in his wife's arms in a theatre here. But the audience never knew. The curtain flashed up for his fourth encore - then dropped without an appearance. The orchestra leader dipped his baton and a racy march ushered in the next act. Back of the curtain overalled scene-shifters carried the dead player to a dressing room and aided Mrs. Harris to a lounge." Doctors said that he died from "heart disease resulting from overexertion in skating."

In 1942, a horrific and bizarre murder/suicide rocked members of Denver, Colorado's skating community. The August 17, 1942 issue of "The Chicago Tribune" recounted that "a middle aged married man shot a pretty high school girl who had been his ice skating partner, scribbling a note asking that they be buried together with skates on and then took his own life, Coroner George Hamllik reported today. Fishermen found the bodies of Margie Bolton, 17 years old and John G. [Jack] Kline, 48, an electrician, in an automobile on a lonely mountain road yesterday. 'I don't suppose it is possible, but we would like to be buried together,' one note read. 'Margie did not suffer. She died at once. Another note was addressed to Kline's wife, Irene, and to Mrs. Arthur D. Bolton, mother of the girl who was a talented ice skater. It said in part: 'Margie and I did love each other so much we could not stand it any longer. We are very sorry. Please forgive us.' Kline and the girl were members of the Denver Figure Skating Club and had skated as partners at shows."

Then there's the darkly comedic tale of Mary Tumble, an alleged Black Widow from Washington whose husband died while roller skating. On June 29, 1907, "The Age" reported that "Mary Tumble, known in Washington as Mother Rumble Tumble, the stoutest woman in America, is again a widow. Her eighth husband, a wealthy merchant, died as the result of an accident at the Apollo skating rink, when Mrs. Tumble accidentally 'tumbled' on him and crushed him to death. Mr. Tumble, who was a good roller skater, was showing his skill in a fancy turn when he tripped and fell. Immediately behind him was his wife, weighing nearly 40 [stones], neither size nor age being any bar to roller skating at the Apollo, and she fell on her husband's body with great force. The strange part of the tragedy is the fact that in nearly every case Mrs. Tumble's husbands have met with misadventure causing untimely death. Her seventh husband was killed by the sudden closing of a folding bed caused by the breaking of a spring under the weight of the unfortunate wife." Although my heart goes out to poor Mr. Tumble, you can't make this stuff up!

In an example of a death that absolutely could have been prevented by modern medicine, an eleven year old boy named Stephen Kinik from Westmoreland County in Pennsylvania died in March of 1934 of tetanus after suffering a minor cut on his left hand while skating on a pond. He died only hours after being admitted to Mercy Hospital.

Simone de Ridder wasn't just any skating coach. She was the mother of 1948 Olympic Gold Medallist and two time World Champion Micheline Lannoy of Belgium and in her day, an excellent skater as well. She met her end in a bizarre incident on a train in Kitzingen, Germany in November of 1953. An article from the "Spokane Daily Chronicle" on November 18 of that year notes that "police sought a tall, thin man who was believed to have pushed Mrs. de Ridder from an international train before dawn yesterday after robbing her. The woman died without regaining consciousness. Hospital aides said she had suffered a skull fracture and internal injuries. The Kitzingen sttaion master told police that as the train rolled slowly through the yards he saw a woman clinging to a window ledge while a man tried to pry her grip loose. Trainmen found Mrs. de Rudder alongside the tracks." The saddest thing about it all? Lannoy was on her way to meet her mother at the time.

The next time you are coming around a Lutz corner and catch a glimpse of something out of the corner of eye, turn around and take a second look. It may not be a skating judge waiting to give you an edge call... it just may be Death stalking the ice rink.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

#Unearthed: Sheldon Galbraith: The Early Years

When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time. This month's #Unearthed comes to you from a short-lived online magazine devoted to (mainly Canadian) figure skating history called "Skating Through Time" from the late nineties. The authors of this particular piece are PJ Kwong and Mel Matthews, and this has been shared with the fabulous PJ's permission:


Master coach, professional athlete, devoted husband and father, retired military man - all things that could be said to describe the inimitable Sheldon Galbraith.

Mabel and William GalbraithTo create an accurate portrait of the man, we have to go back to the beginning. Sheldon was born on May 24, 1922, in Sturgeon Creek, Manitoba, Canada. He was the youngest of four children born to William James Boyd and Mabel Agnes Frederika Galbraith: Margaret Irene, Nelson Weaver, Murray Cameron and then Sheldon William.

While Sheldon was still an infant, his family moved for a time to Los Angeles, before settling in Tacoma, Washington in 1928. The Galbraiths were a close-knit family, always doing lots of things together, with a particular emphasis on sports, which the boys all played, becoming particularly adept at baseball and track and field.

Sheldon's father William had been a talented skater, playing amateur hockey until his career was sidelined by the onset of World War 1. Although not 100% sure, Sheldon believes that his father may have played for, among other teams, what is now known as the Los Angeles Kings. Not surprisingly, the Galbraith children were encouraged to learn how to skate, becoming of particular interest to Sheldon and brother Murray. One freezing cold day in Tacoma, Sheldon donned 8 pairs of socks and his father's much too large custom-made Tackeberry-Strauss skates, while Murray wore his mother's Pat Qualey kangaroo leather ones. This marked the beginning of Sheldon's fascination with the ice and one's movement on skates across it. The boys skated every chance they got, including one wintry evening when they went to skate on a lake not far from their home. On his way back, Sheldon took a shortcut and ended up falling in a creek and getting completely soaked. He was able to get dried off with the exception of his skates, with the help of some kindly strangers. The next day and not wanting anyone to know, he decided to try to dry the skates out himself in a gas oven. What happened was that the sole of one of the boots split right down the middle and the skates were ruined! Although he was never spanked, being aware of his father's disappointment at his hand-made skates being destroyed was punishment enough for Sheldon.

GalbraithsWhen the Depression hit, it was keenly felt by the Galbraith family, who had to go on relief. They moved to a much more affordable 10-acre farm. The reasonable rent, due in some part to the fact that it was on, what would be referred to in Ontario, as hazard land. Able to become almost totally self-sufficient, the Galbraiths kept a cow, some ducks and chickens, a well, and 2 or 3 acres devoted to gardening and vegetables. These efforts greatly helped to reduce the costs of raising their growing family, and the only things they needed to buy were meat, flour and sugar.

Life on the farm was very demanding physically, and the whole family participated in its operation. Chores were a part of daily life for the children, and as a by-product, helped them to develop a level of physical fitness and athleticism, which would stand them in good stead. As with lots of farm children, they worked hard and played hard, and could often be found when not in school or occupied with the farm work, playing tag, climbing trees or swinging from a well-used tire swing.

After a time, things improved for the family, and William was able to get back on his feet by moving to San Francisco and taking a job with the National Cash Register Company. By the time Sheldon was 14, the whole family was able to move to San Francisco where they were reunited.

It is here that both Sheldon and Murray started to pursue their dreams of skating. The 48th Street rink, run by the Thompson family, became a second home to the boys. Every Saturday morning they would head there, with 2 streetcar tickets each (at a cost of a nickel per), and 25 cents which covered the cost for a morning skating session, including rental skates. Eventually the boys were given jobs scraping the ice, which paid for their skating.

The first pair of skates that Sheldon bought himself was Johnson Skates a pair of Nestor Johnson hockey skates, costing $8.24, which he earned by selling newspapers at 18th and Geary Streets in the "streetcar zone".

