William Muldoon: The Solid Man

A few words on Irish-American strongman, trainer and professional wrestler William Muldoon (1845-1933).

Born on a farm in rural Alleghany County, New York, Muldoon was renowned for his skills in amateur competitions of wrestling, running, weightlifting, and caber tossing (an ancient Scottish sport which consists essentially in throwing a tree). He served as a mercenary in the Franco-Prussian War, and then came to New York City where he worked as a local cop (bare knuckle boxing champ and State Senator John Morrisey had gotten him his appointment) and hung out at Harry Hill’s saloon. He continued wrestling at the amateur level, but got to the point that he won the World Greco-Roman Wrestling Championship in 1880. He quit the police force the following year in order to follow his career in the physical arts, billed as “The Solid Man”.

In 1882, the vaudeville team of Barry and Fay trotted out an act called “Muldoon’s Picnic”, which they presented at venues like Niblo’s Garden and Tony Pastor’s. The name was in the air then. Muldoon himself broke into the theatre. He was in Helen Modjeska’s 1883 production of As You Like It (as Charles the Wrestler of course), which also featured Maurice Barrymore. He was present at the fatal Brooklyn Bridge jump of Robert Emmett Odlum in 1885 (which inspired Steve Brodie’s legendary recreation the following year). In 1889 he trained John L. Sullivan (a fellow habitue of Harry Hill’s Saloon) for his bare knuckle bout against Jake Kilrain (a fight lasting a legendary 75 rounds). He also later trained such pugilists as Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney and became the first Chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission. Apollo, the Scottish Hercules performed on bills with him. In 1900 he started a health resort called Olympia in Purchase, New York, which not only trained professional athletes, but folks from all walks of life, including writers like Theodore Dreiser and Nellie Bly. In 1909 he toured with a show put on by The Lambs Club. In 1915 he appeared in his only film, The Other Girl, starring James J. Corbett.

William Muldoon is buried at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York, where you can find many a vaudeville vet.

For more on vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on silent film read  Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.