By Earle Liederman
There seems always something new to relate about SANDOW. I have written scores of articles around him year after year. Now there arise other thoughts. Eugen Sandow lives in the minds of bodybuilders and all who are interested in strength. His glamorous life cannot become forgotten.
First of all, let us stretch our imagination and visualize Sandow as being alive today. Suppose he were writing for this magazine. How his words would be thoroughly digested by everyone! Not only would he impart wonderful knowledge but he would offer much wisdom. He would stand a guiding light for muscle enthusiasts the world over. He could readily command a dollar a word for his articles – and get it, too!
Sandow could reveal exciting episodes of his aggrandized life when he was fairly worshipped by countless thousands. He could explain how he used to chin himself with any one finger of either hand, even with his thumbs. And he could relate in detail how he one-arm bent pressed twice daily upon the stage a huge barbell with enormous spheres, and how he held this special bell aloft for a moment before he would lower it carefully to the stage. He then immediately opened each sphere so that the audience would see a pretty girl step out of each globe together with six or seven small dogs. Such was a bit of his showmanship. And he did dozens of such fantastic feats also.
And now, can you fancy yourself seated in a theater while you watch him at his best and witness him throughout his incomparable posing under lights while in a cabinet?
Then see his sensational deltoids as he tensed them so that they were like two halves of a grapefruit in size! And you could then have the rare treat of watching his biceps and triceps wriggle and dance in rhythm with the music; and lastly then leave the theater still seeing with your mind’s eye his magnificent abdominals with each layer perfectly matched. You’d be held spellbound for a long time afterwards. Yes, it would be a rare privilege and a series of thrills which you’d never forget; if you could have seen him when at his best and he were that way now.
But Eugen Sandow died back in the latter part of 1925. Too soon, too. Yet his name has lived on and on throughout the decades and will always remain synonymous with strength. Just as you cannot think of muscles without thinking of a barbell, so you cannot see nor hear the name Sandow without thinking of the acme of physical perfection.
My friend, Ray Van Cleef, travelled from San Jose, California, to visit me in Hollywood for but one day recently. The round trip is about 800 miles. That’s quite a journey to take for conversation. It was a rare treat for me. Ray and I talked and talked for over 12 hours and I think we covered the world in general during that all too brief time.
Anyway, Ray chanced to mention about Sandow’s grave which he visited while he was in London around the time of the 1948 Olympic Games when he was a trainer for the U.S. Weightlifting team. He had first heard about Sandow’s burial place while conversing with Henry (Milo) Steinborn, the famous strongman of bygone days. This was discussed many years previous to the occasion of the ’48 Olympics. And so now I take you to London, England, and relay further information on the subject.
Ray made the motor trip with John Barrs, who at the time was the editor of the British publication Vigour. Upon arriving at the cemetery, they carefully investigated the detailed data which they had secured from authentic sources. Finally, they obtained the services of the caretaker who escorted them to the exact spot where Eugen Sandow lies beneath. This caretaker also informed them that he had shown quite a number of people this grave during the preceding years, all of whom had been dumbfounded at its appearance.
Ray Van Cleef was stunned when he saw, the grave without a marker of any sort and with nothing but high weeds and long wild grasses growing upon it and around it. It gave the appearance of deliberate neglect throughout the years since the burial.
Ray was anxious to start a public subscription fund in England for the purpose of having some sort of a memorial placed upon the grave of this immortal hero of the world of strength. Hence, he next contacted D.G. Johnson, who was at the time serving as editor for the British publication Health & Strength. His idea seemed favourable and so action then began to hasten towards the start of a pubic drive for funds through the magazine.
As a rather routine matter, Mr. Johnson visited Mrs. Sandow, the widow, to secure her expected happy approval as she was next of kin. She emphatically refused to give her consent!
And thus is why Sandow’s grave remains covered with weeds and under them he lies as might a forgotten nonentity. (The photo showing Ray Van Cleef standing amongst the weeds of the grave speaks for itself.)
Thirteen years have passed since this visit to Sandow’s grave. And during those years, as previously mentioned, I have written much about the immortal strongman. I have related from time to time of my personal experiences with him when I used to see him at London. Yet there is more to say…I had Sandow under contract for five years.
Eugen Sandow and I held many fine friendly conferences. We seemed to harmonize completely.
Finally, we came to terms whereby he was to make a farewell lecture tour of the United States and afterwards establish a Sandow Institute in New York City. This I was to control together with my own Institute of physical education at the time. For this promotion, I was to pay Sandow $7500.00 a year. I sent Sandow the first payment of $7500.00 before the start of the year 1925 as our agreement was to begin on January first of that year. The expectancies were keen, our correspondence very friendly as usual, and the final arrangements of its realities were near. I even sent my advertising representative to London to aid Sandow in further negotiations between ourselves. In other words, I was practically awaiting his American appearance.
But in the latter part of the same year, he died. And too soon too for the world in general. He should be with us today even though that would find him at the age of ninety-four. However, many elderly men have lived that long and longer, hence it seems that a valuable personage like Sandow should not have departed so early in life. It was the world’s loss. But death, without a sound, cancels everything – contracts, agreements, friendships and all are of mundane value.
I wish I had today all the letters that Sandow had written me throughout the many years we knew each other. Through unforeseen circumstances these letters were thrown away by a stupid idiot from Philadelphia as though they were nothing but rejectment.
And I also wish I still had all the autographed photographs he gave me of himself. All these became lost in the shuffle of things through various circumstances.
And what has become of the several solid gold keepsakes he used to send me at every Christmas? So many things have been stolen from me. And all my Sandow possessions have disappeared into the vortex of the maelstrom of oblivion.
But I am thankful for one thing though, even if Sandow did not give it to me. This is my possession of the one and only motion picture film ever made of the great Sandow and which was taken when he was at his best way back in the year 1894 immediately after Thomas Edison had invented the process of moving pictures. It is a short one, yet I recently had this made into 16 mm size and in slower motion.
The longer we live, the more we lose, it seems. One by one old friends journey onwards, youthful enthusiasm wanes, yet, are not these losses in life replaced by sounder judgment and more spirituality? So, I suppose such intangible possessions offer suitable compensation.
Back to Sandow’s unmarked grave! The more I think about it the more astounding it becomes. It is ironical. Here, a world-wide celebrity who was idolized now lies under weeds and without the respect of even a simple grave marker. How fickle fame is! How popularity fades. It all reminds me of something you should never forget.
Years ago, back in 1927, when I lived at New York City, the newspapers carried small notices about the body of an old man that had been found on a hot summer’s day in the gutter of one of the streets of New York City. The corpse was taken to the morgue where it lay for two or three days before someone finally identified it as being that of Admiral George Dewey, the hero of the Spanish-American war of 1806!
And so, it seems that Fame, like Life, is but a flash of light in the dark chasm of eternity. Fame is seldom thrust upon anyone; so many seek it; nearly all must earn it. And yet it is not worth lifting a finger to obtain were it not occasionally useful while its possessor is alive.
And in Eugen Sandow’s case it vacillated into posthumous irreverence. Sic transit gloria mundi.”-Earle Liederman