"There is nothing like finally having your own equipment, and not having to rely on hand-me-downs or rentals".

Sheldon was free to finally start really having some fun experimenting with his skating. He was always trying new things; got lots of encouragement from other skaters and coaches; but even the most basic waltz jump and figure eight was pretty difficult to do in hockey skates.

Mostly, Sheldon perfected the art of falling on his left hip, which he did a whole lot, causing him to shift his wallet from left to right pocket, where you can still pickpocket it to this day. In a move that one could only describe as lunatic, Sheldon attempted what he thought would be an Axel jump one-day. This jump was so wild and wide open that he injured himself on the landing. A lesser man might have given up, but this made him more determined than ever to figure this skating thing out.

No surprise to find at this time, that he had grown as a skater beyond the regular pleasure skating session, and was removed from them.

If he was going to continue as a figure skater, Sheldon's next step had to be to buy himself his first pair of figure skates. They were Polar Reginas, an early "open toe model, and interesting from today's perspective because they were a riveted boot and blade. The skate was riveted to the boot as well as the blade being riveted to the sole plate. This meant that any inaccuracies in footwork, where the blades might knock together, would cause them to make a ringing sound.

Life at the 48th Street rink was becoming more difficult. Initially, the boys had agreed to scrape the ice in exchange for ice time. However management came to expect that they would do more and more work around the rink maintaining it. The constant sweeping, cleaning, handing out of skate rentals and ice scraping, to name but a few of their tasks, meant that they had very little time left to skate.

They approached the management for weekly streetcar tickets and a salary of $5.00 per week for their work, and were refused. Their father had already forewarned them that if they were refused, they should be prepared to make a move to another facility, which they did.

The newly opened Sutro's Baths Ice Rink became their new home in 1937. It sported a larger ice surface, and the boys were able to secure a similar "ice scraping in exchange for ice time" arrangement. It was here that their training went into high gear, and they were able to become more serious about skating. They were invited to join the Skate and Ski Club of San Francisco as honourary members. Knowledgeable and interested by-standers at the club suggested to the boys that they consider competing, as they were now members of a USFSA affiliated club and would be eligible.

In 1938, the California State Championships were held outdoors on ice-covered tennis courts and a parking lot in Yosemite National Park, where the boys were entered in the Novice Class. At outdoor events, there was always the problem of the easily shattered top layer of ice, known as "shale" ice, which made "clean" tracings of school figures very difficult if not impossible to do. Sheldon was fortunate at being able to find some good ice for his school figures, which made him the leader going into the freestyle portion of the event, edging his brother by a mere 3/10ths of a point. Sheldon went on to win the Championship.

In recalling that competitive experience Sheldon says: "Not feeling fully confident in my musicality, I skated my freestyle performance to "The Cockeyed Mayor of Kaunakaki", which was a very strong piece of music and offered a profound meter or beat that anyone could keep time to."

Not everything went according to plan however, and he goes on to say: "during my performance, they used one spotlight that looked like a searchlight. I came out of a spin in the middle of my program, and was completely lost. I had lost not only my orientation, but had forgotten my program. I skated around doing something, waiting for my memory to kick back in as to where I was supposed to be. I remember doing several split Lutz trying to find where I was supposed to be in my music."

Reassuring somehow, to know that it happens to everyone.

These State Championships were important from another point of view, because it was here that they met Meryl Baxter and Neil Rose, against whom they competed, and Meryl's brother Skippy, all of whom hailed from the Oakland Skating Club. These skaters had a similar arrangement at their club, and with so much in common, the boys became very good friends. Wanting the challenge and camaraderie of training with their friends and fellow competitors, the Galbraiths joined the Oakland Skating Club, while continuing to skate at Sutro's.

Harry Swanson, who managed the facility, and had a sporting goods store at the rink, allowed the Galbraiths to do ice scraping and sweeping to earn their skating. Sheldon contends that the constant work of scraping and sweeping developed tremendous power in the leg muscles and the central back line along the spine. Pushing a scraper full of snow, and trying to turn a corner with it, or trying to push 2 squeegees, water-filled and locked into one another which created the flooding action, required a lot of pressure, spinal strength, and an understanding of gravity of the load, getting behind it and the centre of balance. There were lots of subliminal things they were learning about balance mechanisms, and the science of movement at that time.

Equipment was causing challenges for the Galbraiths. They were having problems with their blades bending and coming loose, as a result of the increased stress placed on them by their improving skating skills. They each solved the problem by buying a pair of Arnold boots from Harry Swanson's Sport Store at the Oakland Club. These boots would be considered very high on the leg by today's standards, but for their time, were considered to be a very well fitting "off the shelf" boot, which came in 4 widths for each size, and saw the boys through their skating careers.. To overcome the blade problems, they got in touch with a man who had worked for J. E. Strauss, and was manufacturing an Olympiad blade. He had a problem with the die he used to stamp the blade. It was missing part of the "d", and he sold those blades at the discounted price of $18.00. Sheldon and Murray each bought themselves a pair, and were now well outfitted to continue.

The training atmosphere at the Oakland Club was a very positive one, not only because friends got to skate and be together, but also because of the support they received from the instructors at the club, in exchange for demonstrations from the members of this group in the basics of skating to their students. These skaters, already working at levels between the 6th and Gold tests, had to rely on help from one another, as the most highly qualified instructor had achieved a 3rd test level.

The Baxter and Galbraith brothers, and Neil Rose would meet on the ice, 30 minutes or so into the public session, after people had had a chance to practice their school figures, and work on whatever good ice that was left. There was no doubt that Skippy Baxter was the most advanced skater at the club at that time.

Sheldon recalls: "Skippy was a jumper from the beginning. He was the first guy we saw do a double anything. In 1939, he did triple Salchows and double Axels in Los Angeles" In that same year he was listed in Ripley's "Believe It Or Not" for his triple Salchow which he performed in exhibition along with the split Lutz he invented.

Attending the 1939 Ice Follies they met Gene Turner the Pacific Coast Senior champion and liked him immediately. He was very generous with his time and expertise. It seemed to be the trend of the time that the more advanced skaters were always happy to offer guidance and advice to younger amateur skaters. Gene's mother was a national judge and also very helpful to Sheldon and Murray. Gene was a fighter pilot during World War II.

In addition to the physical preparation required leading up to competition, there was also the need to address the issue of costuming. National Championships were typically held in the dead of winter, late in February or March, and often in the more chilly areas of the northern U. S. This was challenging to the western skaters, who had a hard time adjusting to the much colder temperatures, both out -of-doors and in the rinks. Our skating friends from California often trained in ski pants tucked into their socks and draped somewhat over their skating boots, resembling knickers in a way, but lower.

When competing "back East" in the 1939 US Novice class held in St. Paul Minnesota they wore Eton jackets and a cravat secured with a special pin resembling a figure eight crafted for them by a jeweler in San Francisco. They also wore heavy wool tights, used in stage performances, but useless against the temperatures they were being exposed to. Sheldon remembers trying to decide between cutting the foot out of the tights, and securing them by a strap under the arch of the boot, or leaving them as is, with the big seam at the back of them, which caused cramping in his feet. Never getting used to performing in their costumes was just another obstacle to be overcome in their rise in the competitive ranks.

