Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Exhibitions in American Public Spaces - Tightrope Walking

Recently the Barnum & Bailey Circus announced, that it will cease performances in the USA in May, 2017.  The circus has a long history from its beginnings in ancient Rome to its appearance in the 1720s British American colonies.

French Engraving La Fameuse Prussienne c 1789

In 1724 Philadelphia, a female dancer or wirewalker performed on a tightrope holding baskets with iron chains on her feet, while "wheeling a wheelbarrow, & spinning with swords."  In 1753, one pleasure garden announced truly extraordinary entertainment for their patrons.  


Archives of the City of Nantes A Tightrope walking in a public pleasure garden

New Yorker Adam Vandenberg employed a wire walker, Anthony Dugee, to perform in a "new House built for the Purpose" in his Mead Garden.  Shows occured in Vandenberg's open structure "weather permitting," & he charged four shillings for pit seating & two shillings for the gallery.  Vandenberg's wire walker advertised that he had performed for the King of Great Britain.  He walked forward & backward on a swinging rope, balancing first a pipe & then a straw on his nose.  He also juggled four balls at once & balanced a twirlling plate on the point of a sword.  Adding to the curiosity, an Indian & a young black boy assisted.  The most amazing part of the act was not the juggling wirewalker, but his wife.  The wirewalker's helpmeet, billed as "the Female Sampson," laid extended between two chairs bearing a 300 pound anvil on her chest while two men struck at it with sledge hammers.  Still precariously stretched between the chairs, the wife then had six men stand on her chest.  After this ordeal, the wife left the chairs & lifted the 300 pound anvil by her hair.  To climax her portion of the show, she planted a 700 pound stone on her chest & then heaved it 6 feet away from her.  Assisting them were a "Negro boy & an Indian." 


Archives of the City of Nantes Tightrope walking in a public pleasure garden

Traveling performers in the Early American Republic trouped from town to town & public garden to public garden in the summers.  Baltimore's Public Pleasure Garden Chatsworth or Grey's Gardens offered an "afternoon's amusement" in 1792.  "The New Company of Tight Rope Dancers, Tumblers, &c, just arrived from Phildadelphia, will exhibit in Chatsworth Gardens...a five o'clock precisely...Tickets, one quarter of a dollar each."


Woodcut from the first text on gymnastics Girolamo Mercuriale (1530-1606).  De arte gymnastica libri sex. Tertia editione correctiores, & auctiores facti. Venitiis 1587.

Tightrope walking, also called funambulism, is the art of walking along a thin wire or rope. It has a long tradition in various countries & is commonly associated with the circus. Funambulism dates back at least to Ancient Greece — that's where the name comes from: funis means "rope" & ambulare means "to walk." In both Ancient Greece & Ancient Rome, tightrope walkers were revered, but their work was not considered "sporting" enough to be part of the Olympic Games. Instead it often became the providence of jesters & other entertainers. 


Roman fresco featuring two satyrs tightrope-walking from the villa of Cicero at Pompeii

Rope-walkers lost some ground in 5th-century France, as they were forbidden to come near churches, & since near churches was where most of the fairs were held, this was effectively a ban on tightrope-walking. But by the 1300s; during the lavish coronation of Queen Isabeau in 1389 Paris, an acrobat carrying candles "walked along a rope suspended from the spires of the cathedral to the tallest house in the city." This trend continued; there were tightrope walkers at the coronation of Edward VI in Westminster in 1547, & at the occasion of Philip of Spain's arrival in London to meet Queen Mary in 1554. 


Ascending the Campanile of St Mark’s, Venice. From an engraving done before the construction of the Sansovino Library in 1536

In Venice in the mid-16C, the annual Carnival gained a new opening tradition — Svolo del Turco (Flight of the Angel) — when a Turkish acrobat walked on a rope strung between the bell tower of the St. Mark's Church & a boat docked on the Piazzetta. 


Descent of Madame Saqui surrounded by fireworks at Vauxhall 1817

Madame Saqui (born Marguerite-Antoinette Lalanne 1786-1866) was a noted French tightrope walker or "rope dancer." She performed many times for Napoleon Bonaparte, often walking a wire with fireworks exploding all around her, & also at the celebration of the birth of his heir by walking between the towers of the Notre-Dame cathedral. She also performed at Vauxhall Gardens & is mentioned in Thackeray's Vanity Fair.  In 1817, Madame Saqui “sparkling with spangles & tinsel & her head canopied with plumes of ostrich feathers” ascended above the crowd & trod the wire at midnight illuminated with blue lights while rockets were fired around her.


r Madame Saqui (1786-1866) was a noted French tightrope walker in public pleasure gardens

