From Art Cycling To Axels: The Adolf Windsperger Story

Photo courtesy City Of Toronto Archives

Adolf Windsperger was born in Vienna, Austria on April 30, 1886. Little is known about his youth, but by the time he was twenty-eight, he was a European bicycle polo champion, a motorcycling enthusiast, skilled engineer and many times champion at Kunstradfahren (art cycling). He emigrated to the United States via Ellis Island during The Great War, in September 1914 with his wife Elisabeth. The couple settled in New Haven, Connecticut, where Adolf took up figure skating at the New Haven Skating Club.

Though he had little formal instruction, Adolf took to the art of skating like a fish out of water, joining the cast of the College Inn's ice show in Chicago. On February 17, 1916, a competition for professional skaters was held at The Hippodrome after a matinee ice show... and votes were cast by ballot by the audience. With more than two hundred and thirty votes more than the second place finisher Gerald Bowden, the winner was Arthur Held. Adolf finished fifth and dead last.

Adolf settled in New York during the roaring twenties, keeping the lights on in his Manhattan apartment by performing his Kunstradfahren act in Vaudeville shows and giving skating lessons. In 1929, he performed in the Buffalo Skating Club's carnival at the Peace Bride Arena alongside Bobby McLean, Constance and Bud Wilson, Norman A. Falkner and the Weigel sisters. In 1930, he remarried to Caroline Lucgmayer, a fellow professional skater.

Throughout The Great Depression, Adolf worked as both a skating coach and performer. In addition to comedic and stilt skating acts, he skated adagio pairs acts with Sonia Garvan and Evelyn Chandler. He developed a 'Mutt and Jeff' routine with Stanley Jarvis that played on their height difference - Adolf was six feet tall; Stanley four feet if he was an inch. He taught skating in Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, St. Louis and Baltimore during this period and even earned a mention in Robert Ripley's "Believe It Or Not" for "having fallen thirty five thousand times on the ice in three years without a single injury."

Yearning for a less nomadic life, Adolf settled near Woodstock Town, New York in the late thirties and became a naturalized U.S. citizen. He continued to coach skating and enjoy motorcycling, but devoted considerable time to a new project - building his own farmhouse. The Windsperger House on Saugerties Road became something of a local landmark because - according to the "Kingston Daily Freeman" - it was "architecturally unique".

Tragedy struck Adolf's life in 1948. While milking a cow in a barn on his property, he discovered his house was on fire. He suffered burns while trying to save furniture and equipment. Despite the efforts of three fire departments, his house burned to the ground. That same year, his wife passed away. Despite the double tragedy losing his wife and nearly all of his earthly possessions, Adolf soldiered on. He passed away in Bearsville, New York on October 10, 1967 at the age of eighty-two, his unique story all but forgotten in the many years since.

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