The New York Times, July 4, 1859 p. 3:|
AN EXCITING SCENE.M. Blondin's Feat at Niagara Falls.
From the Buffalo Republic, July 1.
Yesterday was the day announced by Mons. BLONDIN for his daring attempt to cross the Niagara River on a rope extended from bank to bank. As a consequence, train after train left here the whole day to convey visitors to the scene, and the steamer Arrow went down twice loaded down with human freight. As a matter of choice we preferred to adopt the Canadian side as the best from which to witness the great feat, and so we went down on the Arrow, Capt. RAYMOND, which left at 9½ o'clock yesterday morning.
The boat was quite full of ladies and gentlemen, all bound to witness the sight, and among the passengers several individuals who were endeavoring to turn an honest penny by sweat cloths, a slight turn at faro, &c., while a rusty young man made a bank of the steam chest forward, and with a confederate was endeavoring to swindle some one into betting on three-card monte. If the crowd had not been from Buffalo, it is probable that the rusty young man might have made his expenses, but under the circumstances he didn't accomplish his liquor bill.
An institution in a Fez cap, incomprehensible coat, and exaggerated trowsers, with a grim face covered with sandy hair, was travelling among the crowd with a combination of agonies in the shape of a bass drum, violin, jumping jack, bells and cymbals, which he put into operation by firing off his boots periodically and spasmodically. We scarcely thought this individual realized anything extraordinary either.
Persons who went on the boat were under the impression that there was a band on board, half of whom were composed of negroes and half of Germans. They commenced playing something when the boat started, and in such an original style, that while dozens were under the impression they were "doing" Hail, Columbia, all the rest on board would have sworn it was the Other Side of Jordan.
The reader can imagine the style of this band. They kept on playing all the way down, until everybody was exasperated. They were remonstrated and expostulated with; prayers and entreaties availed not, and it was not until the passengers left the cars at Clifton that they were allowed some liberty of hearing. A gentleman intimated that heavy swearing would by quite a relief from such strains.
Arrived, the visitors scattered themselves to the different hotels, and to stroll over the beautiful grounds, many taking a trip down to the rope to examine that as far as possible, and settle their minds as to the probability of the crossing being accomplished.
We took a trip down there with the others, and, owing to the kindness of Mr. COLCORD, the agent of M. BLONDIN, were made acquainted with everthing pertaining to the means and the attempt of the great great feat.
The rope is stretched across the gorge of the river, at a point about three-quarters of a mile below the Clifton House, and extends to WHITE'S Pleasure Grounds on the opposite side. At this point the river is about eleven hundred and fifty feet wide, the banks being high and precipitous--the Canadian bank being one hundred and eighty-one, and the American one hundred and sixty-five feet in height. The abyss is a frightful one, and no one could contemplate the perilous undertaking announced without a shudder.
The entire length of the rope stretched is thirteen hundred feet. To sustain this stiffly in its position, nearly forty thousand feet of small rope was used in the shape of guys, fifty seven of which are on each side of the rope, and are fastened to the banks.
In consequence of the weight of the rope, there is a curve in it, from bank to bank, of about fifty feet, which gives quite a horizontal line for two or three hundred feet in the centre, from which there is a gradual ascent to each bank. The rope, with its guys, looked like a spider's web, and far too flimsy to sustain itself, or hang together, not to speak of its capacity to sustain M. BLONDIN.
At this time (noon), there were hundreds of people examining the rope, and, with scarcely an exception, they all declared the inability of M. BLONDIN to perform the feat, the incapacity of the rope to sustain him, and that he deserved to be dashed to atoms for his desperate foolhardiness.
All about the point mentioned, on the Canadian side, a number of comfortable stagings had been built, where seats rose one above the other, as in an amphitheater, while booths were scattered in every direction, at which the weary-stomached visitor could satisfy himself with anything from buck-shot whisky up to tartaric acid lemonade, for four glasses of which latter pleasant fiction we disbursed $1. (This would bring tartaric acid up to $400 or $500 per pound.)
