Kurt's Historic Sites

Charles Atlas

Charles Atlas

Interment LocationVisited 
New York, NYSeptember 1, 2016 

Photographed September 1, 2016.

“People used to laugh at my skinny 97-pound body,” read the advertisements in the backs of comic books and magazines. “I was ashamed to strip for sports or for a swim. Girls made fun of me behind my back. THEN I discovered my body-building system, ‘Dynamic Tension.’ It made me such a complete specimen of manhood that I hold the title, ‘The World’s Most Perfectly Developed Man.'” That is how bodybuilder Charles Atlas promoted his free 32-page book, Everlasting Health and Strength, and in part how he became one of the major faces of the growing fitness industry and of American masculinity in the twentieth century. Atlas lived to age 80 and is entombed at St. John Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens, New York.

Atlas was born Angelo Siciliano in Italy, and he immigrated to the United States with his parents in 1903 at age ten. He took the surname “Atlas” years later, when — after his physical transformation — a classmate said his sculpted physique made him resemble the statue of the Greek Titan atop Coney Island’s Atlas Hotel. Before long, Atlas began to promote his regimen to the public. New York University alumnus Charles P. Roman was brought on as a business partner in 1929 when Charles Atlas, Ltd. was founded. Roman crafted Atlas’s comic book ads. Most famous was the cartoon titled, “The Insult That Made a Man Out of Mac.” The strip depicted a “skinny” young male using Atlas’s strategy of pitting muscles against each other in order to bulk up and exact revenge on a beach bully — an homage to Atlas’s fitness origin story. Roman also helped engineer feats-of-strength publicity stunts that elevated the bodybuilder’s profile. His exercise courses came to boast famous athletes as students, including Max Baer, Joe LouisRocky Marciano, and Joe DiMaggio. By the 1950s, Atlas could count nearly one million pupils worldwide, with his course translated into seven languages.

Photographed September 1, 2016.
Photographed September 1, 2016.

Atlas is interred on the third floor of the St. John Cloister. His crypt sits above that of his wife, Margaret Cassano, who predeceased him by seven years. Each vault cover in the hallway in which the Atlases rest is made of marble and has a cross carved into it above its occupant’s name. Both ends of each lid are decorated with a square-shaped rosette, which helps keep the cover locked in place. Into the 1980s, people who were benefitting from Atlas’s fitness program sent him letters of thanks, unaware their intended recipient had been dead for a decade. Charles Roman informed the New York Times that he took care of these letters, “and so keeps Charles Atlas alive. It is, he says, his job, and his life.”

Fast Facts

Born: October 30, 1892 in Acri, Cosenza, Italy

Spouse: Margaret Cassano Atlas (m. 1918-1965)

Died: December 24, 1972 in Long Beach, New York

Age: 80

Interment: St. John Cemetery, Queens, New York, New York

"The Englishman ... doesn't allow that chest of his to slip down below his belt, where you find most of the American chests. If some of the boys over here don't begin taking daily exercises, they'll be carrying their paunches around in baskets."
- Charles Atlas
May 15, 1936, promoting his fitness regimen in a radio appearance with former heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey

Sources Consulted and Further Reading

Black, Jonathan. “Charles Atlas: Muscle Man.” Smithsonian Magazine. August 2009. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/charles-atlas-muscle-man-34626921/.

Padurano, Dominique. “Consuming La Bella Figura: Charles Atlas and American Masculinity, 1910-1940.” In Making Italian America: Consumer Culture and the Production of Ethnic Identities. Ed. Simone Cinotto. New York: Fordham University Press, 2014. 100-116. https://doi.org/10.1515/9780823256273-007.

Quindlen, Anna. “About New York: Kicking Sand in the Face of Time.” New York Times. June 30, 1982. B3. https://www.nytimes.com/1982/06/30/nyregion/about-new-york.html.

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