The Mystery of George Eyser

Just last week, George Eyser made my list of heroic Summer Olympians.  In reading about his life, it seemed that he embodied  some of the characteristics of a great Olympian.  Competing at the 1904 Olympic Games with a prosthetic leg, he won several medals–gold, silver, and bronze.  I love stories like these, where athletes rise above challenges, emerging victorious.  I was intrigued by George Eyser and his inspirations story.  I thought he’d make a great subject for a blog entry.   Other than an amputee, an Olympian, and a gymnast, who was George Eyser?

Everything we know about Eyser’s life is admirable, and his achievements are inspiring.  An immigrant who arrived in America as a child, he worked hard to achieve the American dream, working as a bookkeeper to earn an honest living.  Yet his true love seemed to be for sport.  During the mid-1800′s, a new movement, turnverein, was becoming increasingly popular.  A German sport brought over to America, turnverein, or “turning,” included tumbling and athletic maneuvers on bars and a vaulting horse (the modern-day vault).  The movement was particularly popular among German-Americans, including Eyser.  Although he had lost one of his legs during his youth in a train accident, he was relentless, no doubt, in his training, relying on his upper body strength.

In 1904, the third Modern-Day Olympics were held in St. Louis.  Eyser and his Concordia Turnverein team, also of St. Louis, competed in the Games.  After a dismal performance in the first few events (including an all-around event), Eyser sprung back to win 6 medals in a single day:  3 gold medals (parallel pars, long horse vault, and 25-foot rope climbing), 2 silver (pommel horse and the 4-event all-around), and one bronze (horizontal) .  He also helped Concordia Turnverein finish a respectable fourth in the team competition. (At this time, gymnastics had not yet become organized into country teams.)

Eyser continued competing in gymnastics after the St. Louis Games. Concordia Turners won a 1908 international competition in Germany and in 1909 a national competition in Ohio.

Photo of the Concordia Turnverein. Eyser is pictured in the middle.

What about Eyser’s life after 1909?  Well, I don’t know.  No one seems to know.   Here begins the mystery of George Eyser.

Every biography lists Eyser’s date of death as “unknown.”   Being a fairly experienced researcher in genealogy, I thought I could find the answer to this question and determine what happened to Eyser.  I ventured over to Ancestry.com.  Unfortunately, I came up empty.

Using his biography, I was able to verify a few details at Ancestry.com.  Born in Germany, Eyser immigrated to the U.S. in 1884, which would make him about 14 years of age.  He first appears in US Census records in 1900, where he is living in Denver, Colorado.  (He probably appeared in the 1890 Census, but those records were destroyed in a fire.) In 1900 he was renting a room from a family in their home.  His occupation is that of a bookkeeper for a construction company:

In 1910, when the next Census was conducted, Eyser had relocated to St. Louis, where the 1904 Olympics and World’s Fair had occurred six years earlier.  Eyser is still single, still renting a room, and still working as a bookkeeper:

According to his biography, Eyser was still competing in 1908, a member of Concordia Turnverein in St. Louis.  As we know, he was still living in St. Louis in 1910.  But then the trail goes cold.  In 1920, there is no record which I could find of a George Eyser living in St. Louis.   I searched nationwide.  I searched Social Security death records, death certificates, and could not locate anything.  It’s as if Eyser vanished into thin air.

The story of the immigrant-turned-Olympic Hero abruptly ends, the pages left blank without a conclusion.   A man who overcame challenges and competed for his new country deserves a more fitting tribute in the history books, and one that includes a final chapter.

What happened to George Eyser?   Did he have any siblings?  Did he ever marry?  Did he live out the remainder of his life in St. Louis?  Where is he buried?  Where are his medals?

George Eyser, what happened to you?

Swifter, Higher, Stronger.

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21 Comments

Filed under Gymnastics

21 responses to “The Mystery of George Eyser

  1. Susan

    Wow! Fascinating! You need to be a private investigator, Olympic Fanatic.

