Slowly He Walked; Step-by-Step, Inch-by-Inch


Sergeant Major
Aug 6, 2016

The Niagara River
June 30, 1859
(Public Domain)

Jean François Gravelet was born on February 28, 1824 in Saint-Omer, Pas-de-Calais, France. At a young age he demonstrated an amazing skill in acrobatics. By the age of five he was sent to École de Gymnase in Lyon and within a year was performing and billed as “The Boy Wonder”.

Gravelet came to the United States in 1855 at the invitation of William Niblo a theater owner in New York City. He was introduced as George Blondin and was successful but by 1859 he was ready to push his celebrity status to the stratosphere. He decided he was going to cross the Niagara River on a tightrope, 1,100 feet long, 3.25 inches wide and 160 feet above the water without a net to catch him if he fell.


(Public Domain)

It was such a success that he continued to cross the Niagara with various theatrical stunts including: blindfolded, in a sack, on stilts, carrying a man on his back, and carrying a small stove, sitting down midway on the tightrope while he cooked and ate an omelette. On July 15 he walked backwards on the tightrope to Canada and come back to the United States side pushing a wheelbarrow. The crowds were wowed and enthusiastic and begged for more after that walk. Blondin asked the awed crowd “Who will get in the wheelbarrow?”, he had no volunteers. {3}

Blondin was in London when he died - not from a tragic fall - but from diabetes. He was seventy-two. He made a name for himself in the United States with his daring tightrope expertise. His famous wheelbarrow tightrope act made its way to 1864 Presidential election when President Abraham Lincoln made the claim the he felt like:

"Blondin on the tightrope, with all that was valuable to America in the wheelbarrow he was pushing before him.” (4)

In the September 1, 1864 edition of "Harper's Weekly Budget of Fun" this political cartoon appeared


(Public Domain)

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4. "The Political Blondin". Harper's Weekly
Wikipedia - Photos

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Feb 14, 2012
Central Pennsylvania
Harry Colcord (his manager) has the distinction of being the first man to cross the Niagara River by piggyback and two pictures to show how it was done

That. Is. Crazy. Thanks for posting that although it gave me the willies, can you imagine? He has to have had some specific collection of gifts- no idea where to begin guessing what they'd be, to do what he did.