10 of the Most Dangerous and Bizarre Circus Attractions of All Time
10 of the Most Dangerous and Bizarre Circus Attractions of All Time

10 of the Most Dangerous and Bizarre Circus Attractions of All Time

Alexa - January 7, 2018

10 of the Most Dangerous and Bizarre Circus Attractions of All Time
Trapeze artists, in lithograph by Calvert Litho. Co., 1890. Wikipedia.

Flying Trapeze Artists

Just how did the circus staple of flying trapeze artists start? It is all thanks to a man named Jules Leotard. It began when Leotard first hung trapeze bars over a swimming pool in his father’s gymnasium. Leotard performed as many aerial somersaults and gravity defying leaps as he wanted; he felt assured that if any mishap were to occur, safety would be found simply by landing in the water. After testing out the strength of the trapeze bars and nailing down a routine, Leotard introduced his 12-minute “flying trapeze” routine at Cirque Napoleon. It proved to be an excellent endeavor, as his show was completely sold out.

Unfortunately, Leotard was not able to be a long lasting performer on his beloved trapeze bars. He passed away in 1870 not long after his creation of the flying trapeze, likely from cholera or typhoid. Although his untimely death prevented him from being reigning swing king, he did leave behind a lasting legacy. Not only did he provide a new crowd approving circus act, he also is the namesake for the skin tight leotards many acrobats and performance artists wear today. He was also the inspiration for the 1867 song, “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze.”

These death defying leaps usually involve a standard single or double somersault. While the skill required for such an act is still impressive, it is no where near as dangerous as a triple somersault. The triple somersault is such a difficult task, the Italians named it solto mortale, or “The Deadly Leap.” What makes this particular somersault so dangerous is due to the fact that the body must spin and move at such high speeds, the brain is not able to keep up with the actions required to make a proper connection to the next trapeze bar, or a safe landing below. In order to prevent accidents from such heights, the trapeze artist needs exceptional skill and concentration. Broken backs and necks were common occurrences before nets were commonly placed below the trapeze bars.

10 of the Most Dangerous and Bizarre Circus Attractions of All Time
Classic Vaudeville style circus poster for Eugen Sandow, shown lifting human dumbell. Wikipedia.

Strong Men and Their Lifting Accidents

Very tight unitards, bulging muscles, and impeccable mustaches, the strong man is a staple in nostalgic memories of circuses past. While most of us struggle to open a jar of pickles, the strongman appeared to pick up hundreds of pounds with total ease. Of course, it was not just men who got the notoriety for their superhuman strength. There were also strongwomen, equally as compelling as strong as their male counterparts.

It was said strongmen and strongwomen could lift over a thousand pounds. Lifting such heavy objects could cause stress and serious strain. Dropping such objects at odd angles could have led to the man or woman being completely crushed to death. Lifting the objects off of the man or women’s bodies would prove to be difficult, with many people required in order to lift it.

It was not just weight lifting that drew in the crowds. All sorts of objects and beings were used to show off the strength of this muscled mammoth men and women. Often, baskets conjoined by a long bar and filled with people would be used, otherwise known as the human dumbell. One act, created by Signor Lawanda, the Iron-Jawed Man, involved him clenching a harness in his mouth in order to lift a 1400 pound horse. His horse lifting act drew the attention of P.T. Barnum, who eventually hired him as the strongman for Barnum’s circus.