Mystery Starters at Powderhorn Speed Skating Track

This photo is labelled “Olympic Speed Skating Team.” The only date on it is February 16, 1947. That seems too early to have already selected skaters for the 1948 Olympic team. Can anyone identify the skaters? Local skaters Johnny Werket and Ken Bartholomew represented the U.S. at the 1948 Olympics in St. Moritz and Bartholomew won a silver medal. Gene Sandvig and Pat McNamara represented Minneapolis and the U.S. at the 1952 and 1956 Winter Games. (I posted more about those skaters here.) They might all be in this photo.

Can you identify any of these people — skaters and others — at the speed skating track at Powderhorn Park? (MPRB) (Note 9/18: Reader Tom McGrath has identified the starter and the skaters in a comment below. Thanks, Tom and Brian.)

I don’t know the skaters, but I do recognize the fellow in the dark overcoat next to the starter. Anybody know who that is — and what his job was at the time?

I don’t know the guy with the starter’s pistol, but he looks entirely too jolly to be a regular race official. Seems more like a politician holding a noisemaker, but I can’t name him.

Name them all and you get a free lifetime subscription to (That’s the lifetime of the website, not you.) Be the first to name the man in the dark coat and I’ll email you a free, low-quality photocopy of Gen. John “Blackjack” Pershing’s letter to the Minneapolis park board in 1923 expressing his appreciation for having a park named for him. (More on that story later.)

David C. Smith

© David C. Smith

18 comments so far

  1. Neva Donahue on

    The man in the dark over coat is Hubert Humphrey he was Mayor of Minneapolis at the time went on to be a Senator and then Vice President to Lyndon Johnson

  2. […] caption and I wondered who were the skaters and starters on the ice at Powderhorn Lake. Thanks to several readers, we identified all the skaters and Hubert Humphrey, Minneapolis’s Mayor, next to the starter. […]

  3. […] was Charles Leighton. Of course he never got to race in the Olympics due to WWII. By the time the Olympics resumed in 1948, although still highly competitive with the country’s best — as witnessed by the photo […]

  4. Sara Sandvig Ljungman on

    My father, Gene Sandvig, the brick wall, identified all the skaters from the 1948 Olympic Team: From left to right, Johnny Werket, Art Seaman, Ken Henry, Del Lamb, Bobby Fitzgerald and Ken Bartholomew. He is not in the photo. Fun picture. There are 2 more from the 1948 Olympic team missing.

    • David C. Smith on

      Thanks so much Sara and Gene. I’m finally writing up notes from an interview last fall with Don Johnson who also identified the skaters. Look for that soon.

  5. […] those lines, I got a recent note from Patrick Fitzgerald that the description of the photo of the 1948 Olympic team was correct even though it was taken in February, 1947. The 1948 team was selected based on results […]

  6. John gilbertson on

    Hubert Humphrey stands out like a beacon, thanks for sharing the image and all the work accompanied. John N Gilbertson, Powderhorn Rat 1968-1980.

  7. Patrick Fitzgeraldk on

    For sure, Oscar Johnson was the Powderhorn Coach and Hubert is in the black coat apparently making certain of a fair start. Mr. McGrath above identified skaters one, two and six correctly (Bartholomew, Fitzgerald and Werket). Fitzgerald also won the silver medal at 500 meters in 1948. I actually have that medal to show folks come Olympic time. Patrick Fitzgerald

    • David C. Smith on

      Thanks for that information, Patrick. Bob Fitzgerald won a silver medal in the 1948 winter Olympics at St. Moritz along with Ken Bartholomew and Thomas Byberg of Norway. No bronze medal was awarded. I’m glad you brought that oversight to my attention. It’s further evidence of the strong speedskaters that came out of this area. Patrick, can you tell us which club Bob skated for?

      If you have any pictures of any of those skaters — or their medals — Patrick, I’d be happy to post them here. If you have any further recollections of speed skating in those days, too, please send them to me. Thanks again.

