‘An old sailor made young Blondin a present of a piece of boat’s cable, and himself
fastened it for the brave tyro…’ [Banks, “Blondin”, 1862]
Niagara Falls Anecdotes and Witness Accounts:
To make the most of Blondin’s ability the most impressive site is called for. It will have to be wild, it will have to have water, and it will have to be gigantic. The Niagara Falls is the obvious location. In the spring of 1859 Blondin and his manager Colcord, visit the small honeymooning resort, check into one hotel and start measuring. At first the locals can’t believe what they hear about the peculiar Frenchman and his friend. But as the scaffolding goes up they realise something big is afoot and start making their own plans to cash in on it. Benches, tents, food stalls appear. Bets are taken as to the likely outcome of the event. People pour into the area on special steamers. The whole place is completely transformed to accommodate an audience of thousands. Blondin is to cross the river in front of the cataract, at a height of two hundred feet. The massive rope, eleven hundred feet in length, is secured every eight feet by sway wires anchored to boats below as well as to the shore. The whole thing looks like some kind of tremulous bridge, but it is a bridge only one man may cross.
‘All the beauty and fashion of the States has assembled to witness him; some of those coming over two hundred miles to observe his performance. To look at the preparations was enough to make a man grow sick and faint. A slender cord, more than 1000 feet in length, at the height of nearly 200 feet, was suspended over the boiling fluid. Everyone seemed gay and happy: no one thinking of the horrible fate that might await the daring man that had to cross that narrow channel… One moment of uncertainty and fear, and then all would be over.’ [A Witness of Blondin’s Niagara Feat]
When Blondin made his appearance, the crowd greeted him with vehement cheering. The bands struck up a gay march, and Blondin set out on his perilous journey. I did not know which to admire most, the daring of the attempt, or the ease and elegance of the performer in crossing the narrow thread that separated him from the gulf beneath. He is a little wiry man, with strongly marked features, indicative of the most determined resolution. When about half-way across he stopped in the centre of the rope and waved his plumed cap to the spectators, who cheered him lustily. He stood thus for some minutes and then laid his pole upon the rope, and stood upon his head. Every heart felt cold with terror at witnessing his performance. Eyes turned away, and a pallid hue seized upon every countenance, except that of the gymnast. He then threw a somersault, and taking up the pole finished the journey, reaching the opposite side in a very short time.’ [A Witness of Blondin’s Niagara Feat]
‘It must be said that along with General Lafayette and the aeronaut Godard, this Blondin is the Frenchman most admired by the American nation.’ ‘It is useless: you cannot describe Blondin, any more than you can describe Niagara; both are stupendous and baffling, I hardly know which is the more so.’ [From Accounts of Blondin’s Niagara Feat]
Blondin was known to take a camers and photograph the huge audience watching his performances
Blondin ‘laying’ on the rope
Blondin’s show in the [Crystal Palace, London] building now demolished was a triumph. He hung his rope across the great arch of the building, a hundred and seventy feet from the ground. The rope was rumoured to be the same one he used at the Niagara Falls, so many of the visitors ruthlessly helped themselves to souvenirs from the great coil of surplus rope.
A LIFE OF THRILLS AND
With Blondin Over Tight Rope [from a newspaper article kindly supplied by Mr Gee's GGG Grandson, Justin Nailard]
Well-known Acton character, Mr. John Charles Gee, better known as "Charlie Gee", proprietor of a laundry, died in England towards the end of August. There are records of the Gee family in Acton as far back as the 17th century.
Mr. Richard Gee, Charlie's father, had 30 children, of whom 'Charlie' was the I9th, and the only survivor at the time of his death. The family was scattered all over the world. Richard Gee was, according to his son
Charlie, the owner of Springfield Park, a large estate now covered with villa residences, which he lost one night at a single game of cards.
A Newspaper Boy
When 'Charlie' was born his people were running a large green grocery store in the village of Acton, and he had to start earning a living early. He became in turn: a newspaper boy at 1/6p per week, a stable lad and groom, and, after trying many other occupations, he joined the City Police in 1874, retiring in (unknown).
Before joining the police Mr. Gee was noted for his practical jokes, essentially good-natured and dangerous chiefly to himself.
He fell unhurt on to some bushes from the roof of a high house on which be had trespassed.
Bumped an old parishioner, weighing 21 stone, on a boundary stone during the beating of the parish bounds.
Defeated, before an admiring crowd, two local bruisers, one of whom was renowned as the village bully.
Locked the local notabilities in the tower of the parish church on the occasion of a local public funeral.
Eating for Wager:
For a wager, Mr Gee once ate a dinner consisting of a Dover sole, an 8lb leg of mutton, 2lb of potatoes and a big helping of turnip greens and turnips. This last feat was achieved at the Mill Hill Tavern, Acton, in 1873.
Also for a wager he held up, at the risk of his life, a train for nine minutes at a level crossing - for this he was prosecuted, but was let off lightly by the Magistrates.
Mr. Gee once played the part of an amateur detective, and recovered a large sum of money for the local authorities.
The crowning achievement of his life occurred at the Crystal Palace on October 4, 1869, when Blondin took him over the high tight-rope strapped to his back, Blondin himself riding a bicycle.
Longest Ride of Life:
'It was,' said Mr. Gee at the celebration of the jubilee of the event, 'the longest ride I ever had. The slightest mistake on Blondin's part, the slightest movement on mine, and - domino! Blondin wanted to take me back the way we had come over the heads of tens of thousands of people, but I refused.'
Only three weeks before Mr. Gee had won the championship and the gold medal of the International Velocipede Association, doing the three-mile course at 18mph.
His cycle was of wood, with iron-tyred wheels and no chain. He rode as a gentleman expert, in velvet tail coat, white buckskin breeches and patent leather top boots.
He is one of the pioneers of cycling.
For 56 years in succession, Mr. Gee attended the Derby, on most of the occasions wearing the costume in which he had formerly cycled.
Blondin once missed his step and held on by the crook of his leg while
fireworks exploded around him. (Location unknown)