Cincinnati strong man Henry Holtgrewe performed legendary feats

Cincinnati Strong Man Henry Holtgrewe.

The Cincinnati Strong Man. The West End Hercules. The strongest man in the world.

These are among the nicknames of Henry Holtgrewe, Cincinnati’s own he-man around the turn of the last century whose feats of strength were legendary.

He could heft a 287-pound dumbbell with one hand. He famously lifted 20 men, an assortment of dumbbells and a monkey – all weighing more than 4,000 pounds – on his back. He bested every challenger, yet rejected going on tour as a showman, the next Eugen Sandow, the most famous strong man of his day.

In 2014, Holtgrew was honored in an ArtWorks mural designed by artist Jason Snell on the side of a building at 1215 Vine St. in Over-the-Rhine. Stylized as a vintage commercial poster in vibrant red, white and blue, the mural depicts the hulking Holtgrewe, with his massive muscles and handlebar mustache, and his most amazing acts.

"Cincinnati Strong Man Henry Holtgrewe" on Vine Street.
This was the first in the ArtWorks legend series.

In the days before television or World’s Strongest Man competitions, such demonstrations of strength were done in saloons and on stages, usually over a pricy wager, in front of plenty of witnesses. There was a theatricality about the whole business – unbelievable feats we are to believe because people say they saw them happen.

Still, based on news reports of the day, Holtgrewe’s reputation was well earned, his accomplishments more remarkable when training consisted of tossing rocks in a quarry.

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