My first encounter with the Mighty Atom was in about 1969.  I'd gone to Zern's Farmers market with my twin brother Tom, having only recently been introduced to Zern's by a friend who'd just gotten back from Viet Nam. In other words it was one of our first of many trips to Zern's. It was a warm spring night and we wandered outside.


"Hey look", Tom exclaimed, " A MEDICINE SHOW!" We walked up closer and sure enough it was a set up for a real old time medicine show. It was like something straight out of a TV western.


A little old man, about 80 years old was puttering around setting up his mini-stage. He was about five feet tall. We greeted him and he told us that he was "The Mighty Atom" and that his show was about to start. I've included a picture here from his book  which shows the Mighty Atom and his set up as they looked when this story took place.


Tom and I were in the front as the crowd gathered around and Atom began his spiel. He told us that tonight he was going to attempt to break one of his own records - that using only the force of his hand he was going to drive a 20 penny nail through 32 layers of galvanized sheet steel and a two and a half inch thick oak plank. His old record, he said, was thirty layers of steel and the wood. He continued on, more like ranting than speaking, extolling the virtues of healthy living, condemning the lifestyles of most people and extolling the virtues of his herb mixture. As he approached the climax of the show he held up the oak plank with the 32 layers of galvanized steel. He held it up with one hand and waved it around so that everyone could see it. He handled it like one might handle a telephone book held high with one hand with no sign of any effort. "Here", he said and handed it to me as he jumped off the stage. I took it with two hands and immediately dropped my arms to the ground. I COULD BARELY LIFT IT - Lifting with my legs, I handed it back to him. He chuckled and casually took it with one hand and set it on the keg that can be seen in the picture. He then showed the audience that he would have a small plate of steel in his hand wrapped with a handkerchief. "Without it I would drive the nail right through my hand", he said. "This demonstration is about strength not about having steel hands." Still I wondered what was the gaff?  What trick was he pulling on us?

He took a deep breath, jumped up in the air, let out a whoop and brought his arm down as he came down with all his force on the nail. He landed on his feet. His knees buckled and he shuddered a bit, then stood up and with one hand turned the plank over. THE POINT OF THE NAIL WAS STICKING OUT OF THE BOTTOM OF THE BOARD!  I stood wide eyed and with my mouth agape. I simply couldn't believe what I'd just seen. For anyone, let alone a man in his eighties to perform such a feat..... Atom looked at me, gave a raucous laugh, bent over and pulled the nail back out with his teeth.  I stared in total disbelief.


Over the course of the next several years. I opened and ran my own stand at Zern's which I used to finance my studies at Penna. Coll of Optometry from which I graduated as Dr Donohue in 1977. During those years I got to know Joe Greenstein AKA "the Mighty Atom" quite well.  Sometime in the seventies he stopped selling the herb mixture and only hawked his soap. Rumor had it that the FDA told him he could no longer sell it or make such extravagant claims. I really don't know the truth. All in all he was much better as a showman than as a salesman. He spent hours giving his presentation and only a relatively short time selling his product. Over the course of his career he appeared in "Ripley's Believe it or Not" numerous times and held many records for fantastic feats of strength. He was one of the last of the old time strong men, and ran one of the last of the old time medicine shows.


by David M. Donohue



Box Front


  Box Back


Box of The Mighty Atom's Herb Blend




Box Bottom


Box Side



      Article posted here courtesy of David M. Donohue copyright 2008


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