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SYMHC Classics: Katie Sandwina, the Glamorous Strongwoman

2019-03-02 | 🔗

We're revisiting a 2015 episode about Katie Sandwina, who wowed crowds from an early age, first as a wrestling act and then exclusively as professional strongwoman. During a time when women's suffrage was a hot button issue, she cultivated an image of a perfectly feminine powerhouse.

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
happy saturday everybody this week on the show we talked about general toma alexandra duma who rose to the top ranks military during the french revolution and the napoleonic wars and one of the things came up in the episode was how he liked to do strong man style stunts kept reminding me of our previous episode on katy sand weena for back in january of twenty fifteen and san marino was a strong woman i love her and i think she's incredibly amazing she also was an activist for women's rights and we are going to share her story again today so enjoy welcome to stuff you missed in history class from howstuffworks dot com hello and welcome to the podcast i'm holly frey and tracy v wilson and it's two thousand and fifteen
we're in the new year which means a lot of people are making new year's resolution i talked about how much i love them before and it got me thinking about topics that might centre around that a lot of people at this time of year like to kind of focus on me hitting the gym a little bit more this is why when i've been in the regular jem going habit i always basically take january to do other things
yeah attempts to be the big rashly people that are regular jim goers we'll find like this is the influx when they can't get a machine or can't get enough time and the spot they want me jim before everybody gets tired and wears out but it got me thinking about fitness and whether or not we can find a good fitness related podcast and at first i wanted to talk about sort of the advent of the the health club in the german america which its goes back much farther than you may suspect but that's not actually are going to talk about today because while i was researching that i then stumbled upon something else they got me really really excited and that is katy billina who was a strong women with certain just a wonderful fascinating story that made me laugh and also be amazed say wow a lot and also sent me
lots of i am at your hearing i was i just every time i unturned a new piece of information about her over his tracy guess what else and then and then like turned into a child so it seemed blake i was on the right track in terms of exciting topics at least for me so today we're gonna talk about katy send weena and her sort of really remarkable life but also just her remarkable near as a human not just because she was so strong but because she mr she's a fascinating story fanned weena was born catherine broom in vienna austria in eighteen eighty four her bavarian parents who were felipe and joanna room bach we're both guess performers and they wowed crowds with feats of strength felipe with em never man standing reported six but think six inches tall and weighing two hundred sixty pounds joanna was a strong woman and she was about six feet tall
and the couple had either fourteen fifteen or sixteen children together depending on which saw she read i saw a kind of an almost equal smattering all of those numbers but in any event we are turning a really sizeable family catherine who went by katy was the second oldest and while she and three of her sisters barbara marie anne eugenia all performed with their parents in their strong person act it wasn't very long before katy really stood out as exceptional even as young is two years old she was able to hold a handstand really easily like they would do a trick where she would hold a hand stand on her fathers hands as part of the show and so she began gymnastics training pretty quickly to develop her natural proclivity in that direction and she also started appearing on stage pretty regularly with mom and dad and retraining again a to europe and her team years katy was already almost six feet tall and
quite lean and a hundred and eighty seven pounds and she worked really diligently to develop this natural strength that she seems to have as her my group suited her legs she was considered to be really a beauty and so her father developed a whole circus act around her yeah and it's maybe not the act you would expect at the various circuses where the family performed throughout europe felipe at the end of them showing off all of their feet of strength would offer hundred german marks cash any man or woman who could best katy in a wrestling match and the prospect of rest with an attractive young woman no doubt had serious appeal for the gentlemen who stepped up to try they did very well with this this act and katy took on many many challengers and she
never lost a single fight but there was a sort of fun and surprising outcome from this act eventually this act ended up adding to the roma there was a young nineteen year old man named backs came in and he was an acrobat he took the challenge to wrestle katy and he stepped into the ring with her was promptly knocked out and then she carded him out of the ring she was at that point sixteen years old and in a terribly charming twisted the story the strong woman and her vanquish challenger payment fell in love they were married two years later and max officially became part of the act and again he was also an acrobat so he when they were with the circus he wasn't just being with katie's act he was also doing things like you know standing on horses they ran around and other acrobatic things and their match seems to have been really quite happy they said
together for the rest of katie's life in some interviews given later on in his life max tells the story as though he fell madly in love with her on that very day and then ran away with her to get married much to the chagrin of katie's father but that does not add up given the census records but one thousand nine hundred and thirty census reports that max indicated that katie and he had been married when she was nineteen and he was twenty one that was a couple of years after this whole thing happened yeah that lines up with most of the histories about katie there only these few sort of interviews with max later in life that it seems like he may be played up the sort of the whirlwind nature of their of their marriage that its very cute is he'll talk about how all he remembers is stepping in the ring seeing them
