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Building a Strong Man

Published on August 7, 2015 by Pacific Standard Magazine

How attempting the improbable, and chasing the past, led one man to find a community—and himself.

One gun shot. A single bullet, right between the eyes, from 30 feet away. That was the fate of Joseph “The Mighty Atom” Greenstein, an old-time strongman, who could bend steel rods the way a clown twists up balloons. He could warp galvanized steel, defeat the elements with his bare hands; but he wasn’t a magician, he couldn’t predict the future. The gunman had fallen for his wife and now the strongest man on Earth was on the wrong side of a pistol, powerless.

The Greensteins had left Poland for Galveston, Texas, at the turn of the 20th century. Joseph found work on the docks and in the oil fields. At night, he worked the ring, wrestling under the name Kid Greenstein. He was 5’4″, 140 pounds, too small to stick out in a crowd, but in the ring, under the lights, he was already something of a legend. Undefeatable. Unthinkably strong. He was a ball of muscle, a rock that could not be moved.[…]


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