The Oakland skating club continued to be their training ground on the weekends, but feeling put in a similarly exploited situation by the Sutro's Baths rink, their club, the The Skate and Ski club made a move to San Francisco's Winterland, which boasted an enormous rink. Normal dimensions of the day were 180' long by 80' wide, and this rink was 220' long by 110' wide, considered to be excessive to say the least.

This move backfired somewhat, particularly evidenced by Sheldon's performance at the 1940 National U.S. Junior Championships hosted in Cleveland. Suffering from a cold, and used to the much larger ice surface where he had been training, he turned in a poor performance in the freestyle event. There were seats for spectators on one side of the rink, and skating on this much smaller ice surface, he crashed through the barrier, landing in someone's lap. He was defeated by Bobby Specht, who went on to become the National Champion with Murray finishing second and Sheldon third.
Sheldon and Murray declined their first offer to join the Ice Follies in 1939, but reconsidered after the Junior Championships and joined the cast in May of 1940. Meryl and Neil followed soon thereafter into the New York Ice Revue at Center Theatre and worked in the chorus, while developing a comedy routine called "The Rookies". Skippy joined New York Revue as a lead performer.

At first, none of the boys skated in the shows, but practiced the routines during the rehearsals. Sheldon and Murray worked on a version of a "synchronized" skating pair that, in the early stages was a variation of Sheldon's solo. They had first started skating as a pair when they had been asked to work up a number for the opening of the Grace Breweries Ice Rink in Santa Rosa, California. It had been very well received, was considered very athletic, and was what had originally brought them to the attention of the Ice Follies.

In late August of 1940, after having learned the chorus numbers and perfected their own featured pair number, Sheldon and Murray were invited to skate in several shows prior to the opening of the following year's tour, which was to be held in Los Angeles.

This was a time of great learning for Sheldon, in addition to learning about the discipline of a professional show, where you simply continued to do something over and over until you got it right, he learned about music and choreography, and putting together a complete "package". There were so many wonderful resource people that the Galbraiths had access to in Ice Follies. A well-known stage, show and ballroom dance choreographer/producer, Miss Fanchon (Hollywood, Ca), was brought in to do the planning and choreography for the Ice Follies; new show.

She was assisted by skating choreographer Fran Claudet (Ottawa, Canada) who would then interpret these Ice Follies numbers and ideas for the ice. When working out new ideas or concepts for their pair, they would present them to the choreographers for their approval. At this time, they were working on developing their musical expression, and what they were trying to express creatively through their skating.

One of their costumes was a champagne like satin top with maroon pants made by MacIntosh of Hollywood. MacIntosh made all the men's costumes for Ice Follies of the best materials. There was no production built around the Galbraith Brothers, for they were an unknown quantity. Sheldon and Murray did strengthen the chorus numbers in which they performed so this was a plus.

Counting music was new to Sheldon and he was still counting by mouthing the counts. On the first tour performing in Los Angles during a performance Murray happend to fall down. Part of the routine came to a skid stop at the end of the rink close to the audience and the people near by started smiling and laughing at Sheldon's counts as if he were counting Murray out in a boxing match.

Sheldon recalls: "Show business does not play around, you don't need to have your music played to rehearse, you hear it in your head and you know it so intimately that every step intertwines with the next to lead to the conclusion successfully for the delivery of a good performance."

Skating in the Ice Follies in the 1940's was a glamorous proposition, and there was lots of fun and parties in addition to the hard work.

Once they had spent some time with the tour they became more comfortable with the show and started to relax and enjoy the events and some of the pranks that went along with it.

In San Francisco during their synchronized pair number, Sheldon remembers hearing a bottle making a bung, bung, bung noise as at it fell down the steps from the balcony making its way to the ice surface. A member of the audience had put his foot on the ice to warn them that the bottle had shattered all over the ice. Sheldon told Murray to continue with their number while he cleared the broken glass from the ice. Having cleared it away he rejoined Murray to finish the number and he got a tremendous hand. In show business you learn to adjust to anything.

Life on the road was not all glamorous and pranks were a part of back stage life. Sheldon recalls:"There was one particular member of the boys' chorus who loved to put short wooden matches in the side of the other skaters shoes. When the guy was wearing his shoes he would divert their attention and light the matches giving them 'a hotfoot'. One night in Philly we got some long screws and drilled through the soles of his shoes permanently attaching them to the floor. Everyone went home in their shoes except the prankster who had to go home in his skates. That put a stop to that."

Also the choreographers had designed a very elaborate number for Nora McCarthy as an Indian Princess. The chorus boys would place about 8 totem poles around the ice surface before the performance to set the tone for her entrance. The boys would beat tom toms and on her entrance she would signify the exit of the chorus by drawing her bow and aiming at the chorus. During one performance the boys grabbed their rear ends and left yelling in mock pain.

At the opening of the 1943 season, at the Pan Pacific Auditorium, there was a cast party held by the two brothers that owned the auditorium, with lots of celebrities in attendance. In fact, a guest at the party, Ronald Reagan a young actor, along with Jeanne Schulte a Follies cast member and her former roommate Nora McCarthy, a Canadian Ladies Champion spent some time comparing notes on new contact lenses that had just come out. Reagan was a diver at the time specializing in the 3-metre board, and explained that it was the first time he had been able to see the water and didn't have to rely solely on timing and instinct after purchasing his first contact lenses. After that discussion Jeanne was persuaded to purchase contacts of her own.

In the mean time Jeanne Schulte, had caught Sheldon's eye. Jeanne had been a national Junior pairs champion with partner Ollie Haupt. On turning professional, she taught for a season in Michigan, did a stint in a Chicago hotel show, performed in the World's Fair held in New York, prior to joining the Ice Follies.

Sheldon's touring years with the Ice Follies lasted until March 1943. Jeanne retired at the end of August of that year and they were married on the 24th September 1943.

In the summer of 1942, Murray and Sheldon enlisted in the US Naval Air Corps. Sheldon's eyesight meant that he couldn't qualify for the Naval Cadet program, but he discovered that if he continued to study for his commercial pilot's license (he was already a private pilot at this point ), he could eliminate 18 months of training, enabling him to join the AVT (Aviation Volunteer Transport).

While in the Navy, Murray and Sheldon were allowed to continue to perform in Ice Follies provided that the management made an announcement at each show during intermission that they were members of the armed forces, awaiting call to active duty.

The call for Sheldon came in June of 1943, and he went through training as a naval aviator, earning his wings in November of that year. His job would be to teach flying for the Navy for the next 15 months. He was sent to Livermore, California (which would become the Lawrence Observatory, and the facility for research on the atomic bomb), and then transferred in the winter to Bunker Hill, Indiana.

It was Sheldon's observation that many of the skating instructors after the war had been pilots, and many skaters who had gone into flying had been successful at it. He attributes it to something about balance, a sense of level, the eye co-ordination that seemed to compliment the skills required in flying. These were already things that skaters had acquired along the way - in addition to being able to sense varying pressures on the feet, skating having such a different feel on the foot from walking.

In the Navy, Sheldon was exposed to distinctive eye reflex training. They were shown pictures of aircraft or ships at a 75th of a second. This exercise demonstrated that the eye sees history in every case, and retains a picture. It can't predict the future or perceive the present, and is the reason why a series of still pictures shown in rapid succession creates the illusion of a "motion" picture. The delay in the process is caused by the eye having to see something, interpret it upside down, relay the message to the brain, and then come back to understanding. The fact that people think they see in the present what they are seeing, try to report it, and then realize they are out of sync with what is happening. This was an intriguing concept for Sheldon, and knowledge that he would put to later use in devising ways of teaching technique to skaters, recognizing that although something looked like it should be done one way, didn't mean that it in fact was the case. More about that later.