Where the rope ended a staging had been built, with a table containing glasses, and surrounded with seats, for the members of the Press. On the American side, quite as excellent arrangements were made, and the peculiarities mentioned in respect to the whiskey and other refreshments, we presume, were quite as marked. We did not go over to the American side, but we take it for granted that everybody's experience at the Falls will bear us out.
At about 3 o'clock, the banks along the river, for great distances, were covered with people, determined to have a good sight. Some were picnicking on the grass; others imagining they were eating dinners at the different booths; and the rest either eating at the hotels, or waiting a chance at the second tables.
As the hour of 4 o'clock drew near, crowds commenced rushing from all directions towards the scene of the great exploit, and, by 4½ o'clock, the banks on both sides were fairly black with people, who crowded every available position for a mile on each side of the river. At this time the sight was a very gay one. The grounds on the American side were decorated with flags, banners, and streamers of many colors; the banks lined with ladies, gentlemen and children; the gleaming instruments of the different brass bands, their inspiring strains, and the occasional shouts that went up, all went to make the scene very lively and very exciting.
A train of cars, filled with passengers, had stopped upon the track, almost overlooking the rope, and formed a substantial background to a portion of the picture.
On the Canada side things were in a jam, and people who had thought of cushioned seats and high-backed chairs hesitated not at roosting upon the fence pilings, or sitting down in two inches of dust. Faro dealers and sweat-cloths plied their trade manfully, until 5 o'clock, when their operations were suspended by the music of the band on the American side announcing the appearance of M. BLONDIN and his great feat.
At a few minutes before 5 o'clock M. BLONDIN could be seen standing on the American side, dressed in tights and covered with spangles, upon which the sun shone, making him appear as if clothed in light. He appeared scarcely the size of a year old infant at that distance, and the rope upon which he was standing a mere thread over an awful abyss.
At 5 o'clock precisely he started from the American side. Without hesitation he balanced his pole in his hands, and with a calmer and less fluttering heart than could be found in the audience, he commenced his terrible walk. The slightest misstep, the merest dizziness, the least uncertainty, would cast him at once into the perdition beneath, and the crowd held their breaths in amazement as he went on and over the frightful chasm.
On his part, however, there was not the slightest irresoluteness. Calmly he tread the rope, which scarcely trembled or swayed with his weight, and at about 550 feet from the shore he cooly sat down on the rope, perched nearly 200 feet above the water, waved his hands to his friends, and beckoned to the little steamer Maid of the Mist, lying in the river below, to come up beneath the rope.
He then laid down on the rope full length with his balance pole across his chest, with the same disregard and carelessness that a person would have reclined upon a lounge.
After some little time the steamer came beneath, when M. BLONDIN, throwing down a line, drew up from the deck of the steamer a bottle of wine, which, having disposed of, threw back the bottle, rose to his feet with the same certainty that had marked all his previous operations, and continued his performance.
For about two hundred feet further he went steadily along, when, having arrived at that part of the rope which hung nearly in a horizontal line, he started on a fast run. At this time he was just over the centre of the raging torrent beneath, and there was scarcely a person within sight of him who did not shrink from the sight and shudder at his peril.
After the nearly horizontal portion of the rope had been passed, he reduced his speed as he came to the ascent on the Canadian side. With the hot sun blazing full in his face, and bearing a heavy pole, the operation was not only of marvelous intrepidity and daring, but full of toll and fatigue.
He came slowly up the ascent on the Canadian side, amid the crash of Sweet Home from the brass bands, and the cheers upon cheers that went up from thousands of throats, celebrating the success of this most wonderful of all human feats, requiring the utmost skill, expertness and clearheadedness, besides a miraculous courage and nerves of adamant.
As he came within about fifty feet of the shore, Mr. COLCORD, the agent, went part of the way out to meet him, and as he ascended the platform, hundreds of hands reached a hearty shake of gratification at his success, and admiration of his courage. When he got upon the staging he was received by several members of the Press, and Mr. KAVANAGH, of the Great Western Hotel at Clifton, who had provided some excellent champagne to celebrate M. BLONDIN'S success, of which M. BLONDIN partook.
