By Joanna Grey Talbot
There are so many fascinating stories in this world if you take the time to sit and listen. The best part is finding those stories in unexpected places.
Badin, North Carolina, is a small town about an hour east of Charlotte that was created in 1913 by a French company looking to build a series of dams along the nearby Yadkin River to power an aluminum factory. After the start of World War I the French sold the company to the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA), who kept Badin as the company town. Yet, it isn’t your typical southern mill town. The French influence can be seen in the layout of the town and the townhome buildings called quadruplexes, which are buildings consisting of four townhomes. Incorporated in 1990, it is still a vibrant town today filled with people who love its history but want to ensure its future.
My parents moved there after retiring in 2014 and through them I have met so many people with wonderful stories but my favorite so far has definitely been the couple hours I spent with Bridget Fox Huckabee, a long-time resident, professional freelance writer, member of the Stanly Arts Guild, and publisher of Badin’s town newsletter, the Badin Villager.
Originally from Bournemouth, England, a seaside town on the country’s southern coast, Bridget’s story takes us all over the world. As a child during World War II she has vivid memories of the quiet preparations for D-Day and the affects the war had on her home country. After the war Bournemouth reopened the local ice skating rink and Bridget’s life changed forever.
She and her friends loved to go skating and eventually she began taking lessons. In 1949 a friend of hers found out that the American Ice Capades were coming to London to hold auditions. On a whim Bridget and her friends decided to audition, although they didn’t think they would get it. To her amazement Bridget was accepted! At the tender age of 16 she left her home to travel America and Canada by train as part of a cast of over 100 for the next three years. Not only did she become homesick but it took some time to adjust to coming from war-torn England where rationing was still in place to a country she described as “the land of milk and honey.” Her first meal after landing in New York City was a porterhouse steak that overflowed the plate – she was equally saddened and excited about the differences in food.
After her three years with the Ice Capades Bridget decided to head back to England and joined a variety of traveling shows that took her all over Europe. At the time “tank” shows were very popular because they used portable skating rinks and therefore could perform just about anywhere.
Another “tank” show that she joined was with the Cirque Pinder, a French circus that was founded in 1854 and is still operating today. In this tour the ice skating rink was in the center ring of the circus. They did a grueling schedule of 149 towns in nine months but Bridget loved it because “it was fascinating observing circus performers and seeing how dedicated they were to their career.”
During Bridget’s five years traveling Europe in a variety of shows she also spent time as a member of Sonja Henie’s Ice Revue. Sonja was a world-famous three time Olympic Champion in Ladies’ Singles, ten time World Champion, six time European champion, and Hollywood actress. Originally from Norway, she made ice skating-themed movies such as Sun Valley Serenade and One in a Million.
Bridget toured the European capitals, met fascinating people, and gained new experiences through her time with Sonja Henie. One of their trips took them to Oslo, Norway, and it was Sonja’s first time back there since the end of World War II. They were unsure of how the people would react because Sonja had not publicly supported the Norwegian resistance movement and had met Hitler on a few occasions. Yet, as soon as she skated out onto the ice for the first time Bridget said the place erupted with cheers and clapping. They stayed for six weeks that summer and it quickly became Bridget’s favorite part of the tour. She said the town was “like a fairytale to me” and that “you could walk down the street past the palace and see the old king sitting on a bench out front.”
King Haakon VII came back stage during one of their performances to meet Sonja and the other members of the show. Bridget was holding a cup of coffee but because he was old the king was always given a cup of fortifying bouillon. Noticing the cup in her hand he asked if she’d like to swap and laughed.
Sonja was cute and vivacious and loved by people the world over. During one of her breaks backstage Bridget commented to Sonja about a massive diamond ring she was wearing and Sonja offered to let her try it on. Sonja told her that she had all her jewelry duplicated in paste for security reasons. Bridget asked which version she was wearing. Sonja winked and said, “I’m not going to tell you.”
Although it had been an exciting few years, in 1956 Bridget wasn’t ready to give up ice skating but she was ready to stay in one place. In southern Germany in the town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen there was a recreation center for American soldiers and a part of that was the nightclub Casa Carioca, which featured a permanent, year-round ice skating show. Bridget applied and was hired. Their directress was Terry Rudolph, a ballet dancer by trade, who taught them choreography and style. Once a year the ice skaters would make her put on skates and wobble around the rink. Bridget skated there for three years and eventually met her husband, an American soldier, through the show.
After eleven whirlwind years of traveling and skating, Bridget gave it all up to start the next adventure of her life: marriage and starting her family. In 1961 she moved to Stanly County, North Carolina, with her husband and newborn son. Her husband was originally from there but she had to experience a second round of American culture shock as the area was very rural at the time. Hearing her tell her story you hear no regrets, though, only a fondness for what was. Bridget is not a woman who quits but instead finishes one thing in order to try something new. In the years since moving to America she has been not only a wife and mother but a professional freelance writer, artist, active community member, and business owner. She is an inspiration to an up-and-comer such as myself and I look forward to hearing about her next adventure!
Town of Badin – http://www.badin.org/index.html
Badin Museum – http://badinmuseum.stevelee.name/
Stanly County Convention and Visitors Bureau – http://visitstanly.com/
Image of Bridget Fox Huckabee courtesy of Joanna Grey Talbot. Image of Sonja Henie courtesy of the IOC/Olympic Museum. All other images courtesy of Bridget Fox Huckabee.