At the end of his term, Sheldon was separated from the Navy on December 18, 1945. After Christmas he went to work on mastering the level of performance required of his skating to pass the figure and free skating elements and achieve his gold medal on November 6, 1946.

Although separated from the Navy, Sheldon was kept in the Reserve because of the Korean War, and on standby in case they needed more pilots trained. He had no option in this matter. He finally got out by sending a letter to the Navy Bureau of Personnel explaining that he was having a hardship having to maintain two residences owing to the regulations of the U.S. Immigration Dept. The Navy released him on November 30, 1955.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Saturday, 22 October 2016

The Disappearance Of Helmut Gräf

On May 28, 1951, twenty two year old Helmut Gräf arrived in New York City. He had travelled first class from Amsterdam aboard the Holland America liner M.V. Moordam. After his steamer trunks were unloaded from the ship, the young Austrian headed west for Cincinnati, Ohio, where he was to enroll as an exchange student at the University Of Cincinnati. Gräf was no 'regular' exchange student; he was the heir to the Gräf & Stift Austrian automobile manufacturing fortune. Upon his arrival in Ohio, we met twenty year old Trixie Hochhaltinger while she was working at the YMCA in Cincinnati. It seemed like fate had brought together the two Austrians in the Queen City so far from their home country and soon the two lovebirds started dating. Gräf fell hard, and when Trixie left her job at the YMCA to join the chorus of the Ice Follies, he skipped the entire spring semester of classes at the university, following her to Buffalo and then to Pittsburgh with the tour.

On March 12, 1952, Gräf visited Hochhaltinger backstage at the Ice Follies show in Pittsburgh. He was last seen around 5:50 that night when he stopped his car at a fire engine house and asked for directions to Wilmington, Ohio. Fire Chief Richard Rose claimed Gräf had told him his car was "acting up". His car abandoned near the B&O Raiload tracks in Columbus, Ohio sometime between March 14 and 16. When discovered, a window was smashed and a large spot of blood was found on the front seat. Officials at the Austrian embassy initially suspected foul play, as Gräf was believed to be carrying upwards of one thousand dollars of cash on him at the time but another theory was developed by Lieutenant Ellsworth P. Beck, who suspected that Gräf had car trouble, parked the car and took off hitchhiking and that the bloodstain was the result of a thief who smashed the window to enter the car. A nation-wide search ensued and folks from Jersey City to Jacksonville had more speculations and theories than the Maura Murray case.

A tip came in that Gräf was seen boarding a Washington bound train at Union Terminal but it was checked and proven to be incorrect. Another reports from a truck driver who claimed they had picked him up in Delaware, Ohio hitchhiking and let him out near Fostoria, Ohio didn't pan out either.
Trixie Hochhaltinger hadn't the faintest clue what had happened to Gräf, first saying he was "happy and contented" when he left "to return to Cincinnati" but later admitted that they had a big old spat backstage at the Ice Follies show the night he disappeared. She had defaced a picture Gräf had given to her of him and he was quite upset by it.

Gräf was found on March 19, 1952. The police picked him up at The Blackstone, a swanky Miami Beach hotel, where he'd stayed since March 15. He was registered under an an alias. Detective William Murray of the Miami Beach police explained that Columbus authorities had located Mr. Gräf through an airplane reservation made under the name Harry Granger. The mistake he made that tipped them off (rather easily) was the fact that he used his own address on Bishop Street in Cincinnati when he booked the flight with a Columbus travel agency.

Gräf was detained by the Miami Beach police under 'protective custody' as a missing person at the request of the Columbus authorities and held for questioning about the bloodstains in his car. Detective Sargeant Peter Stewart put him in a holding cell. "He was given a routine search and then placed in a cell. He didn't say much at the time," Stewart told an Associated Press reporter. Two hours later, Stewart returned to place another man in the cell. "Gräf was unconscious in a pool of blood. There was a razor blade on the floor. He had cut a main artery near the left elbow with a single edged razor blade."

Detective Captain Charles W. Pierce of the Miami Police advised that Gräf was rushed to a hospital, near death from blood loss. He was in critical condition at Mount Sinai Hospital and given plasma and a blood transfusion by Dr. Russell Lavengood and cared for by Nurse Doris Miller. Dr. Lavengood said that his blood pressure was so low when he arrived at the hospital that it could not be recorded and that his body was in a "state of profound shock from the loss of blood." When asked why he attempted suicide, Gräf told police he wanted "to see what the other side is like." He also told police he had been considering "killing myself for two months."

On March 22, 1952, Miami Beach police advised Gräf that he would be allowed to go free once he recovered from his self-inflicted wound. Detective R.B. Loveland said, "I think that boy has had enough trouble without our filing any charges against him." However, he was required to go to Columbus to explain his abandoned car with the smashed window and bloodstain... a scene he admitted to Miami Beach police he had staged. He called it a "silly, spur of the moment deed with no reason."

Detective Sargeant Stewart advised that upon a search of Gräf's hotel room at The Blackstone, his passport was found hidden under a rug. He claimed Gräf had "been despondent because of his low marks and the possibility he might be sent back to Vienna because of them." Dr. Raymond Walters, the President of the University Of Cincinnati, sent Dr. Robert Bishop, the Dean Of Men, to Miami Beach "to do whatever is essential to assist Gräf." Immigration authorities advised that Gräf was attached to the university by a 4E Visa and police advised that it was likely he would be shipped back to Austria but Bishop discounted reports he might face deportation. His parents arrived from Vienna and swiftly hauled him back to Austria.

Gräf faded into obscurity, as did Trixie Hochaltinger. Perhaps most interestingly, Trixie was the daughter of Gisela Hochhaltinger, the first woman in history to win a bronze medal in pairs skating at the European Figure Skating Championships with her partner Otto Preißecker. Shortly after that competition in Vienna in 1930, Gisela retired to become a mother. Had Gisela Hochaltinger chosen to continue in competitive figure skating through the 1932 and 1936 Winter Olympics, history would have been altered and one of the most compelling missing persons cases of the fifties - Ice Follies connection and all - might never have made front page news.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Thursday, 20 October 2016

The 1965 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

In the years that followed the Sabena Crash that claimed the lives of the entire U.S. figure skating team, the American media largely centred its narrative on figure skating on loss, not on rebirth. Yet, at the 1965 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, held from February 10 to 13, 1965 at the very arena where Sonja Henie had claimed her second of three Olympic gold medals, it was clear that a new generation of stars had incredibly already emerged. More than one hundred skaters representing clubs from sea to shining sea descended upon the Jack Shea Arena that February, each with their own hopes, dreams and unique stories. Let's take a look back at how it all played out!


