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Figure Skating Hodge Podge, Volume 8

As autumn crept in over the years, I have introduced you to a Maritime classic: hodge podge.  If you've never had a proper bowl of hodge podge, you don't know what you're missing. It's a traditional Nova Scotian fall dish that uses nothing but the freshest harvest vegetables. It just warms your soul and I'm craving it already by just mentioning it. Atlantic Canadians use the expression 'hodge podge' to describe anything that's got a little bit of everything. Figure skating constantly evolves and changes that much that it's not always easy to keep track of all of the developments, stories and (sometimes) dramas that develop along the way.

I've had several topics that I'd been wanting to write about for quite a while that all seemed to have two common denominators. Firstly, they are all tales that many people may not know or if they did, might not remember. Secondly, they don't all really have enough material to constitute a full blog of their own. Let's take a trip down memory lane and explore a hodge podge of skating stories... with a delicious 6.0 finish!


Photo courtesy "World Ice Skating Guide"

Florence 'Rae' Claire Radosh garnered considerable attention when she burst on the skating scene at the age of three (!) during World War II. Under the tutelage of Helen Herbst at the Rockefeller Skating Pond in New York, she mastered Axels and Arabian cartwheels within a couple of short years. She was soon performing gymnastic tricks on the ice that were as wowing as Adele Inge's backflips and starring at the ice shows at the Benjamin Franklin Hotel in Philadelphia under her stage name 'Florence Rae'. 

In the fifties, Florence signed a contract with the Ice Follies, touring the country and skating several shows a week before she'd even finished school. After four years with the tour, she was suspended without pay because the tour's organizers deemed her overweight. She had grown from five foot five and a half and one hundred and thirty pounds to five foot six and a half and one hundred and sixty pounds.

Florence went home and lost weight but when she tried to rejoin the tour, the Ice Follies folks said no... but they wouldn't let her on the ice because she "had become grossly overweight and unattractive to the general public". They also wouldn't let her out of her contract "because there was still eleven months left". This led to a five-year long very ugly legal battle and the end of her skating career. While we might (rightfully) shake our heads today at the gall of the 'weigh-in's' that occurred on skating tours, they really had the power to make or break a skater.


On February 5, 1918, near the end of the Great War, the Austrian Figure Skating Championships were held in Vienna - just over a month before the German advancement on British troops in Amiens.

Gisela Reichmann

The winner of the women's competition was Gisela Reichmann, representing the Wiener Eislaufverein. Her strength in the school figures was perhaps the crowning jewel in her victory by over ten points over Herma Szabo. An account of the event from the "Illustriertes (Österreichisches) Sportblatt" on March 1, 1918 noted that her figures were skated with "fantastic overall certainty" but that Szabo, had improved considerably in this area. In the free skating, "Miss Reichmann [skated] an extremely rich program at a brisk tempo; Miss v. Szabo showed here more difficult figures and very good disposition."

Paula Hanke and Mitzi Schilling (gold and bronze medallists in the junior ladies event) and junior men's champion Emil von Bertalanffy

Though a senior men's competition was not contested due to the number of men in service, events for both junior men and women were held. Emil von Bertalanffy of the Wiener Eislaufverein won the junior men's event with "smooth, technically graceful skating" ahead of future European and World Medallist Otto Preißecker of the Cottage-Eislaufverein by over ten points. In third was Heinz Mattauch of the Cottage-Eislaufverein, followed by Fritz Fraenkel, Eugen Zwieback and Karl Petzlbauer, all representing the Wiener Eislaufverein. The "expected" winner of the junior women's event was Paula Hanke. She received fewer points than second place finisher Hilda Till but secured her victory by less than a point. In third was Mitzi Schilling, the daughter of European speed skating champion Franz Schilling and in fourth, Martha Strache of the Wiener Eislaufverein.

Ilse Adametz, silver medallist in the middle school girl's competition, representing Frauenerwerbverein

'Mittelschülerbewerbe' (middle school) competitions were also held for younger, less experienced skaters. Fritz Fraenkel and Grete Bresnik, representing Wiener Handelsakademie respectively, both were victorious in their classes. Of note among the competitors was the second place finisher in the middle school boy's competition, Hugo Distler. He would go on to win the bronze medal at the World Championships in 1928 behind Willy Böckl and Karl Schäfer.

That same month in Berlin, senior women, junior men and junior women all competed for national crowns as well. Although The Central Powers were definitely losing the War by this point in history, skaters were absolutely not being deterred from the ice.


