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July 27: Jack Beers, Strong Man

Lawrence Bush
July 26, 2016

jackbeersyoungJack Beers, who worked as a weight-lifter and strongman as a child and was tagged “New York City’s Strongest Boy” by the newspapers, was born into extreme poverty on the Lower East Side on this date in 1910. He trained in Tompkins Square Park and at Coney Island and worked in a vaudeville and nightclub act as a teen. After breaking his hand over an anti-Semitic remark, Beers became an ironworker, involved in the construction of Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall. As a self-taught structural engineer, he was a general foreman on the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and also helped to build Lincoln Center, New York University, City Hall, the Museum of Modern Art, every Con Edison building, the George Washington Bridge, and other structures in New York. He was also a dog trainer, and a character actor in several films. Beers lived to almost 99 and was the subject of a documentary film, Holes in My Shoes, that ran on PBS in 2009. It shows him ripping a phone book into four pieces at 93. To see him doing it, look below.

“[T]he object of life is not to be smart but wise, not to be rich but generous, not to be a racist or bigot but tolerant, not to be powerful but loving, not to serve yourself but to serve humanity, with courage and charity.” --Jack Beers

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.