sky when he fell down and then coming to you as katy carried him away what sort of a cute fun start to a romance i don't recommend knocking someone out as a way to win their heart but it should work case in the one thousand nine cavy and her act made their way to the united states shoes performing with max in one two other gentlemen as the same dream they actually took this name on it wasn't the name they originally came over with because on a visit to york she issued a challenge at the end of her acts to anyone that one d try to lift more weight than she could
she had won taker from the crowd and it was a dizzy eugene sand bow and send out with oppression born bodybuilder he'd always already become very famous as the sort of the embodiment of the perfect male physique he made a career of appearing on stage wearing nothing more than a fig leaf or other very scant clothing and gladiator sandals to show off his extremely powerful muscles yet these are their hilarious to me pictures out there of him standing in his fig leaf like like saying ass could see every you no part of his body but so he was widely believed to be the strongest man on earth so when he emerged from the crowd to take this challenge katy was a little concern that she had made a woeful myths step in our remit this is a girl that never lost a fight so the thought that she might be facing lake defeat in front of a crowd was probably very terrifying but she did not back down
the weightlifting challenge began so the way this worked was that katy would lift up away in the towns or sambo would have the with that but they wait and this one for a while with an ever increasing wait load finally katy lifted three hundred pounds up over her head and katy put the weight down and sand out took the three hundred pounds up he could only lift it to chest level so the channel was over and katy had officially beaten the most famous strong man in the world and a weightlifting competition and so before we jump into how they become the sand wieners and what happens next we're going to take a quick word from a sponsor what do you know about your neighbors what are they want who do they love they good neighbours to you are you a good neighbour to them neighbours our people
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seemed weena it was after this challenge with sambo that cavy started appearing the name sand we know so what we do know about the name is that it is intentionally a female derivative of sand thou and what we do not know and has it has been a little nebulous in the record is whether this was meant to be a respectful nod to the famous bodybuilder or an insult after she beat him after this challenge the other big james to katie's life besides are stage name was the nature of her act she was no longer a wrestling challenger she became exclusively a strong woman act yet once this bit me miss made big news like the fact that a woman had beaten huge male bodybuilder in public in new york it pretty much rippled out through newspapers pretty quickly and so at that point she was just a strong woman they didn't feel like they needed to bother with wrestling anymore and among the feats that she would demonstrate during the course of a show you have a nice list here that tracy and i will share
you so one of the things she would do is juggling thirty pound cannonballs lifting has husband max you two hundred and sixty five pounds over her head with one hand this one blue my mine she would lift up horses i don't even know how you begin to lift a horse saliva saying that might wiggle in addition to being extremely we have an unwieldy size and shape she would hold fourteen people at a time on a carousel supported by her chest and shoulders this also wild to me she would lift a half tonnes came in on her back around her chest there is actually a picture that i found on line of her with this cannon again full cannon when a cannonballs the apparatus to shoot them and its balanced on her chest by i what would be the exit end of the came in with the weak was in the air and she's just sort of steaming they are holding it so that's again half a ton we're doing but a thousand pounds or four hundred and four
three kilos that she's just balancing on her chest there's the strong classic of bending iron bars should also break iron chain secure just snap them as part of the act and she would lie a bed of nails while audience members were brought forward the hidden anville perched on top of her chest with sledge hammers now as i starting to read this i was like come on bed of nails i know people who do this they do not do this with an anville on their chest they may at the most have a cinder block she was pretty astonishing i mean she just did amazing things and it's funny because you read some accounts where there was one peace that i read where they were talking about how she lives in what was allegedly called the german
method and i have no knowledge of whether or not this is a valid nomenclature for it where she would she would lift prickly heavyweight she would kind of be rolling them up over her belly and chests to get them up rather than like a clean and jerk if i'm getting this correct i'm still salmon you're going yes but three hundred pounds i don't care how should miss eyre i'm sure if you are a weightlifting experts you will know that that is clearly a layman's take on things but i'm still pretty amazed that she was just huck in this kind of wait around as part of an act that she was doing over and over it wasn't like a one time shot she toward the united states first on the orpheum vaudeville circuit and while on tour in the early nineties hundreds she and max had a baby they had a son theodore roosevelt martin back send weena and through her whole pregnancy she continued they were stage appearances with oliver usual tricks and feats of strength
the night before he was born she did not one but two shows could never find do me good info on in the what were you thinking arena like the people that's is like an awful lot to be doing to your body but equally using your core at a time when you are carrying a little person and they know exercising throughout pregnancy is considered healthy as long as you're not kind of going harder than you were before you got pregnant but i'm having people hit you with sledge hammer on a bed of nail seems unwise when you're carrying a child but what do i know