Paul McGrath and Robert Black

Competitions in novice pairs and ice dance were not yet included on the ticket at the U.S. Championships, but young Julie Lynn Holmes dazzled in the novice women's event, fending off challenges from Coco Gram and Nancy Brunnckow to claim the gold medal in that event. Roger Bass claimed the gold and Christopher Young the bronze in the novice men's event, but the real star was thirteen year old Atoy Wilson, the son of a Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Department supervisor. Wilson, who had taken from Peter Betts and Mabel Fairbanks, claimed the silver medal and in doing so was the first African American skater in history to both compete and medal at the U.S. Championships. As an unfortunate testament to the language and sentiment of the time, in a February 10, 1965 article in "The Leader-Herald", coach Nancy Rush praised Wilson thusly: "He can skate good figures and he is a very good free skater. He has all the jumps and a very nice style. If a Negro is going to make it, Atoy is the one." Twelve year old Paige Paulsen and fourteen year old Larry Dusich of Pasadena defeated Susie Berens and Roy Charles Wagelein to win the junior pairs title. Sixteen year old Betty Lewis and twenty one year old Richard Gilbert of Boston claimed the bronze ahead of Sharon Bates and Richard Inglesi of Oakland. Bates redeemed herself by maintaining an early lead in figures to win the junior women's event ahead of sixteen year old Pamela Schneider of Lincroft, New Jersey and seventeen year old Sondra Lee Holmes of Artesia, California. Finishing eighth of nine skaters in Lake Placid that year was a young Janet Lynn. In the Silver (junior) dance event, eighteen year olds Kathy Flaherty and Roger Berry of La Crescenta and Los Angeles, California moved up to defeat compulsory dance winners Sandra Schwomeyer and James Pennington. Dolly Rodenbaugh and Thomas Lescinski of Pittsburgh took the bronze. In the junior men's competition, fifteen year old Robert Black of Melrose, Massachusetts lead after the figures but was overtaken in the free skate by eighteen year old Paul McGrath of Jamaica Plains, Masschusetts. Ron Frank took the bronze and a young John Misha Petkevich placed fifth.


After winning the 1963 and 1964 U.S. pairs titles, Judianne and Jerry Fotheringill had retired. Highland Park, Illinois siblings Vivian and Ronald Joseph had been runners-up to the Fotheringill's the two previous years and were favoured heavily to ascend to the top of the podium. Ronald was a pre-med major at Northwestern University in Chicago; Vivian was a high school junior. Their mother had enrolled them in skating lessons together when they were youngsters when Ronald wanted to play hockey but needed to learn how to skate first. With outstanding poise and precision, the Joseph's easily bested Cynthia and Ronald Kauffman of Seattle, Washington and Joanne Heckert and Gary Clark of East Lansing, Michigan to win their first and only U.S. pairs title.


The defending men's champion, fifteen year old Scotty Allen of Smoke Rise, New Jersey, was considered the skater to beat in his training base of Lake Placid. However, in the school figures Gary Visconti built an early lead over Allen. The reigning Olympic Bronze Medallist fought back in the latter figures but it just wasn't enough. Visconti took first place with eight ordinal placements and two firsts, three seconds; Allen second with two firsts, a second, and two fourths. Sixteen year old Tim Wood and seventeen year old Duane Maki, both from Detroit, placed third and fourth. In the free skate, Allen landed a triple Salchow but fell on a triple loop attempt. Visconti didn't attempt the loop, but skated a flawless performance and earned a standing ovation from the capacity crowd of two thousand spectators. The five judges split the first place marks, with Visconti earning three firsts and two seconds; Allen two firsts, a second and two thirds. Tim Wood took the bronze, ahead of Duane Maki, Billy Chapel of Hollywood, Buddy Zack of Chicago and Richard Callaghan of Rochester. I spoke with Visconti about the event in September 2016.  "I was going against Scott Ethan Allen in New York. He was third at the Olympics and the Worlds and he was the shining little boy. I won the figures and he came second. I remember my Mom was sitting up in the bleachers and Mrs. Allen was behind her. She said to my mother, 'Oh, Gary's doing so wonderful! He's going to be an easy second.' And my mother said, 'Oh, THANK you.' My mother didn't care. The next night was freestyle and everyone said, 'Gary, we're glad you won figures but you know you're going to be second tomorrow, right?' I said, 'Yeah, that's okay. That's fine.' So I skated second to last and he skated last and I did fine. I did a good job and he did a good job but I won... And then everyone said it was a big fluke that I had won."


The defending champions, Darlene Streich and Bucky Fetter Jr., had retired and Lorna Dyer and John Carrell, ranked fifth in the world, were heavily favoured to win their first U.S. Gold Dance title after placing third the two years previous. That's not exactly how it all panned out. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves noted, "Skating in their smooth an unaffected style, Kristin Fortune and Dennis Sveum beat the established couple, Lorna Dyer and John Carrell. Jean Westwood coached the first two couples in Championship Dance. They and the top Silver Dance couples all came from Los Angeles. Stanley Urban's injury had healed, but Sally Schantz turned pro, so Stan skated with his sister and ended third for the Buffalo SC. Carole MacSween and Bob Munz, second in 1964, could do no better than fourth because Carole had missed so much training time with her broken leg." Wilma Piper and Thomas Easton and Janet and Nicholas Burhans took the bottom two slots in the standings.


Christine Haigler

Eight women contested the senior women's title in Lake Placid and sixteen year old Peggy Fleming of Pasadena, representing the Arctic Blades Figure Skating Club, was considered by insiders as a sure bet to defend the national title she had won the year prior in Cleveland. Fleming took a strong lead early in the school figures but seventeen year old Christine Haigler of Colorado Springs, who had received medical attention after two bad falls in a free skating practice earlier in the week, rallied from behind to grab a narrow lead. Both skaters had eight ordinals. Haigler had three firsts, a second and a third, while Fleming had two firsts and three seconds. Sixteen year old Tina Noyes of Arlington, Massachusetts was third; sixteen year old Carol S. Noir of East Orange, New Jersey fourth.

In the free skate, Haigler's practice injury was evident as she fell thrice and was not up to her usual snuff. Noyes skated a clean performance with a fine double Axel but Fleming's dazzling display, replete with double Axels and Lutzes, was deemed by the judges as the skate of the evening. Her marks ranged from 5.4 to 5.9 and she was first on every judge's scorecard. Overall, Haigler had three second place ordinals, a third and a fourth, while Noyes had two seconds and three thirds. Under the factored scoring system, Haigler got the nod over Noyes for the silver behind Fleming. Myrna Bodek overtook Carol S. Noir to place fourth.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Words Of Wisdom: Advice For The Ice From Howard Nicholson

St. Paul, Minnesota's Howard Nicholson is perhaps best remembered as the long time coach of three time Olympic Gold Medallist and ten time World Champion Sonja Henie. That said, he was an excellent skater in his own right. While busy coaching Henie, from 1931 to 1933, Nicholson won the Open Professional Figure Skating Championships of Great Britain. An acclaimed specialist in school figure technique who taught in England, America and Switzerland, he wrote "Nicholson On Figure Skating" in 1933, which offered meticulous advice on mastering every figure in the NSA's tests at the time. In his instructional book, he also weighed in on free skating and even his star pupil. Today on the blog we will look back on some of his timeless advice and musings:

(on turns): "I know a great many people will not agree, but personally I am all against pulled, torn or forced turns; they are not my ideal of a turn, which ought to be a true clean edge, to a true clean edge, and naturally does not make much noise. Certainly pulled, torn or forced edges help the judges, as they generally mean 'safe' turns, and the judges have not got to look so carefully for double lines and changes, and naturally the noise impresses the spectators, but it generally means that the skater is the lucky possessor of very strong ankles or legs. Of course a heavy person is bound to cut more ice and so make more noise, but it does not necessarily mean a torn line in that case."

