When Charles Blondin, the ‘Daredevil Wirewalker’, arrived in Edinburgh, he was already a legendary figure due to his tightrope crossing of the Niagara Falls.
His two appearances in Edinburgh were at the Royal Botanic Garden, then known as the Experimental Gardens, in Inverleith Row, in September 1861. A grandstand was erected for the performances and, long before the advertised time of Blondin’s arrival the arena was packed with ‘an assemblage of 5,000 spectators, to witness his world famous feats of skill and daring’.
He immediately ‘grasped his balancing pole and, after a few cautious steps, he literally ran across the rope in the almost easy and apparently nonchalant manner imaginable’. He performed a number of acrobatic feats the second time on the rope: lying on his back, standing on one leg, hanging by his legs, turning a somersault and finally ‘producing a thrill by standing on the rope on his head’. All this was done with ‘apparent unconcern, as freely as though he were on the ground’.
Blondin was then blindfolded and a canvas sack, reaching to his knees, was put over his head, leaving only his arms free to use the balancing pole. ‘After a few feigned slips, which were greeted by the painful apprehension of the crowd, he proceeded on his course steadily, as if he were waling on a broad plank close to the ground’. His arrival at the other end of the rope ‘produced a sigh of relief, in addition to great applause’.
In his final performance, he ‘carried on his back, with careless freedom, the same gentleman that he did at the Falls of Niagara. The conclusion of each of his exploits was greeted with outbursts of applause, and this final act astonished the multitude who had assembled and was met with audible expressions of gratification that it was safely completed’.
The two ‘out-door acrobatic performances of the daring rope-walker’ in Glasgow were in the grounds of Gilmorehill in front of an audience estimated at 10,000. The tightrope was supported on two masts nearly 70 feet high and 300 feet apart, the programme following much the same as Edinburgh.