because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Sunday, December 23, 2012


Some accounts say she was fourteen. Others say sixteen. But the bottom line is that Rosa Richter (performing under the name "Zazel") was an accomplished tight rope walker and aerial acrobat while she was still an adolescent. The protege of a Canadian rope walker who called himself "The Great Farini," Richter agreed to add a feature to her performance at the Royal London Aquarium on April 2, 1877. She would lower herself into a metal cylinder designed by her trainer and become the first human cannonball in history.

Richter was not shot from an actual cannon, of course. There was a big explosion and some smoke to make the crowd jump, but the propulsion was accomplished by a spring-loaded machine. Still, it had enough thrust to send Richter thirty feet into the air over the astonished crowd below her before landing into the net seventy feet away. The act, needless to say, was a huge success, with Richter soon appearing in England and the U.S. to as many as twenty thousand people a day and banking two hundred pounds a week.

Richter had to maintain rigid physical training and dietary regimens to keep herself in shape and make sure the carefully calibrated trajectory into the net was always on target. Nevertheless, she did ultimately break her back, which forced her retirement. Still, of the fifty human "cannonballs" who followed in   Zazel's wake, thirty died during performances, so she came out better many. In-your-face women don't mind taking a calculated risk to make a bit of money, get some deserved attention, and earn a page in the history books, even if there's a cost to pay.

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