A closer look at the photograph that accompanies this column tells the story of an exciting day in Manitowoc in 1874.
The man most dangerously seen on a tightrope in downtown Manitowoc is Charles Blondin, widely considered to be the greatest and most famous tightrope walker of all time.
The story began halfway across the world some 50 years ago with the birth of Jean-François Gravelle in France in 1827.
After seeing a tightrope walker in a traveling circus, young Jean-Francois rushes home and proceeds to tie a rope in his yard to begin training. His skill grew rapidly, and he soon began performing his own tightrope action.
Manitowoc and Two Rivers Railway:An electric streetcar system linked Manitowoc and Two Rivers in the early 1900s, before buses
After the tragic death of his father, the 9-year-old boy was left only to fend for himself. He participated in a travel show that toured Europe and eventually across America. At this time he would take the name of Charles Blondin. The course of his young and adventurous life will change forever when his travels take him to the beautiful Niagara Falls.
It takes a certain person to perform on the high wire, the same person who sees Niagara Falls and becomes obsessed with crossing 160 feet over raging water on a 3-inch-thick hemp rope. Arrangements were made for the feat, and Blondin successfully navigated the fall in front of a crowd of 10,000 spectators. He would go on to repeat the feat 16 more times. However, each crossing became more and more of a spectacle. He pushed a wheelbarrow, crossed on stilts, walked blindfolded, carried his manager on his back, and carried a small stove with him only to stop halfway and make an omelette.
Blondin became very famous and amassed a fortune by promoting his impressive achievements. Although he was small in stature, his personality was larger than life. It was his reported self-admiration that led to him being criticized by Mark Twain, who famously became “that adventurer A-.”
Locomotive crash:The wreckage of a steam locomotive near Nahrin in 1927 injured 4 people and caused great damage
How did this world-famous showman perform in downtown Manitowoc in 1874? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t that clear. The photo appeared in the 1936 Centennial edition of the Manitowoc Herald. That article stated “When Devil Blondin, ‘the fly of man,’ walked the tightrope from the old Glover building to Windiate House, he gave the town something to talk about. Blondin, who was with a little ballyhoo and expert barking, drew quite a crowd to watch him perform. When the picture was taken, he introduced him … very expertly, too…” He later repeated the act by rope from “Schoet’s Shop to the Bank House.”
Amy Meyer is the executive director of the Manitowoc County Historical Society.