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The Vault at PfaffsAn Archive of Art and Literature by the Bohemians of Antebellum New York
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Text for Page 236 [02-22-1897]

              [Gunn�s handwriting]
Feb. 22, 1897.

[loose newspaper clipping]
	              M. BLONDIN
  Blondin, the hero of Niagara, died yesterday and
greatest of all the marvels of his career, this most
famous tight-rope walker of all history, has died in his
bed.  He passed away at his residence, Niagara House,
Ealing, in his seventy-third year.  He walked the rope
almost to the last for, grey-headed as he was, he per-
formed at Belfast no longer ago than August, 1896.
  He was born at St. Omer, near Calais, and he was
the son of an acrobat, who was also an old soldier
of Napoleon.  He followed his father�s career.  He
went the rounds with the troupe, and in 1851 he
was performing in a French provincial town.  His skill
attracted the notice of another gymnast, who was
projecting a tour to America, and who asked him to 
join in.  He agreed; but when he came to give his
true name of Jean Francois Gravelot it was agreed that
this would be impossible in a great touring bill.
A new name had to be invented on the spot, and it was
found in �Blondin,� which was suggested by the
colour of his hair.  He did wonders in America, and
finally capped them by the sensational feat of crossing
Niagara, which established his fame, throughout the
world.  This was in June, 1859.  �Sir,� he once said
to an interviewer, �I have never felt fear�no, not even
when crossing Niagara.  I was a rope walker at four.�
In 1860 he crossed the Fall on stilts.  He admitted
that there was great danger in crossing Niagara.
�In straining a rope of the necessary length to the
requisite tightness it is liable to snap.  The shorter
the rope the easier it is to walk on, for the dip
in the middle is less.  I once offered to carry the 
Claimant across a rope, but he declined with thanks.
�I will not endanger your life,� he said, �and I do ont
wish to expose mine.�  A tight-rope walker is born;
nothing can make him.  None of my family will ever
appear in the arena, because not one of them has been
born a rope walker.  I am always well when I 
am working.  When I am lazy I feel a twinge of
lumbago, and that is all.�  He crossed Niagara more
than three hundred times, though when he first essayed
the feat he was laughed at as �a fool of a Frenchman
going to commit suicide.�  He went all over the world
after that�to all the great countries of Europe and to
Australia, as well as through the length and breadth of
the United States.  His first appearance in this country
was at the Crystal Palace, and it was noticed in quarters
which in a general way paid no attention to feats of
that sort.  There never had been anyone to approach him
in the ancient or modern history of the art.  His rope
was at the greatest height attainable under the glass
roof, and it was felt that a single mistake would be
death.  His pranks during his passage across, his pre-
tence of missing his foothold when he had the sack over
his head, his carrying the stove and making the
omelette, with all the other wonderful resources of his
repertory, were carefully designed to chill the
blood of the spectators.  When he trundled
over his little daughter in the wheel-barrow
while the child scattered flowers on the awe-struck
crowd below, the police very rightly interfered in the
interest of the child, and he had to promise not to
repeat the performance.  He had even to consent, for a
time, to perform on a �safe� rope stretched at a short
distance from the ground.  His most wondrous feat
was carrying over the adventurous bystander on his
back.  If his living burden had been seized with a
sudden attack of nervousness, nothing could have saved
either of them.  He was most careful with his apparatus.
He carried three sets of ropes, which were two inches
in diameter, and were composed of a core of steel
bound round with hemp.  The balancing poles varied
in weight from 37 to 47 pounds.  The latter weight was
enormous, but he owed much of his safety to the enor-
mous power of his forearm, which enabled him to carry
it.  When he travelled on his own account a part of
his baggage consisted of a tent which would hold 
14,000 persons.  In all his astonishing career he had
but one accident, and never a fall.  He never
broke a limb.  Sometimes he crossed in mail armour,
sometimes on a bicycle, sometimes he played a harmo-
nium on the rope.  He never smoked, but he liked a
glass of claret with his dinner.
  He was playful as a kitten to the last, and, old and
white-headed as he was, he would sometimes suddenly
throw himself on his hands in the garden and walk for
some seconds with his head down and his heels in the
air.  His �Niagara House� was on the high
road between Brentford and Hanwell.  It had a
pretty garden and extensive workshops, in which
he amused himself at forge, bench, and lathe.  He had
achieved everything proper to his career, except a
mastery of our tongue, and that of course was not
essential.  He spoke broken English to the last.  He
could not read a word of English.  When he came off
the rope after a performance he was generally bathed
in perspiration.  Attendants were waiting for him and
the first thing was a rub down.  Then he had some-
thing to eat, prepared by his own cook.  If he had
to give another performance later in the day,
he had a two hours sleep.  He would never
hear of the approach of old age.  �So long I can
perform, I perform,� he said, �that my health.�  Yet
he had to admit some infirmities.  �I don�t carry any-
one across now,� he remarked to a writer in �Cassell�s
Magazine,� �and I don�t ride the bicycle.  I can�t see
at all in the sunshine.  I performed every week last
year besides getting married.  I was on the rope again
after a honeymoon of twenty-four hours!  I am now
going to rest for a month or two, as my blind eye is to
be operated on for cataract.�  When he began
to be subject to fits of giddiness, he re-
marked that he should be obliged to have his
house fitted up with tight ropes, or he might one day
dash his brains out in trying to walk across the floor.
In crossing the rope with the sack on, he said, the sack
really steadied him by showing, by the way it hung,
that he was, or was not, standing perpendicularly.
Once he was nearly killed at the Crystal Palace at the 
close of a firework ascent.  He slipped and fell.  Down
went the pole to the ground, and he was about to
follow when he managed to catch the rope
with his knee joint and to hold it until 
he could swing himself backwards and forwards into
touch of it with his hands.  He courted danger.  Once,
at the Zoological Gardens, Liverpool, he wheeled a lion
across�securely strapped to the barrow, and here again
he played one of his favorite tricks on the nerves of
the spectators by pretending that he had lost control
of the barrow and that it was all up with him.
He never went through a set programme, but always
varied the performance according to the state of his
health and of his nerves, if he had any, at the moment
of the performance.  His house was a veritable museum
of curiosities, all connected with his career, and some
of them taking the form of the decorations from
many Courts, which entitled him to write himself
Chevalier.               
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