Warren Lincoln Travis – The Day the Weights Won

By Al Myers

The newspaper’s headlines read, “Weights He Lifted Crush a Strongman.”

Warren Lincoln Travis was the ultimate strongman performer. Here he is posing with some of the implements he would use in his strength shows.

I always love a good story.  Especially a story where the hero is faced with overwhelming obstacles that he must overcome to maintain or regain his previous status.  I know what you are thinking – Al must have a soft spot for sappy movies that have predictable endings. Well, I admit I always enjoy them more than I think I would.  But I pretend to let my wife think I only watch those kind of movies with her for her sake, and let on that I would have really preferred another action thriller movie!  This is the kind of story that would make a good movie,  and has your typical “feel good” outcome that is expected out of a “tear-jerker”. It pits the human body against iron. Flesh against steel.  Bone against metal. This is a story about a man that faced death at the mercy of weights and barbells that he was trying to lift.

Enough dramatic prelude!  I’m not writing a novel!!  Let me get straight to my story. I recently found  a news clipping from the NY Times, dated May 13 1908.  This clipping details the day the famous strongman, Warren Lincoln Travis, nearly lost his life at the hands of the weight he was trying to lift. He was only 27 years old at the time.

It all started when a janitor for the Brooklyn Athletic Club went to work one day and found our hero, Warren Lincoln Travis, lying under 1 1/2 tons of barbell plates, bars, dumbbells and even pieces of gymnastic equipment. Travis was unconscious.  The janitor quickly recruited some help and “unburied” Travis  from this heap of iron.  They rushed him to the hospital.  Upon a doctors examination, Travis had many lacerations, bruises,  possible internal injuries, and a dislocated hip.  The doctor was quoted as saying, “he will probably die”.

However, after a while, Travis regained consciousness and was able to tell his story.  He had been in training for an upcoming strength show, and was planning on doing a big Back Lift for the performance.  He wanted to lift a big platform loaded with people.  The previous times training this stunt he was able to get gym members to sit on his platform, but this day he arrived at the gym early and he found himself alone, with no other gym members around to use as his “live weight”.  So instead of waiting, Travis started loading anything he could find in the gym on his platform, which was supported by two sawhorses. Due to the weight probably being “unbalanced”, one of the sawhorses broke upon Travis placing it down after a rep.  This caused the other sawhorse to tip over, driving Travis to the floor covered by a piece of wood and around 3000 pounds of weight.  He couldn’t move to free himself and was trapped for at least half an hour before he was rescued.  The story referred to him being “senseless” when they found him, which I take as being unconscious.   This NY Times story also commented that this was the second time within a year that Travis had been hospitalized.  The other time was when Travis was doing a stunt in which an automobile was driven OVER HIM, but the driver got the wheels over his rib cage, breaking several ribs in the process!!!

But this story has a happy ending. Travis went on to an illustrious strongman career and became,  without a doubt, one of the most recognized American Strongmen of the early 1900’s.  He was more than just a strongman – I would also  say he was an early day stuntman.  Many of his performances had a high element of risk in them.  He was not afraid of becoming injured in order “to put on his show of strength”.  This accident didn’t hinder him in his pursuit of Back Lifting.  Most of his best Back Lifting was done after this accident.  On this day the weights may have won, but in the end Warren Lincoln Travis was victorious!

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