Bill Bangert (1924 – 2011) was one of the more colourful characters to be smitten with the Dinnie Stones. He was a man of apparently inexhaustible energy in both sport and business.
He is well known as the two-time Mayor of Berkeley, Missouri. He also founded and presided over the tiny municipality of Champ (West St. Louis County). In addition, he possessed an enviable baritone voice and once considered a career in the opera.
He was a multi-discipline athlete and only a few of his notable performances are mentioned here. In field sports, he was the National Intercollegiate Discus Champion in 1944 and 1945 and the AAU Shot Put Champion in 1944, 1945 and 1946.
An excellent amateur boxer, he made it to the final of the Chicago Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions in 1949.
In 1951 he went blind due to retinal phlebitis – hemorrhaging of veins in the retina. This left him without sight in the left eye and only slight light perception in the right.
Undaunted, he continued to compete in field events and in 1952 he participated (blind) in the National AAU Shot Put Championship at Madison Square Garden ‘I can’t see a thing’ he said, ‘I’ll have someone with me in New York to help me. Once, I’m assured I’m headed in the right direction I don’t have much trouble with the shotput. I think I can keep from fouling’ (Albuquerque Journal, 31st January, 1952, p14)
He remains the only blind athlete to ever compete in an all-sighted championship of any kind at the Madison Square Garden. It is almost universally reported that he finished 2nd at this competition. However, the results were (1st) Jim Fuchs 56’ 3 1/8”, (2nd) Bernie Mayer, (3rd) Stan Lampert, and (4th) Bill Bangert with 52’ 10 ¼”. (Valley Morning Star, 17th February, 1952, p8).
By May 1952, doctors were using an experimental oxygen treatment to try and restore his sight. This therapy was combined with an operation which resulted in some restoration of sight in one eye.
On the 23rd May, 1952 Bill competed against the world record holder Jim Fuchs in New York. Bill tossed the 16lb ball 55’ 2” to take 1st place from Jim, whose best effort was 54’ 11 ½ “. At this time Fuchs was the world record holder with a throw of 58’ 10 ½”.
Bill retained serious ambitions to qualify for the USA Olympic Team. In the 1952 season he posted a best competition effort of 56’ 5 ¾”, which was one of the better marks in the USA that year. Ultimately, he did not qualify and the Olympic team and the places were occupied by Darrow Hooper 17.41m (57’ 1 ¼ “), Parry O’Brien 17.38m (57’ ¼”) and Jim Fuchs 17.36m (56’ 11 ¼ “).
In 1968, Bill began competing in the Highland Games in Scotland. He made memorable appearances at Aboyne and Braemar that year. At Aboyne he was third in the 22lb stone, behind Arthur Rowe and Bill Anderson. He was last in the heavy hammer A few days later at Braemar, he again took third place in the shot put event. However, he was most noted for falling on his bottom while attempting the Caber – much to the delight of the Duke of Edinburgh in the royal pavilion.
While not ever challenging the established throwers, Bill enjoyed the Games and the crowd warmed to him immediately. In preparation for future visits, he placed an order with Stewart & Co Ltd for a dozen shot put stones weighing 16lb, 22lb and 28lb to be shipped to the USA for use there.
By 1971, reports appear in the press regarding Bill’s desire to have another go at lifting both Dinnie stones together – and carrying (The Press and Journal, May 24th, 1971, p8). His ambition was to make his attempt in June, around the same time as the Caber World Championships which were in Aberdeen that year.
To add spice to the whole affair, Bill bet the Lord Provost of Aberdeen, John F Smith a wee dram that he would emulate the Dinnie feat.
It was also noted that Bill had been perfecting a foolproof method of carrying the stones. It was described as a harness around his waist rigged to a 150 year old wagon wheel lifting platform (Daily Keokuk, Iowa, May 26th 1971)
Although, the harness was reported in the USA it appears that this apparatus was unknown to the Scots. Upon his arrival in Scotland, Bill would not reveal his secret to the waiting press.
Sunday 13th June, 1971 at 3pm.
The attempt was made on Sunday June 13th and Bill carried the stones across the width of the bridge and back – using the harness – in 12 seconds.
Of his attempt he stated I only did it to prove it was a fact and not legend.
It’s a matter of mechanics. The trick is to move it without having to bend your limbs, putting the load on the biggest bones and muscles and walking in an upright position. Columbia, Missourian, June 18th 1971, p3.
Sydney Strachen from the Banchory Powerlifting club replicated the feat the same day using Bill’s harness and took 23 seconds. (The Press and Journal, June 15th 1971, p.5).
Syd was quoted as saying
It is impossible to carry them without a harness. Anybody who has lifted them will agree that it is humanly and mechanically impossible to walk with them between the legs.
The only possible way to lift both the stones, said Mr Strachan, is with one in front of the legs and the other behind, and in this position it is absolutely impossible to walk
I firmly believe that he didn’t walk across the bridge without some contraption of some kind.
The Press and Journal, June 15th 1971,p5.
The harness-carry was not universally well-received. In some reports it was described as controversial (The Press and Journal, 22nd July, 1971, p9). A typical comment appeared in the Press and Journal shortly afterwards, which captured the mood of some.
Although quite credible it was no extraordinary feat of strength and would have been fun to a professional strongman… To lift and carry the stones by hand is quite a different matter.
The Press and Journal, 24th June, 1971, p10
Left: Bill adjusting the oxygen used in treating the issues with his eyesight (Dubuque, Telegraph Herald, May 9th 1952)
Right: George Smith making shot-put stones to be shipped to USA, Evening Express,Oct 2nd 1968