(on Sonja Henie): "Not only have I never had a pupil like Sonja, but I have never seen or imagined there could be a girl so wonderful and so brilliant. I am astounded at her ability to grasp almost immediately my suggestions, however new they may be to her. Difficult and complicated new steps which one would expect to spend months on, even with what it is the fashion to call a first-class skater (I mean anyone who has at least passed the gold medal standard) are performed after only a few lessons with an ease and grace which only an exceptional artist could possibly attain. The lady skater (or, if it comes to that, the man) who can defeat Miss Sonja Henie will not only be the best skater in the world, but, in my opinion, will be the best who has ever put on a pair of skates."

(on Sonja Henie): "It has been a great honour to have such a talented public as Frk. Sonja Henie; I spent many happy hours teaching her. I value tremendously the generous acknowledgment of my coaching she has made on her photograph."

(on Backward Inside Loop Change Loops): "Just before the Change: straighten the tracing knee; raise the body from the hips; lift the free leg slightly higher, along the line of the tracing, but not too far from the ice; keep the back arched. Just at the Change: close the circle by covering the previous tracings; take the free leg quickly forward; the tracing arm right across the body and the free arm further back. The Change is made from the back part of the skate on the B.O. edge. Immediately after the Change: rebend the tracing knee well; lower the body back on the hips again, and look round the free shoulder for the previous B.I. Loop. Do all these movements for the Change as one continuous motion."

(on free skating): "A well thought out and placed programme is extremely effective and convincing. Running about the ice to get pace for a special spin or jump is not, to my mind, 'free skating.' Programmes should be as individual as possible, not just bad imitations of some 'star'. Much the best plan is for the skater to make up a programme and ask his, or her professional, or friends to criticize it and help with the execution. No professional can give a completely different programme to dozens of different pupils, besides that is not what I feel is meant by 'free skating'."

(on playing it safe): "So many people... want to try the most difficult spins or jumps, irrespective of the fact that they may be nervous and unable to bring off anything at all difficult to them, whereas it would have been quite possible to do something simpler, which would probably have been equally effective, and so not have spoilt their programme. Never lose sight of the fact, that it is better to do a less difficult thing well than a difficult thing badly."

I don't know about you, but those last two lessons make a hell of a lot of sense, now don't they?

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Figure Skating Hodge Podge, Volume 4

As autumn creeped in the last three years, I introduced you to a Maritime classic: hodge podge.  If you've never had a proper bowl of hodge podge, you don't know what you're missing. It's a traditional Nova Scotian fall dish that uses nothing but the freshest harvest vegetables. It just warms your soul and I'm craving it already by just mentioning it.

Here in Atlantic Canada, we use the expression "hodge podge" to describe anything that's got a little bit of everything. Figure skating constantly evolves and changes that much that it's not always easy to keep track of all of the developments, stories and (sometimes) dramas that develop along the way. I've had several topics that I'd been wanting to write about for quite a while that all seemed to have two common denominators. For one, they are all tales that many people may not know or if they did, might not remember. Secondly, they don't all really have enough material to constitute a full blog of their own. Fasten your seatbelts and prepare for a tour of compelling stories with a skating connection... an a delicious 6.0 finish:


Lyudmila Vasilevna Zhuravleva was not a skater herself but a staff member at the Crimean Astrophysical Observatory in Nauchnyj, near Bakhchysarai, Crimea. Her research with the Institute Of Theoretical Technology began in 1972 and continued into the late nineties. In that time period, she discovered no less than two hundred and thirteen minor planets and other celestial bodies. I'm sorry, but is that not insane?! In her first year on the job, she discovered an inner main belt asteroid that she named 3231 Mila. Considering her name was Lyudmila, I think it's a reasonable assumption that she named it after herself initially. Although three unconfirmed sightings of the asteroid had been made in 1949 and 1955, this was her baby.

3231 Mila, which takes three years, three hundred and one days and twenty two hours to orbit the sun at an average speed of 1904 km/s, was officially dedicated in the memory of another fabulous Lyudmila, Olympic, World and European ice dancing champion Lyudmila Pakhomova on May 31, 1988. Pakhomova had passed away two years prior of leukemia. On the world stage, her posthumous induction that same year to the World Figure Skating Hall Of Fame may have garnered more attention, but the fact that a light shines in the skies commemorating this skating great is a tremendous testament to the influence that her skating had on the world. Always remember... Up there in the Milky Way, there's an asteroid where you can skate all day.


I quite intentionally usually shy away from even mentioning roller skating on the blog. To be honest with you, I am not a fan. However, from Jackson Haines to Carrie Augusta Moore, the mention of the roller skating floor is something that is quite inescapable when you're researching figure skating history. Many Victorian era performers switched almost seamlessly from blades to rollers, so much so that you really have to do your homework when sifting through primary sources to figure out what they had on their feet at times. Haines popularized "Le prophète" on roller skates but what many don't know is that the very same year that Meyerbeer's opera debuted, another ballet took Europe by storm with an attempt to depict ice skating on stage. It was called "Les Plaisirs de l'Hiver ou, Les Patineurs (The Pleasures Of Winter, or, The Skaters") and was performed at the Academie de Musique Paris, the Great Theatres of Germany and Her Majesty's Theatre in London in the late 1840's. Morris Traub's 1944 book "Roller Skating Through The Years" noted, "in this ballet was a winter sports scene, in which [Paul] Taglioni, in order to depict skating on the Danube, used roller skates with the wheels masked to resemble the blade of an ice skate. The stage was covered with a sheet of some smooth material to represent the frozen river. The music was composed to help describe the sports of a Hungarian winter, 'even imitating the sound of gliding on the ice,' as a critic who reviewed the ballet described it." Roller skating may have largely appropriated from - and in the eyes of some critics at the time, corrupted - ice skating, but the success of this particular attempt to mimic ice skating on stage opened up many eyes to the possibilities of actual ice skating as bona fide stage entertainment.


On March 31, 1995, a rocket attack on the northern Israeli coastal city of Nahariya killed an eighteen year old. The subsequent Katyusha attacks in Galilee left one hundred thousand people sleeping in shelters where they sought refuge from Lebanese shelling. Hardly a safe environment to say the least but this was the scene in December 1995 when seventy four skaters from twenty three countries converged at the rink at the Canada Centre in a dangerous area in Metulla, Israel bordered by Syria and Lebanon for the first international figure skating competition ever held in the Middle Eastern region.

The competition didn't go off without a hitch. An initial plan to exclude the original dance and just judge ice dancers on their compulsory dances and free dance obviously didn't meet ISU standards and several ice dancers had to recycle costumes and improvise music or have them flown in last minute as a result of only expecting to need costumes for compulsories and a free dance. A nasty fall in the Silver Samba forced French ice dancers Marianne and Romain Haguenauer to withdraw. However, the real drama was off the ice, with bombings twenty five kilometers north of the Canada Centre leaving skaters and coaches on edge while they tried to focus their attention on the ice and not on the sky above. Despite the bombs and soldiers everywhere, the show went on. The ice dance event was won by Lithuanians Margarita Drobiazko and Povilas Vanagas and the pairs event by France's Sarah Abitbol and Stephane Bernadis of France. In winning with a flawless free skate, Abitbol and Bernadis defeated future Olympic Gold Medallist Elena Berezhnaya, who was then still competing with Oleg Shliakhov for Latvia... and we all now how that went. Though not without errors, World Bronze Medallist Tanja Szewczenko of Germany won the first Skate Israel ladies title in convincing fashion, defeating Elena Liashenko of Ukraine and Katerina Berankova of the Czech Republic in a field of twelve. Hometown favourite Michael Shmerkin won Israel's only medal of the event, a gold, in front of a hometown audience, defeating European Champion Dmitri Dimetrenko and World Junior Champion Evgeny Pliuta. It was a case of who fell the fewest times, with Dimetrenko landing only two clean triples and Pliuta missing his triple Axel. Despite a strong roster of competitors, only the Lithuanian ice dancers and Abitbol and Bernadis made a strong impression with the judges... but the audience was supportive to skaters from here, there and everywhere. And that's how it was just days before Christmas in Metulla, Israel in 1995. As the bombs dropped outside, peace reigned on the ice.


