GALLERY OF IRONMEN

Paul Conchas

David Chapman

In the years just prior to World War I, militarism was all the rage in Germany, and one supremely powerful young man took advantage of that feeling to create a vaudeville act that showcased his strength, balance and Prussian patriotism. Lifting and juggling extremely heavy items had long been popular with strongmen, but Paul Conchas combined that feat with German military might, and in the process he became a hit with audiences all over Europe and America.

Conchas was born in Germany sometime around 1875, but very little is known of his early years. We do know that his real name was Paul Hütt and that he began his athletic career as a wrestler. Starting around 1895, however, as the “Military Hercules,” the young Prussian athlete astounded audiences with his unique feats and showbiz flair. Conchas would march on to the stage to the strains of a stirring German military march wearing the uniform of the elite household guard, complete with sword, brass buttons and an absurdly elaborate helmet topped with the Prussian eagle.

The act that Conchas presented was truly amazing. He’d put a 187-pound artillery shell on one end of a springboard and launch it into the air, catching the thing on his neck and shoulders. Even more spectacularly, he’d balance on his chin a trio of cannonballs perched on a three-pronged pole; he’d then knock the pole away and catch the plummeting balls on the nape of his neck and his shoulders. The total weight of the balls was said to be 350 pounds. The man’s strength and sense of balance must have been extraordinary, and he was a huge success wherever he went.

In 1905 Conchas made his first trip to America and met with great success. The German juggler returned several times to the USA and each time enjoyed large crowds and enthusiastic reviews. Conchas distinguished himself from other strongmen by admitting that working out with heavy weights was the source of his power. Most others claimed that they miraculously acquired or achieved their strength by lifting tiny five-pound dumbbells. Conchas flatly admitted that his power derived from “training with the weights and on the wrestling mats.”

Despite his soldierly appearance, the Military Hercules took care to be in the United States when World War I broke out in Europe. It was while he was on tour in America that the great cannonball juggler died in 1916.


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