When Leverne Busher was a ten year old girl growing up in Kansas City, Missouri in the late twenties, she saw her first ice show and knew in her heart she was going to end up doing the same thing someday. Her dreams were realized in a fulfilling and successful professional career as an interpretive skater in shows but her path was quite different than the majority for she was entirely self-taught.

Leverne, who started performing professionally at age seventeen, explained her start in skating in an essay she wrote for the "Deseret News" in April of 1936: "My parents knew nothing of the art. They had already decided my career was to be dancing, singing and playing the piano. They were afraid skating would impair my dancing... I was sure I could, but this would require an instructor, also the right kind of skates. I got the skates with a Christmas gift of a check. To get instructions was the next problem. All the instructors knew how anxious I was to learn; still their time was money to them. But they didn't object to my being on the ice while they taught someone else. So, while they taught at one end of the rink, I was at the other end and benefited from the lesson." 

Leverne soldiered on, taking tips from other skaters about good form and technique but never once having a lesson from a professional coach... and she developed quite a knack for interpreting music once she got the hang of things. Her first performance was an exhibition for Red Cross workers and her parents finally came to see what their daughter had been up to. Leverne wrote, "My parents were almost in tears with pride and joy".

Forgoing competition altogether, Leverne auditioned for shows. Her first professional performance was at Chicago's Century Of Progress Exposition in 1934 and then the following year she received a contract to perform her interpretive performance in the Hotel Sherman's College Inn revue alongside Eddie Shipstad and Oscar Johnson, Norval Baptie and Gladys Lamb and World Professional Speed Skating Champion Bobby McLean. In 1937, she performed at the sixth annual skating carnival at the Chicago Stadium and then joined the Ice Follies. A 1938 "Brooklyn Daily Eagle" article described "the flower ballet, with Miss [Busher] as prima ballerina" as the opening act for a New York performance of the show. She also performed a duet with Valerie Fink and appeared in the film "The Ice Follies Of 1939" alongside Joan Crawford, Jimmy Stewart and an impressive skating cast. Devoting a great deal of her life to performing as a skater, Leverne passed away on September 9, 1992 in Marion, North Carolina, her career as a professional skater a reminder that there's "more than one way to make it in this business."


Skating history is full of as many legends as it is verifiable stories. One fascinating yarn that was widely retold in nineteenth century illustrated magazines seems to have originated in Georg Bernhard Depping's 1827 book "Evening Entertainments; Or Delineations Of The Manners And Customs Of Various Nations, Interspersed With Geographical Notices, Historical And Biographical Anecdotes And Descriptions In Natural History". The aim of Depping's book was "to instruct and amuse youth", so a primary source this is not. Yet, with the amount of skating history he managed to get right, I wouldn't turn my nose up at this tale either.

Depping wrote, "An ambassador of The Emperor of Morocco at the Hague, desirious of giving his master some idea of the amusement of skating, wrote to him, that during a certain season, all the rivers of the Netherlands were covered with a kind of cake, which looked like sugar-candy, and was capable of bearing carriages and horses: that at such times, multitudes of men and women took infinite pleasure in running as swiftly as an ostrich upon these cakes, with the help of a couple of very smooth irons, which they fastened to their feet. The Emperor of Morocco looked upon this account of his ambassador as so incredible, that he called him a story-teller." The author claimed to have originally read of this fascinating tale in "some book of travels" but neglected to provide his source. The fact that Morocco and The Netherlands have had strong economic ties for over four centuries would certainly provide reason for an ambassador from that country to find himself among the ice-loving Dutch. Certainly a reminder that while "you shouldn't believe everything you read", you shouldn't always dismiss it either unless you can prove otherwise.


Turn on the news and you are guaranteed to find some sort of tragedy. Whether War, natural disaster or accident, something bad happens every day and you better believe the media is going to let you know about it. Skating has certainly seen its fair share. The 1961 Sabena CrashThe Regent's Park TragedyThe Hallowe'en Holocaust and The Baltimore Armoury Incident immediately spring to mind as some of the worst.  What many may not know is that during World War II, another major tragedy (which didn't even take place in a skating rink) had an almost eerie number of connections to the figure skating world.

