Author’s Note:

As one of Atze Krol’s grandchildren, I have been assembling various genealogical information about him, his ancestry, his life in the United States, and his family. I consider him to be noteworthy in the Kroll family tree, as he had both the boldness of spirit and an adventurous nature to uproot his young family from Friesland in the Netherlands to immigrate to the United States. The Kroll descendants in the United States owe their citizenship to this interesting and courageous man who was essentially penniless and knew no English when he arrived.

This narrative gives an account of Atze Krol’s participation in an unusual speed-skating race that is a major event periodically in the Netherlands. His participation in this major race preceded his leaving the Friesland province in northwest Holland with his family. I confirmed the fact of Atze Krol’s participation in this event by contacting the Koninklijke Vereniging De Friesche Elf Steden (The Royal Association of the Eleven Frisian Cities).

Arthur M. Kroll
Virginia, USA


The Elfstedentocht

The Elfstedentocht (“Eleven Cities Race”) is Friesland’s biggest periodic sports spectacle, a grueling ice-skating marathon around Friesland. 
The Elfstedentocht was already part of Frisian tradition, when in 1890,
William ('Pim') Mulier, a local sports journalist, skated his way around the eleven official towns of the province, simply to see whether it was possible to complete such a route. It was, and in 1909 the first official Elfstedentocht was launched, with 22 competitors.

The Elfstedentocht is an epic speed skating race of 200 kilometers (that’s about 125 miles and a minimum of 7 hours of skating!). The race follows a route along frozen canals, rivers and lakes with natural ice, visiting eleven historic Frisian cities: Leeuwarden, Sneek, IJlst, Sloten, Stavoren, Hindeloopen, Workum, Bolsward, Harlingen, Franeker, Dokkum, then returning to Leeuwarden. After the 1909 race, the Vereniging De Friesche Elf Steden (Association of the Eleven Frisian Cities) was established to take care of the organization.

For the race to take place, the ice needs to be 6 inches thick. Only then it is strong enough to carry the thousands of skaters that will join the race. Since a winter that cold only happens once or twice a decade in the Netherlands, the race is quite a rare event. The Elfstedentocht is typically held in January or February and not more than once in a winter. The race has occasionally been held in consecutive years, but at other times with gaps that may exceed 20 years. When the ice is suitable, the race is announced, and it starts within 48 hours. Weather and ice permitting, it has taken place just fifteen times in the last hundred years, most recently in 1997.

The Elfstedentocht is currently both a speed skating race (with 300 contestants) and a leisure skating tour (with 16,000 skaters). All skaters must be members of the Association of the Eleven Frisian Cities. A starting permit is required. Skaters must collect a stamp in each city, and at three secret checkpoints, and must finish the course before midnight. The race is organized by the Eleven Towns Association, of which you must be a member to take part; the high level of interest in the race means that membership is very difficult to obtain.

The 200km race route starts at Leeuwarden’s Expo Centre where the racers sprint, skates in hand, 1500m to the point where they get onto the ice. The first stop after this is Sneek, after which the race takes in Hindeloopen and the other old Zuider Zee towns, plus Dokkum in the north of the province, before finishing back in Leeuwarden.

The event is broadcast live on national TV, the route lined with spectators. Of the 17,000 or so people who take part, usually no more than three hundred are professional skaters. Dropouts are inevitably numerous; the worst year was 1963, when 10,000 skaters took part and only seventy finished, the rest were defeated by the fierce winds, extreme cold and snowdrifts along the way. Generally, however, something like three-quarters of the competitors make it to the finishing line.

Since the Elfstedentocht is such a relatively rare event, an announcement that it will be run creates excitement all over the Netherlands. In anticipation of a possible race in 2012, Mark Rutte, the Dutch Prime Minister remarked "once every 15 years our country is not governed from The Hague but by 22 district heads in Friesland. And our country is in good hands". As soon as a few days pass with sub-zero temperatures, the media start speculating about the chances for another Elfstedentocht. The longer the freezing temperatures stay, the more intense this "Elfstedenkoorts" (eleven cities fever) gets, culminating in a national near-frenzy when it is announced that the tour will actually be held. The day before the tour many Dutch flock to Leeuwarden to enjoy the party atmosphere that surrounds the event; that evening, called the "Nacht van Leeuwarden" (Night of Leeuwarden), becomes a giant city-wide street party. Frisians, who have a reputation of brusqueness or surliness, are said to thaw when it freezes.
Since artificial ice became common in the Netherlands in 1962, Dutch speed skaters have been among the top long track speed skaters and marathon skaters in the world.

1912 The Second Elfstedentocht

In 1912, Atze Berends Krol (born May 26, 1886 in Lichtaard) lived with his family in Driesum, a small town in Friesland in the Netherlands. On May 17, 1906 he had married Wytske Meinderts Talma from Rinsumageest, a nearby town. He was a farmer who lived at Walddyk 5 in the house shown in the photograph at the left. This photograph was supplied by Jouke Dantuma, who currently serves as a town historian for Driesum and in 2012 wrote a newspaper article about Atze Krol and the centennial celebration of the 1912 Elfstedentocht. According to Mr. Dantuma, this farmhouse was razed in the 1960s.
Atze and Wytske had three children: Sytske born March 12, 1907; Berend born May 10, 1909 in Driesum; and Meindert born July 20, 1910 in Driesum. The family had moved from Raard to Driesum in 1908. Atze Krol was also an ice skater.

