Step Right Up and Pay Your Respects to the One-Legged Jewish Tightrope Walker of Texas

In 1884, a man advertised that he would walk a tight rope suspended between the roofs of two buildings on opposite sides of the main street in Corsicana, Texas, some 20 or 30 feet in the air. More extraordinarily, it was revealed that he was a one-legged man with a peg-leg, notched to accomodate the rope. To sweeten the pot, he would execute the feat with an enormously heavy cast-iron pot-belly stove strapped to his back. As expected, the event drew a large crowd. Then, sadly, while performing the crossing, he lost his balance, fell, and was crushed to death by the weight of the stove falling atop him.

As you see in the photo above, the man was buried in a semi-marked grave by kind local leaders, though no one knew his true name or origin for sure. He has remained a local legend, sort of the Unknown Soldier of daredevils. But in recent times a researcher named Jim Yarin sorted it out as well as it can be sorted from this late vantage. The birth details remain murky: either 1829 or 1841, either in Weiler, Germany or Smolensk. The most frequent name he used was Daniel De Houne, or Professsor De Houne, but he also went by Joseph Berg, Moses Berg, or Professor Berg. He had performed for 13 years with a German circus before moving to Texas and continuing to earn his living as an acrobat, tightrope walker, trapeze artist, strong man, and sword swallower. He’d lost his leg in the Civil War, fighting with the Kansas 7th Cavalry in the Battle of Middleburg (Virginia, 1863). Following the war, to support his large family, he resumed his work as a performer. For the next 20 years there are news reports of his stunting across the midwest and southwest. News accounts concerning a one-legged acrobat do attract one’s attention.

De Houne/ Berg was conscious for several days following his fatal injuries, and during that time he was able to reveal that he was an Orthodox Jew, though he would not reveal his name. Consequently he was buried in Corsicana’s Hebrew Cemetery, if only with the vaguest of identifications. Every recent photo I’ve seen however shows that the gravesite is very well maintained. It’s something of a minor tourist attraction. So let it be for all those who aspire to it!

Care to support the voluminous and variegated work of Travalanche? Please do so by joining our Patreon Posse here. As little as $1 a month gets you all sorts of extra content over and above what we do here, including our Daily Digest; lots of old time movie, radio, TV and record clips; and exclusive audio and video presentations by Your Humble Servant. Hither to the 411.

For more on variety entertainment, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous