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Heifetz On Wheels

June 2024
1min read
After six months on skates, the magnificently caparisoned, three-and-a-half-year-old Willie stood for a photographer in St. Joseph, Missouri (1883).

One night in 1883 the three-yearold William E. Sidney rollerskated out onto the floor of a Perry, Iowa, rink and proceeded to spin, jump, and swoop with such uncanny fluency that he went on to recoup the family fortune. His granddaughter, Dorothy Sidney Smith of Indianapolis, tells the story:

“A traveling salesman took the word home with him, and soon an invitation to appear in Chicago arrived. The Sidneys were hard-pressed—the boy’s father had recently lost his job as superintendent at a coal mine when a tunnel had collapsed —and reluctantly agreed. And soon ‘Little Willie, the Juvenile Skating Champion’ was supporting the family. The Sidneys traveled throughout the East and, when Willie was a seasoned performer of four-and-a-half, they toured the West. ‘I had heard cowboys mentioned quite often,’ Sidney wrote sixty years later, ‘and became curious about this animal, picturing it in my mind as being a little bit like a human being, but having long wide-spread horns and, of course, a tail like a cow.’ The creatures, who turned out to be disappointingly like other humans, took a shine to the prodigy, and the Western tour was a great success. The next year, during a stint in Frankfort, Indiana, Willie’s father got a job as engineer for the new waterworks. My grandfather wrote: ‘So ended my skating career. I was then six years old.’”

We continue to ask our readers to send unusual and previously unpublished old photographs to Carla Davidson at American Heritage, 60 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10011. Please send a copy of any irreplaceable material, include return postage, and do not mail glass negatives. American Heritage will pay $50.00 for each one that is run.

Midway through his stage career, Willie added a bicycle to the act and is seen here with it during a booking in Plattsmouth, Nebraska.

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