An Irishman named John Brenon walked the tightrope in Salem (USA) in 1788 with his legerdemain & a wife to assist him. By way of advertising, he sent up a hot air balloon before the performance. [“William Bentley’s Diary”, December 1788] ‘Such was the effect of the rope-flyers who visited New England, & after whose feats children of seven were sliding down fences & wounding themselves in every quarter.’ [“Dr Bentley’s Diary”, Boston, USA, 31 July 1792]

The good people of Boston, on August 10, 1792, flocked to “New Exhibition Room, Board Alley,” as they called their first theatre, was opened. Plays as such were still under a cloud, so the clever manager of the “Exhibition Room” announced them as “Moral Lectures”, thereby fooling nobody but the pious who did not attend. On the 12th, was presented a moral lecture, “Venice Preserved”, with “Dancing on the tightrope by Monsieurs Placide & Martine” & “Various feats on the slack rope by Mr Robert” between the acts. Four days later, Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew” masqueraded as “A favourite moral lecture called… Catharine & Petruchio” & once again Monsieurs Placid & Martine held forth.

French tightrope walker Charles Blondin (Jean Francois Gravelet, 1824 - 1897

In the 19C USA, everyone wanted watch rope walkers walk across Niagara Falls (located on the Canada–USA border). The first to do so was Charles Blondin (born Jean François Gravelet, (1824-1897) was a French outdoor tightrope walker. Blondin came to the United States in 1855. He especially owed his celebrity & fortune to his idea of crossing the Niagara Gorge on a tightrope, 1,100 ft (340 m) long, 3.25 in (8.3 cm) in diameter & 160 ft (49 m) above the water, near the location of the current Rainbow Bridge. This he did on 30 June 1859, pausing in the middle to sit down & drink a beer he pulled up on a rope from the Maid of the Mist. He would return to the Falls again & again, doing crazier highwire stunts each time: riding a bicycle across, cooking an omelet in the middle, going across blindfolded or on stilts, & even carrying his manager across on his back. 


Blondin tight rope artiste walking across Niagara Falls with a man on his shoulders

Next across was William Leonard Hunt (1838-1929), also known by the stage name The Great Farini, one of the most celebrated acrobats in Europe at the time. He duplicated many of the Great Blondin's stunts, & his coup de grâce in 1860, was crossing the Falls with a washing machine strapped to his back; in the middle he stopped to wash several handkerchiefs, which he then gave to his waiting admirers. 


Blondin on the tightrope at Niagara Falls, in an ape costume, pushing a wheelbarrow.

Maria Spelterini (1853-1912) became the 1st woman to ever cross the Niagara River gorge on a tight rope. Spelterini was a beautiful 23 year old woman of Italian descent. She made her debut on July 8th 1876 performing a successful crossing using a 5.7 cm wire located just north of the lower suspension bridge. 


Maria Spelterini,  July 12th 1876, crossed Niagra Gorge wearing peach baskets strapped to her feet.

After the first success Maria Spelterini proved herself equal to those tight rope walkers that preceded her by performing miraculous feats. On July 12th 1876, Spelterini crossed wearing peach baskets strapped to her feet. One week later, she crossed blind folded & only 3 days later, Spelterini crossed with her ankles and wrists handcuffed. 


On the other side of the country there is evidence that Mme Austen, the “Ariel of the Tightrope”, was spurred on by rather special competition in the development of her ability to take the spectator’s breath away. From John McCabe’s journal we learn that the lady made her first particularly sensational tightrope ascension & descension across a busy street in the heart of San Francisco, from the lot opposite the International Hotel to the top floor of that building. This feat she accomplished at about 8 oclock one morning in August 1855. The aerialist had intended to give her performance on the preceding evening, but had been prevented by too strong a wind. Early in October she did succeed in making a night ascension. But now an obtrusive rival appeared. At the same place, some three weeks later, one Signora Caroni, a member of Professor Risley’s troupe of gymnasts, performed the same act without using a balance pole; & then, on the third night afterwards, with Signor Caroni as her partner, she shared the honours of the first double ascension across the street. But not yet was the Italian upstart satisfied with the proof of her superior skill & daring. A month later, when the Risley troupe & the Stark’s dramatic company were sharing the boards at the Union Theatre, Signora Caroni made an ascension “from stage to dome,” over the heads of the audience! Mme Austen would be obliged to wait a while for the perfect opportunity to meet this challenge; but it came, on a March evening of 1857. At the Metropolitan the original “Ariel of the Tightrope” made an ascension, without the aid of a balance pole, from stage to upper tier - a performance described by a not unduly flattering reporter as “terrific”.’ (G.R. MacMinn, The Theater of the Golden Era in Califormia, 1941)

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Exhibitions in American Public Spaces - Hot Air Balloons + little history

Scientific spectacles attracted widespread public interest at commercial pleasure gardens & public spaces in the new Republic. In 1793, hundreds of spectators & several founding fathers had watched the first man fly free over the new republic. Frenchman Jean-Pierre Blanchard rose in a hot air balloon over the rooftops of Philadelphia, then the nation's capital.  From that point on, regular balloon flights brought crowds of several thousand onlookers whenever take-offs were expected, and ‘balloonomania’ swept right across the country.

