Jun 302014
 

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On this date in 1859 Jean François Gravelet-Blondin (28 February 1824 – 22 February 1897), usually simply called Blondin, crossed the Niagara River numerous times on a tightrope. It is sometimes erroneously claimed that he crossed the falls themselves. His tightrope was actually somewhat down the river from the falls; but that makes the feat no less spectacular to my mind, and certainly no less to the minds of the spectators, and to those who learnt of the feat around the world at the time. I first learnt of it in grade 5 in South Australia (early 1960’s) via my Wide Range Reader, but it was not until I went to Niagara Falls on my honeymoon in 1986 that I got to see the actual wheelbarrow he used in one of his crossings, and so many more mementos – not to mention the many barrels people have gone over the falls in.

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Blondin owed his celebrity and fortune to his idea of a tightrope walk over Niagara Gorge – a rope that was 1,100 ft (340 m) long, 3.25 in (8.3 cm) in diameter and 160 ft (49 m) above the water, near the location of the current Rainbow Bridge. He first did it on 30 June 1859, and a number of times thereafter, always with different theatrical variations: blindfolded, in a sack, trundling a wheelbarrow, on stilts, carrying a man (his manager, Harry Colcord) on his back, sitting down midway while he cooked and ate an omelet, and standing on a chair with only one chair leg on the rope.

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Subsequently, in 1861, Blondin performed in London, at the Crystal Palace, turning somersaults on stilts on a rope stretched across the central transept, 70 feet (20 m) from the ground. In 1862, he again gave a series of performances at the Crystal Palace, and elsewhere in England. In September 1861 he performed in Edinburgh, at the Royal Botanic Gardens (then called the Experimental Gardens) on Inverleith Row.

Also in 1861, he performed at the Royal Portobello Gardens, on South Circular Road, Portobello, Dublin, on a rope 50 feet above the ground. While he was performing, the rope broke, which led to the scaffolding collapsing. He was not injured, but two workers who were on the scaffolding fell to their deaths. An investigation was held, and the broken rope (2 inches in diameter and 5 inches in circumference) examined. No blame was attributed at the time to either Blondin or his manager. However, the judge said that the rope manufacturer had a lot to answer for. A bench warrant for the arrest of Blondin and his manager was issued when they did not appear at a further trial (they were in the U.S.). However, the following year, Blondin was back at the same venue in Dublin, this time performing 100 feet above the ground.

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On 6 September 1873, Blondin crossed Edgbaston Reservoir in Birmingham. A statue erected in 1992 on the nearby Ladywood Middleway marks his feat.

After a period of retirement, Blondin reappeared in 1880, including starring in the 1893/4 season of the pantomime “Jack and the Beanstalk” at the Crystal Palace, organized by Oscar Barrett. His final performance was in Belfast in 1896. He died of diabetes at his “Niagara House” in Ealing, London, on 22nd February 1897 and is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.

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Of course you have to make an omelet today. Here’s mine – mushrooms and green onions.

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Sauté the filling first in a little butter. Then keep it warm. Next, renew the butter in the pan on high heat, get it sizzling (but not brown) and add two beaten eggs. Move the pan back and forth with one hand whilst stirring the eggs with the other. This will make the omelet fluffy. Then leave it alone for a minute to let the eggs set to your taste. I prefer them to be a little runny on the inside. Add back the filling on one side, then tip the omelet on to a plate folding it over with the pan as you do so.

There are many other ways to make omelets but this is my preferred method – the French way – the way Blondin would have liked.

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