Lulu Farini, cannonball in drag
June 24, 2011 2:27 PM   Subscribe

The world's first human cannonball was a performer who went by the name of Lulu the Flying Artist. Flying up to 40 feet in the air, she gained a good deal of acclaim, even inspiring the Lu Lu Waltz. And yet, Mlle. Lulu was not what she seemed - He was a young man named Sam, who had previously performed as El Niño Farini.

Trained by The Great Farini, who first devised the human projectile act, Lulu was born in Maine as Samuel Wasgate (or Wasgatt) in 1855. The boy was adopted by Farini at a young age (his name changed to Sam Hunt) and began performing at the age of 11 on the trapeze and tightrope. Under Farini's care, young Sam was mistreated, forced to perform, and relocated to England.

In 1870, Lulu was debuted in Europe - 'the Beautiful Goddess of the Air'. Her first US performance was at at Niblo's Garden in New York in 1873. At one fateful Dublin performance in 1878, Lulu's springboard malfunctioned, causing a leg injury which required her to be sent to the hospital - and revealing her to be him.

Cross dressing circus performers are not unprecedented - a male performer impersonating a female could potentially draw in a larger audience. Lulu had many admirers during her short career as a woman -- after the reveal, Samuel continued to perform with Farini, but with a man's haircut and moustache.
posted by Gordafarin (8 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I first discovered Lulu seeing this poster (which I couldn't find anywhere online) -- this is from near the end of his career, when he was still well-known as Lulu, but his cover had been blown.
posted by Gordafarin at 2:29 PM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Er, your 2nd link goes back to Metafilter, but cool post! I love circus/vaudeville history.
posted by The Whelk at 2:33 PM on June 24, 2011

Also there was a famous female impersonator in New York around the turn of the last century who had all these press photos showing him doing manly things, like painting a roof and building a bed, just so you wouldn't think there was anything funny going on.
posted by The Whelk at 2:35 PM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Pardon me I'm only bleeding.
posted by Sailormom at 2:37 PM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Fantastic! From the El Niño Farini link, the life and story of Sam/El Niño/Lulu had an interesting one from the start:
Born in 1855, El Niño, 'the boy' Farini, first performed at the age of 10 on stage at the Alhambra theatre in London with his father, Guillermo Antonio Farini, who was an acrobat and tightrope walker. El Niño Farini was an orphan and adopted.

Farini senior was not really Spanish or Italian as the name suggests - he was actually called William Leonard Hunt. Exactly where Farini found El Nino is uncertain, but he was born Samuel Wasgate somewhere in Maine, USA.
Found by an Englishman who posed as Italian or Spanish, orphaned under unknown conditions and raised in the circus life. Thanks for this post!
posted by filthy light thief at 2:53 PM on June 24, 2011

Christ. . .even pre-Internet, you could not be sure they were female. . .
posted by Danf at 3:29 PM on June 24, 2011

She was hired and fired in the same night.

I'm here all week...
posted by dry white toast at 6:02 PM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Sorry, the broken link is meant to go to the second picture on this page: posters
posted by Gordafarin at 7:45 PM on June 24, 2011

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