Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Travis Was Tough - Earle Liederman

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Elwood Holbrook


Travis Was Tough
by Earle Liederman


This happened about the year 1916 at Coney Island. I was connected with a sideshow there, and in it Warren Lincoln Travis did his strongman act about 10 to 12 times daily. Hence, I talked to him a lot, saw much of him also; and even tried to lift some of his weights during occasional intervals between his exhibitions. Warren was a rather nice sort of fellow but he had, it seemed to me, a sadistic propensity. He enjoyed making people wilt under his power. Many times I have seen him select a sunburn-faced fellow and coax him up onto the platform where his weights were, and after a few pleasant words with the fellow Travis would suddenly slap him vigorously and repeatedly on the sunburned back until the poor sap cringed and almost collapsed. Lotsa fun! – for Travis. If anyone could be called a backslapper, Travis was IT. Often his mighty arm behind his paw slapped a guy in friendly fashion, of course, so hard upon his back that it was enough to almost knock out all the poor guy’s bridgework. His high pitched, soft voice made one wonder if he were not one of those “gentle boys” who would scream when stepping on a cockroach. Yet, his roughness reminded me of a seven year old grizzly bear playing games. Travis had an ego, too!

At every performance he would flash a genuine $1,000 bill and offer it to anyone who could duplicate his lift of his global 110 lb. dumbell. He first showed the crowd how easily he could do it. After all, 110 pounds isn’t so heavy, and yet not one person ever succeeded in picking this weight up off the floor and putting it overhead with one arm. In the first place, the small handle was about 3” thick and defied the grip holding it even to shoulder level or less. It just slipped. However, I always suspected a trick. I think that Travis had a steel prong under his thick middle finger-ring, and the prong entered an almost hidden slot on the bell’s handle. How else? If so, it would certainly not be the first time this method was employed by a famous strongman. Travis’s hands were not very large ones.

But, back to his roughness. One time when both of us were at leisure, he suddenly pretended to show me how glad he was to see me (This didn’t make sense, as I had already been talking at length with him). He quickly grabbed my hand, swung me around and secured a double arm hold around my lower chest. He squeezed me so hard that he cracked three of my ribs. If anyone who has read this far has ever had a rib fractured, he may well appreciate the lingering sharp pains that followed for the next eight or nine weeks.

Ah yes! There was always six feet of space between him and me afterwards.

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