      David C. Smith

      • Patrick Fitzgerald on

        Bob Fitzgerald skated for the Wenell-Powderhorn Club and also represented them and Minnesota in the 1952 Winter Olympics at Oslo, Norway, making him another two time Minnesota Olympian.
        Bob Fitz also won US National Championships as a Junior Boy (’39), Intermediate Boy (’41) and in the Senior Men’s Division (’47).
        On a different note, Midway and Shop Pond were skating clubs, not ice rinks.
        Patrick Fitz

      • David C. Smith on

        Thanks for the details, Patrick. I’ll be in touch soon.

  8. Brian McGrath on

    David, sorry this reply is a bit tardy but I thought I could help identify some of the folks in the picture. My dad, Tom McGrath, helped with this after looking at the picture. He is now in his early 80’s and was very much into speedskating from about 1943 until 1950 or so.

    His parents (my grandparents) Harry and Agnes McGrath had role in the early formation of the Midway Speedskating Club (now skating out of the John Rose Oval in Roseville).

    Dad said that many skating clubs formed in the 40’s as speedskating was a big deal in the Twin Cities. As you pointed out, a number of Olympic caliber skaters represented the USA out of Twin City area clubs. Here are some names of the clubs that your readers may recall:

    Hippodrome, Powderhorn, Midway, Shop Pond, Loring Park, and Diamond Lake.

    Ok, so here goes on the folks in the picture, as best Tom McGrath can recall:
    Starter – Oscar Johnson, who he thinks was the Powderhorn Coach
    Far Right – Kenny Bartholomew
    Second from right – Bobby Fitzgerald
    Third from right – Don Johnson (he thinks), who paced many of the National Championship races at longer distances.
    Fourth from right – Gene Sandvig (he thinks), sporting the dark uniform of the Loring Park club.
    Fifth from right – Possibly one of the Leef brothers that skated during that time.
    Sixth from right – John Werket

    Thanks for publishing the picture to begin with as it was fun to share with my dad. I can’t tell you how many speedskating stories our family has heard over the years; as this was a family tradition for my dad and most of his four siblings (Jerry, Jack, Mary Jo (Joanne), and Janet).

    • David C. Smith on

      Thanks, Brian and Tom. That’s really fantastic.

      If any of your family would like to share those speedskating stories, I’d be happy to post them. Judging from the volume of responses I get to posts on speed-skating and their high readership, I know that a lot of people would love to read any stories you’d care to tell.

      The only rink you mentioned that I can’t identify is “Shop Pond.” Where was that?

      Thanks again.

  9. Dan Lapham on

    John Werket was a S Mpls. neighbor of mine in the 60’s. He was a very small man, so likely on the left. Gene Sandvig was a 60’s PhyEd teacher at Wasburn High and also a shorter type fella, but heavier and built like a brick wall!

    • David C. Smith on

      Thanks, Dan. I didn’t know Sandvig was a teacher at Washburn.

  10. Don Lehnhoff on

    The man in the dark coat sure looks like a young Hubert Humphrey, mayor of Minneapolis when this photo was taken.

  11. Andrea Weber on

    Hubert Humphrey is the man in the dark overcoat. He was mayor of Minneapolis from 1945-48.

    • David C. Smith on

      Yes, it’s the “Happy Warrior” before he hit the national stage. Thanks, Andrea and Don. With the demise of the Metrodome, will Humphrey’s name still be remembered anywhere in Minneapolis? Even the airport has eliminated his name, opting instead for the elegant “Terminal 2.” Humphrey didn’t have a big impact on Minneapolis parks in his short stint as Mayor, so I can’t think of an appropriate park to honor him. Putting Horace Cleveland’s name on the Minneapolis park map should still be the top park-naming priority, but Humphrey should be honored somewhere. Next time you pass by Lakewood Cemetery you might want to stop by his memorial there.

      Can anybody identify others in the photo?

      David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]

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