He appeared very much fatigued on arriving, and was bathed from head to foot in persiration. As soon as he could get in a carriage which was provided for him, he was called upon for a speech, and getting up in the carriage, amid thundering cheers, he said, in broken English:
"MY FRENS: I have got safely over. I see you are very glad, and so am I. I hope you will remember me. I cannot speak very good English, but it is all right. I shall go back again very soon."
A large amount of money was soon subscribed in the most liberal style, and it was handed to M. BLONDIN, who returned his thanks.
At a few minutes past 6 o'clock, M. BLONDIN, apparently perfectly refreshed, and entirely confident, appeared upon the stand, and amid cheers and the music of the band--Other Side of Jordan--he commenced his return, with the same coolness, determination and indifference that had marked his first successful attempt.
He walked the descent much faster, and when he came to the horizontal position rope, ran more rapidly than before, and passed safely across in six minutes. The first crossing, including stoppages, was made in a few seconds over seventeen minutes.
Arrived on this side, he was received with shouts and cheers, the music of the bands, and the screams and whistles of several locomotives, which were on the track in sight of the river, and for a time it seemed as though Pandemonium, in the way of noises, had broken out and promised to last forever.
Monsieur BLONDIN had scarcely got off the rope before he was seized by Col. LUM SMITH, of this City, who mounted him upon his shoulders, and with others he was carried around among the crowd, who were excited to the highest pitch at the wonderful achievement of the extraordinary performer.
He was borne to his carriage in this manner, and from it returned his thanks to the eager crowd, stating that he had not felt the slightest trepidation or alarm during the performance of his feat, and that his only concern was the feelings of his friends, who had been extremely anxious lest some accident should occur.
M. BLONDIN then returned to his hotel, after announcing that he should repeat the feat on the Fourth of July--Monday next.
Everything passed off charmingly throughout the day. The weather was just cool enough to be delightful, and we are happy, as well as surprised, to say that we heard of not the slightest accident during the day. Where so many were assembled together, this is a matter of astonishment, and probably unparalleled.
The New York Times, August 26, 1859 p. 8:|
Blondin Crosses the Niagara RiverFrom the Buffalo Express of Yesterday.
The crowd gathered at the Falls yesterday to witness another of BLONDIN'S performances upon the rope, although large and numbering many thousands, was somewhat the smallest, we should say, that has yet been collected...
with a Cook-Stove, and Cooks an Omelet.
BLONDIN first crossed from the American to the Canadian shore in manacles: a collar about his neck, a chain pendant to his arms--and two others from his wrists to his ankles...
During the passage he performed most of the feats previously exhibited,--standing upon his head, hanging beneath the rope, swinging his body under it, backward, sustained by the arms with the elbows bent, &c., all difficult and daring in the extreme, but by BLONDIN himself made common-place and simple.
The return performance was the most interesting. After a stay of fifteen or twenty minutes upon the Canadian shore, he started back with a cook-stove swung upon his back, the culinary appurtenances thereto consisting of saucepan, ladle, sundry dishes and a pair of bellows, securely fastened upon the stove.
It must not be imagined that the stove he bore upon his back was a full sized cast iron Victor, neither must it be fancied a miniature affair--a disguised spirit lamp-chafing dish. It was a goodly-sized, properly-fashioned cooking stove, made of Russian sheet iron, and boasting of a smoke-pipe about two feet in height.
Arrived at the centre of the rope, BLONDIN secured his pole and proceeded with nonchalance to make preparations for "camping." Unslinging his stove, he placed it upon the rope before him, sat down, and, with some pitchey, combustible material, built his fire, exciting it with the bellows and soon raising a smoke which proved the genuineness of his preparations for cooking.
When a proper degree of heat had been attained, he produced his eggs, broke them into his dish, and threw the shells into the river. The omelet was prepared with all the skill of a chef de cuisine, and when it was complete he lowered it to the deck of the Maid of the Mist, where, we doubt not, it was divided into the smallest possible shares, and eagerly treasured by the passengers.
Gathering up his "hotel," BLONDIN readjusted it upon his back, and quickly landed himself and it upon the American shore, amid the loud cheers of the throng.
The New York Times, May 26, 1895 p. 26:|
Blondin and His Rope.
