Circus proprietor Edward Wulff patented a curious device in 1904. It was an apparatus that catapulted animals upwards. It had the rather alarming title, "Throwing Animals For Taking Death Leaps" (Patent No. 774,017). Wulff claimed it could throw "horses, elephants, monkeys, &c.." The patent illustration shows a horse, so these were evidently the primary animal being thrown.
The device was relatively straight-forward. The animals were placed in a harness that held them on top of a spring-powered platform. The release of the springs then flung the animals upwards. Wulff emphasized that his apparatus was designed, via the harness, to place the projecting force on the full body of the animal, rather than just their legs. He seemed to feel that this was a safer, more humane method of throwing animals.
Wulff explained that this device was designed to be used as part of a circus stunt known as "a death leap or so-called 'salto-mortale.'" But he didn't offer any further explanation about the nature of the stunt or how far the animals were flung. And I couldn't locate any descriptions of this stunt in other sources. All the references to a 'death leap' stunt that I came across involved human trapeze artists, not animals. So I was about to conclude that the stunt would have to remain a mystery until I got the idea to check if Wulff had filed the patent in any other countries. Sure enough, there was a British version of the patent, and while its text was almost identical, it had a different title that explained the nature of the stunt:
Improvements in Apparatus for Throwing Animals to take a Somersault.
So Wullf's apparatus was evidently designed to somersault animals. Not simply to catapult them upwards. This made me recall something I posted here on WU back in 2012. It was a brief item that appeared on the front page of the Washington Post's 'Miscellany Section' on April 21, 1907, titled 'Horse Can Turn Somersaults.' At the time, this random reference to a somersaulting horse totally baffled me. I even suspected it was a hoax. But now it makes sense. It must have been a circus stunt. Perhaps it even made use of Wulff's invention. I can't find any evidence that Wulff's circus was in Boston in April 1907, but it was in New York in December of that year.
Wulff, it turns out, was the author of another odd patent, granted to him in 1887. The patent was titled, "Means and apparatus for propelling and guiding balloons." He intended to use birds such as "eagles, vultures, condors, &c" to guide balloons. The birds would be attached to the balloon by a harness, and an aeronaut would then force them to fly in the desired direction, thereby propelling the balloon.
This patent has received quite a bit of attention, because there's a lot of interest in the history of early attempts at flying machines. Knowing that Wulff was a circus proprietor, I wonder if he intended his eagle-guided balloon to be used as part of a circus act, rather than as a practical flying machine.
1916: The chain holding Yebea, the "wild woman from Borneo," snapped during a performance in St. Louis. Yebea instantly became less wild, apologizing to a woman who was accidentally struck by the chain: "I beg your pardon, dearie; I didn't mean to do it. I hope I didn't hurt you."
However, at the sight of the freed wild woman the audience panicked and fled, with people crying out warnings that Yebea had escaped and was running amok. A police officer investigated and found her resting in her boudoir.
The Great Unus (aka Franz Furtner) had a successful career in the circus, from the 1930s to the 1960s. He was billed as "the man who stands on his forefinger" because his act centered around him doing a series of one-finger handstands.
There was a lot of speculation about how he was able to balance himself on one finger. The main theory was that he must have had some kind of rigid, support device in the glove that he always wore during his act, as you can see in the video below. But in the photo, below left, (from the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung - Mar 27, 1941), he's doing the trick without a glove. So who knows. Although, of course, the photo could have been staged. As far as I know, he never revealed exactly what his trick was.
You may have heard the Stanley Steemer commercials. But what started out as a voice-over demo evolved into variations on a theme -- the Stanley Steemer song. Mia Gentile worked with a friend, Roger Klug, on the piece.
There is a great summary of characters, styles and a high-energy conclusion at about 2:30.
The Great Gravityo was the stage name of Albert Franklin Davidson (1880-1949), a multi-talented performer whose career spanned the first half of the 20th Century. He's one of many once-popular performers who are now all but forgotten. His specialty was pulling cars and lifting heavy weights with his hair, but he was also a sharpshooter, juggler, magician, and trapeze artist.
He performed right up to the end of his life, dying of a heart attack shortly after a performance at the age of 69. It's amazing he still had his hair at 69, given his occupation.
There was hardly any info online about him. But here's a brief description of his act I found in the Paris Texas News (Sep 4, 1941):
I recently found out about an animator named Harry Partridge who does bizarre shorts that are perfect Weird Universe material. These two are my favorites, but be sure to go to the Happy Harry Toons YouTube page for more absurdity.
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.