New York City commercial pleasure garden entrepeneur Frenchman Joseph Corré invited Richard Crosby to launch "his beautiful varnished Silk Balloon and Aeronautic Carriage" from his garden named Mount Vernon in 1800. For two weeks before the launching, Crosby lectured on "the science of aerostation" and invited the public "to see the curious process of filling the Balloon with inflammable air" at Mount Vernon Gardens.


The promotion worked. Numerous patrons flocked to the site, and a New York City newspaper assigned a reporter. "Last Monday, about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, a beautiful Balloon...was launched from Mount Vernon Gardens...The wind being light at N. it rose about 400 feet almost perpendicular; then took a southerly course and moved magnificently grand through the atmosphere, till it was fairly out of sight."


1783 Joseph & Étienne Montgolfier's Hot Air Balloon


In 1793, several founding fathers had watched the first man fly in a balloon over the new republic. Thirty-four-year-old Frenchman Jean-Pierre Blanchard rose in an untethered hot air balloon from the courtyard of the prison in Philadelphia, then the nation's capital. Blanchard sold tickets to view the ascent for $2-5 each, but most chose to watch outside the confines of the prison grounds.  Many watched the balloon from their upper story windows in Philadelphia.

1783 Joseph & Étienne Montgolfier's Hot Air Balloon

Ten years before, as a result of experiments in Portugal & France, brothers Joseph & Étienne Montgolfier successfully launched a sheep, a cock, and a duck 1,500 feet in the basket of a hot-air balloon as Louis XVI & Marie Antoinette looked on. Soon Frenchmen were in the basket flying over Paris.

The daughter of John & Abigail Adams, Sarah Livingston Jay, saw the 1st ascent of the Montgolfier balloon in Paris, in 1783.  Known as “Nabby,” she visited France in 1784, recording her impression of the balloon ascent. "September 19. To-day we went to see the balloon; it was to ascend from the garden of the Tuileries; we had tickets at a crown a person to go in. We left our carriage outside & went in; the garden I had never been in before; it is very large, & in general, elegant. there were eight or ten thousand persons present. This people are more attentive to their amusements than any thing else; however, as we were upon the same errand, it is unjust to reflect upon others, whose curiosity was undoubtedly as well founded. We walked a little, took a view of the company, & approached the balloon; it was made of taffetas & in the form of an egg, if both ends were large; this is what contains the air; below it is a gallery where are the adventurers & the ballast. At eleven it was moved from the place of its standing among the trees to an open situation, & the cords, which were held by some of the greatest men in the kingdom, were cut; it mounted in the air. It was some time in sight, as they had intended making some experiments upon their machine. At six in the evening it descended at Bevre, fifty leagues from Paris. At two o’clock the same day there was a storm of rain, with thunder & lightning, but they were not affected by it."

Blanchard was not making the very first ascension in the United States. Actually the first airborne American was 13-year-old Edward Warren, who in 1784, flew aloft in a tethered hot-air balloon constructed by Peter Carnes, a ladensburg, Maryland, lawyer & tavern owner.

A crowd had gathered at Howard Park in Baltimore, Maryland, as Carnes prepared to launch his balloon. Young Warren stepped out of the curious throng in Baltimore volunteering to ride the “splendid chariot” strung below the brightly colored silk balloon. Baltimore newspapers reported that he ascended “with the steady fortitude of an old voyager.” He “soared aloof” to the cheers of the crowd, “which he politely acknowledged by a significant wave of his hat.”

But Blanchard made the first unanchored air journey. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison were on hand for the lift off. Benjamin Franklin had died 3 years earlier, but had witnessed a balloon ascension in Paris and speculated that flight would “probably give a new turn to human affairs.” Now Blanchard was flying free and so was the fledgling nation.

1783 Joseph & Étienne Montgolfier's Hot Air Balloon

“Anxiety for the safety of the Aeronaut was painted on every face,”
reported Dunlap’s American Daily Advertiser. Then the crowd began cheering. “The Majestical sight,” noted the reporter, “was truly awe-full and interesting.”  Blanchard reflected, after he descended in Gloucester County, New Jersey. “I could not help being surprised and astonished, when, elevated at a certain height over the city, I turned my eyes toward the immense number of people, which covered the open places, the roofs of the houses, the steeples, the streets and the roads, over which my flight carried me in the free space of the air. What a sight!”



