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St. Louis, Missouri

Circus Trapeze Accident

August 1872


The St. Louis Journal says:

In the employ of Barnum are probably the two most daring trapeze performers in the country. Fred Lazelle and Billy Millson, who have probably ventured more daring feats than any other performers, and in the pursuit of this perilous profession have received more bruises and serious falls, at times to recklessness, than fall to the lot of ordinary mortals. Their bodies are covered with sores and traces of bruises received in their profession. This forenoon, at the morning entertainment, one of the most thrilling incidents occurred, during the performance of the trapeze act, occasioned by the fall of the trapeze mechanism, just after Fred Lazelle had left it on his flying leap, and while Millson was on the trapeze. The fall of the two men was terrible, and a gymnast and tumbler by the name of George North, who was under the trapeze at the time of its fall, received probably worse injuries than the other two. The trapeze act was on about fifteen minutes after 11 o'clock. The attendance in the hippodrome at that time, numbered about 5,000 people, a large proportion of which were women and children. Every act of the forenoon's programme had passed off pleasantly and the atmosphere was just cool enough so that no one suffered from the heat. The interest of the spectators, however, seemed to be quickened when the ring-master announced that the trapeze act was on, which would include among its difficult feats the famous leap for life. Lazelle came running into the ring ahead of Millson.

The former passed under the trapeze and caught one end of the red cloth strap in his teeth, that was to carry him up aloft, and grasped hold of the other side with his two hands on the other side. Then hand over hand he swung upward, just as easily as one would go up a flight of broad, easy stairs. Then followed Millson, and while the audience were silent and thrilled with fear and admiration, the two gymnasts went through their regular work quietly and easily.

When the finale of the act was to come, the flying leap for life, everyone almost held his breath. Two attendants ran out to the rope, at which the performers were to spring and pulled it out taut.

Lazelle sat, meanwhile, just ahead of Millson, who was at the farther end of the trapeze, calmly waiting for his turn. Laselle's [sic] dark face wore its usual calm expression. He had no thought of a fall. When the signal was given below that all was ready, he quickly dropped his head between the trapeze bars, and while hanging by his feet he gave a swinging leap towards the rope.

Suddenly he leaves the trapeze. His "pinks" flash through the air as he catches the rope; the rope swings back from the momentum of his fall, and then the gearing of the trapeze becomes loosened by the giving of the rope and the trapeze begins to shake as if it would fall. A groan of horror goes from the crowd, an awful second of expectation when like a flash of light down comes the trapeze with poor Millson, bringing Lazelle with it, and hurling them with great force to the ground. A tumbler by the name of George North underneath received the full weight of Millson with the trapez [sic], and was stretched out for dead upon the sawdust. A scene of the wildest confusion followed. Ladies fainted, children cried and the crowd pressed forward towards the three men who lay senseless on the sawdust arena. But the active attendants of the show were too quick. Before the crowd could fairly realize what was done the three men were transferred to the dressing room and surgical aid sent for. Lazelle was injured the least of any, and shortly afterwards, although feeling sore, made light of the disaster. Millson is more seriously hurt. At the time the writer left him he thought his ribs were broken. But this was before the arrival of surgical aid. George North was injured the most seriously of the three, as his injuries were of an internal nature.

Titusville Morning Herald, Titusville, PA 16 Aug 1872

Transcribed by Jackie Harral.  Thanks Jackie!


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