Once in a generation, it has been said, a super-athlete arises whose prowess astonishes the world. Several generations have come and gone, however, since Louis Cyr arose and showed what he could do. Since that time nothing approaching his extraordinary performances has ever been seen.
Louis Cry, French-Canadian, was born in the little hamlet of Saint Jean d’Iberville on October 11, 1863. His father was quite an ordinary man, a humble peasant, nothing above the average physically. His mother, on the other hand, was somewhat outstanding. She weighed, when she was 21, a little under 300 lbs.
Cyr, as a child, soon gave evidence that he was going to take after his maternal parent, so far as bulk and physique were concerned. At the beginning of his teens he was weighing well over 200 lbs., and at that time he was a very shapely fellow. That he was strong with it, too, there is plenty of evidence. At the different tests of strength, usually arranged in the district on “high days and holidays,” he easily excelled everyone.
At the age of twenty, Cyr joined the police of Montreal. Records show that at this time he stood 5 ft. 10½ in. in height, had a chest measurement of 60 inches, upper arm (flexed) of 22 inches and weighed 301 lbs. His development was described as firm but supple; and, for his bulk, tests discovered that he was a person of surprising agility.
Cyr, it is also recorded, had not been a policeman very long before he became a central figure in a happening which was to result in his leaving the force. One night police headquarters received notice that an ugly fracas was taking place in a saloon, and the hurried attendance of a competent officer was urgently requested. In response to this Cyr was dispatched post haste to the scene.
Arriving at the saloon, Cyr found a fight proceeding between two noted “toughs,” in which knives had just commenced to be used. Wasting no time, he waded in, got a grip on the combatants and bashed their heads together. This made them much easier to handle in the way he intended. Encircling them one under each arm, he half carried, half dragged them to the station, accompanied by an admiring crowd. For Cyr, a genial fellow in the ordinary way, was very popular with everyone. Consequently there was no risk of interference.
This episode over, the Superintendent sent for the officer who had given evidence of possessing such tremendous strength, and, after congratulating him on the way he had discharged his duty, told Cyr that, because of his strength, a much more lucrative future lay before him in the outside world than in the police force. “Yes,” said the police chief, “I think you are probably the strongest man in the world. And if you take my advice, you will go out from here and prove it.”
Stammering his appreciation of this praise and advice, Cyr left the office with his mind already made up to act upon what he had been told. A further interview followed, the necessary machinery was put in motion, and Cyr left the force as advised, accompanied by the good wished of everyone, to go out and make his mark in the world of strong men. Naturally, all this did not happen without a good deal of newspaper publicity accruing, for this colossal policeman, his Herculean feats, and the sensational manner of his resignation from the force were equally sensational “news.” As a result of all this “boosting” Cyr found it perfectly easy at once to secure engagements.
For a few years Cyr traveled Canada and the States, during which time his strength increased and the merit of his act improved. Then, in October of 1891, Irving Montgomery, “The False Sandow” (he called himself “Sandowe” hence this description) arrived in Montreal with “Cyclops,” the latter having broken his alliance with C. A. Sampson, of London Aquarium fame, after his defeat by Eugen Sandow. His position in the new combination had not been altered at all, however, as he was described as “The champion pupil of World Champion Sandowe.” The twain were not slow to take advantage of the fact that they were in Cyr’s stronghold, so to speak, without the handicap of the latter being there as well. They plastered the city with posters which, in the flamboyant theatrical language of the day, challenged Louis to come forward and accept their challenge or “forever afterward keep silence.”
Then, knowing full well that he was not within several hundred miles of the place they sat back and chuckled.
Nothing happened, of course, the first night, nor the second, except the scenes created in the hall while the Sandowe-Cyclops “act” was on by fervid partisans of the absent giant. This emboldened the pair and on the third day they put out another lot of posters headed, “Where is Cyr? Why does he not come forward?” This led to ugly demonstrations outside the hall, to disperse which the police had to be called.
Meanwhile, friends of Cyr, who knew where he could be found, had acquainted him with what was happening. Needing no urging, he was even then well on his way. Halfway through the “strong-act” on the third night, stentorian cheering was heard outside the hall. Like lightning the news traveled to the inside of the building. “Louis! He is here! Now, boasters, look out for yourselves!” These were the shouts that greeted the challengers, much to their surprise and dismay.
