1. Michael Kraus, the only other significant commentator on the history of the Ergonometer, offers a different, but I do not hesitate to say, highly dubious theory that William and Willy were actually one person. I will return to this later in the paper, but it is worth noting that he cites the similarity in name — an American tradition that he has fundamentally misunderstood — as initial evidence for his claim. Kraus’ simple mistake has provided the foundation for his Masochistic Hypothesis, a historico-phychological explanation of rowing that points to a single origin in William Cranston, who, Kraus claims, designed the machine for self-abuse. As I will show, though ubiquitous, this dangerous thesis has little ground to begin with, and even less once we debunk some of Kraus’ outrageous later claims.
2. For a comprehensive description of these see: Glottle, A. A. Pacing your Stroke, Rating your Pace. Chicago: KE Sportspecific, 1984.
3. A diary entry November 1926 — “ I am depressed.” — clearly suggests this and the aforementioned mental sclerosis.
4. For those unfamiliar with the technique of rowing, it is a process both of pushing down with the legs and of heaving with the arms. Thus it requires strength in multiple muscle clusters. Again, see: Glottle, A. A. Pacing your Stroke, Rating your Pace. Chicago: KE Sportspecific, 1984.
5. According to Kraus, who must have taken the diagram sideways, Willy begins in a crouched position and then stands up, stretching his arms outward until he reached full erection (Kraus uses the German “ganz steif”, which, like “erection,” preserves the innuendo). From here Kraus falsely argues that the symbolic substitution of pain for pleasure (muscle tension for orgasm) is a clear indication of William’s self-flagellatory instincts. He also suggests the similarity between the “loneliness” (“Einsamkeit”) of masturbation, which is similarly present in the machine. Naturally, had he turned the drawings ninety degrees to the left, he would have seen his mistake.
6. We know from a diary entry that Willy lost his right eye to the rubber band: “My rite iy is gon.” Kraus mistakenly translates this, “Mein rictes ic ist wek” preserving the misspelling of “rite” and “gon” in the German “rictes” and “wek” but mistaking Willy’s botched “iy” for a strange English variation of the first person pronoun. Translated back into English, Kraus’s translation reads, “My rite I is gon”, from which he extrapolates that Willy lost his right, (that is, his correct) self and not his right eye. In this Kraus claims to find support for his fallacious theory that father and son were one person suffering from Bipersonal Disorder.
7. Because of the way he was reading the diagrams, Kraus took the cleat to be fixed in a wall. Willy would then hang vertically against the wall, hands on the rubber grips, and try to pull himself towards the cleat. Though Kraus’ misreading became the basis for another exercise, the Inclined Crunch, he entirely failed to grasp this step in the design process.
8. Kraus argues that this model would have failed for the simple reason that Willy’s buttocks would not have moved properly (“hätte sich nicht richtig bewegt […] hätte sich garnicht bewegt”) on the given lubricant. Here he cites the 19th century French bird specialist, Debois, who, in a paper titled, Du Canard au Cygne (From Duck to Swan), argues that bird fat can only be used for cooking: “…et en tout cas le gras d’oie, c’est seulement pour faire la haute cuisine” (“…and in any case, goose fat can only be used for high cuisine”). This oversight in the father’s design, claims Kraus, can only signify that he was not actually creating a machine that could be used by his son to exercise but one that could be used by him (the father) as a kind of basic self-torture device where skin was rubbed from the buttocks. It has since been brought to light, however (see Mireland Fleicher’s famous Baking in 19th Century France) that Du Canard au Cygne is a French cookbook.
9. Corroborated by an entry in the boy’s diary: “Daddy dint take me.”
10. This is the last of Willy’s entries. Kraus postulates, and here I agree with him, that the user of the machine would have had such strong and chafed fingers from the udders that pens and pencils would have become ungraspable. (Here Kraus offers evidence from his own childhood: he didn’t learn how to write, he tells us, until he was nearly 12 because he spent so much time milking the family cow that his hands crushed every writing implement with which he was presented. In a footnote of his own, he jokes that for many years his parents thought he was mentally deficient.)
11. Kraus spends an enormous amount of time expounding on this false explanation, and arguing that, though he acknowledges its falsity, he sees it as a clear indication that the creator of the machine was the same as the user, hence the emphasis on auto in the theory. But we must be clear here: even if the machine had been designed and used by one and the same person (though all the evidence says otherwise) that person would have been much less masochistic (according to the auto-fellatic claims) than selfish and self-serving. Kraus has looked only at the superficial structure of autoeroticism, ignoring the fact that it undermines his greater Masochistic Hypothesis. If the machine had painlessly created fractures in the lower gastralia so that its user could pleasure himself, how could it have been accused of rooting the sport in a tradition of self-abuse? It is much more reasonable to take this interpretation as evidence of the humiliation imposed by the father on his son. Rather than indicate that the two were in fact the same person, the auto lends itself to this interpretation: that the action forced on the son humiliated the father as well (we saw this once already when William turned awayfrom the first sweat-accumulation design). And this second level of humiliation, felt by the father and rooted in an action he imposed on his son, suggests the very problem with the auto-fellatic theory: the father turned away from the design rather than go through the self-inflicted humiliation that accompanied forcing his son to experiment with the machine. Kraus’ explanation fails to account for the fact that the auto-fellatic theory is wrong, which he admits. If the two men were one, then this abhorrent theory would gain traction as a viable historical explanation, and as such, it would fully undermine Kraus’ Masochistic Hypothesis and undo the claims that support it.
12. See: Voekel, Raymond. Coaching Crew in America: 1930-1970. Schocken Books, 1985. See: Smith, Ryan. The Great Divide: Changes in Coaching Policy during the Twentieth Century. KE Sportspecific, 1999.
13. I am delighted to be the first to bring this to light. In the aftermath of the event to come, we now know that the school took precautions — screening school publications and denying any affiliation with the event — to ensure that the scandal did not reach the public. But amid its fervent preparations, it overlooked an article published anonymously in the school’s satirical paper, which, because of the venue, never received the attention it merited. In constructing his theory, Kraus approached the school and offered to destroy this article, which the school was naturally happy to allow. This was all included in a personal letter that Kraus wrote to the school after it refused to publish one of his articles. But because the members of the German Department specialized in a very particular Teutonic dialect from the Middle Ages, Humbrücke, they refused to read the letter, which was subsequently ignored. However, a scrupulous man, even if not a gifted thinker, Kraus made a copy of the letter for himself before sending it. Being interested in the subject, I was the first scholar to approach Kraus’ belongings and to find the letter. For the sake of propriety, I have left the school anonymous, and because I was never able to read the article, only the affirmation that it existed, I will leave the evidence in these final pages more ambiguous than in the rest of the paper.