Friday, May 2, 2014

Friday Video: Dancing on a Very High High-Wire, 1931

Friday, May 2, 2014

Isabella reporting,

For just-past-May Day, we offer this silent clip of a stylish dare-devil, dancing on a high-wire 300 feet over some unidentified American city in 1931. Her performance must have been part of some now-forgotten publicity stunt, or perhaps advertising an upcoming circus performance. We give her major props for both her balance and her courage - not to mention that fur-trimmed skirt and fabulous little cloche hat.

The folks at British Pathé have just put this online, along with thousands of other fantastic newsreel film clips from their archives. (Last week's fashion show is another from their collection.) They didn't identify either the lady or the city. Several of the buildings in the background are so distinctive that surely they'd be recognizable - if they still exist. Anyone make a guess?

Thanks to Patrick Baty for spotting this first.


BunnyOne said...

Hi there! While I don't really recognize the buildings, I saw a sign for what looks like Rogers Feed Company behind her at one point. There's a mention of a Rogers Feed Company in Denton, TX, Live Oak, FL and Asheville, NC in American feed and poultry reports from the 1930s.

British papers are a bit more difficult to research, so this may not be the answer.

Nene Adams

Anonymous said...

It could be a faked picture with her superimposed against a picture of a city. Did you see any shots of people down below watching with hearts in mouths?

Carolyn Lalli said...

The film footage was made in New York City. An inscription reading Rogers Peet Company at Broadway and Warren St. appears in a Wurts Brothers photograph in the NYPL Digital Gallery. This is dated 1912. Here is that image.

Dee said...

I was thinking it might be doctored. They really only show the rope from one angle.

Karen Anne said...

Only because no one on the ground seems to be watching her, here's another vote for it being filmed against a background that has a film of the city projected against it. They did that all the time in movies for conversations in moving cars, etc.

Unknown said...

The tall, pointy building is NYC's Woolworth Building. In '31, it would've just finished its term as the world's tallest, having just been surpassed by the Chrysler and the Empire State.

Unknown said...

If this stunt was legitimate, we must be at City Hall (given that we're looking south at the Woolworth and the Singer buildings). Is there any information on how they got permission to do circus tricks on City Hall, or is it just another case of Mayor Jimmy Walker letting good times roll?

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

You guys are great - you had the setting of this identified by mid-morning!

Carolyn, special thanks to you for spotting the Rogers Peet building, and then finding a photo in the NYPL files. Really cool! (And I suppose it shows how terribly old I am that I can remember Rogers Peet in NYC.)

As for whether this is fake or real - I can see both sides. In its favor - high-wire artists have regarded crossing between skyscrapers in NYC as the ultimate challenge for generations. It's against the law now, of course, and I doubt the civic authorities would have smiled upon it in 1931, either.

More recently, in the 1970s, Philippe Petit walked between the Twin Towers (he was arrested for it, too.) And apparently one of the famous Wallenda family wants to do the same between the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building now:

So could be early camera trickery, or perhaps a net slung just out of view, or...she really did it. :)

Regency historical romance author Donna Hatch said...

If she really did this as high up as it appears, she's either crazy or really, really confident. Either way, it gave me the chills.

Elise Daniel said...

According to this, the woman is Bird Millman O'Day, and she was a circus woman who performed these dance-like acrobatic acts in various places, this one likely being New York.

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