The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography



A carte-de-visite portrait of Jean-Fran├žois Gravelet (1824-1897), the great Blondin.

The first of many tightrope walkers to appear at Niagara Falls, Blondin was a professional artist and showman trained in the great tradition of the European circus. He first crossed the gorge on 30 June 1859. Never one merely to repeat his last performance, Blondin performed various stunts during subsequent crossings, including crossing the rope on a bicycle, on stilts, with his hands and feet manacled, walking blindfold, pushing a wheelbarrow, performing back-flips, and cooking an omelette halfway across.

One of his most hair-raising stunts was when he crossed with his manager Harry Colcord on his back. According to Colcord, the trip was a nightmare. In the unguyed centre section, the pair started to sway violently. Blondin broke into a desperate run to reach the first guy rope. When he reached it and steadied himself, the guy broke. Once more the pair swayed alarmingly as Blondin again ran for the next guy. When they reached it Blondin gasped for Colcord to get down. Six times in all Colcord had to dismount while Blondin struggled to gather his strength. In the end Blondin had to charge the crowd on the brink to prevent the press of people forcing them back into the precipice.

Blondin died in England at the age of 73, and was buried next to his wife in Kensal Green cemetery, where their handsome tomb stills stands.

Photographed by Negretti and Zambra of London.


Code: 125023
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