Paul T. Gilbert

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the stories: Snake CharmerArthur Borella, ClownThe Flying WardsReporter in TightsElephant TrainerTight WireDress Rehearsal

Reporter of Post Defies Death on Circus Tight Wire

Wears Pink Tights and Becomes Real Funambulist

—Paul T. Gilbert, from the Chicago Evening Post, April 15, 1926

I realized another of my boyhood ambitions today.

If you had been among the spectators at the Sells-Floto circus you would have seen Karoline Eddy and me walk out on a tight wire, balance for a moment in midair, like human butterflies, and take our grand bow.

Ever since I was a youngster and used to see pictures of Blondin walking the tight rope over Niagara Falls, I have had an ambition to become a tight-rope walker—a funambulist.

Often in my dreams, balancing-pole in hand, I have walked a tight rope stretched across Main Street in my home town, between the Masonic Temple and Gus, the One-Price Clothier's.

The hero of my boyhood days was the graceful athlete in pink tights and spangles who ascended to the center pole of the big top during the free show just after the parade had reached the lot.

I had practiced on back fences—but never in pink tights—and attained a moderate degree of success. But never until today had I had an opportunity of displaying my ability as a tight-wire artist before the applauding multitudes in a real circus.

Bob Hickey Suggests Act.

The chance came unexpectedly. Bob Hickey, the Sells-Floto publicity man, suggested it. Phil and Karoline Eddy, he said, would initiate me into the mysteries of the wire.

Eddy Ward of the famous Ward family of aerialists, with whom I had once essayed a death-defying feat on the trapeze, supplied the costume. Mr. Eddy works in a tuxedo. But for me, pink tights and spangles or nothing.

One can wear a tuxedo anytime—at a banquet or a dinner dance, but it is only once in a lifetime that one appears before applauding multitudes as a tight-wire artist.

Mrs. Eddy—she's the pretty girl in the picture with me, and a recent bride—was waiting for me as I emerged from the dressing rooms. The horses, the camels and the elephants—caparisoned in gold—were grouped in the entrance, ready for the "spec," and the band was playing "Sobre las Olas" as we made our way, daintily, as star performers should, toward the center ring, where a silver wire had been stretched between two pedestals.

Dances Upon Wire.

Karoline shed the "slop shoes" she had been wearing, divested herself of her bathrobe, and skipped nimbly up the tiny flight of stairs. She had a Japanese parasol, which she unfolded as she danced out on the silver strand.

"Come on," she said, holding out her hand.

"Here—wait a minute," I faltered. "I've got no sense of equilibrium. I can't even do a figure 8 on skates."

"That doesn't matter," chirped Karoline. "Phil can't skate, either. Can't even ride a bicycle. And I've seen him turning flip-flops on this wire when he didn't know..."

"I understand," I said. "The man who put the tigers thru their paces was out at that Showmen's League stag last night, too. But how about me having a balancing pole or an umbrella?"

"You wouldn't know what to do with an umbrella if you had it," she replied. "Unless you know just how to cut the air, it wouldn't do you any good. All you've got to do is to keep your balance from the hip up over the wire."

Didn't Fall Off.

"Well, anyway, I can ride a bicycle," I thought, as I grasped Karoline's hand and ventured cautiously out on the slender wire, buoyed up by faith, like Peter when he tried to walk upon the water. Much to my surprise, I didn't fall off.

It was the supreme moment. The band swung into the final strains of "Sobre las Olas," The spectators applauded. Together we edged over to the pedestal—terra firma.

"That applause," said Karoline, who seemed quite calm after the ordeal, "is the artist's bread and butter. My husband and I were working in China a year ago, in one of the native theaters. We did our flip-flops and our somersaults. Deadly silence. Nobody applauded. Finally, after it was all over, the audience let out a sort of a war whoop, which, we were told, was the Chinese way of expressing commendation."