Today is the birthday of Eli Bowen, the Legless Acrobat (1844-1924). Bowen had feet — just no legs. Like many people born with such a condition, he developed his arms into extremely powerful instruments. He walked on them, using wooden blocks to elevate him up over his feet, and did chores on the Ohio farm where he was born. At age 13 he ran off with medicine shows, then worked his way to dime museums and eventually the Barnum and Bailey circus. In his most famous trick, he would climb to the top of a 13 foot pole and balance himself there. When he passed away in 1924 at the age of 80, he was booked to play an engagement at Dreamland Amusement Park in Coney Island.
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.