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As the daughter of German circus performers, Katie Sandwina (born Kathi Brumbach in 1884) was raised in a world uniquely encouraging of female athleticism and physicality. At a young age, she routinely defeated her male counterparts in various strength challenges, and by the 1910s, she was arguably America’s first true celebrity strongwoman; known as "Lady Hercules" and "The Great Sandwina." The latter nickname was likely adapted from "Sandow," in reference to the great German bodybuilder Eugen Sandow, whom Katie had supposedly once outperformed in a weightlifting exhibition.

Across a 50-year career under the Big Top, Sandwina’s combination of grace, beauty, and power amazed audiences, opened minds, and helped redefine female strength-and strength in general—in the 20th century.


ON LOCATION

Explore the map to learn more about the landmarks visited in the film.

USA
Europe

Mount Richmond Cemetery (Staten Island)

The final resting place of Katie Sandwina, who died in New York City in 1952 at the age of 67. Mount Richmond Cemetery offered free burials to Jewish families who were unable to afford the costs; suggesting that Katie died with little fortune to show for her fame. Jan Todd visits Sandwina’s humble gravesite in the film.

New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (Manhattan)

Sandwina’s widower Max donated his collection of posters and other promotional materials from his wife’s career to the special collections of this library after her death in 1952. In the film, the curator of the NYPLPA notes that most vintage Sandwina posters depict her as an attractive “Wonder Woman,” rather than a “circus freak,” as some strongwomen from the past had been.

The Circus Bar (Queens, NY)

As a new means of income during the Depression, Katie and Max Sandwina purchased this establishment in Queens, which they dubbed the “Circus Bar.” Famously, Katie did double duty as bartender and bouncer inside the pub, while Max did the cooking and—for old time’s sake—sometimes let Katie carry him around to amuse the patrons.

Sioux City, IA

Katie’s son Theodore Roosevelt “Ted” Sandwina was born here in 1906 when his mother was on tour with Barnum & Bailey’s. He would go on to become a champion boxer in the 1920s, and ultimately lived to the ripe old age of 91.

Magdeburg Circus Museum & Circus Wagon

To get a better idea of the kind of life Sandwina would have experienced traveling in a circus wagon with her parents in the late 1800s, the filmmakers travel here to the Circus Museum in Magdeburg, Germany, where Gerhard Mette of the German Circus Friends Association provides a tour of an original wagon from that era.

City Museum (Berlin)

In Berlin, Jan Todd visits with archivist Stefanie Thalheim of the City Museum, who shares some of the original Sandwina photos and promotional materials that have been donated to the museum’s Circus and Vaudeville collections.

Essen, Germany

Despite tall tales of Sandwina being born in the back of a circus wagon in Vienna, research suggests her hometown was actually the city of Essen in western Germany.

Paris, France

During a performance here early in her career, Sandwina was “discovered” by John Ringling of the famed Ringling Bros. Circus. By this point, the Ringlings also owned the Barnum & Bailey Circus, and Katie soon began performing with the latter on tours throughout the United States.

SANDWINA EXTRAS

STRONG EARLY & LATE / 8K
Dr. Terry Todd describes how the groundbreaking strongwoman Katie Sandwina (1884-1952) never seemed to lose the brute strength she’d first showcased as a teenage circus performer. Not only did she regularly press her husband Max above her head, but in her later years, she was even photographed lifting her 200LB+ son—a professional boxer—in the same fashion.
HOW KATIE MET MAX / 8K
Dr. Terry Todd discusses the unusual courtship of one of America’s first great strongwomen, Katie Sandwina (1884-1952), and her husband Max. As the story goes, the diminutive Max was no match for the great Sandwina in the wrestling ring, but the two soon formed an unlikely partnership (as performers and in marriage) that would last for decades.
THE CIRCUS BAR / 8K
This brief clip from the Rogue Legends Series documentary Sandwina includes rare footage from “the Circus Bar,” the Queens, New York establishment that the retired strongwoman Katie Sandwina (1884-1952) and her husband Max ran in the 1940s. Famously, Katie did double duty as bartender and bouncer inside the pub, while Max did the cooking and—for old time’s sake—sometimes let Katie carry him around to amuse the patrons.
THE STRONGWOMEN / 8K
While Katie Sandwina (1884-1952) was one of the first widely celebrated strongwomen of the 20th century, she followed in the footsteps of others. In this clip from the Rogue Legends Series documentary Sandwina, we see how early female strength performers like Athleta and Minerva had already helped introduce the idea that natural feminine beauty and great strength could be one in the same—a balance that Sandwina would master throughout her own career.