Speed Skater Hugh Palliser

Hugh Palliser skating toward the camera circa 1904 (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The speed skater circa 1905 stood out as an other-worldly figure, his gear and garb outlandish to those around him.  Here is Hugh Palliser, a gifted amateur skater, manifesting the transformation that a trending obsession with speed brought on.  His clothing, his hat, his skates, his stance: all set him off from skaters out only for recreation.

His simple tunic, tight woolen leggings, and practical beanie register how science was changing the centuries-old sport of skating.  Hugely popular as a late-nineteenth-century pastime, skating was developing a more serious side, as passionate competitors like Palliser pondered how to apply the new principles of efficiency to the business of getting across the ice.

The speed skater shunned the bulky street clothes his contemporaries were wearing.  For the sake of speed, he donned a minimalist outfit one step away from wearing nothing.  Equipment manufacturers like Spalding were producing new kinds of skates, with blades engineered with speed in mind.  American skaters had begun looking beyond their nation’s boundaries, racing against Europeans and Canadians, and forming a cosmopolitan fraternity that fostered a flow of innovation.

Champion speed skater Morris Wood

Palliser skated for the Euclid School in Brooklyn, NY, then one of the nation’s top speed-skating teams.  His teammates included national champion Morris Wood, Allen Taylor, and ‘Gus’ Stolz.  All four appeared as poster-boys for their sport in Spalding Athletic Library’s 1904 How To Become a Skater, which introduced a new generation to the gospel of speed.

Images: from this source and this.
This is the eighth in an occasional series of posts on ice-skating.

4 responses

  1. Great picture of Hugh! Your caption was right on the money, too. He does look very determined and sure stood out in contrast to the other skaters around him. I do like the way fellow skaters nearby were staring at him.

    • I found out a little more about Palliser. He was born in Quebec in Oct 1879 but grew up in Brooklyn, one of six children. He died of pneumonia on October 11, 1918, in San Antonio. TX. He was Texas manager of Campbell’s Soup Company at the time. He belonged to the Brooklyn BPOE. Funeral services were held for him in Brooklyn, and he was buried in the Evergreens Cemetery.

  2. Gee, how sad that he died at such an early age— back then pneumonia really couldn’t be treated. I always marvel at the pertinent info you can find on any subject!!!!

    • I too was sad to read he died early. 1918 was a tough year to live through, between WWI and the global flu epidemic, on top of the usual causes of death. At first I thought he might have died in the war.

      I found a brief obituary in a Brooklyn paper that provided most of the information. There was a famous Canadian named Hugh Palliser–it is kind of an unusual name.