The date was November 28, 1942 and the scene was The Cocoanut Grove, a former speakeasy that became Boston's premiere nightclub during the War. Although the capacity was only four hundred and sixty, more than a thousand party goers packed the club that night. What these innocent patrons didn't realize was that they were were walking into a death trap. The Polynesian decor consisted of fake trees made of paper, cloth draperies and decorations which hid exit signs from view. Shortly after a busboy replaced a lightbulb that someone had removed so they could have some privacy while making out with their date, one of the fake palm trees caught fire. The paper decor was the perfect storm for the blaze and within five minutes, the flames had spread from the downstairs lounge to the main clubroom. The patrons were basically doomed. Side doors were barred and windows boarded up to prevent anyone from sneaking in and with only one turnstile exit available jammed with a pile of trampled bodies, exiting in a haze of smoke was nearly impossible. The death toll was four hundred and ninety two -among them Hollywood movie star Buck Jones.

So what connection could figure skating possibly have to this horrific event? Well, the night of the tragedy Ollie Haupt Jr., who was in the Naval Air Corps and Benjamin T. Wright, who was in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps  at Harvard, heard an announcement that all enlisted men and reserve officers were to consider themselves on Active Duty and report to the scene. They acted as stretcher-bearers, taking the injured and dead out of the nightclub. Elizabeth Bliss, a member of the Skating Club Of Boston, was a volunteer with the Red Cross who assisted at the scene. Another Massachusetts skater, Sara E. Noonan, served as a nurse at the Boston City Hospital and cared for many victims. Among the victims were Henry and Jimmy Fitzgerald, enthusiastic hockey players and pleasure skaters and Charles Andrew Duhamel, an accountant at figure skating events who also served as the Skating Club of Boston's treasurer.

However, the story that's perhaps most eerie is that of Alice Quessy. She was actually scheduled to work at the Cocoanut Grove the night it burned down but a bad case of strep throat kept her home sick. In an interview in the July 25, 1979 issue of "The Evening Independent", she recalled the club's Polynesian decor and a sky-roof that opened so that "on a clear night, you could see the stars." So, a waitress at the Cocoanut Grove who by a stroke of good luck managed to escape almost certain death... incredibly fortunate but what does it have to do with skating? I'm getting there! 

Professional figure skater Alice Quessy and her young son

Harkening to the story of multiple shipwreck survivor Violet Jessop, Alice Quessy was actually one of the professional skaters on the ice during The Hallowe'en Holocaust. She narrowly escaped serious injury in that second disaster, but a bad accident while performing gymnastics on ice while touring with Holiday On Ice almost ended her professional career. It's odd how stories come together, isn't it?

Much like the skating disasters mentioned at the start of today's blog, the Cocoanut Grove tragedy could probably have easily been avoided with a dash of common sense and some sincere concern for the safety of those involved. It only goes to show you that a little vigilance and awareness of your surroundings might someday save your life.


Sop up what's left with some nice hearty bread and be sure to double or triple up so that you have leftovers... this is always better the second day! This recipe is for four to six people:

Ingredients (fresh from a farmer's market or garden):

10-12 new potatoes – scrubbed/not peeled, and halved – quarter any large potatoes, and don't cut the small ones – you want the potato pieces to be about the same size
2-3 cups chopped new carrots – scrubbed/not peeled, cut into bite sized pieces (you can peel them if you like)
1 cup chopped yellow beans – 1 inch long pieces
1 cup chopped green beans – 1 inch long pieces
1 cup shelled pod peas – you want just the peas, not the pods
1.5 cups cream
1/4 – 1/2 cup butter
salt and pepper to taste

1. Fill a large, heavy pot about halfway with water, and salt lightly (about 1/2 teaspoon of salt). Bring to a boil.
2. Add the potatoes to the boiling water. Cook for about seven minutes.
3. Add the carrots to the pot, and continue cooking for about seven minutes.
4. Next add the yellow and green beans to the pot, and continue cooking for about five minutes.
5. Finally, add the peas, and continue cooking for about three minutes.
6. Drain off most of the water – leave about an inch of water (no more) in the bottom of the pot with the vegetables. Return the pot to the stove, and reduce burner heat to low. Add the cream and butter, and some salt and pepper (I start with a 1/4 teaspoon of each).
7. Gently stir to combine, allowing the the blend and butter to heat through. As you’re stirring, the potatoes might break up a bit. As the the blend and butter heat through, the broth may begin to thicken. This is normal. Don’t allow the mixture to boil.
8. Once the mixture has heated through, it is ready to serve. Season with a little salt and pepper to taste. Serve with bread.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":