Monday, October 09, 2006

Charles Blondin

In 1851 Blondin was recruited by the agent of Mr. William Niblo to perform with the Ravel Troupe at Niblo's Garden. It was while he was with this company that he devised the show-name of Charles Blondin -- the troupe had two brothers with the last name Javell, and it was thought there would be confusion at the similarity. He chose "Blondin" for the color of his hair. Blondin was with the troupe for several years. On their American tour he found his way to Niagara Falls, and his greatest fame.

Blondin became obsessed with the idea of crossing the falls the first time he saw them in 1858. A year after his initial visit, he returned to accomplish the feat. The stunt was not without controversy. Many people felt that a stunt like Blondin's would trivialize the falls, turning them into a backdrop for a circus act, and should not be allowed.
Blondin's original plan was to string his rope to Goat Island, but the owners supported the opposition and denied him permission. Eventually, Blondin was allowed to string his wire a mile further down-stream and on June 30, 1859, he was the first man ever to cross Niagara Falls by tightrope. A large crowd of 100,000 people watched him walk on a single three-inch hemp cord, 1,100 feet long and 160 feet above the falls at one side and 270 feet at the other. You can read the details of the crossing on page 3 in the copy of the July 4, 1859, Chicago Tribune article.

Blondin made many more trips across the gorge during the next year and became popularly known as "the Prince of Manila" (the rope he used was made of Manila.) Each time, he thrilled larger crowds with more exciting acts. He balanced a chair on the rope an d stood on it. He took pictures of the crowd while he balanced on the rope. He cooked a meal on a small portable cooker and lowered it to amazed passengers on the Maid of the Mist below. He crossed blindfolded, in a sack, on stilts, and trundling a wheel barrow. On August 17, 1859 he increased the risk by carrying his manager, Harry Colcord, across on his back. When the Prince of Wales visited in September, 1860, Blondin carried his assistant, Romain Mouton, across and performed antics on the way. The prince, like other spectators, was left breathless and asked Blondin never to do it again. Imagine the Prince's reaction when Blondin offered to carry him across on his back or in a wheelbarrow!

Who is Charles Blondin?

No comments: