With apologies to the Marvel Universe, I’ve recently been schooled in what I perceive to be heroic.  Now, this is all colored by what I do for a living – which has full crossover functionality with what I do for fun.  Job description goes like this: I track down and attempt to understand fencing history and memorabilia.  Call it work for the sake of a practical definition, but it feels like entertainment.  Is that why I’m writing this on a Sunday?  

No matter.

I’ve had two brain-melting events in the last few weeks that have left me in a state of awe that I could really be so lucky.  To many, it might be tough to understand how I can get such a thrill out of the circumstances that have arisen.  I’ve heard it before.  After all, I collect Scrappy memorabilia.  I could (but won’t) go on and on about Scrappy.  Let’s just say there aren’t a whole lot of Scrappy collectors out there.  If you don’t know who he is, think of him as Mickey Mouse’s human cousin that also starred in cartoons, except they were universally awful and hardly anyone remembers them.  For good reason.  There are, surprisingly, many more people in the world collecting fencing memorabilia.  Of course, I’m not collecting for collecting sake (mostly) but in service to the Fencing Archive I co-founded a little over 5 years ago.  We collect, interpret/understand and disseminate our findings.  Slowly, perhaps, but we’ve made progress.

So now to the point of all this, and Incident Number One.  (Number two will be revealed in Part Two.) In a recent post I wrote about trophies, whereabouts unknown.  I’d done a fair bit of homework on the topic, but I was also putting up information that was solely from my own perspective.  After all, I’ve been asking around and the ones I wrote about hadn’t been uncovered.  

Enter, Hero #1.  Kathy Krusen, the Secretary of the Halberstadt Fencers Club in San Francisco, former Slug (that’s a term of endearment if you’re a graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz) and long-time friend.  Kathy and I have worked together on a couple of projects for The Archive already, which mostly take the form of me borrowing something from her club and returning it after scanning.  The big item was her allowing me to scan the entirety of the Halberstadt Scrapbooks.  In return, I gave her a copy of my digital files so that both my Archive and Halberstadt have a set of those scans.  Win/win.  As a form of payment, although really I proceed on more of a barter system, I’m also working on a new project to get some more pictures of Hans Halberstadt into her hands so that they can be hung up on the walls of the club. With all the various photos I have of that club during different periods of time, it’s clear that a lot of photos that once graced the walls when Hans was alive have since taken a powder.  They’ve beat feet.  They ain’t there no more.  So, while I can’t replace all the gone items, I can put up some nice stand-ins that will be worthy additions to the photos that have survived all the long years and remain on the walls today.  

That’s an ongoing project.

While discussing this with Kathy at a recent coaching clinic we both attended, I remembered something I wanted to ask her about.


In 1982, I helped run the Pacific Coast Championships at Cabrillo College in Aptos, CA, on the Monterey Bay.  Lovely spot. At the end of the weekend, we were awarding the Women’s Foil Championship trophies and medals.  Connie Louie (Handleman) had won the event for the second year in a row.  Fred Thorsen, the then-president of American Fencers Supply, had given us a cache of excellent trophy swords to award in addition to the medals.  The Women’s Foil winner was also to receive the perpetual trophy, a foil once owned/used by Helene Mayer, the World and Olympic champion who lived in the Bay Area for almost 20 years.  Her foil had been mounted on a big board, roughly the size and shape of Roman legionnaire’s shield.  Maybe I exaggerate slightly.  Regardless, it was big – and it was covered in red velvet.  In truth, it was kinda hideous.  Connie had kept it for the year and brought it back like a champion to put it up for the next winner – but she won again.  And didn’t want to take the hideous red velvet board, Helene Mayer sword or no, back home again.  Having no better idea of what to do with it, it went home with me, was stashed in a back bedroom and promptly forgotten about.  Fast forward a few years, and I realized that the me of that time, late 80s, early 90s, had no right to hold onto the thing.  Having no better idea, I took it to Matthew Porter, who had taken over American Fencers Supply, and gave it to him.  To my delight, he had Craig Cummings fashion a new board for the sword, it was remounted beautifully, and Matthew kept it around the shop for a few years.  At some point, Matthew realized as I did that he didn’t really have reason to keep it.  Plus, the Pacific Coast Championships were no longer being held, so he passed it off to Kathy at Halberstadt.

This last tidbit of information wasn’t known to me until the last time I saw Matthew.  For those that don’t know, the home of Matthew and his wife was lost a couple summers back to the Lake Fire that devastated parts of Northern California.  I asked Matthew if the Helene Mayer trophy had been one of the many losses to that fire, but he informed me that, no, he’d passed that off to Kathy.

