The challenge to lift her one handed bar-bell
This flyer is a challenge put out to any amateur or professional weight lifter to lift Vulcana’s one handed bar-bell or can lift the same number of pounds in any or bar-bell weight. The prize was £50 which was a vast sum in those days. They were appearing at Haggar’s Theatre which was in Llanelly Wales I believe. This may have been from early in her career but I do not have a date for it.
This is the bar-bell they were talking about in the challenge which could only be lifted with one hand. Sadly I don’t have the weight of this huge bar-bell. Apparently later in her career in 1913 at Haggar’s Theatre the well-known professional strongwoman Athelda attempted to lift Vulcana’s challenge bar-bell. According to the Llanelly Mercury Athelda tried for fully twenty five minutes without success. David Webster strength historian writes in the Iron Game History magazine that “this is a very significant victory and places Vulcana high in the estimation of strength historians”.
David Webster also writes that “she won well over one hundred medals mainly for her strength feats and one of her most prized awards was from the Queen of Holland. This showed a cluster of bar-bells inset with a figure lifting a bar-bell. This was surmounted with a Royal crown.”
We can see so far that her feats were those of a weight lifter and were perhaps not remarkable for the day but one exception to this was part of her routine called “The Tomb of Hercules” This had long been used by strong men in their acts on the music hall stage but Vulcana was able to perform this feat which consisted of her descending on all fours, putting her abdomen up, her legs and arms back. Then a platform was placed across her midsection on which two full size horses and a male attendant perched precariously. After a few agonizing seconds the horses were driven off and Vulcana rose apparently none the worse for wear.
The nearest image I can find to this lift is this one with a man lifting a horse and rider. It gives us an idea of what it was like for her to lift two horses and a man as they walked across the platform!
These accounts are gleaned from various articles of the day which included some episodes that were not linked to the act such as how she at thirteen stopped a runaway horse in a Bristol Street. In 1901 she dived into the river Usk in Abergavenny to save a boy from drowning. She received a reward for this act of bravery. In October of the same year she seized the opportunity to get some good publicity when a wagon got stuck in Maiden Lane, Strand, London. The wheels locked and she greatly surprised the wagoner, onlookers and a police man when she lifted one end of the wagon and allowed them to free the wheel that was causing the problem. They hadn’t recognized her as Vulcana but she soon let them know and the story soon spread. (Iron Game History magazine)
Where ever they had traveled they were back in Britain at the time of the 1901 census and as I said earlier they were all in Wales with Alice and the children from both women. This seemed an extraordinary year as she also gave birth to Mona my Grandmother.
Here is a picture of Vulcana with the two girls, Winifred who’s mother was Alice and Nora who was Vulcana’s. At the time of the census the girls were four years old so I would imagine this picture is from that time or soon after. Vulcana (Kate) looks very young for around twenty-six years old!
Getting back to their travels!!! Below are some photographs of Vulcana and other members of the troupe that were taken by Atlas (who is almost always out of shot) in France Holland and Spain. Some of the locations I have been able to identify (correctly I hope) others are somewhat of a mystery. If anyone out there recognizes the places please let me know.
When they stayed in Paris it looks as if they stayed at this hotel, The Hotel Regina. (This Hotel can be seen on the web as it is today. It is the most beautiful and luxurious hotel and I recommend that you look at the current photographs to get an idea of just how wonderful it must have been to stay there in Vulcana’s day!)
I imagine it was one of the very best they ever stayed in as Atlas is keen to show it off in both these pictures taken either on different days or different trips to Paris. I think it must be different tours as the first shows the hotel with the awnings out over the windows to keep out the sun and Vulcana’s dress is summery. In the second the dress of the group is decidedly wintery and there are no awnings to be seen. When I was young and was misbehaving at the dinner table my Dad would always say “I couldn’t take you to the best hotel in the south of France with manners like that, could I?” So I asked him why he said that and he told me that it was something his mother used to say to him and his siblings. Perhaps she had been told the same thing when she was small as I know she went on tour with Atlas and Vulcana to France and other countries! There was a little story of an incident that happened on one of these trips when Mona, my Dad’s mother was staying with them in Paris. She had wondered off and got herself lost in this strange city but was taken to the gendarmes who proceeded to ask her where her father was. She of course didn’t know and spoke no French so they asked her what his job was. She tried to tell them but there was some confusion and they took her to lots of different hotels looking for a lift waiter (bell boy) instead of a weight lifter. After some time the little girl was reunited with her parents to every ones great relief but the “Lift waiter” story was retold many times.
The following picture shows the Eiffel Tower and Vulcana with what looks like Atlas and Maud a member of the troupe and possibly a member of the family. (my Dad seems to think so from what he can remember Maud was deaf but athletic and attractive. He is now 90 years old and remembers talk of her when he was a child)
The previous two photos were taken on a brighter day as Vulcana has a parasol and summer clothes on so it looks like another trip. You can see a picture of Atlas that she has taken as her parasol is propped up on the bench and her shadow shows her standing to take the photo in her large hat! The picture of her under the tower shows a large Ferris wheel in the background.
Here are some pictures that show us some of the places they visited in France.
Arc De Triomphe, Paris, no cars only carriages! Vulcana is in the picture but too small to see clearly on the right of the arch!
The above looks like the Louvre in the background
The following pictures show us some of the places they visited in France and the images of the interior of a gym are interesting as they show the men of the troupe exercising. Sadly there are none of the women doing their training but it shows them in the background of one of the pictures. It also shows some of the equipment that was used.
The pictures of the gym in Paris unfortunately only show the men practicing their weight lifting and body building. The images of the interior of a gym are interesting, sadly there are none of the women doing their training but it shows them in the background of one of the pictures. It also shows some of the equipment that was used.