Thursday, April 7, 2016

Strongmen of Schenectady

This post was written by library volunteer Gail Denisoff

Advertisement for the King Bros. at Proctor's theater
from 1913. Courtesy of Fulton History.
The family of Wayne Tucker recently donated a vast postcard collection to the Grems-Doolittle Library.  Mr. Tucker's collection consists mainly of postcards related to the city of Schenectady and Schenectady County.  There are cards of familiar landmarks as well as of those of places which no longer exist. As one of the volunteers who has been indexing the collection, I can only begin to imagine the time, effort and expense involved for Mr. Tucker to amass this collection.  My work has often been slowed as I've read a message from someone or pondered an image on a card.  In the early 1900's postcards were not only a way to get a message to a loved one, but were used to chronicle blizzards, floods, accidents, fires and events of the day.  People could go to local photography studios to have portraits taken and made into postcards to send to friends and family far away.  They were used in advertising, to announce events as well as to showcase the sights of the city.  I hope to use this space to share some of the interesting and odd postcards that I have come across in this collection. 
Postcard of the King Brothers from the Wayne Tucker Postcard Collection at the
Grems-Doolittle Library.
First up is a postcard advertising The King Brothers, Herculean Comedy Athletes.  These two young men were neither brothers nor named King.  They were both from Schenectady and ran off to join the Ringling Brothers Circus early in the 1900's.  They later found fame and hopefully fortune on the vaudeville circuit of the teens and 1920's. Their real names were Thomas Traver and Robert Shank and they performed hand and head balancing feats, contortion work and “tumbling with a sensational finish”. Their shows also contained a generous dose of comedy.  Newspapers of the day have them performing on Hippodrome stages from Spokane Washington to Atlanta Georgia where they shared the stage with Will Rogers.  They combined feats of strength with playful fun and reportedly were featured in Ripley's Believe it or Not.  An advertisement from October 1913 finds them closer to home performing at the Proctor's theater in Mechanicville.  I'm sure many of their local family and friends were there in the audience to cheer them on. Unfortunately, there isn't much information to be found about what became of Thomas and Robert. On the back of this postcard, someone noted that they served and died in the first World War.  Since the Sacramento Union advertised their upcoming performance at the Sacramento Hippodrome in February of 1921, and the Troy Times had them at Proctors's Theatre in Troy in November of 1922, rumors of their demise were a bit premature!

Advertisement for the King Bros. at Proctor's theater from 1922.
Courtesy of Fulton History.
Thanks to The Oldtime Strongman Blog and Fulton History for information.

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