The Second Elfstedentocht was the first race organized by the newly established Association of the Eleven Frisian Cities. In the summer of 1909, after the first race had been completed, the new association was optimistic and began registering potential competitors for a second race. By the beginning of the following winter, there were hundreds of names on the registration list. The winter of 1909-1910 arrived with insufficient freezing conditions, and the entry list was discarded. A new list of registrants was assembled for the 1910-1911 winter. Again, weather conditions brought no satisfactory racing conditions because of insufficient ice.

The new Association now decided to wait until ice appeared on the canals before enrolling a new list of competitors. January 1912 brought a succession of false starts. In early January, skaters began reporting favorable ice conditions, and a date of January 20 was set for the Elfstedentocht. Registrations for participation in the race streamed in. Atze Krol was one of the registrants. By January 19, conditions had deteriorated, and a new date was set for January 23. Thawing continued, and the January 23rd date had to be cancelled as well. In early February, winter freezing returned, and a new date was set for February 7th. This day arrived with ice conditions of moderate quality. However, temperatures were now above freezing, and a warm spring-like breeze was blowing. Rain actually fell for several hours, and water was on the ice. Of the 165 registered competitors, 100 did not show up for the race. A meeting of the 65 remaining skaters was held at the Hotel Weidema. The ensuing discussion of the race conditions discussed the “madness” of what might prove to be a combined skating and swimming competition. Eventually a vote was taken. 37 voted for the race, and 28 votes were against. The race was on, and Atze Krol remained among the 37 deciding to race.

Various descriptions of the race conditions and the competition describe the race leaders, racers who fell and got soaked, and racers who actually fell through the ice. A listing of the 37 competitors shows Atze Krol and his times from one city to the next.

In 1912 Atze wrote a letter to the board of the Eleven Cities Association. He complained that the guides did not do their work well enough. On one lake he got lost. Because of deteriorating ice conditions, the Association had forced Atze to stop in the city of Sneek, only 20 kilometer from the finish. He and others had to travel the final 20 km. leg of the race via train. In Leeuwarden he got a brooch but not the Eleven City Cross.

Because he complained, he may have received the official cross at a later date. Marilyn Lewis, my cousin and an Atze Krol granddaughter, received some of Atze Krol’s effects following his death, but neither of us have the official cross he might have received.
The photo at the left is a historic photo of the 1912 Elfstedentocht skater contestants. The photo shows the water on the ice.

The group photo below shows all the competitors at the 1912 competition. I have struggled to determine which skater pictured is Atze Krol but I am not sure. Many of the skaters are quite young, and many wear mustaches, making them look somewhat alike. There are also more than 37 men in the photo, as it is likely that some Association officials are included as well. I also do not have a photo of Atze Krol when he was at that age.


The best photo I have of Atze Krol and his family was taken from a passport used in 1922 for a return trip to the Netherlands. The purpose of this trip was to accompany Lieuwe Wiersma & Tjitske Wijga and their 7 children on their emigration from Dantumawoude to the USA. Tjitske was a first cousin of Atze.
(Aside: the farms of both Atze and Lieuwe, both started as laborers in the USA, were eventually the largest in Whitinsville, Massachusetts. Lieuwe had more than hundred dairy cows and Atze about sixty.)

The Leeuwarder Courant, a local newspaper, in its February 8, 1912 issue, contained an article about the race. It also printed a listing of competitors and some of their times. An excerpt appears below. Atze Krol’s listing of times in that report is incomplete, as he completed all but the final leg before he was forced to quit by Association officials. Atze was assigned number 20 as an identifier; that was not his final position in the race.

The top ten finishers and their times appear in the chart below that was taken from a Wikipedia article:

Coen de Koning was a famous racer of his day, and this victory added to his fame

Jan Ferwerda, the second-place finisher also became famous. A 38-page booklet describing his experiences at the Second Elfstedentocht is available (written in Dutch) on the Internet at the following address:
Near the end of the booklet is the listing of competitors and their times from one city to the next. I have inserted it below.

Atze Krol is the sixth name listed, and the table shows his times for each of the legs of the race. All but four of the skaters completed the full race. Of those four, Atze was one of two who did not complete the race because race officials termed the ice unsafe. Several skaters had actually fallen through the ice at points along the way.

Marilyn Lewis, one of Atze Krol’s granddaughters and my cousin, has in her possession the skates Atze used in this race and then brought to the United States when he emigrated from Friesland. Below is a photo of Atze Krol’s skates. These are the sole remaining memories of Atze Krol’s experience in this famous race.

When he came to the United States, Atze Berends Krol changed his name to Arthur Burt Kroll. He added the second “l” to his surname, because family lore indicates that Atze thought Krol looked German.

Elsewhere I have written a great deal more about Atze Krol and his ancestry. However, this tale of his experience in perhaps the most famous cultural and sporting event in Friesland deserved a separate account.

Arthur M. Kroll