Monday, February 28, 2011

In Memoriam: Blondin


As tightrope walkers go, few if any have attained the level of fame which accrued to Blondin, who was born on this day in 1824... Gymnastically precocious, his first public performance came before he was six years old - following just six months of training at the École de Gymnase in the southern French city of Lyon - at which he was billed 'The Little Wonder'.

The act for which he is most famous came when, as part of his tour of America in the 1850s, he crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope - during which he was extensively photographed* with his manager Harry Colcord riding on his back**. It was for his numerous feats of derring-do in the UK that he owed his enduring reputation, though, among them a series of performances at London's Crystal Palace and Dublin's Royal Portobello Gardens, plus a crossing of Birmingham's Edgbaston Reservoir.

Having retired in in the mid-1870s, Blondin came out of retirement in 1880, and continued performing until 1896, when he gave his final performance in Belfast; he died in Ealing in February 1897, and was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.

*Well, for the time anyway; it was, after all, June 1859.
**During that performance he also cooked and ate an omelette at the midpoint of the rope, 50 m (160 feet) above the swirling maelstrom below.
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