By Sharon Hazard
LITTLE SILVER – Living on the banks of the Shrewsbury River at “Boxwood Manor,” skating was a natural pastime for Harold Hartshorne.
Harold Hartshorne, who was born in 1891 and died in 1961, took skating a few steps further. He mastered the art of ice dancing and became the 1937-1938 U.S. champion, and in 1943 he and partner Nettie Parnell won the bronze medal. With Sandy Macdonald he was the 1939-1941 U.S. champion, and an international silver medalist in 1942. He was the silver medalist, along with partner Kathe Mehle, in the 1944 Winter Olympics. (Ice dancing did not become an official Olympic sport until 1976; until then it was simply known as figure skating.)
Whatever it was known as in the 1930s, ice dancing was an elegant form of synchronized skating that suited the long and lanky Hartshorne. With arms outstretched gliding his partner across the frozen ballroom, he was a natural and looked every bit at ease and confident on the ice as he did in other aspects of his life.
Harold Hartshorne was born in New York City, graduated from Princeton University and served in World War I as a second lieutenant. Like his father and grandfather, he became a stockbroker on Wall Street and added to the family fortune.
His brick Tudor-style mansion at the end of Oakes Road in Little Silver was built in 1929 and is now on the Monmouth County registry of historic homes. But back in its day, when the Shrewsbury River froze, another type of history was being made. Hartshorne used it as his own private practice rink, twirling and dipping his female partners around while attaining a world-renowned name as a champion ice dancer. He was the primary force behind the organization of a national ice dancing competition started in 1936, and won the title with two different partners for five consecutive years, from 1937 through 1941, leading to his two international wins. He was president of the Ice Skating Club of New York.
Never losing the competitive edge, in 1953 he won the heart of Louisa, his fourth wife, whom he and skating partners had competed against in many previous events. After retirement he became a national and international skating judge and traveled extensively in that capacity.
In 1961, when the U.S. Figure Skating Association realized there were not enough American judges for the World Competition in Prague, Hartshorne was contacted and agreed to participate. He and Louisa boarded Sebena Flight 548 at what was then Idlewild Airport (now JFK International Airport) in New York City on route to Brussels. It crashed, killing all 72 people aboard on February 15, 1961. An entire generation of athletes, coaches and judges died in the fields near Zaventem Airport.
For Harold and Louisa Hartshorne and those who perished with them, it was the end of majestic glides across the glimmering ice in a sedate style that resembles ballroom dancing. In competition, partners are always in an embrace and never separated by more than two arms lengths while skating to music with a definite rhythm and specified tempo.
In 1981, 20 years after his death, Harold Hartshorne was inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame. His former home, just off Seven Bridges Road in Little Silver, looks much the same today as it did when skating parties danced around its banks.
All photos courtesy World Figure Skating Museum & Hall Of Fame