tv for her part really seemed to take motherhood in stride though the press nickname theodore super baby as he was not surprisingly large child even though his father was not a particularly large man you know he still came from katy stock and so by the age of two he reportedly wait fifty pounds and for comparison in case you are not apparent the modern cdc charts put the average rate of a two year old boy at twenty eight pounds so he was almost twice normal pected modern size anyway so we can conclude pretty logically that this had a lot to do with his mother's genetics but it really prompted reporters to start asking then do enough for feeding in care tips for healthy babies like you too can raise the colossus how on earth that would happen
and while teddy was still young katy and max headed to europe to tour and they do not always take teddy unto them sometimes he was at boarding school but in any case it was not long before john wrinkling spotted katie's act and signed the banana why for the barnum bailey circus and at this point ring his brothers had just bought the circus for a reported four hundred and ten thousand dollars again this is in like one thousand nine hundred and ten money so it's quite a significant investment and so they wanted to fill their roster with interesting and star act so in nineteen eleven they headed back to the states but katy was not as it turned out a featured performer for the barnum bailey circus instead her act which was thus and wieners was one of or strength based attractions that ran simon obviously you are ringing had envision this scenario with all four of these strength act sort of vying for the audiences attention is like one huge spectacle but of course kay
he drew all eyes she drew report as well as audiences so the circus launch this plan to really play up roll and they arranged a press conference to feature their new star kind of announced her as like the new minos spotlight performer of barnum baileys and so act was also rename so they no longer went by the sand wieners the name was actually updated to katy sam duenna aunt troop this was the first of many press conferences that send we know it give while she was with the circus and it became the norm for the press are really want to see her anywhere the circus toward doctors would show up away and measure her publicly the press would report on her forty four twenty nine forty three figure and
arrival at her sixteen and calf muscles and katy did not seem to mind doing this at all for her part she actually accentuated her size by wearing boots with heels and some height enhancing up do secured pile her hair on top of her head to further accentuate her stature and especially in contrast to her five foot six husband and then to conclude these press appearances she would lift max into the air and then she would follow that by lifting both max and their son teddy with one arm there is actually a rather too coming photo of the family in this arrangement floating around online or katie's in this beautiful dress and she's got her husband and her arm in arm ben is holding the child who is not an infant at that time he see no more of liquor a young child it's kind of wonderfully wacky so in addition to showing off katy size than ours
these press conferences also really accentuated her femininity press members road at great length of her tighten s beauty that promotion push on the part of the circus worked really hard to balance are charming good works with her strength in the public eye to create this irresistible act that was sure to dry and spectators even reporters who doubted the strength claims that barnum and bailey made they were quick to acknowledge cavies appeal and magnetism it seem like she was a likeable as she was strong and what's really fascinating is that she's never described as being masculine during the es junket despite being bigger and stronger than many men of the era or i would say many men today descriptions of her always her a venus and commanding beauty men according to one female reporter quote she was an unconsciously perfect illustration of her text that beauty is strength strength beauty
yeah i really was expecting as i was doing research on this to find some weird thing about you now how manly she was but none of them seem to their saddened that kind of suggest lake you know men might be in trouble if you know of women are like this than that if this is how we're going we're gonna lose some power ends that's we pretty germane to at a time when next which is that while cavy really easily handled this role of basically being also a pr act for barnum billy circus she also serve to some degree as a mouthpiece for women suffrage because she was in the public eye she was very like a ball she considered attractive and she was a wife and mother she was it shared by many it was like people could both in my her beauty women could identify with her because she fulfilled roles that they were living even though she was also living this life of a circus performer
but because she was also part of a marriage where she was seen as at least physically dominant over her husband she also this model of liberation and starting in nineteen twelve she actually served as vice president of the circuses women suffrage group thus earn her the nickname send duenna the suffrage et in some news stories and then before we get to sort of how her life shifts at this point we are going to have another word from a sponsor if that's cool with tracy ok so at this point no katy has really achieved some level of fame she and max have been touring the world and at one point whether touring europe in nineteen eighteen they actually had their second son alfred and alfred's birth took place during whether the unrest of the hungarian revolution which we talked about a little bit in our bela lugosi episode in the story
although there is no substantiation i could find on this but i did see it reported similarly in several places that katy actually had to crawl under like a barbed wire fence to get to a hospital when she went into labor and she ended up actually giving birth on the floor of the hospital because there was complete the overcrowded and there was nowhere for her to go they couldn't admit her so alfred was kind of born in not ideal circumstances but seem to turn out just fine and just like with theodore she was performing right up until she gave birth katy continued to draw crowds as a strong woman into the light nineteen forty and at this point she was in her sixties but there were some bumpy times at the end of her career as a strong woman you're having nothing really to do with her during the nineteen thirties in the early nineties forties the ringing brothers in their various business ventures were really struggling you know the great depression impacted the circus just
