Signor Ethardo, the Spiral Ascensionist

Signor Ethardo, the Spiral Ascensionist

Signor Ethardo (1836-1911), known as 'The Spiral Ascensionist,' seen here with the ball on which he performed at the Crystal Palace during the 1860s.

Photographed by Negretti and Zambra of Crystal Palace.

'One of the most attractive features of the entertainment at the Crystal Palace in London, is the performance of Signor Ethardo. This wonderful gymnast, who is a native of Italy, ascends a long spiral platform by propelling up the narrow path a large ball on which he stands, and on which he immediately descends by the same difficult narrow road - a feat which seems to be by far the more difficult. The spiral platform, in the shape of a corkscrew, is built on the stage in front of the great orchestra, and in full view of the thousands of spectators.

'Signor Ethardo has been favored with royal patronage; for, at the Dante Festival at Florence, he appeared in the presence of King Victor Emanuel, who expressed his high approval, while His Majesty's subjects burst into a frantic fit of enthusiasm, which, it appears, baffled all powers of description. Italian sensitiveness was also carried to such a height that the music was stopped, for fear the vibration would cause the gymnast to make a false step. Certainly the large Christian assemblages at Crystal Palace displayed no particular anxiety for the performer's safety, though they were not backward in applauding him as he arrived at the various stages of his tortuous and narrow pathway, as he reached a small circular platform at the summit, and as he finally descended in safety.

'The globe on which this extraordinary performer works his way up and down is 30 inches in diameter, and 90 inches in circumference. The width of the winding platform is 12 inches, and flat, with no groove or protection of any sort to assist the ascent or descent, and the height of the spiral column is 50 feet. The incline winding from the base to the capital of the column is upward of 180 feet in length. The globe is constructed of wood and iron, without any India rubber, gutta-percha or other adhesive material to assist the Signor in his difficult task.'

[From Harper's Weekly, February 10, 1866. Reprinted in Circus Scrap Book, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Oct), 1929, p. 15.]

Far from being 'a native of Italy,' he was born in London and his real name was Stephen John Etheridge. He died at his home, 'Spiral Villa' in Peckham, on 24 June 1911 at the age of 75.


Code: 122035
© Paul Frecker 2023