Henry Elionsky

From Openwaterpedia
Henry and Ida Elionsky in the early 20th century
A book about swimming by Henry Elion, published in 1948

Henry Elionsky (12 April 1893 - 14 March 1956), also known as Buster Elionsky, Harry Elionsky, Henry Elion and the Human Iceberg, was an American handicap swimmer because he did a variety of marathon swims with his hands and feet tied in the open water.


His family migrated to the United States in the 19th century from Riga, on the Baltic seacoast of Livonia. His siblings were Ida, Morris and John, and the family eventually shortened their surname to Elion, or Eliott.

Open Water Swimming Career Highlights

  • He started and finished a 28.5-mile (45.9 km) circumnavigation swim around Manhattan Island in New York with his sister Ida Elionsky with his hands and feet reportedly shackled for the first 3 miles on 24 September 1916 in a time of 11 hours 35 minutes.
  • In 1916 he attempted to swim from Battery Park to Sandy Hook. The attempt took him 14 hours 29 minutes, but he fell 0.25 miles short of the beach.
  • With two men tied to him with 35 yards of heavy rope and his hands bound, and weighing 265 pounds, he swam through Hell Gate in the East River on 14 November 1916. The distance was one and a half miles, but crossed the treacherous passage. Near the end of the swim the three men came close to drowning in a whirlpool beneath the Queensboro Bridge. Elionsky said that in this crisis the men tied to him panicked and struggled and sent him under the water repeatedly. The men had been followed by a boat and were rescued. The men tied to him had their arms fastened around Elionsky's waist, weighed 140 pounds and 165 pounds respectively, the rope weighed 18 pounds, thus Elionsky carried 323 pounds of dead weight.
  • In 1920, he set out to break his own record by swimming 100 miles from Battery Park to Sandy Hook, New Jersey.
  • Swam from the Battery, New York City, to Swimeburne Island and return shackled hand and foot, covering a distance of 30 miles in 10 hours and 20 minutes.
  • Shackled hand and foot and towing 7 men in a boat, swam in mid-water from Brooklyn Bridge to Bay Ridge, a distance of 7 miles in 3 hours and 40 minutes.
  • From the Battery to Fort Wadsworth in the Narrows, swam with hands and feet free, bound with a 200 lb. man on his bank. Distance of 10 miles. Time, 4 hours 50 minutes.
  • From Breakers to Gus' Baths at Palm Beach, Florida, swam, shackled hand and foot, towing 9 men in a sea dory and with 2 men strapped on his back. Time 2 hours 50 minutes.
  • Swam from the Battery to Coney Island, shackled hand and foot. Distance 13 miles. Time 6 hours and 30 minutes.
  • Swam from Bay Ridge and the Battery, bound on a chair with 100 feet of rope.
  • Swam through Hell Gate in mid-winter, with 2 men bound to his back, hands and feet shackled.
  • Swam Hell Gate, in regulation straight jacket, legs bound by 15 feet of iron chain. Then again in mid-winter, tied in a sack and bound with 40 feet of rope.
  • Swam from the Battery, New York to 65th Street, May Ridge, 6 miles, bound in a regulation straight jacket. Legs bound with 15 feet of iron chain.
  • Among a number of swims with arms and legs free was a three-tide swim from the Battery, New York to within 200 yards of Sandy Hook, New Jersey.
  • Swam 65 miles starting at 179th Street, Hudson River, swam to Swimeburne Island, from there to 189th Street, Hudson River and from there to the Battery. This was his longest salt water ocean swim.
  • One of Buster's first local swims was from Ocean, Beach, New London, Connecticut to Fisher's Island, New York.
  • Another local swim from Norwich, Connecticut down the Thames River, to the Public Landing in New London.
  • He wrote a swimming instructional book called Man Can Swim Indefinitely in 1948.

External Links