His baggage when on tour consists of the following: A main rope of 800 feet; circumference, 6½ inches; weight, 800 pounds; twenty-eight straining ropes, fifty guide ropes, eighty tying bars--the average weight, not including poles, being five and a half tons.
The freight of his fixings--including, we suppose, a huge traveling tent, which can encompass 14,000 people--amounted to £1,000 between Southampton and Melbourne.
About three days are consumed in making his preparations, with the aid of a dozen assistants. The due adjustment of his rope is his principal care, and he superintends every detail.
In a fragment of autobiography written some years ago, Blondin tells us that the rope he generally used was formed with a flexible core of steel wire covered with the best Manila hemp, about an inch or three quarters of an inch in diameter, several hundred yards in length, and costing about £100. A large windlass at either end of the rope served to make it taut, while it was supported by two high poles.
His balancing poles, of ash wood, vary in length, and are in three sections, and weigh from thirty-seven to forty-seven pounds.
He is indifferent as to the height at which he is to perform. Blondin has never confessed to any nervousness on the rope, and while walking he generally looks eighteen or twenty feet ahead and whistles or hums some snatch of song. The time kept by a musical band has frequently aided him in preserving his balance.
Blondin is something of both a carpenter and blacksmith, and is able to make his own models and fit up his own apparatus.
The New York Times, February 23, 1897 p. 7:|
ROPEWALKER BLONDIN DEAD.HE BREATHED HIS LAST IN A SUBURB OF LONDON.
Career of the Acrobat Who Astonished the World
by His Great Feat at Niagara Falls in 1859.
LONDON, Feb. 22.--Blondin, the celebrated tight-rope walker, who was the first person to cross Niagara Falls on a tight-rope... died from diabetes to-day at Ealing, a suburb of London.
Blondin's real name was Jean François Gravelé. He was born in one of the French provinces about 1823 and became an acrobat at an early age.
He was performing in 1851 in a French provincial town, and his agility, grace, and bravery were noticed by one of the famous gymnasts of the day named Ravel. The latter believed it would be a good idea to take the Frenchman to this country, and finally he induced him to come to New York.
Ravel suggested to Gravelé that he change his name to Blondin because of the color of his hair, and the suggestion was taken. Blondin traveled throughout the Eastern part of the country, and made a great sensation because of his eccentric and daring performances on the tightrope. At that time such performers were rare.
He became of National importance in the Summer of 1859, when he daringly crossed the Niagara River. He repeated the performance over 300 times, and even carried a man across the waters.
After this performance, Blondin traveled extensively in this country, scoring triumph after triumph... He went to China, Japan, Java, Australia, India, over the continent of Europe, and returned to America. He made another trip later, and then returned to Europe.
He performed on the Continent for a number of years, and was decorated by many royal personages and received valuable gifts of money and jewels...
After remaining away from this country for a number of years, he was induced to pay it a final visit by Imre Kiralfy, who found him performing in London. He arrived in this city on June 4, 1888, and a strong attempt to secure Central Park for his performances was made...
He finally performed at St. George, S. I. Two high poles were erected and the rope was stretched between them. Blondin was then about sixty-five years old; he carried his son and another man across the rope. He walked across blindfolded, and performed many eccentric feats, carrying at one time a stove to the centre of the rope, cooking an omelet, and bringing it back to be handed to one of the onlookers. He rode across the rope on a bicycle, also...
He walked in Europe for a number of years after leaving this country, and finally retired to the home he called Niagara Villa. It is estimated that he walked over 10,000 miles on the rope during his life.
Talking of his career, Blondin once said:
"I was a rope-walker at four. My father was a gymnast. I have never felt fear--no, not even when crossing Niagara. In 1860 I crossed on stilts.
"There was a danger in crossing Niagara. In straining a rope of that length to the requisite tightness it was 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 not wish to expose mine.'
"A tightrope 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 touch of lumbago, and this is all...
"I carry three sets of ropes which are two inches in diameter, with a body of steel bound round with hemp. The balancing poles vary in weight according to the business, from thirty-seven, forty, forty-five, forty-seven pounds."
"And the height at which you perform?"
"From forty to a hundred feet, according to circumstances. I am indifferent."