Louis Cyr: World’s Strongest Man
Did you know that the world’s strongest man lived right here in the Valley? In 1878, French Canadian Cyprien-Noé (Louis) Cyr moved from Quebec to Lowell at the age of 15. Lore has it that the young man didn’t know his own strength until he single-handedly pulled a trapped farmer’s wagon from the mud. At 18, he entered his first strongman contest in Boston, where he lifted a fully grown horse completely off of the ground.
The muscleman apparently got his strength from his mother’s side; she was more than 6 feet tall, weighed more than 250 pounds, and regularly climbed ladders carrying 200-pound bags of flour. While working at her husband’s tavern, she could pick up an angry patron and “pin him to the wall like a butterfly.” Cyr inherited his father’s stature, however, standing only 5 feet 10 inches tall. In his prime, he weighed more than 300 pounds, and his chest measured 60 inches.
In 1895 Cyr positioned 18 men on a heavy platform and hoisted it with his back. The total weight was 4,337 pounds. After being cheated by a manager, Cyr opened his own circus, touring Canada and the U.S. He styled himself after the biblical Sampson, allowing his hair to grow long. One of the strongman’s trademarks was holding back two horses with each arm as grooms cracked whips to get them to run. Unlike many of his competitors, Cyr didn’t resort to trickery.
The 2013 Canadian film “Louis Cyr, l’Homme le plus Fort du Monde,” portions of which were filmed in Lowell, portrays the softer side of Cyr, unfolding the love story between him and his cultured, well-read wife, Melina, and contrasting his strength against the powerlessness he felt due to his illiteracy. It’s an inspirational tale of his struggle to use his strength to pull his family out of poverty; he ended up being one of the richest men in Canada.
The “Canadian Sampson” died in 1912 of nephritis.