So, back up to the present.  At the coaching clinic, I asked Kathy if she still had the Helene Mayer sword.  She thought about it for a second, then said, “No, I don’t think so.  That doesn’t really ring a bell.  What I do have is the old Helene Mayer Memorial trophy.”

(Pause for effect….)

“I think your Archive should have that.”

Now, I’ve never won the lottery before, but I think I now know what that must feel like.  Because that very trophy was one of the ones mentioned – by me – as long missing.  Kathy, and husband Randall, had it in their basement.  Really, I can’t begin to express how happy I was to learn: a) it was safe & sound and b) that I might be able to put it on display.  Kathy checked on it that evening, and Randall sent me this via text:


Above: the Helene Mayer Memorial Competition Perpetual Trophy, the former Pacific Coast Championships Women’s Foil Perpetual Trophy on its Improved Board and a nice b&w photo of Helene that I’d never seen before.  (The other photo of Helene is the cover of a self-published book I put together as a writing exercise and have at my club for patrons to peruse.)  

All this came as a donation by Kathy to The Archive.  I’ve put it on display at my club, which also houses the physical collection of the Archive, West Berkeley Fencing Club.  Drop in, during regular business hours and check it out!  To some, it appears as something of a shrine to Helene Mayer.  And really, I can’t argue with the assessment.

The foil is about like I remember it.  It’s a beat up, old, sweat-stained Italian foil of the type Helene Mayer used her entire career – which only makes sense, since it’s hers.  The thumb pad, a thin and brittle affair after all these years, has cracked in half.  The guard is bent at the top & bottom and looks to have been done on purpose.  Not sure what that might be about.  Accident? Like a brick was resting on it?  Or an artistic statement?  I had a bent bumper on my Ford Explorer I never got fixed once I realized I could always spot my car in a parking lot full of other Ford Explorers.  Maybe that’s the way she liked her guards.  The one thing missing from the board, and I believe they were on the red velvet monstrosity, are engraved plaques with the names of PCC winners.  And, if my memory serves, there was also a plaque that said who had donated it.  Now, I believe it was the late Demi Huddleson, she of the long-time editorship of American Fencing Magazine, but I can’t be certain.  I’ll have to ping Craig Cummings and ask if he remembers.  I’m also trying to decide if I should go back through some old magazines and put a new set of plaques on there for past winners.  I know this wasn’t a trophy for more than about 10 years, and maybe less.  But I could really go to town and put every past PCC winner on there.  I mean, why skimp?  It won’t be as it once was, but then, it already isn’t, if you take my meaning.  And since the Pacific Coast Championships is no longer contested in this space/time continuum, there won’t be any new winners.  Something to stew over.  Opinions welcome.

Tommy Angell, left, and Mary Huddleson holding the Helene Mayer Memorial Perpetual Trophy in 1954.  The smaller give-away trophies are on the table.

The Helene Mayer Memorial Trophy is an absolute masterpiece.  It’s got a nice art deco feel, it’s heavy as heck, and the box that it rests in has a carved motif on the face that matches the motif on the cup itself.  The trophy, along with some number of smaller cups that were given to the winners to keep for some number of years, was made in France and is nearly a foot and a half high.  It is very, very cool.  The box doors on the inside face have the top four finishers from every contest of the event from 1954, the first one, until 1985.  So it’s a who’s who of West Coast women foilists.  Plus, in the late 70’s the event became more of a national and international affair.  The Japanese women’s team came for many years and there are women from all over the country listed, lots of Canadiennes and one German, whose presence at the tournament I personally remember vividly.  Three-time individual World Champion and Olympic Silver medalist in 1984 (Gold in team) Cornelia Hanisch attended the Helene Mayer International (as it came to be known) in 1983.  She was, at that time, two-time World Champion, and she was far and away the class of that event.  I remember watching her “warm up”, which she did by sitting in the bleachers. Hanisch represented the Offenbach Fechtclub, the same club Helene Mayer had represented during her youth in Germany.

The Helene Mayer case at the Home o’ the Archive, West Berkeley Fencing Club

Like the Pacific Coast Championships, the Helene Mayer Memorial is no longer contested.  It’s a sad loss to the region, as it was always a strong tournament, even when it was mostly a local affair.  The first 6 times it was held, there were only two winners: Maxine Mitchell and Jan York Romary who, between them, held 14 National titles and 10 Olympic berths.  They would come up from Los Angeles and battle it out.  Maxine continued to come for many years, well into her 50s. 

And so, now, these two stellar pieces of Helene Mayer history have come to rest at the West Coast Fencing Archive.  And Kathy Krusen is Hero #1.

Next: Hero #2!

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