Oct 15, 2017

Harry Blondell, the Strongest Living American

Robert Mainardi's book Strongman: Vintage Photographs of a Masculine Icon reproduces a cabinet photo of "Harry H. Blowdell, the Strongest Living American" from 1890.

Today his slim chest, undefined abs, and small biceps could hardly be classified as muscular, and even in the days before Nautilus machines and protein supplements, there must have been many stronger guys in every town.

Here are two, Parisian boxers photographed by Paul Desoye in 1890.

Here are 8 more.

Harry was rather scrawny, even in the 1890s.  That makes his chutzpah, his raw P.T. Barnum showmanship, all the more endearing.

The fitflex.com bodybuilding website rhapsodizes about his anonymity: "We wouldn't even know his name if he hadn't signed the back of his picture. Poor Harry toiled in obscurity.

But actually, 45 minutes of internet research yields quite a lot about him.

His actual stage name was Harry H. Blondell, and his real name was Henry Krumholz.  He was born on March 16, 1872 in Wayne County, Michigan: that photo was taken, he was only 18 years old.   He was Jewish, and probably changed his name to avoid antisemitic bias.

In 1894, at age 22, he joined  Cole and Lockwood Circus in Potsdam New York: "a real one ring circus....first class in every respect, with jugglers, trapeze artists, tumblers, clowns."  He was a sideshow strongman.

In 1897, he joined the the Irving Brothers Circus, which had "a soft, round top and 12 paintings.
  His fellow sideshow performers included "Madame La Bell, mind reader; Gannallea, cabinet, Punch and magic; Zana, illusion; Arthur Irving, ventriloquist; a den of snakes, birds and monkeys, and a female band"

Either he was very successful or his two brothers cosigned a loan, since in 1901, he retired from the sideshow circuit and bought the Weaver House, a hotel and restaurant in Grosse Point, Michigan, where he "delighted patrons with nightly exhibitions of his powers...tearing telephone books, bending iron bars with his neck and folding nickels, dimes and quarters with his fingers. "  Apparently he also lifted a team of horses and miscellaneous patrons.

In 1911, the newspaper prints a photo of "innkeeper/house mover Henry Krumholz Blondell," and his children, three young boys and a girl, hitching their cart to a calf to give their baby brother a ride.  He had quite a large family.

House mover?  Apparently he moved "large residential and commercial buildings, intact, to new sites around Grosse Pointe."

He sold the Weaver House in 1918 to devote himself full-time to the house-moving business along with his "equally strapping sons."

He died on July 8, 1936.

A recent book on Grosse Point, Michigan "Local Legends" includes John Hughes, Gilda Radner and "strongman/resort owner Harry Blondell."

He wasn't anonymous at all, and it sounds like he hasn't been forgotten.

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