10 Mind-blowing Stage and Circus Acts
by Nene Adams,
January 4, 2013
In the 1930s, the Great Peters, as he was billed, thrilled and terrified audiences with his dangerous “hangman’s act,” during which he climbed seventy-five feet to a rigging suspended in the air, put an elasticized rope with a noose around his neck, and swan-dived to the ground.
Like a modern bungee, the rope would snap back before he struck, sending him flying upward, and he’d make a controlled descent. He died at the age of 45 in 1943 when something went wrong during the stunt and his neck broke. His body dangled high in the air for 20 minutes in front of a crowd of 5,500 horrified spectators while the St. Louis fire department struggled to reach him and cut him down.
Samuel Wasgate, an orphan adopted by wire walker Guillermo Farini, became famous in 1866 at the age of ten for a death-defying stunt called Le Tambour Aerial by El Niño Farini. He balanced on his neck on a trapeze bar high in the air while playing a drum. Sam would also balance on Farini’s shoulders when he crossed the high wire. Beginning in 1870, as part of the act, he began impersonating a female acrobat and aerialist billed as “Mlle. Lulu” and “the Circassian Catapultist.” Imagine how much consternation was caused in 1878 when “Lulu” suffered an injury on stage, and his true sex was revealed to his admirers. Afterward, he cut his hair and continued performing – this time, as a man.
Pansy Zedora (aka Alar the Human Arrow) and her sister thrilled audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. After arranging herself on a gigantic crossbow high above the audience, Pansy was shot into the air. She flew through a paper target to be caught on the other side by her sister, who swung from a trapeze. The American public loved the sisters when they toured with circuses in the 1890s.
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