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Friday, August 8, 2008

1930s Ice Act

One event of human endurance that you won't see at the Olympics is the Ice Act.

Amid the endurance competition craze of the 1920s and 1930s, the Ice Act was a popular event in which a contestant was put into a block of ice. Four hollowed out ice blocks were put together with a person inside.

According to Frank M. Calabria in his book, Dance of the Sleepwalkers, a professional contestant was "frozen alive in 1200 lbs. of cold, frigid ice." Dressed only in a bathing suit, the contestant could not withstand contact with the ice for long. To increase the suspense of the crowd, Calabria said that the contestant was given a flashlight to signal. "When 50 seconds elapsed without an answering signal from within, the house physician ordered the contestant chopped out by the crew of men standing by."

The contestant would be treated by medical staff, warmed-up with a massage, and greeted by the crowd with cheers.

Pictured in this circa 1930 photograph is contestant, Edith Merritt. The location is unknown, but possibly Waukegan. Dance marathons and Ice Act events were popular throughout Chicagoland, including in Waukegan.

Edith's "trick" could be considered a forerunner to the extreme sports of today.

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