SI Vault
William Oscar Johnson
December 26, 1983
Though most stars of the first Winter Olympics are gone, a few of them—like Herma Szabo-Plank (left)—can recall when, young and innocent, they met in Chamonix
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December 26, 1983

As It Was In The Beginning

Though most stars of the first Winter Olympics are gone, a few of them—like Herma Szabo-Plank (left)—can recall when, young and innocent, they met in Chamonix

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From Paris, Steinmetz and Jewtraw and another U.S. skater went to London. Among the clientéle de luxe they'd met in Chamonix was an Englishwoman who had invited them to have dinner in London with her and with a mysterious "Lord and Lady Ashley." Amazingly enough, that's exactly what happened: The U.S. skaters, dressed in their Olympic sweaters, dined in a luxurious London home with an authentic Lord and Lady Ashley. Steinmetz says now that this event changed his life forever: "Boy, were those people sophisticated! I watched them. I listened to them, and I saw right then that I didn't know anything but skating. I swore I was going to broaden my horizons." Steinmetz had been a $15-a-week apprentice electrician, but once he got home he took public-speaking courses and eventually started his own business and made a fortune selling electric toasters, fans and radios.

Jewtraw's life also changed because of his Olympic trip. He never did go to Bowdoin. Instead, the Spalding sporting goods firm offered him a job doing a few skating exhibitions. Jewtraw progressed in the company until, by early 1929, he was acting manager of the Spalding store at the Lake Placid Club. He recalls with a faraway look: "It was a golden opportunity—$60 a week and I lived at the club. Then it turned out that the district manager didn't like me. He was a Yale man; all the big shots at Spalding were Yale men. I was just an Olympic skater. They backed him. I had to resign."

Jewtraw got a job in the men's department at Macy's in New York City. He got married in 1930 to Natalie Brewer, and they had high hopes. "I just wanted to make enough to support the woman I loved, and I would have been all right," he says. "But then everything went wrong. The Depression came, and it was terrible. People didn't buy anything." Macy's laid him off in 1933. "I banged around; I kept moving to new jobs in stores," he says. In 1938, he began working as rink custodian and part-time instructor at the Gay Blade, a public skating emporium at 52nd and Broadway. "It got to be a disagreeable job," says Jewtraw. "I worked 12, 14 hours a day. I gave lessons for a dollar and gave 50 cents back to the management. People knew I was once some kind of a famous skater. No one knew about the Olympics."

Jewtraw quit the Gay Blade in 1940 and got a job as a security guard for First National City Bank in New York. He stayed there until 1962, when he retired. "I carried a pistol all those years," he recalls, "but I was fortunate. I never took it out of the holster. When I first started, a bank executive said, 'Charlie, always remember you're the first face most people see when they come in the bank. Be nice.' I looked at the job as public relations as much as security. I liked the work except for my feet. The floor was terrazzo. At Chase and Bankers Trust the guards had mats, but not at City Bank. It was like standing on a cold tombstone all day. My feet hurt all the time near the end."

Charlie and Natalie have been in Palm Beach for eight years now. They rent a small apartment not far from the beach. They live on Social Security and some savings. In 1980, his old friends in Lake Placid tried to get him to come back to his hometown for the Winter Olympics. He would have been a very honored guest up there. "I couldn't go," he says sadly. "I was real depressed after an operation, and I didn't want to talk to anybody except my darling Natalie. She took care of me. Now I'm taking care of her." His wife is becoming increasingly crippled from arthritis, so Jewtraw shops, cooks and keeps house for the two of them.

He says quietly, "Fame doesn't bring all that one might think. That gold medal never changed me at all. I never meant to capitalize on it." He pauses, blinks as if in surprise, and says, "But then I never had a chance to, did I?" There isn't a trace of bitterness or even resignation in Jewtraw's voice. "I donated the medal to the Smithsonian in 1957. It didn't matter to me. It wasn't solid gold. It was just silver with some gold coating." He pauses and gazes through the open window at the palm fronds. "It really bothered me when I found out about the medal not being solid gold. It wasn't the value. It was the principle of the thing that got me."

Lightning struck Charlie Jewtraw in Chamonix, but it only struck once. He never went to Europe again.

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