ZAZEL THE HUMAN
First there was an explosion, then a puff of smoke, and then on april 2 1877, the first human cannonball was propelled into the air about 60 feet above the heads of an astonished crowd.
She was Rosa Matilda Richter, a 14-year-old English girl who performed
under the decidedly un-English name of “Zazel”. A tightrope walker and
aerial acrobat, Rosa had learnt her craft from William Hunt, a Canadian
who gloried under the title of The Great Farini. He was most famous for
performing a high-wire walk above Niagara Falls.
In 1871 he patented the mechanism for launching a human projectile through the air into a safety net. Fortunately for Rosa, the process did not actually involve any explosive, her ejection from the “cannon” being achieved by a system of springs and tension, accompanied by a fake explosion and smoke.
Still, the London spectators who witnessed the first performance in 1877
were wildly impressed and excited. It happened at the Royal Aquarium, a
place of entertainment that had been built next to Westminster Abbey
the previous year and which continued to pull in crowds until it was
demolished in 1903.
Despite her physical prowess and acrobatic ability, the act was not without danger for Rosa. The springs-and-tension method of propulsion – replaced in modern times by compressed air – was hardly precise and the day came, almost inevitably, when she shot through the air and missed the safety net.
Fortunate to survive, Zazel, the human cannonball, who had been playing to crowds of 20,000 in England and the United States, broke her back and was forced to retire.
Clancy's comment: Death-defying feats are not one of my pursuits.