When I struggle with ideas for writing about fencing history for this site, I have a couple of favorite fallback topics. If you’ve been reading for awhile, you can probably guess most of them. Aldo Nadi, Helene Mayer, Hans Halberstadt. All three of those historical figures are prominently featured herein, but one of them has a sub-topic that I always enjoy returning to. That topic is (are?) the Hans Halberstadt Scrapbooks.
When I first started this Archive in 2012, one of the first big tasks I took on was scanning the four scrapbooks still in the possession of the Halberstadt Fencers Club. Seven plus years on, there are two additional scrapbooks that were donated to the Archive in their original state, so now there are a total of six Halberstadt Scrapbooks. The four books at the club were water damaged in the late 80s or early 90s. More on that in a bit. The thing is, Hans was such an avid collector of ephemera related to his life, fencing, or both, that the books are chock full of tidbits that are easy to overlook in a cursory glance or quick pass through. However, while the person who reassembled the books into new pages after the water damage did an admirable job of translating the available information from the old book to the new (Thanks, Lee!), there was no way for her to necessarily know the identity of many of the people in photos if they hadn’t been written in by Hans in the original. By the early 90s, there just wasn’t a great deal of institutional memory to identify many of the club members or miscellaneous fencers from the mid-1950s.
That’s where I find myself in a unique position to help. After eight years of looking at these pictures – and all the other fencing memorabilia I’ve come across – some of the players in this drama have become very familiar to me. It remains challenging to identify people who are covered in a fencing mask, although there are exceptions, but anyone whose face I can see becomes a target for me to hone in on, in an attempt to determine what name attaches to their likeness. I certainly can’t ID everyone; Hans had several generations of fencers roll through his club during the 25 years he was teaching and not all became “known” fencers by leaving a trail of breadcrumbs through either tournament scoresheets, regional or national competition entries or some other means by which I can learn their era and likeness well enough to pick them out of a crowd. Still, some of the faces have become very well known. By applying all this quality time with my computer to the problem of identifying the unidentified, I’ve been able to have some success in naming names. Let’s start at the top, in this case, the photo above. Now, anyone who fenced in the San Francisco Bay Area from the mid-50s through the early-90s will more than likely recognize the location of the above photo. It’s the Letterman gymnasium, home to the legion of Letterman Fencers who trained there under Dr. Bill O’Brien for the entirety of its very successful run. The date of the above is 1957 and while there aren’t any notes to indicate the event, it’s got to be something big because there’s a contingent of folks from Southern California. The most likely candidate is the Pacific Coast Championships. On the far left is Fred Linkmeyer. Next is unknown. I’ve seen him in other photos, but have no name to attach. Yet. Next is definitely Joseph Vince. Then we have an unknown standing next to Hans Halberstadt – who does not look happy at all. The last two are Arthur Lane and Salvatore Giambra. He’s the one directing.
This one was on a page with no hints for location or the people involved. I definitely can’t solve for location and only have a couple of names to drop. The four women that can be seen sitting on the bench are all unknown to me. The man on the far left who is cut in half is a mystery, but next to him is Colonel Laurance Brownlee. The woman standing and side-judging – while smoking – is, I’m pretty sure, Demi Huddleson. The traces of purple on the image are residual damage marks from the unexpected bath the Halberstadt Scrapbooks took when a water pipe at the club burst and flooded a large area that included the storage location of the original scrapbooks.
The next two photos pose some interesting questions. The lad above, crossing blades with Hans Halberstadt in his finest satin fencing master outfit, is named Miguel Swanswick and he hails from Louisiana. On a separate page, there is a newspaper article talking about his victory in a riflery competition that took place in Canada.
The article about him is from The Ottawa Citizen, and they refer to him as a “Pint-Sized Davy Crockett.” Since the Disney TV series started airing in 1954 and the article and these photos are from 1955, it fits. Hugely popular, the Davy Crockett TV series starred Fess Parker as the frontiersman who wore a raccoon on his head. I watched it in reruns. The thing I wonder about is, what was little Miguel Swanswick doing in San Francisco taking fencing lessons from Hans Halberstadt? Clearly, he was a well-traveled youngster, since he was able to get from Alexandria, Louisiana to Ottawa, Canada and San Francisco. The Alexandria airport was an Army base in 1955, so maybe his folks were in the military and flew the lad to and fro for whatever he was up to. And perhaps he became a pentathlete, what with the shooting and the fencing. No clue. But these two pictures in the scrapbooks don’t identify the young man on the page where the two photos rest, so I had to do a little sleuthing to match the news article to this fellow.
