Harry Elionsky

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Elionsky circa 1913

Henry Elionsky (April 12, 1893–March 14, 1956), also known as Buster Elionsky, was a champion long-distance swimmer and handicap swimmer in open water swimming. Henry was sometimes mistakenly referred to as Harry Elionsky in news releases. Harry Elionsky was Henry's father.


Henry's family migrated to the U.S. 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.[1][2]

On September 24, 1915, his sister, Ida Elionsky, set a long-distance swimming mark when she swam around Manhattan, covering 40 miles in 11 hours and 35 minutes with Henry tied to her back.[3]

From 1914 to at least 1917 he was living in New London, Connecticut.[2][4]

In 1916 he attempted to swim from Battery Park to Sandy Hook. It took him 14 hours, 29 minutes, but he fell 1/4 mile short of the beach.[5]

With two men tied to him with thirty-five yards of heavy rope and his hands bound, and weighing 265 pounds, he swam through Hell Gate in the East River on November 14, 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.[6]

It was reported on October 13, 1918, that he had died during the 1918 flu pandemic, but that was an error.[7][8]

In 1920, he set out to break his own record by swimming 100 miles from Battery Park to Sandy Hook, New Jersey.[9]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ There is a "Hene Elionsky" born in 1893 aboard the SS Oscar II from Copenhagen arriving in New York City on 16 November 1904 with his parents and siblings
  2. ^ a b In the World War I draft registration, there appears a Henry and a Harry.
  3. ^ Information annual. 1915. 
  4. ^ "Aquatic Stunts for Elionsky". New York Times. July 24, 1914. Retrieved 2010-07-22. Harry Elionsky of this city, known in aquatics ast "Buster," who was to abandon his 33-mile swim last Sunday in New York ... 
  5. ^ The American library annual. 1916. 
  6. ^ Information quarterly. 1916. 
  7. ^ "Report Incorrect That Elionsky, Swimmer, Is Dead". Boston Globe. October 14, 1918. Retrieved 2010-07-22. 
  8. ^ Several reference books still list his death in 1918 as fact such as: "Hunting the 1918 flu: one scientist's search for a killer virus" and "The plague of the Spanish lady: the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919". Both repeat the error from the 1918 papers.
  9. ^ "Elionsky Out To Smash Own Record". Hartford Courant. August 19, 1920. Retrieved 2010-07-22. Will Attempt to Swim 100 Miles From New York to Sandy Hook