February/March 1978 | Volume 29, Issue 2
Eyes narrowed, muscles tensed, galluses straining, mighty Elmer Bitgood of Voluntown, Connecticut, prepares to heft his homemade weightstwin kegs filled with rocks. He was the local Samson—every turn-of-the-century town seems to have had one—a kindly giant about whom legends grew. Elmer was so strong, townspeople swear, that he could carry a full-grown bull, hoist a steamboat boiler, lift a 4,200-pound carnival platform on his back. Clean living, country air, and an awesome appetite were said to be responsible. His mother fixed his meals in a washtub: four chickens at a sitting, eight quarts of peas and beans, a mountain of biscuits, two quarts of strawberries, and still he left the table hungry. Elmer was proud of his strength, but shy. He never married, and a youthful season or two as a side-show attraction were all of the larger world he could stand. He worked the family farm until he died in 1938, but he is not entirely forgotten: each summer, Voluntown stages a weightlif ting contest called “Shades of Elmer” in his honor.