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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Gym Rats: 1920

Gym Rats: 1920

The YMCA gymnasium in Washington, D.C., circa 1920. Note the upper-level track. View full size. National Photo Company Collection glass negative.

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Rings and ropes

Those rings hanging from the overhead were used in gymnastics competition in the early days. They were not stationary, as they are today. The event was called "Flying Rings", and it was pretty spectacular. The athlete swung back and forth as if on a trapeze, performing all sorts of convoluted maneuvers. If what my coach, a veteran of the German Turners, told us is correct, the Flying Rings event was abolished after several athletes lost their grip and splatted against the gym wall.

The rings were actually made of iron, not wood, and were covered with stitched leather. My pals and I found some in the High School basement and liberated them. We tied ropes to a tree branch, hooked up the rings, and tried to kill ourselves. Some fun.

The five ropes suspended from the bar and pulled up out of the way were, when lowered, used for another gymnastics event, the rope climb. The event began with you and your competitors sitting on the floor, legs spread with your hands grasping the rope above your head. When the whistle blew, up you went, hand over hand. I've seen guys, usually under 5'6" with heavily muscled upper bodies, fly up the rope faster than I could have run that far. Tap the bar at the top and back to the floor with two or three hand grasps. Ah, youth.


That YMCA sign above the track looks like a scoreboard to me, probably for basketball games. There are nails arranged on the right side for numbers to be hung. There are similar nails under the YMCA letters for the visiting team's name to be hung.

My high school had a similar gym, decades before my time, in the early 1920's. The track made it difficult or impossible to make set shots from the corner, as well as a lot of other angles. Because of this they finally built one of the first real basketball courts in western New York. It was huge for its day, but by the 1960's it was one of the smallest courts in our league.

97 Pound Weaklings Rejoice!

It will only be nine more years before Charles Atlas ("The Word's Most Perfectly Developed Man") markets his "Dynamic Tension" bodybuilding method. No more getting sand kicked in one's face by those mean old beach bullies!

The fellows at the far left and right...

are certainly interesting specimens. The one on the left looks like he could lift my car out of a snowbank (or over his head), and the one on the right, in a peculiar stretch with the rings, is

So ... where's the construction worker?

And the leather guy, and the Native American, and all the rest? That elevated track is really fascinating, though.

Banked in the turns...

like a lot of speedways. I wonder how much benefit there really was to the banking of the corners of this somewhat short track.

Also, many churches in my area (and other I assume) are building multi-use "Family-Life Center" structures that can be used for contemporary church services as well as sports events, social events and a multitude of activities. Many of them include an upper level "walking track" to appeal to the more "chronologically experienced" members of the community.
Just another "old" idea being given a late-model twist.......


I go to Iowa State University and our State Gym has a track like that. It's a really old historical building, but still used as a gym. Most of the students use the Lied Recreation Center, though, which also has a suspended track.

Upper-Level Track

Interestingly enough, the YMCA in my hometown has a strikingly similar second-story track. What makes it more interesting is that said track was built in 1997.


Here I thought our local modern Y with the elevated track around the gym was new and novel. Again reminded about how little I know about the ingenuity of the past.

And sure, the YMCA sign could have another purpose for the white space so I don't know why the off centered lettering bothers me so.

Yes I do. My father the engineer was a perfectionist when it came to me making posters for homework and science fairs. He'd eyeball the slightest off centered title and out would come the ruler for a check followed by a fresh poster board. Sheesh.

If he were here today I'd thank him though.

(hint YMCA poster guys: just press Ctrl+E on the keyboard, then click Print from the File menu)

Suspended Track

I went to college for a couple of years at Emory at Oxford which had a similar track in use during the late '90s. It was supposedly one of the last suspended tracks left in the Southeast.

SHORPY OLD PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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