don’t you dare!

Trapeze artist Leona Dare’s real name was Susan Adeline Stewart, though she sometimes appeared as “Zoe” before meeting and marrying Thomas Hall, one half of an acrobatic duo known as The Dare Brothers. In 1879, Thomas took her to court to regain possession of the equipment she used.

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“The apparatus with which the beautiful, celebrated and courageous Leona enthralls an admiring public was exhibited in court and witnesses marvelled at its construction, novelty and value. The jury agreed on a valuation of £100.00 for the apparatus, without which Mrs Dare will not be able to continue her triumphant professional career.

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Mr Hall did not seem to be favoured with much of the society of his brilliant consort but that perhaps is the lot of those who unite with women of European reputation. An old fashioned song contains an impressive warning against the perils of an alliance with a musical lady and a somewhat similar caution appears to be needed in the case of athletic damsels.

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Mrs Hall is at present in Austria but her deposition was read in court stating that she “will not return to my husband as I do not love him”. Mr Justice Denham suggested with judical humour, “this may be the result of teaching your wife to fly.”

In 1884 Leona had an accident during a performance in Spain, where she dropped her partner, who later died of his injuries.

During the act Miss Dare was seized with a nervous fit and dropped the trapeze. M. George and the apparatus dropped whirling to the floor. The audience were horror-stricken. Everyone rushed for the doors, and a panic ensued, in which many people were crushed and otherwise injured.

Miss Dare clung to the roof, screaming hysterically. She was rescued with difficulty after the excitement had somewhat subsided, and is now confined to her bed from exhaustion following the shock. M. George has since, by cable, been reported dead, and Miss Dare in a precarious condition.’

In 1888, Leona Dare recovered to team up with Swiss balloonist Eduard Spelterini. He would take her, suspended under the basket of his balloon, to great heights while she performed her acrobatics. Their ascents in June and July 1888 at the Crystal Palace in London went on to make them world-famous.

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Published in: on March 21, 2010 at 7:20 am  Comments (38)  
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38 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. i guess she wasn’t afraid of heights. being able to “fly” is an exquisite skill to have.
    you’ll *never* find me on a trapeze. even with a net.

    • I think I’d give it a go… with the right instructor

  2. My Uncle married a slack rope walker. She always insisted that slack rope walking was much harder than tight rope walking …… I’m now wondering how they met – can’t ask them though as they popped their clogs years ago …..

    • how about yoga slack lining/walking?

  3. Trapeze artists have always inspired and amazed me. I wrote about it jokingly but it is shocking how many were (and are) serious alcoholics. That may impress me more than anything else.

    • Alcoholic trapeze artists impress you?

      • How could they not? They have to be the highest functioning alcoholics in the world!

  4. Handy Bandy – best name ever for a sorcerer.

    Man on Wire – best tightrope film ever! Actually it’s one of the best films ever

    • I preferred Mel Gibson in Bird on a Wire.

    • Lulu – I LOVED that film! Those wonderful old movies of him and his friends when they were young.

      It really pained me that the friendships faded away, the interviews were so sad. Do you remember the part where Annie was trying to explain the feeling of watching him and there were tears in her eyes?

      • Agreed, “Man on Wire,” is an awesome classic. Nice wheelbarrow btw.

  5. Nice to see the etching of the couple excecuting “The Wheelbarrow.” The Mrs. and I like to roll that one out in the garden and we’ve found that if we maintain the right angle we can also transport a six-pack and a 20lb. bag of potting soil for up to 50 yards. I love Springtime.

    Dino Kale

    • I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again… your poor wife

      • It’s more romantic than it sounds.

        Rocko Tiller

  6. the ‘man gorilla’ in the photo is my former boss… i’m quite certain of that.

  7. Funny, I throw caution to the wind when I’m with an athletic damsel.

  8. Acrobatics from a balloon? I’ll pass on that one. As for the, ahem, wheelbarro, I doubt the not-wife would care to be used to carry garden tools….

  9. Letting wives learn to fly has led to all kinds of problems historically!!

  10. Wheeee! My friend Wolfie does Cloud Swing which is a big loop of rope to sit, stand and do tricks on; sort of like a trapeze without the bar.

    • I’d like to watch him one day

      • Ha ha! Wolfie is a she! I’ll see if I can arrange something, Nursie. x

      • okey dokey :-)

  11. Oooooh. I can only imagine what might become of myself mentally if I dropped someone to their death. Zoe, a dangerous gal. Although that stand up gig did look enjoyable.

  12. I like trapeeze artists, I do

  13. I think i wouldn’t mind ‘going’ that way…falling during a trapeze act…beats the old boring ‘died peacefully in her sleep’ crap

    • oh saby, I’d rather die in my sleep thanks

  14. Aerial art was so super-fashionable a few years ago – trapeze acts at parties were de rigeur. I like the trapeze symbolism throughout that Wim Wenders movie ‘Wings of Desire’ (or was it his other one ‘Far Away So Close’?) Either way, it didn’t have a hot air balloon like Leona did!

  15. Leona dared to be different. Good for her!

  16. It makes Chris Angels “hanging from a helicopter suspended by hooks in my flesh” act seem a bit timid.

    • Did he do that? wow….

  17. Gotta love that ‘judical humour’….

  18. your research into these heroic women is superb… dropping a partner now has has a whole new meaning!!

  19. Nice wheelbarrow, but why does the woman always have to do all the work?

    Regardless, I love these stories, NM!

  20. hot air certainly caused their relationship to soar to new highs.

  21. Leona Dare aka Susan Adeline Stuart was my great grandfathers sister. She was a very interesting lady and fearless. In her memorablia at the MAC museum in Spokane, she had articles on wing walking. Laws were enacted because of her, against putting children in harms way. She started when she was 10 or so years old, She is an enigma of sorts to follow her career. She showed what women could do in a man’s world of the time. Some of the details above are not true but alot are. She was her own publicist and could tell a good yarn to bolster her image. At one point she made $1000 dollars a week when men were making a dollar a day. One balloon ride with spelterini was hit by a train, Landing in Russia they were almost killed by peasants shortly after landing. She met most of the crowned heads of Europe and knew many important people. It is said that her brother my great grandfather Meredith Leonard Stuart learned gymnastic from his sister. It is purported that he worked for Buffalo Bill Cody. That is how Leona Dare found where her brother was from wild bill cody. There was another brother John but nothing found of him as yet.

    • you come from great stock Christopher.


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