Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The Great Lafayette

This vintage postcard shows some of the spectacular floral tributes on display at the funeral of the Great Lafayette in Edinburgh in 1911.

Sigmund Neuberger was born in 1871 at Munich, Germany. He was otherwise known as the famous illusionist The Great Lafayette. Wikipedia records that he was the highest paid magician of his time. He excelled through his quick-change routines and his dramatic illusions such as his own 'Lion's Bride' (lady to lion) illusion made him very popular with audiences.

The pampered object of his affection was his dog Beauty which had been given to him as a pup by Harry Houdini. Beauty had her own suite of roos, ate five course meals and wore a diamond-studded collar. She died four days before a show opened at the Empire Palace Theatre in Edinburgh. Lafayetted arranged for the dog to be buried in Piershill Cemetery - the council agreeing to provide a plot on the condition that Lafayette himself would be buried their upon his own death. A poignant post mortem photograph of Beauty can be found HERE

Remarkably, Lafayette died in a freak accident. The full horror of incident is well recorded on Wikipedia, thus:

Lafayette was performing his signature illusion "The Lion's Bride", when a fault in a lamp above the performer caused a fire. The elaborate set went up in flames within minutes. The audience, thinking that this was all part of the illusion, did not evacuate until the theatre manager signalled for the orchestra to playGod Save the King. Many of the company, however, were trapped on stage when the safety curtain was lowered and jammed, leaving only a small gap at the bottom, through which a strong draught of air fanned the flames into an inferno. Lafayette himself had ensured that the side-doors to the stage had been secured, to exclude unwanted interlopers and prevent the lion's escape.
Lafayette escaped but returned in a vain attempt to rescue his horse. He became trapped in the burning building and perished. Ten of his fellow players from the company were also killed in the fire. The theatre burned to the ground. The body of Lafayette was apparently soon found and sent to Glasgow for cremation. Two days after the fire, however, workers clearing the understage area found another body identically dressed as Lafayette. It transpired that the body at the crematorium was that of the illusionist's body double. On 14 May the urn containing the Great Lafayette's ashes was taken through Edinburgh, witnessed by a crowd estimated to number over 250,000, before being laid to rest in the paws of his beloved (and now stuffed) Beauty, at Piershill Cemetery.
Contemporary footage of the Funeral in Edinburgh can be seen HERE

Photograph: Kim Traynor, courtesy of Creative Commons

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