Frank Neuhauser has passed on at the ripe old age of 97. Mr. Neuhauser was the winner of the very first National Spelling Bee in 1925.
The son of a Kentucky stonemason, Mr. Neuhauser was 11 years old in 1925 when he spelled “gladiolus” correctly to win the nation’s first spelling championship. His prize was $500 in gold, a bicycle and a trip to the White House to meet President Calvin Coolidge.
When he returned home to Louisville, he was greeted with a ticker-tape parade and crowds bearing bouquets of his new favorite flower — the gladiolus, a member of the iris family.
I like that the Spelling Bee has become so popular, even though its popularity has destroyed the viewing experience. Like many other, well, sports (I guess), the last time I watched the bee the commentators were blathering over the kids and you couldn’t even hear what was going on. Now, I recognize that watching teenagers spell words on TV is an odd thing to do, but it makes a lot more sense than listening to the Z-list morons who are hired to provide “commentary” on such a show.
Anyway, the Spelling Bee has gotten really hard, and even Mr. Neuhauser recognized that it had come a long way since he took the prize with ‘gladiolus’:
He and the other contestants breezed through the first round of that first bee, easily spelling words such as “catch,” “black,” “grant” and “warm.”
Since then, the national bee’s popularity has exploded, and spelling has turned into a sport that requires year-round, intensive training and an affinity for obscure, multi-syllabic words. Last year, 274 finalists competed for the title in an event that was televised live during prime time on ABC. The winning word was “stromuhr.”
“Now the words are just too big,” Mr. Neuhauser told The Washington Post in 1993. “I couldn’t even get through the first round.”
You think the pressure and caliber of the Spelling Bee has gotten out of hand? Check this out.