John Davenport has been called the youngest human cannonball
SEAN STEFFEN/THE MORNING SUN.
Jon Davenport, 15, AKA Johnny Rocket, stands by the special cannon that blasts him into a safety net during his act in the Big Top Circus. The fifth generation in a family of circus performers, he also serves as a juggler, clown and ring master.
By NIKKI PATRICK
The Morning Sun, Jun 05, 2011
PITTSBURG, KS — It’s not that uncommon for teens to have part-time jobs, but it is pretty unusual for the job to involve being shot out of a cannon.
John Davenport, 15, AKA Johnny Rocket, does that on a regular basis at the Big Top Circus.
“I’m also a juggler, a clown and ring master,” he added Saturday morning as he took a break from helping set up the Big Top Circus. “My family has been in the circus for five generations, so this is in my blood.”
The circus, housed in a brand new European style blue and yellow tent, had two shows Saturday, and will have performances at 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. today.
“We’ve got acrobats, pony rides and a petting zoo where kids can pet the animals and get their pictures taken,” Davenport said.
But one of the main attractions is him. Davenport is billed as the youngest human cannonball in the business. It’s not a popular career choice — there are probably around five human cannonballs working in the United States and not more than 20 or so in the world.
“I started doing it two years ago, when I was 13,” Davenport said.
Actually, history records that the very first human cannonball, who flew a distance of about 30 feet in 1877 at the Royal Aquarium in London, was only 14.
A pretty girl, trained in ballet and gymnastics, she was introduced to the crowd as Zazel, though her actual name was Rossa Matilda Richter. She went on to have a successful career and toured with the P.T. Barnum Circus before retiring in the fall of 1891 after missing the safety net in a shot and suffering a back injury.
The apparatus that launched her flight was invented by William Leonard Hunt, a former acrobat who arranged entertainment events at the Royal Aquarium. Human cannonballs aren’t shot from a regular cannon using gunpowder, but are launched from a modified cannon that uses a spring or a jet of compressed air.
“The first time you do it, yeah, it can be scary, but you get used to it,” Davenport said.He said that the circus is on the road giving shows 10 1/2 months of the year across the United States.
“It’s fun seeing the whole country,” Davenport said. “One of my favorite places is to go is Minnesota. We’re stop in November and go to Texas, then start back up the first week in January.”
Does the youngest human cannonball ever dream of running away from the circus and becoming a doctor, accountant or lawyer?
Nope, no way.
“I hope this is my career right here,” Davenport said.
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