The Mighty Atom

The Mighty Atom
The Mighty Atom

As part of our Time Traveler series, we bring past stories to life with new experiences. As very young boy, Michael Castello met and once preformed with The Mighty Atom when the strongman was in his 70s. His life story is once again rising in a new age of natural body enhancement and mental focus.

Unmasking the Strength Phenomenon of a Generation

In the dazzling world of physical prowess, where might often equates to right, there rises above the teeming throng a character so unparalleled, so absolutely mesmerizing, that we simply cannot ignore him: The Mighty Atom. Born as Joseph Greenstein in 1893, this petite Polish powerhouse has, over his lifetime, torn apart chains, bent iron bars, and performed feats of strength that would boggle the mind of the most stout-hearted of observers. This enigmatic figure – all 5’4” and 140lbs of him – sparked a flame in the world of showmanship and strength, illuminating a realm few had dared to explore. But what secrets lurk behind his almost supernatural strength?

The tale of the Mighty Atom is like a vivid tapestry, woven from strands of real-life legend and threads of almost mythical folklore. He was not born a strongman. In fact, he was a sickly child, often bed-ridden, whom doctors believed would not live past the age of 18. That was until he met a wandering circus strongman named Volanko, who profoundly changed his life. Volanko passed on the secrets of strength to the young Greenstein, who wholeheartedly embraced these teachings and transformed his fragile physique into a beacon of raw power and determination. Unbeknownst to his mother and large family, Joseph left his hometown and traveled with the circus to many foreign countries for over a year, returning home a changed young man. Eventually, he moved to America and learned English, where he created a new persona that inspired all who witnessed his feats of power and mental fortitude.

Despite his size, the Mighty Atom was a dynamo of strength, capable of astounding feats that defied belief. His exhibitions included driving nails through wooden planks with his bare hands, biting through nails, and even pulling railway cars with his teeth! These demonstrations were not mere tricks of the stage; they were real displays of power, the product of a body and mind honed through rigorous training and an indomitable spirit and belief system.

The Real Deal

I met The Mighty Atom in the late ’60s when I was a young boy of 9 years old. My family enjoyed going to the Farmer’s Market in West Palm Beach on Sundays. The market was situated in a large indoor complex that, in today’s terms, would be considered a mall. Essentially, it was a long open building, a raw space perhaps 100 feet across by two or three hundred yards long.

There were few farmers. Various merchants would set up their stalls, whether it was for records, produce, preachers, or a glassmaker who created miniature ornaments live. People sauntered down the center, and on either side, you could stop and examine what was being, made, offered and sold.

On one particular Sunday, my grandfather Victor was visiting us in Florida from his home in Yonkers, NY. He and his wife Julia would travel south to escape the cold and enjoy the company of his extended family in the warmer climate of South Florida. During our stroll that day in the Market, we encountered a performer named “The Mighty Atom.” At this later stage in his life, he traveled around America promoting his coconut oil—a product now renowned for its health benefits and culinary applications.

There was a group of about 25 people clustered around an individual in a cordoned-off area. The scene was reminiscent of an arcade at the circus. As I stood there with my grandfather, as a small muscular bearded man was captivating everyone’s attention. He had pictures displayed on stands, showing spectacular feats like towing a ship in the water with his beard and others depicting him bending steel. He reminded me of my grandfather, who was also extraordinarily strong. I would often watch my Grandpa suck a dozen eggs one a time. He boasted a robust physique with muscular arms from his days operating a jackhammer in the streets of NYC.

After addressing the crowd, The Mighty Atom picked up a horseshoe and twisted it as easily as a pretzel. My grandfather scoffed. The performer then picked up another horseshoe and handed it to a man standing next to me, who inspected it and attempted to gauge its strength by trying to twist it. However, he merely smiled and handed it back. The Mighty Atom took back the horseshoe and again manipulated it as if it were putty, without any apparent resistance or effort.

I was astonished, and The Atom took notice. He beckoned me forward and proclaimed to the crowd, “Everything is mental. You can’t bend the metal because you believe that you can’t. You must believe you can!” With that, he positioned a 4″x4″ wooden plank, about 4 feet long, with one end on the concrete floor and asked me to hold up the other end with both hands. He told me to relax and prop up one end. I complied, my arms hanging limply between my legs as I stood. The Atom took a nail—which looked enormous to me—about 1/4 inch in diameter. He wrapped a handkerchief around the head end and, with a swift overhead swing akin to a rabbit punch, drove the nail into the pole without even jostling it from my hands. Everyone gasped, and my grandfather exclaimed in Italian, “Merda,” which roughly translates to “bullshit” in English.

I was awestruck. He then picked a large man from the audience who must’ve been 6’4″ and weighed about 260lbs. He took another hefty nail and wrapped the handkerchief around the entire thing before handing it to the large man, saying, “Look how small I am, look how big you are. You surely should have no problem bending this.” The Atom instructed the man to bend it, but the man struggled in vain and said he couldn’t. The Atom handed the large nail back to the man and told him to try again. As the man continued to strain, The Mighty Atom gripped the man’s head on both sides with his hands and bellowed over and over, “YOU ARE A BULL! THAT IS A PIECE OF STRAW! YOU ARE A BULL!” The hefty man was shaking and sweating, and when he finally ceased, he had managed noticeably to bend the nail. The Atom did influence the man’s ability to overcome his disbelief.

The Atom then declared, “I can make anyone here wake up at any time they want without an alarm clock.” He continued, “Choose the time you want, let’s say 4:30 am. You need to visualize what it looks and feels like at that time. Repeat, just as you’re about to sleep, ‘I need to wake up at 4:30 am,’ three times while envisioning waking up at that moment.”

I still use this technique of mind control to this day, and it allows me to wake up precisely at the time I choose. It really does work. Now, I neither aspire to nor desire to bite through nails, but there’s much to be said for The Mighty Atom being a modern-day Hercules.

So what were the secrets behind his mighty strength?

First and foremost, the Mighty Atom was a fervent believer in the power of the mind. He emphasized that physical strength was not just about bulging muscles and brute force; it was a mental game. To him, willpower was the key to unlock the door to seemingly impossible feats of strength.

Greenstein’s training regimen was an unusual one. Instead of conventional weightlifting, he focused on odd objects and isometric exercises. He spent hours swinging hammers, bending steel, or carrying heavy stones – training techniques that might seem eccentric to many but proved vital in his development of ‘real world’ strength. His routines involved using his whole body and engaging the core, the very epicenter of human strength.

Diet and lifestyle played an instrumental role too. A vegetarian in an era where such a choice was far from common, the Mighty Atom was a living testimony to the power of a plant-based diet. He often use a bull as an example of extreme strength, which was a herbivore and not a carnivore.  He believed that fresh fruits, vegetables, and grains provided all the nutrients needed for maintaining strength and vitality.

His story is more than just a man breaking chains or bending bars; it is a tale of the human spirit and what it can achieve when pushed beyond its normal limits. Strength is a mental, physical, and emotional triad that goes beyond the aesthetic.

The Mighty Atom was not just a performer; he was a pioneer.  And so, his legend persists, standing as a testament to the might of the human spirit and the power of the mind. He has shown us that with belief, determination, and iron focus, nothing is truly impossible. To remember the Mighty Atom is not just to remember a performer of great feats, but a man who brought strength into the realm of the mind and spirit, forever altering our perception of power.

Seeing is not just believing. Believing IS seeing.

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