After a week’s hiatus, I return to the WCFA with another new story about old stuff! (And between us, the combination of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival matched with moving house is not a recommendation I can endorse for others who wish to keep both their back and their liver in working order.)
I thought I’d focus on another fencing publication, but this time, the granddaddy of them all; American Fencing Magazine. First published in November of 1949, the early issues give a fair rundown of the happenings across the nation. However, since our focus here is on the doings of the events as they happened on the West Coast of the nation, I’ll tailor my report to the information that is relevant to the region here.
A couple of quick historical points. The magazine began publishing as an expanded edition of what had been the AFLA Secretary’s News Letter, and then-President of the AFLA, Miguel De Capriles, makes it clear that the elected officials of the AFLA do not have editorial control over the content of the magazine. That leaves the magazine free to critique the umbrella organization to whom owes its readership, since then, as now, it is distributed to all members in good standing.
On page 3, the magazine starts right in with the top 10 in each weapon for National rankings. The west has slim representation in all but Women’s Foil. Two San Franciscans are ranked tied for 10th in Men’s Foil; Gerard Biagini and Louis Giorgi. For the Women, four of the ranked fencers are from Southern California, including the top two: Polly Craus of The Faulkner School and Maxine Mitchell from Cavaliers. The other two were Camille Bayer at 7th, also from Cavaliers, and Bernadine Meislahn, another Faulkner student, at 9th
The report on the 1949 National Championships held in June gives a fair amount of detail for most all of the competitors. After all, the numbers were rather small. For the Women, 30 competitors. In the Men’s events, 28 for Sabre, 38 for Foil, 39 in Epee. There is also opportunity to note that in Women’s Foil, the 3 medalists from the previous year are not in attendance, including the “World All Time Great” (their quotes) Helene Mayer. The report also gives pool-by-pool breakdown, so you can at least note who won what number of bouts per round. They had made a change to the format for this Nationals, also. They fenced pools until reaching 8 competitors, then went to a direct elimination format to determine the winners. This format had been in discussion for some time and in the California publication, “The Fencer”, Aldo Nadi writes in an article that, in his opinion, (of which he had no lack thereof) the direct elimination format did not necessarily determine the ‘best’ fencer, since you didn’t have to prove yourself against all the other finalists. And, really, it’s a very interesting point.
The Women’s Foil matched up the top two women for 1st place: Polly Craus and Maxine Mitchell.
Polly Craus (L) and Maxine Mitchell shaking hands. This photo is undated, but might be from the right year, if not the final bout. Polly’s hair looks right for 1949, however this might also have been taken at the Pacific Coast Championships. So, no definitive clarity. Andy Shaw might know.
Here is how the finals played out.
Craus came out ahead, and also led her Faulkner Falconettes to the team title as well, soundly defeating all the east coast teams: Fencer’s Club, Santelli’s and the Jersey City Rec Center – the last giving the winners their toughest fight, with the bout score ending at 5 to 4.
On the Men’s Foil side, there was this interesting note in the article describing the event:
This prediction certainly came true in the case of Gerard Biagini, as he was a Nationals finalist multiple times and won gold in team Sabre in 1961 with his Pannonia team that included Jack Baker, Alex Orban and Daniel Magay. Anyway, back to 1949.
Men’s Foil semi finals sees Biagini and Giorgi both go down in 5th position, with only four advancing to the final eight. Gary Martin, from Aldo Nadi’s club in Hollywood, was eliminated in the quarterfinals. Biagini also competed in the Sabre and Epee competitions, going down in the Semi’s in Sabre and the Quarters in Epee.
There are some side-bar notes regarding others in the west that are assisting in division efforts, most notably Fred Linkmeyer, the only AFLA officer from out west, and one of only three (of nine) not from New York. There is also a list of all the divisions and four are based in the west: Nor Cal, So Cal, Seattle and Spokane. The next closest division geographically to these far westerners was Colorado.
Another good bit of information comes from the two pages of “Winners of Fencing Events 1948-49”. This includes championships results from around the country – which is apparently limited to the Metropolitan division, the Mid-West and the Pacific Coast. But the list of Pacific Coast folks is an interesting dive into a number of names that bear a great deal more attention.
That’s a bunch of events! Keep in mind that the “Junior” and “Intermediate” designations were related more to level of experience than age. There are a couple of names whose life & times as fencers will eventually be delineated more completely here, including the aforementioned Polly Craus, Maxine Mitchell and Gerard Biagini. In addition, there’s Sewall “Skip” Shurtz, who I’ve been working with for both his own fascinating story, but also to gather more information on Polly, Ralph Faulkner and others who he knew so well. (It’s worth noting that at the time of the above Pacific Coast Championships, where he walked away with quite a number of medals, Skip – future National Champ in 2 weapons and 1956 Olympian – was just 16 years old.) Also Frank and Salvatore Giambra, who were both fixtures at the Olympic Club where Hans Halberstadt taught. Other names show up quite regularly as I peruse old documents and score sheets, including Del Reynolds, Joe Lampl and Pierre Paret, the last of whom was one of the guiding forces behind publication of “The Fencer”, the demise of which seems to coincide with start of American Fencing magazine. Hopefully I’ll be able to track down more information on these folks’ fencing lives too!
So, that’s what went down in AF #1 as far as things related to the West Coast goes. Lots of good leads to follow up on in the future! For now, I’m just happy to have a story ready to post!