Julius Schaefer

Today on Oldest Olympians we were are going a little further back than usual to dig up our Olympic mystery. Our subject of the day is Julius Schaefer, about whom little is known. While this is the case for many participants from the 1904 St. Louis Games, we did uncover some additional clues that make this a mystery worth sharing.

All we know about Schaefer for certain is that he competed in two events at the 1904 Olympics. In the 25 mile race, he was among the six starters (out of ten total) who failed to complete the event. He had much more luck in the 5 mile competition, where he was one of only four people to finish a race that had begun with nine contestants. Unfortunately for Schaefer, he placed fourth and thus missed an Olympic medal. At the time, he was a member of the South Side Cycling Club of St. Louis.

Contemporary reports demonstrate that Schaefer continued racing through at least 1908, but give no indication of when he began his career or any other biographical hints, other than the fact that he was still considered youthful at that time. It is not until September 6-7, 1934 that we could locate another clue. On that date, obituaries appear for a Julius Schaefer, aged either 53 or 54, who committed suicide by gunshot on the 6th in St. Louis. By occupation, he owned a local bicycle shop.

(The obituary of a Julius Schaefer from the September 6, 1934 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Unfortunately, there are no other details that can help us connect this obituary to the Olympian, which is not surprising, as many events at the 1904 Games were considered to be of uncertain Olympic status and, in 1934, there would be no reason for an obituary to mention participation in that tournament. Aside from the bicycle store connection and his age, which would be appropriate for the Olympian, there is no strong evidence that this was the 1904 cyclist Julius Schaefer.

The mystery, however, takes one final odd twist. On July 17, 1902, a story was published about a man who attempted to commit suicide after an argument with his brother, Herman. Just as in 1934, it was noted that the love interest of the tobacco worker was “in a despondent mood” prior to his act of drinking poison. His name was Julius Schaefer.

(A note of the attempted suicide of Julius Schaefer in the July 17, 1902 edition of The St. Louis Republic)

We could not uncover a connection between the 1902 Schaefer and the 1934 Schaefer, let alone one to the Olympian, so we can only speculate if any are one and the same. We did locate Herman Schaefer’s obituary, which lists his family members and indicates that the 1902 Julius was still alive at that time. It omits, however, one important name – that of Julius’ wife – which is the only family member name present in the 1934 obituaries (Maria). Thus, we are left with our mystery: is the bike shop-owning Julius Schaefer who died in 1934 the Olympian? And, if so, did he struggle with depression for over three decades before it finally claimed his life? For now, this is an Olympic mystery on which we can only speculate.

(Herman Schaefer’s obituary from the March 20, 1931 edition of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat)

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