Born June 23, 1832 in Cornish, New Hampshire, Addison P. Wyman grew up working on his father Saul's farm with his two brothers. When he was twenty five, he married Ann E. Atwood, a noted soprano singer, and embarked on a new life studying and teaching violin and piano. After working as a teacher in Wheeling, Virginia, he opened a music school in Claremont, New Hampshire and took up the art of 'fancy' skating. He was so inspired by the ice that he wrote a series of piano-forte pieces in ode to the craft: "Music On The Water", "Floating On The Water" and the 1869 March de Bravurs "The Alps'' among them. Perhaps most famous was his 1867 Caprice "Skating By Moonlight" dedicated to skater Annie Moore of Washington, Pennsylvania. Although largely forgotten today, Wyman was among the first of many American composers to compose pieces inspired by skating and used widely by ice Valsers at the time.


Who could forget the 1908 Summer Olympic figure skating skirmish between Ulrich Salchow and Nikolay Panin? As far as tawdry tabloid material, it made the whole Pasha/Sasha/Maya/Evgeny partner switcharoo look like small potatoes. This was OLD SCHOOL scandal of the first quality. One man who quietly faded into the background of figure skating's first Olympic appearance was a man named John Keiller Greig, who just missed the podium in his home country in 1908.

Born in Dundee, Scotland in 1881, Greig thrice won the British Figure Skating Championships prior to World War I but seeing as his only international appearances were his 1908 fourth place finish at the Olympics and a fourth place finish at the 1910 European Championships in Berlin, Germany, he wasn't a skater that historically is greatly remembered. However, he was an athletic skater for his day and one of the first British skaters to compete internationally sporting the Continental Style as opposed to the traditional English Style of skating still popular in Britain at the time. He also won a large ice waltzing contest at Prince's Skating Club with Phyllis Johnson.

Eminent British judge, pairs skater, author and historian T.D. Richardson offered a wonderful anecdote about Greig's career: "I myself preferred Greig's skating. It was so unstereotyped, so intrinsically his own, less influenced by [Henning] Grenander than any of his contemporaries. I think this was mainly the result of his superb physical strength, on which was based all the beauty and power of his performance. Once, I remember, he had promised to skate a show at Samaden, near St. Moritz, on a date which would have allowed him a week or so at the 6,000 ft. altitude in which to get acclimatised. But he was delayed in London on business, and found himself in the train on the way up to St. Moritz on the day of the show. He quickly changed into costume black tights and lion tamer jacket in the train and, leaving his luggage on the platform; with guards on his skates, he strode along to the rink, skated a four-minute show and an encore, then, returning to the station, he found the train still there, waiting for the St. Moritz Coire train to pass through, boarded it, re-changed and in due course took tea in the Kulm Hotel. Yes! There was something to remember in the skating of this grand fourteen-stone athlete... Incidentally, later on, although no longer young, he took to skiing like a duck takes to water and became one of the first British skiers to jump with any degree of success." I don't know what it is about this story that just made me smile but I think it's just the hilarity of a man getting dressed into tights, skates and a lion tamer costume on a train, hopping off and giving this amazing performance and continuing on his merry old way... I love it!

Greig would ultimately retire from competitive skating in 1910 at the age of twenty nine and as mentioned by Richardson, turn his attention to skiing. The very year of his departure from skating he was featured in W. Rickmer Rickmers' book "Skiing For Beginners And Mountaineers". Tim Ashburner's 2003 book "The History Of Ski Jumping" explains that "after the War, Keiller became the leading light for a new generation of ski jumpers and langlaufers with St Moritz as their base." A pioneer in not one but two Winter Olympic sports by way of his SUMMER Olympic appearance in 1908, Greig would pass away in Scotland in 1971 in Ballater, Scotland at the age of ninety, leaving a legacy of excellence in sport and this wonderful anecdote to make all of you smile as much as I did!


Sop up what's left with some nice hearty bread and be sure to double or triple up so that you have leftovers... this is always better the second day! This recipe is for four to six people:

Ingredients (fresh from a farmer's market or garden):

10-12 new potatoes – scrubbed/not peeled, and halved – quarter any large potatoes, and don't cut the small ones – you want the potato pieces to be about the same size
2-3 cups chopped new carrots – scrubbed/not peeled, cut into bite sized pieces (you can peel them if you like)
1 cup chopped yellow beans – 1 inch long pieces
1 cup chopped green beans – 1 inch long pieces
1 cup shelled pod peas – you want just the peas, not the pods
1.5 cups cream
1/4 – 1/2 cup butter
salt and pepper to taste

1. Fill a large, heavy pot about halfway with water, and salt lightly (about 1/2 teaspoon of salt). Bring to a boil.
2. Add the potatoes to the boiling water. Cook for about seven minutes.
3. Add the carrots to the pot, and continue cooking for about seven minutes.
4. Next add the yellow and green beans to the pot, and continue cooking for about five minutes.
5. Finally, add the peas, and continue cooking for about three minutes.
6. Drain off most of the water – leave about an inch of water (no more) in the bottom of the pot with the vegetables. Return the pot to the stove, and reduce burner heat to low. Add the cream and butter, and some salt and pepper (I start with a 1/4 teaspoon of each).
7. Gently stir to combine, allowing the the blend and butter to heat through. As you’re stirring, the potatoes might break up a bit. As the the blend and butter heat through, the broth may begin to thicken. This is normal. Don’t allow the mixture to boil.
8. Once the mixture has heated through, it is ready to serve. Season with a little salt and pepper to taste. Serve with bread.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Rethinking Ice Dance History: Progress And An Exhausted Argument

"Dance is everything. Movements with music - all music. Dance is free. You can't lock it up or block it. Today certain rules paralyze it... Many skaters skate, few create. They have to be taught curiosity, emotion." - Christopher Dean, "Patinage" magazine, 1990

When Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean skated their iconic "Bolero" in 1984, everything changed. Coaches, choreographers and skaters from Toronto to Tokyo, inspired by the Briton's game-changing performance, responded with their own efforts to push the boundaries of what was possible in ice dance choreography. As ice dancing become more avant garde, the International Skating Union pushed back... and the skaters pushed back again.

In 1987, the ISU's Ice Dance Technical Committee made some changes. Free dance regulations dropped any mention of changes of tempo in music but made clarifications about lifts, noting that the number of turns in any lift could not exceed one and a half, skaters couldn't turn on their knees or boots or perform other movements with their blades off the ice. Leg and back carries, such as when Christopher Dean flipped Jayne Torvill at the volcano in "Bolero" were out, as was balletic music that couldn't be measured by a metronome. Lying on the ice, too, was out of the question. As the rules stood that year, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean couldn't have performed their innovative "Bolero" program at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. Worse still, the judges were at odds between what they were reading in their rulebooks and the skating they were seeing on the ice.

