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Joe Call — The Lewis Giant

May 15, 2009

The title of this column was the name of a book written about Joe in 1981 by the author of many Adirondacks books, Maitland C. DeSormo, and illustrated by legendary newspaperman and Adirondack icon, Bill McLaughlin. This column continues from last week.

Stories about Joe abound and the Adirondack Room of the Saranac Free Library has an abundant file on the giant, including, but not limited to, H. P. Smith's 'History of Essex County", and "Body, Boots and Britches" by Harold Thompson. However, most of the following are excerpts from Mr. DeSormo's book.

After the battle

Article Photos

Illustration by Bill McLaughlin from the DeSormo book
(Courtesy of the Adirondack Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library)

Joe Call and his friend Abraham Chase of Willsboro fought in the War of 1812 and after routing British troops from an attack on a warehouse of army supplies at Willsboro Falls on the Bouquet River they retreated to nearby Sheldon's Tavern.

As the celebration wore on, according to DeSormo, here is what happened:

"Chase, a power-packed specimen himself, became sufficiently belligerent to take on Joe, who never failed to accept a challenge. For some reason, too much soldiering or too much sauce, Chase managed to throw Joe with surprisingly little difficulty and on the victor's tombstone in Memorial Cemetery in Willsboro, can be found an inscription which states for posterity that he was the only man who ever threw Joe Call."

Joe the blacksmith

One Alex Couchey had apparently told Harold Thompson, the author many stories about Joe; here is one of the stories:

"Joe was working as a blacksmith for Rogers Brothers in AuSable Forks when a burly stranger swaggered into his smithy one day, casually picked up a horseshoe and effortlessly bent it out straight. Not to be outdone, Joe quickly picked up the stranger's horse and carried it across the shop.

"The visitor merely nodded approvingly and requested a light for his pipe. Still silent, Call carefully placed a large live coal on his anvil and took it to him. Thereupon the outlander gravely accepted the proferred anvil, held it leisurely in one hand and proceeded to light his commodious pipe. Then, after he had savored the tobacco for several minutes, he glanced at Joe through the haze and shrewdly remarked, 'I do believe you must be Joe Call.'

"Joe just nodded so the other man closed the interview with these words: 'Well, I came here spoilin' for a fight with you but I guess we're both strong!' Again Joe just nodded in agreement."

A visitor from Albany

"Still another story about Joe's exploits featured his treatment of an Albany man who journeyed to the Essex County bailiwick to give the local hero 'a touch of the fancy.'

"Call pretended to be just a weak-minded yokel who knew nothing about the scientific aspects of wrestling. When the challenger tried to throw him with a quick toe-hold, Joe, anticipating the maneuver, countered rapidly and danced the city slicker around in the air with his feet off the ground, very much as a father would playfully swing his child."

Other strong men

I found a feature story about strong men in the library with a copyright dated 1922, published in a W. H. Gannett newspaper and written by John R. Blake. Here are a couple of excerpts from that story. This lead paragraph explains why Joe Call was so famous:

"Human beings have always been greatly interested in marvelous feats of strength and physical endurance. Any man who could lift great weights, box or wrestle skillfully, run extraordinary distances or short distances very swiftly, or could strike a blow of phenomenal power with his fist, has always been sure of celebrity.

"Ancient Rome had many strong men. The Emperor Caius Julius Verus Maximus was able to squeeze the hardest stone to pieces with his fingers. He was seven feet tall and the bracelet of one of the women of his court could be worn as a ring by him on one of his huge fingers. She, however, was an unusually small woman with a very thin wrist.

"Salvius, of Rome, could walk up a ladder carrying two hundred pounds fastened to his feet, one hundred to each foot. Athanatus, another Roman, could run around the arena carrying five hundred pounds fastened to his feet two hundred fifty pounds to each foot."

Sorry folks, this is getting too far-fetched and then I got so excited I jumped up and ran around my computer twice - tied to my chair.



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