like everyone else and many performers lost their jobs for a brief period during the depression the works progress administration circus which is the only state run circus the united states has ever had was organised by the federal government this gave circus for farmers the opportunity to stay afloat and keep entertaining and katy and max worked with the debbie pierre circus after leaving barnum and bailey and as sort of a fascinating financial side note related to the circus as ringleaders barnum bailey circus was getting back on its feet in the forties emma katy max worse still working with them a fire actually destroyed the maintained during the show i dont think medium acts were at this particular event this horrible fire killed a hundred and sixty eight people an injured hundreds of others and as the financial massive it was being sorted out the resulting ruling of the court's was it the circus had to continue operation
and in order to bring in enough money to settle the resulting lawsuits in operation losses in this actually became the first chapter eleven bankruptcy case since the start of a fascinating historical cited it also wasn't long after this that katy and weena and her husband wound up leaving the circus forget yet we know how much you know sort of the the fiscal problems or the financial problems of the circus actually inside did them to leave or if it was just feeling like time to settle down and stop touring constantly but in the late nineteenth forties and we know finally made her last stage of appearance and she retired from our job as a strong woman at the age of sixty four and she was still doing those same crazy tricks that she had been doing since she was like a teenager and a twenty year old and a pregnant lady she just was i m perpetually sort of agog at her amazing physical prowess and her strength in her just ability to do these things again into her sixties and at that point she and her husband max opened a restaurant in queen
new york and while she wasn't appearing with the circus she would occasionally kind of pull out the old tricks and entertain patrons by lifting ex into the air she also said to a bent steel bars and broken horseshoes too entertained the dynamism and people it came in to have a drink there there is actually a picture in one the articles that i looked out in its actually kind of reprint of an older article from the forties from the very late forties when they were first starting out in the the barring girl business that's kind of couched within a bigger more modern article about her and there's a picture of her again every time haired woman in her sixties doing the bed of nails trick with the sledge hammers bar to entertain people so she really never gave up performing even though she wasn't on stage anymore that first year of running a bar and girl wasn't really easy for the pair which is not surprising hard to say
down and stop touring constantly but in the late nineteenth forties sand we now finally made her last stage of appearance and she retired from our job as a strong woman at the age of sixty four and she was do an interview that the two of them gave in late one thousand nine hundred and forty seven usually the inebriated man would later returned apologetically and beg her pardon after sobering up yes she and again i love it because she still considered sort of girly in many ways her daughter in law that was married to alfred said that she always had her nails painted and she was really one of the most feminine women she had ever known but unfortunately just four years after she retired from performing and really is there grow was with getting really really stable and good katy actually died of cancer on january twenty first of nineteen fifty two katy and max's funds each followed into the family business in their own way their first then theodore became a heavyweight boxer under the name ted sam sand weena and there's a brief pity
of his mom giving him boxing lessons in the twenties on youtube after his brief boxing career he worked in the bar with katy max and alfred for his part went on to become a fairly successful actor is alfred's sand or while his career struggled in the u s initially he eventually became known in australia for a long running gig on the soap opera the young doctors and he also appeared on the cult drama series dark shadows if any of our listeners ever watched that he was on one episode but it's kind of a noteworthy spot for him care oh i am so delighted by her story but a fun wacky lady i like best beads of strength it sounded possible
i know they just a blow my mind and it's one of those things like i said there reporters that we're even like i don't know that barnum failure being entirely accurate with their claims but gosh i really like this woman like i wanna go see her show but even like if if those sort of wild claims were overblown at in most cases if you have them they would still be really mind boggling feats of strengthened their pictures of her lifting multiple people at a time and their legacy that i saw photograph of her with the cannon balanced on her chest and said there is photographic evidence of some of these things and in some cases you could say oh that's a prop and it was probably lighter but they were not prop people that were walking a trough advice a board that were there was balanced on her chest lake yet canada is the one thing that makes me go i wonder of some of them was going on with that cannon
now let me know when you see her with wake you know four and five people climate on our shoulders pretty also that's a lot of human thank you so much for joint action on this saturday if you have heard an email address or a facebook url or something similar over the course of today's episode since it is from the archive that might be out of date now you can email us at history podcast at how stuff works dot com find us all over social media at missed in history and you can subscribe our shared on apple podcast google podcast the iheart radio app and wherever else he listened upon count for more on this and thousands of other topics visit how stuff works dot com
Transcript generated on 2020-01-14.