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News: John Mallo, celebrity weightlifter
Topic: News: John Mallo, celebrity weightlifter (Read 850 times)
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News: John Mallo, celebrity weightlifter
Apr 13, 2009, 11:30 AM »
Akron's own weightlifting muscleman
Called the 'Mightiest Man,' John Mallo develops into celebrity in his short life as a world-class athlete
By Mark J. Price
Black-robed clergymen chanted and prayed as pallbearers carried a silver casket through the streets of Akron. Mourners held flowers, candles, a draped sword and an American flag. One grief-stricken marcher clutched a photo of a bare-chested muscleman standing proudly with trophies.
As the solemn assembly passed 75 years ago, citizens wept on the sidewalks. Young and old, male and female, black and white. All felt the loss of a hometown hero.
World champion weightlifter John Mallo, the pride of the Lebanese-American community, was only 30 years old when he died April 15, 1934. Local newspapers heralded him as ''Akron's Hercules'' and ''the Mightiest Man Who Ever Lived in Akron.''
A year earlier, Mallo had won the heavyweight lifting championship at the World's Fair in Chicago. Only a week before he died, he bettered an Olympic mark.
Mallo's greatest feat could not be measured in pounds. It was represented by the number of people who paid their respects.
More than 400 automobiles rolled behind the cortege in one of the largest funeral processions ever witnessed in Akron.
Mallo's children have only fleeting memories of their father now. He was a brawny fellow who stood 5 feet, 9 inches tall, weighed 240 pounds and boasted 18-inch biceps.
"He used to hold my brother in one hand and me in the other and lift us up,'' said Dolores Mallo Elias, 80, of New Franklin, who was 5 when her father died. ''Isn't that amazing? That's all I remember.''
Her younger brother, Dr. George Mallo, 79, of Cuyahoga Falls, retains the tiniest sliver of recollections. ''I remember when I was little looking up and I saw a big man,'' he said.
Over the years, family stories helped fill in details about their larger-than-life father.
John Mallo was born in Cleveland in 1903. When he was 4 years old, he moved with his parents, George and Nacima Mallo, to their Lebanese hometown of Kouba. As he grew to adolescence, he played a stone-lifting game with childhood pals.
''That's where he got strong,'' Elias said. ''He used to pick up big rocks. Whoever could pick up the heaviest rock and throw it into the Mediterranean, that's what they did.''
The family moved to Akron when Mallo was 15. He didn't attend high school. Instead, he worked in a grocery and a rubber shop and later drove a bus. In his spare time, Mallo played amateur football and baseball.
When he was 23, he took a vacation to Vicksburg, Miss., to visit an Eastern Orthodox priest who was a family friend. That's where he met his future wife, Juanita Nosser, and three years later, they married. The couple had four children: Dolores, George, JoAnn and Nancy.
In the late 1920s, Mallo and his brothers Jim and Offie organized the Mallo Athletic Club in the United Building at Main and Market streets.
Akron weightlifters Mike Fontana and Nelson Traster were so impressed with John Mallo's natural strength that they persuaded him to take formal training in 1932. Within six months, Mallo was competing. He won city and state titles in Amateur Athletic Union meets.
Mallo's mastery of the three Olympic lifts — the military press, two-hand snatch and clean and jerk — was astonishing. In the clean and jerk, he could lift 320 pounds to his shoulders and then hoist the barbell overhead. In the military press, he could lift 245 pounds — more than he weighed. His two-hand snatch of 232 pounds was 2 pounds better than the national record.
''To show how Mallo dominated the A.A.U. field Monday, one needs only point out that where other heavies dropped out of the clean and jerk competition at 250 pounds, Mallo started in at 260, and where the others failed at 161 pounds in the snatch, Mallo started in at 210,'' the Beacon Journal reported on April 19, 1933.
Mallo rested a 560-pound weight on his shoulders and did knee dips. With one hand, he raised nearly 200 pounds overhead. He lifted barbells while weightlifters dangled from them.
''I remember hearing a lot of stories about him,'' said son George Mallo. ''I guess he was kind of a showman. He would get in front of a Model T Ford. They would put it in gear and he would push it backwards.''
Mallo's fame grew during a Labor Day 1933 meet at the Century of Progress in Chicago. His three lifts totaled 7601/2 pounds, including a 2311/2-pound military press that broke a six-year-old record by 5 pounds.
Mallo hoped to represent the United States in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. His goal was to surpass the 827-pound record for three lifts in the 1932 Olympics.
He finally did it — 830 pounds — while training in April 1934.
Several days later, he began to notice severe pain in his abdomen. At first, he didn't tell anyone, but then the throbbing became too much. He was rushed to the hospital, where doctors diagnosed acute appendicitis and performed surgery.
Then he developed peritonitis, an infection of the abdominal cavity. Penicillin, which might have cured him in later years, was still an experimental drug.
No one expected something so tiny to topple a man so large.
Relatives gathered at the family's home at 487 Wabash Ave. as Mallo's condition worsened.
''I remember sitting on the steps,'' Elias said. ''When somebody was sick in those days, everybody came to the house. My mom walked in and she said in Arabic: 'John died,' and she fainted.''
Juanita Mallo was pregnant with her fourth child.
The funeral procession began at Mallo's home on April 19. Pallbearers carried the casket to St. George Orthodox Church at Chestnut and Water streets, where brief rites were held before the march continued to Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church on South Union Street.
Archbishop Victor Abood Asaly conducted the funeral in Arabic. The Rev. Archmandrite Antony Bashir spoke in English.
''John Mallo is dead,'' he said. ''My friend John Mallo was the son of God as much as he was the son of George Mallo. God loved him more than his earthly father, so he summoned him to him. John Mallo was a hero to us. He will be a hero over there.''
Akron's Hercules was buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery.
The following weekend, the Mallo Athletic Club's weightlifting team won the state title.
The club operated for several years before the family shuttered it to open the Casablanca nightclub next door on Main Street. John Mallo's father, George, donated the entire collection of weights and barbells for scrap metal during World War II.
''The family didn't want me to lift,'' said Dr. George Mallo, the grandfather's namesake. ''They were afraid of it.''
Instead, he went to medical school and became an orthopedic surgeon. For 35 years, he was team physician for the University of Akron's football program.
Dolores Mallo Elias was a caterer for Belkin Productions for 25 years. She bakes baklava at the Enchanted Cafe, a Barberton restaurant owned by her daughter Susan Mellan.
Sisters JoAnn Mallo Maj and Nancy Mallo Gershom are now deceased. JoAnn was an attorney. Nancy worked at Ohio Bell.
Four children grew up without a father, but his legend shadowed them throughout life.
''From what everybody told me, he was such a good guy,'' Elias said. ''Everybody loved him.''
''I'm sorry I didn't really get to know him,'' Dr. Mallo said.
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News: John Mallo, celebrity weightlifter
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