At the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin won with an Igor Bobrin program that was every bit as much in the theatrical vein as the "Savage Rites" program choreographed by Dean and skated by the Duchesnay's, but when Isabelle and Paul invited the judges and referee to explain their reasoning behind placing them a lowly eighth at a press conference, not a single one showed up. Instead, in response the following year the ISU Congress introduced the costume deduction rule, calling for mandatory 0.1 to 0.2 deductions for 'inappropriate' costumes including 'bare chests' and 'sleeveless shirts'. This rule, at least partly, seemed a direct response to the Duchesnay's program. By the time Isabelle and Paul finally won a World title in 1991, the ISU was becoming more and more concerned about the interpretive direction ice dancing was taking. In a February 14, 1992 interview with the "Ottawa Citizen", former World Champion and ISU ice dance guru Lawrence Demmy said, ''We must be open minded. Just because we don't like it, we must appreciate it. That's the point I make to the judges.''

After the 1992 season, the ISU again amended its rules, stating that "other music such as symphonic, opera and other classical music not originally written for the dance floor must be reorchestrated" to have a rhythmic beat. The allowance for innovation, applauded in the work of the Duchesnay's and in that of Finland's Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko; in Jacqueline Petr and Mark Janoschak's "Pee-Wee Herman" free dance and Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow's race car program, was out of favour with the ISU.

Not everyone agreed with the ISU's sentiments. I may be a bit of a contrarian with a taste for the zany but I feel the narrative that the zany was a bad thing and that the alternative was indeed progress was more exhausted than a toddler who managed to stay awake three hours past their bedtime. Toller Cranston, in his 2002 book "Ice Cream", agreed: "After the Duchesnay's left the scene, ice dance declined dramatically. Today it has become low-level schlock. Its future is in jeopardy." I don't think Toller's assessment at the time was the least bit over the top. After all, the result of these rule changes resulted in perhaps the least memorable of any Olympic gold medal winning free dances, Oksana Grishuk and Evgeny Platov's rock and roll shtick, winning in 1994 while Rahkamo and Kokko's ingenious "La Strada" free dance kept them off the podium. In turn, the Finn's - with a rich repertoire of creative work - earned their only world medal in 1995 with a Beatles medley that was every bit as unmemorable as the Duchesnay's more conformist "West Side Story" free dance in 1992. In the case of both teams, their more theatrical pieces remain the ones people remember and revisit. Perhaps most telling was the fact that in contrast to the largely forgettable amateur free dances we saw in the years that preceded the rule changes, some of the finest ice dancing the world has ever seen emerged in the professional competitions during the era that followed that rule change.

Those who took issue with the work of the Duchesnay's have historically taken great pleasure in criticizing their two footed skating and the fact that Paul was a stronger skater than Isabelle. However, looking at the bigger picture of the inspiration that they and Torvill and Dean gave other teams to push the envelope and stretch the possibilities that ice dancing could allow, their role in the sport's development is one to be applauded. I don't know about you, but I say more avant garde performances are still what ice dancing needs. Symbolism is underrated.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

The 1952 Canadian Figure Skating Championships

Who's ready to hop in the time machine? Don't all get up at once! Today we're going to take a brief look back at the 1952 Canadian Figure Skating Championships, held in mid January 1952 in Oshawa, Ontario. With berths on the line for the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo, Norway, the competition was not only fierce but controversial as well... but I'll save that part for last.

Let's start by taking a quick look at that year's junior competitions. Among the men, fourteen year old Charles Snelling of the Granite Club in Toronto took home top honours. Nineteen year old Rosemary Henderson of Winnipeg narrowly defeated fifteen year old Ann Johnston of Toronto to take the junior women's title and in the junior pairs event, Vancouver's Patricia Spray and Norm Walker (who also competed in junior singles but placed poorly) rallied to take the win over Toronto siblings Arden Mae and Clifford Spearing.

Frances Dafoe and Norris Bowden

Winning by a landslide in the senior pairs event, Frances Dafoe and Norris Bowden of the Toronto Skating Club dazzled. Their only other competitors that year were Audrey Downie and Brian Power of the Connaught Skating Club in Vancouver. Lynn Copley-Graves' book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice" recounts that the senior "ice dancers were overshadowed by the singles and pairs on their way to the Oslo Olympics. Four couples remained after the eliminations of the three events, i.e. Silver Dance, Waltz, and Tenstep. Frannie Dafoe and Norrie Bowden's successes in all three dance finals and Senior Pairs fave them a total of four Canadian titles in one year." Joyce Komacher and William A. de Nance, Jr. of Toronto and Pierrette Paquin/Malcolm Wickson of Vancouver placed second and third in all three of the dance events. Of the entire pairs and dance flock, Dafoe and Bowden were the only ones assigned to either the Olympic or World team that year.

High school student and defending senior men's champion Peter Firstbrook of Toronto fended off twenty three year old, three time Canadian Medallist Bill Lewis of Vancouver and nineteen year old training mate Peter Dunfield to repeat as the winner. The January 21, 1952 edition of the "Ottawa Citizen" noted that "Firstbrook, 18, a handsome six-footer, piled up a decisive 36.3 lead in the school figures and took an easy victory over two other competitors... Firstbrook, who fell after stepping onto the ice without removing one of his blade protectors, retained his crown hands down." Like Dafoe and Bowden in the pairs, Firstbrook would be the sole men's entry to the Olympics in Oslo and the World Championships in Paris.

Vevi Smith
Now here's where it get's juicy. After winning Olympic and World medals in 1948 with pairs partner Wally Diestelmeyer, Suzanne Morrow had continued on as a singles skater, winning the Canadian senior ladies title from 1949 to 1951. The twenty one year old skater, based on experience (and fourth place finishes at the last two World Championships) was in effect given 'a bye' to the Olympic team and was overseas training in Germany when the Oshawa competition was going on. That left one ladies spot for the Oslo Olympics and ten women eager to snatch it up. In the school figures, nineteen year old Vera Virginia 'Vevi' Smith of the Toronto Skating Club rockered and countered her way to a 7.2 lead over Marlene Smith (no relation!) of the Winter Club of St. Catharine's. Both had previously been senior medallists and junior champions, both had the same last name and both were hungry for the win. In the free skate, Marlene Smith (according to the "Ottawa Citizen") "skimmed to an easy victory as she executed the different leaps and spins of her free-style skating with ease and grace. Dressed in a brief costume of cerise shiffon, her long blonde hair fluttered in the breeze as she skimmed the ice to the accompaniment of Kreisler's 'Liebesfreud'." Marlene won the title ahead of Vevi and sixteen year old Elizabeth Grattan of Toronto, who moved up from seventh after the figures to take the bronze. Elizabeth's younger sister Barbara and Maureen Senior placed fourth and fifth. While Marlene celebrated her presumed Olympic ticket, the CFSA was preparing to drop a bombshell. The "Ottawa Citizen" reported that "the Canadian Figure Skating Association executive, in naming the Olympic team, explained that Vevi Smith had been selected even though she hadn't won a championship, because she had racked up a higher score in school figures than any other senior man or woman contender." Things got a little crazy for a while before the CFSA saved face by announcing that both Smith's would ultimately join Davis at the Olympics and Worlds that year. Ironically, it was Marlene that soundly defeated Vevi at both international events.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at