A Legendary Tale
The following story is taken from the December 1966 issue of Mr. America magazine. It was written by Dick Tyler, the man credited with starting the International Federation of Arm Wrestlers. I don't know how true this story is, but it's a great read:
"It had been raining all day in Boston. The cobblestones of the streets made crazy patterns as they shined by the light of the flickering street lamps. The people in the theater, this night at the turn of the century, were waiting for the entrance of a great strong man. He had been billed as the “Strongest Man on Earth.” It seemed that every vaudeville show had its “strongest man on earth.” In spite of it all, the theater was packed by those whose thirst for exhibitions of great strength could never be satisfied. The smell of the clothes drying from the evening rain made the air heavy with a musty odor. The lights dimmed and the curtain rose revealing a man of remarkable muscle and stage presence. Though not big in the way of height or weight, he seemed to abound with virile power. On countless occasions his performance was interrupted by the cheers of the excited fans.
In the darkness of the audience, however, the shadows left concealed the image of one man. His frame seemed to fight the clothes that bound it. Even his face echoed the proportions of his rugged body. His hands, that seemed to be the size of two of an ordinary man’s, twisted the program. “This man is a fake,” he said leaning to speak to his companion in the next seat. “No man his size could lift the weights he claims.”
As soon as the strongman finished his act, the big man left the hall and went to the stage door hoping to catch the athlete as he left. The wait was fully an hour before the strongman and his manager emerged. The big man stepped up and blocked the way. “I’m stronger than you,” he blurted out for all around to hear. The diminutive strongman glanced up at his towering adversary with a look of puzzlement. “He speaks no English,” ventured his manager, “And I’m afraid we accept no challenges.” Emboldened by this rebuff, the burly gentleman would not be denied. “I’m a blacksmith. I work with heavy objects all day. I say I lift more in an hour than you do all day.” The strongman and his manager tried to press on. “I’ll bet a hundred dollars that my arm is stronger than yours.” A gasp went up from the large crowd that had gathered. The athlete and his manager held a small conference. “What are your terms?” “I’ll put down the arm of your man with the power of mine. My shop is but a few blocks away, if you have the courage to walk that far.” The defy had been hurled for all to hear, it had to be accepted.
The light from the glowing coals made the setting in the blacksmith’s shop almost unreal. The blacksmith rolled up his sleeves revealing his massive wrists and forearm that looked like a huge sack of rocks coursed by snake-like veins. The strongman’s hand seemed lost in that of the mighty smithy as they came to grips. The fight was on. For a second nothing seemed to move. Then, unnoticed by anyone, a smile creased the mouth of the champion strength athlete. Ever so slowly his arm was forced to the table. Astonishment swept through the onlookers. “Ahhhhh!” cried the mighty blacksmith. “You owe me one hundred dollars!” Somewhat dismayed the manager handed the smith the money. “Let’s go for a drink and it’s on me!” shouted the happy victor. The strongman quickly whispered something to his manager. “Just a minute,” he said, “my client, while impressed with your obvious power, would like to arm wrestle once more for an even greater purse.” Supremely confident that he could take the little athlete again, the smith readily agreed. “I say $500.00.” “Done!” said the manager.
By this time the little blacksmith shop was packed. The air was charged with excitement. The close quarters and the burning hearth made the heat almost oppressive. The mighty smith tore off his shirt. His body was bathed in sweat. Great creases of dirt ringed his bull-like neck. It sloped into a pair of boulder-like shoulders. He glowered down at his little opponent. “I’m going to break your arm, little man!” he bellowed. The little athlete then took off his shirt. What he may have lacked in height he more than made up for in heroic muscularity. Every muscle looked as if it had been hammered on. They writhed like great snakes with every move. Even the huge blacksmith was impressed for a moment. His eyes narrowed as he said in a low resolute voice, once again. “I’m going to break your arm.” Then a thought struck him. “Wait!”
The smith leapt up and went to the burning hearth. He scooped out some hot coals and brought them back to the table where the two men had been wrestling. He then placed a neat pile at either end so that the loser of the match would be severely burned. “Now,” said the smith. “Let’s see if your courage is better than your strength.” The strongman’s manager tried to change his mind but this only made him more adamant.
Now, the two men glowered at each other. Slowly their hands clasped. With an explosion of power the burly blacksmith tried to put his opponent’s arm in the glowing coals. This time, however, he was fighting a different man. It was as if he had tried to put his hand through a stone wall. Again, he tried with the same result. The blacksmith looked at his hand and then back at the face of the muscular strongman. His handsome face was now wreathed with a smile. Now the strongman’s deltoids suddenly ballooned in mass, his pectorals tensed, his biceps knotted into an agony of twisting sinew. The smith’s arm started to go toward the hot coals. Inches away the manager yelled, “Give up or you’ll burn.” The blacksmith had pride.
A few seconds later the chill air of that wet night was rent by a cry of pain. Inside the blacksmith shop, the air now smelled of burned flesh. The little strongman carefully put on his shirt and coat. He picked up his money and started to leave. As an afterthought, he went back to the smith who was nursing his injured hand and gave him his card. With that, he went. The smith wiped the sweat from his eyes and looked at the card which he had been handed. On it was only one word—“Sandow.” "