  2. steen andersen

    just read about your interest in Eÿser. He happens to be son of a brother to my great great great grandfather. They came out of Germany allright, were born in “Dänische-Nienhof” Near Kiel in Germany. There was a hudge mass of war and border-trouble with Denmark at these times (first of – and mid 1800). Nearly all children of the Eÿser family flew to USA and a couple of the girls flew to Denmark (Where they were born was, at that time, a part of Denmark, bbut very un-secure). One of these girls was my great grandmother. Actually my two sisters live in USA and Canada. Georg Eÿser was first missed in Germany, as they needed him as soldier. The story of his skill in turnament is true!
    We have a family-tree on http://www.Geni.com, where you can see all parents aso.
    best regards,
    Steen Andersen, Denmark, Europe

  3. Did you see that there was a clue about Eyser on Jeopardy! yesterday? The clue stumped all three players, unusual because a computer and the two greatest champs in Jeopardy! history played. I myself will be publishing a blog post about it on Thursday this week. You have great information here. Thank you! :-)

    • Yes, I was watching, and unlike Watson and Ken Jennings, I got the correct answer! Thanks for your comments.

      • Marc

        I found in my own files, George Eyser passed away August 14th, 1920. Hope this helps.
        Myself, I am also very interested in the Olympic history. Eventually we have more information to share!

  4. Alan Rivaldo

    Any chance that he was a victim of the Spanish flu pandemic?

  5. steen andersen

    For what it meight be worth for you, here are some more facts about Georg.
    He was baptished Georg Ludwig Friedrich Julius Eÿser and the only child of:
    Georg Sophus Jasper Eÿser and Auguste Friederike Henriette Eÿser (born Marxen). He was born in Dänish-Nienhof near Kiel in Germany at the 31.st of August 1870.
    He was the cousin of my great grandmother, which again had 3 siblings.
    Your photo at the page of Georgs scares me a lot, as he looks exactly as my late father, in both body and face, when he was young.

  6. lauren maynard

    hello – we would like to use a question about george eyser in a british quiz show. can you confirm that this question and answer is correct – esp Steen!
    Q: In the 1904 Olympics,
    an American Gymnast called George Eyser won six medals, including one for rope climbing. What was unusual about him?
    A: He had a wooden leg (having been run over by a train)

  7. Gina

    Is there any chance that he fought in the First World War and died in Europe?

  8. Pingback: “Pistorius não é o primeiro atleta amputado da história”, diz jornal italiano « Passo Firme

  9. Interesting work being done by olympic fanatic. I stumbled onto Eyser when I read a line about him in newspaper. Considering that he vanished from all documents, I believe that he either emigrated outside USA or must have died in an accident, the body never found. He deserves a better tribute.

  10. agent j

    Sitting in front of your computer and viewing files on Ancestery.com does not make you a “fairly experienced researcher in genealogy”. I do believe you have a higher opinion of yourself than real skills honed through experience. The story does not give the subject his true historical due, so much as it allows you to look as if you are some expert that you are not! The contributors to the comments section had more information than your “historical search” of one web site. You are not a researcher, nor a journalist, nor a columnist. You are a word hack!
    JC

    • Actually, “Agent J,” you are wrong. I have been doing genealogy research for five years now. I have worked on my own family’s genealogy, making discoveries and connections that no one else had ever been able to do. I never claimed to be a professional genealogist or an expert genealogist. The person who had more information than I is someone who is related to Eyser, so of course he would know more than me.

      I’ve also never claimed to be a researcher, journalist, or a columnist. I write this blog because I enjoy the Olympics. It is a shame that you are so gung-ho on attacking a blogger with an honest interest in the Olympics and can find nothing else to do with your time. I am sorry for you.

  11. I’m looking into some notable Olympians and Paralympians and I came across your site. Great work with the research. Hopefully someday we can solve the mystery of George Eyser.

  12. Marc

    I found in my own files, George Eyser passed away August 14th, 1920. Hope this helps.
    Myself, I am also very interested in the Olympic history. Eventually we have more information to share!

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