This is another photo from 1955 and a couple of things jump out at me. The location is definitely the Los Angeles Athletic Club. A sabre match is underway and three of the four side judges are unknown. The only one I recognize is the one who’s back is to the camera in the dark suit. That’s Torao Mori, definitely. Of the spectators along the top and on the benches behind the match, there’s no one recognizable and the fencer making the lunging attack is a mystery. However, there was only one Southern California fencer that I’ve seen any pictures of that taped over the top front of his mask like the fencer making the attempt at a parry, and that’s Sewall “Skip” Shurtz. I’ve got film footage of Skip using this mask at an outdoor tournament in Griffith Park. He was using the same mask at the US Nationals in 1956 and at the Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. So out of the one, two, three… a bunch of folks in this photo, I’ve got only two names. It’s a start.
Another mystery location and the two women on the left go by the name of “?” in the scrapbook. I can’t improve upon that, unfortunately. The scrapbook does name the gentleman on the left. That’s Jack Adams, who fenced and helped run the NorCal division for many years. The man on the far right also got a “?” in the scrapbook, but he’s someone I can confidently tag. His curly hair and left-hand jacket are dead giveaways. His name is Al Lambert and he fenced first at Cal as an undergrad, then continued his competitive career as a member of the Berkeley Fencers Club. BFC was founded by Arthur Lane. I looked through my Berkeley Annuals reference, but didn’t find a photo of him there. In American Fencing Magazine, the earliest reference for him is 1951, representing UC Berkeley at the Pacific Coast Championships. By 1956, when this was taken, he was at BFC. He continues to show up regularly in the NorCal results column in American Fencing up until 1959 and had a “B” rating in epee.
The next two photos both got hit with a great deal of water damage, but they seem to have been taken at the same location. Not that I can identify what that location may be. The fencer above is the Southern California stalwart and two-time Olympian for The Netherlands, Duris de Jong. Another from 1956, at this time Duris was the coach at the Hollywood Athletic Club.
This one gives some indication that the photo was taken at a fencing club, what with the weapons and masks on the wall, but it’s not anyplace I recognize. I’m tempted to place it in Southern California, if only because Joseph Vince, the man on the left, is wearing a plastron and Hans Halberstadt is in a suit. Of course, I’ve never seen Hans wearing any teaching gear at any tournament photo, ever. He’s always in a suit and tie, smoking a pipe, cigar or cigarette and most often seems to be enjoying himself. The woman standing between the two gents is Bernadette “Bunny” Fratessa. I’ve seen a lot of photos of her from a long string of years. She fenced at both Funke Fencing Academy and Halberstadt at various times. I’ve also seen photos of her at many Southern California events, but I don’t know if she lived in that area for a time or just traveled around a lot. She also taught fencing at San Francisco State College in the 1947 to 1949 timeframe. Unfortunately, I don’t have complete records for that school’s fencing coach history. Bunny never had any great results, but clearly loved the sport. It doesn’t appear she attended Nationals, or I would find her name in American Fencing magazine back in the day when they annually printed the results of every round. Still, I’d love to know more about her.
This photo shows the unmistakable interior of the Halberstadt Fencers Club, circa 1957. Salvatore Giambra is directing a women’s foil match. The fencer on the right seems ready to go, but the fencer on the left appears to be checking with a side judge, probably to make sure he or she isn’t falling-down drunk or legally blind. Ah, standard foil. Somehow, I don’t miss it. Hans Halberstadt is the gentleman sitting in the back of the room in the right-hand chair. In the left hand chair, possibly caught in the act of biting his nails – perhaps one of his fencers is on the strip? – is Arthur Lane. The half-person furthest to the right is possibly Tommy Angell, but I’m not certain. Likewise, the woman on the very far left may be Carol Reid, another Halberstadt fencer.
I was surprised that this photo didn’t have a caption, as the fencing master here was pretty well known. Maybe so well known that Hans didn’t feel the need to put in his name. That’s how information gets lost, I guess. That’s Belgian-trained fencing master Jean Heremans, shown here giving a Hollywood starlet the basic rundown on the proper foil grip. He was the hand-picked successor to the immensely popular and successful master at the Los Angeles Athletic Club, Henri Uyttenhove. Heremans, after settling into the Los Angeles surroundings, did quite a lot of Hollywood fight choreography work. Indeed, he’s one of the players involved in one of the most outrageous filmed swordfights ever: Scaramouche. He’s credited with “fencing stunts,” whatever that may mean. And, since it’s available and I’m thinking about it, why not end with that? Just remember the famous words of Edna Mode: “No capes!”