Today is the birthday of William Leonard Hunt (1838-1929), a.k.a The Great Farini. Raised in rural Ontario, this seminal (and self-taught) funambulist made his professional debut in 1859 when he crossed the Ganaraska River on a tightrope. The following year he crossed Niagara Falls several times, often carrying objects with him, turning somersaults and other such impressive stunts (thus duplicating the feats of Blondin). He toured the U.S. as an acrobat for the next six years, and the Europe from 1866 to 1869, whereupon he became a trainer, manager and inventor (most famously of the “human cannonball” device, from which he shot his protege Zazel). Other of his famous acts included the boy acrobat El Nino whom he later presented as the female acrobat Lulu (who lived publicly as a female for many years, until injured while performing) and Krao, the Missing Link. His later years were spent as an explorer, inventor and botanist.
To find out about the history of variety entertainment including performers like The Great Farini, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.