It was true! A few more seconds only and Cyr was up by the footlights and across them. And he did not particularly look amiable! Seizing the pair of “challenge” dumbells, said tow weight 125 kilos (roughly 275½ lbs.), he swung them onto his shoulders and pressed them overhead. Cyclops, performer of the “challenge” feat, took one glance only, then just vanished from the scene. It was a moot point, really, whether the weights were actually the weight stated, as Cyclops’ powers (or the lack of them) had been more than once disclosed in this country years before. Anyway, his performance had been to take them into the shoulders in a series of three movements, then jerk them overhead. It suffered very much by comparison, of course, with the feat that Louis had just done.
As Cyr placed the dumbells back on the floor he looked, then stepped toward Sandowe. The look, never mind the action, was enough for the latter. He just vanished from the stage as Cyclops had done, as though he had been spirited away.
The dramatic appearance of their hero, the smashing way in which he had routed his challengers transported the already much excited crowd into the seventh heaven of delight. In the midst of all this tumult Mr. King, the manage of the Lyceum, appeared and held up his hand for silence. Although a well respected man, no notice was taken of him at until Louis put up his hand also. Then, in a few moments, the silence requested was obtained. Said the manager: “I have spoken with Sandowe and Cyclops, and told them that they owe it to you and themselves that they meet Cyr in a contest. They say,” he continued, “that if they are allowed to choose all the feats they will meet Cyr here, on this stage, at 8 o’clock tomorrow night. Do you agree to those terms?” he queried, turning to Cyr. Louis nodded. “I do,” he added. So it was settled.
The crowd of thousands that surged to the hall next night, though, found an anti-climax awaiting them. In the meantime, the courage of Sandowe and Cyclops had evaporated. They had talked the matter over, they told Mr. King, and had come to the conclusion that it was no use engaging Cyr in contest. And sensing what might happen to them, anyway, if they stopped, they had left without advertising their departure. This was on October 28, 1891.
Cyr, of course, was grievously disappointed, but found all the solace he might need in what followed. For, chiefly as a result of this, Mr. Fox, director of the “New York Police Gazette,” put £1,000 (about $5,000) behind him in a challenge to any man in the world, Eugen Sandow, reigning monarch, specially singled out. Furthermore, he decided that Louis should be taken to England to back up his challenge in person. The French-Canadian arrived in London early in the new year, but his challenge to Sandow the latter ignored. In an attempt to force the accepted champion’s hand, a demonstration by Cyr was arranged at the International Hall, Cafe Monico. Here Louis performed authentic feats, all weights checked carefully by an influential and impartial committee, which staggered the weightlifting world. And as he performed them, one by one, away went any chance of meeting with Sandow.
These are the feats which Louis Cyr accomplished in London on January 19, 1892. Read them, weightlifters of today, and try to imagine what sort of man he was:
(1) Two hands to shoulder and one arm push overhead: 124 kilos (roughly 273 English pounds).
(2) Two hands clean to shoulders and slow press: 136 kilos (approximately 299 pounds).
(3) Right and left hand clean sweep-up overhead (similar to our snatch movement, but with no dip under): 78 kilos (approximately 172 pounds).
(4) One hand hold out at right angles to the body, weight not lowered from above but pushed out sideways with only a very slight sideways bend of the body: 47 kilos (approximately 104 pounds).
(5) Barrel of cement standing on end, put on shoulder by the use of one hand only: 141 kilos (approximately 310½ pounds). NOTE: The barrel was first tipped over till the underside of the top end rested against the thigh. Using this as a fulcrum, Cyr would then grasp the bottom end and heave the barrel up on his shoulder.
(6) Standing astride a weight of 247 kilos he lifted this several inches off the ground with his little finger (English poundage approximately 535 pounds).
(7) The hauling strength of four very heavy dray horses (two each side) failed to pull his arms apart. NOTE: The ropes pulled by the horsed finished in loops, through which Cyr slipped his arms. He then grasped a ring, which he held one side in each hand while the horses pulled.
(8) Platform lift on back of 1,645 kilos (approximately 3626 pounds). NOTE: Sixteen men mounted the platform which stood supported on two trestles. Between these, and a little to the front of the platform, stood a low stool. Getting under the platform, and placing both hands on the stool, by straightening his arms and legs, Cyr lifted the whole load on his back clear of the trestles. He sustained the load for about twenty seconds, then gently lowered the platform back to the trestles.
A matter of some 5,000 people came to London to see these feats done, and every weight used in the performance was put on the scales and checked by the committee before Cyr lifted it.