1783 Air Balloon Engagement for the Empire of the Sky.  J. Barrow Dec. 1783 White Lion Bull Stains. Surre Side Black Friars Bridge


1783 Air Balloon or a Trip to the Moon. Published 02nd Nov 1783 by W. Humphrey N 227 Strand. London, England


1783 Vistardel Globo Aereostatico.


1784 Air Balloon or Mr. Blanchard's Grand Aerostatic Machine. Published: London, Published by J. Sharpe No. 20 Portugal Street, Lincoln's Inn.


 1784 Experience Aerostatique.


1784 F Byron Mr. Lunardi's Balloon, as Exhibited in the Pantheon  Published February 1st, 1785. F. G. Byron, No. 44, Wardour Street, Soho, London.


1787 Aulfahrt des Herrn Blancharts


1784 An exact representation of Mr Lunardi's New Balloon as it ascended with himself 13 May 1785 Pub by Carrington Bowles, London.  Italian hot air balloonist Vincenzo Lunardi, commonly referred to as Vincent Lunardi, took off from the Honourable Artillery Company grounds, at Moorfields, London on 19 September 1784 to make the first manned, free floating balloon flight in English skies.

 c.1784 The British grand balloon Published by John Wallis Date 1784 Coelum Ipsum petimus Stultitia Print Made by Paul Sandby Date 1784


 Captain Vincenzo Lunardi with his Assistant George Biggin, and Mrs. Letitia Anne Sage, in a Balloon, by John Francis Rigaud (1742-1810)


 From the 'Rambler's Magazine', October 1784.. A balloon just above the ridge of a roof on which are spectators. It has a rectangular cage or basket in which stand Lunardi and a lady embracing. Lunardi says, Ah Madame it rises Majes


 Julius Caesar Ibbetson (1759-1817) George Biggins' Ascent in Lunardi' Balloon 1785


Vincent Lunardi, in his basket, ready to ascend (1785), by John Kay.


1788 Herrn Blanchard in Braunschweig.



Grand Baloon 1789 Drawn by George Moutard Woodward


Admission ticket to see the 'Edinburgh Fire Balloon cylindrical hot-air balloon with pointed top and ornate carriage with three passengers, one operating a paddle number at top left.


1790 A Design for a Threadneedle Case. The Land of Promise !!!


 1802 A View of Monsier Garnerin's ascension with his Balloon from Vauxhall-Gardens accompanied by his wife and a gentleman. And the experiment of the Parachute on tuesday evening August 3. 1802.


A view of Monsr. Garnerin's balloon and parachute André Jacques Garnerin descending from a balloon by parachute in a field near St Pancras Church. 22 October 1802


 1802 An Aerial Excursion. Published by T. Williamson. No. 20 Strand London, Sept 8, 1802



1811 Balloon of Mr. Sadler's. This Balloon Ascended with Mr. Sadler and Captain Paget of the Royal Navy at the Mermaid Gardens at Hackney in Middlesex


Prime bang up at Drumcondra, or a peep at the balloon. 1812 Pub by William McCleary

1812 Robert Havell, Jr. Part of the Balloon with which Mr. Sadler ascended from Dublin


 1813 Ascent of Mr. Sadler the celebrated British Aeronaut at Nottingham November 1st, 1813.  Published January 17th, 1814 by R. Bonnington, Nottingham.


1814 The Fortiefs which inclosed the Grand Pavillion in the Green Park with the ascent of the Balloon. Published August 24, 1814. by Tho. Palser. Surry side Wft. Bridge.


 1820 Descent of the Balloon in the Valley of Elbern.


1820 Moyen infaillible d'enlever les Ballons. Le vend Aparis rue des Quatre-vents.


1826 W Gauci. Balloon immediately proceeding its ascension from the Village of Seal.


 1827 Signed Somers, Untitled Ballooning watercolor.


1830 Entre Triomphale Des Monuments Des Sciences Et Arts En France Fete A Ce Sujet.


1836 Vauxhall Royal Balloon. The First ascent from the Royal Garden Vauxhall Friday, September 9th 1836.  Published by S. Parmenter. Brooks St. Lamboth.


1838 Muzio Muzzi Bologna


1851 Balloon Ascension of MD'lle Delon.  Published in Gleason's Pictorial Drawing Room Companion.


1851 Destruction of the Victoria & Albert Balloon.  London Published June 18th by Ackermann & Co. 96 Strand.


1855 Balloon Wedding - The Ascension.


1859 Ascent of Mr. La Mountain's Aerial Ship. - From a Drawing by Mr. W. H. Worth. (Atlantic). Published in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, July 16, 1859.


1885 Pennsylvania. Balloon Ascension of signal service observers from the Girard College Grounds, Philadelphia.  Published in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper.