Van Tassel Rides Again

A recent publication Sky Rider: Park Van Tassel and the Rise of Ballooning in the West by Gary B. Fogel sheds new light on the intrepid aeronaut who “took ballooning from Albuquerque to the rest of the world.” From the foreword: “Author and aviation historian Dr Gary Fogel traces Van Tassel’s life journey and show... Continue Reading →

Cora Brown Potter: Actress

Now largely forgotten, Cora Urquhart Potter was an actress whose stage career attracted an extraordinary degree of misogyny and vitriolic criticism as well as plaudits and acclaim for her luminous beauty, lavish costumes and — less often — her acting talent. Treatment that Meghan, Duchess of Sussex could probably empathise with today. New York Public... Continue Reading →

Eureka! Arthur B. Adair

A few weeks back, I was checking a few details about Leila Adair’s New Zealand tour on Papers Past when I noticed something that had previously escaped my attention. Auckland Star 30 March 1894 Taranaki Herald 21 April 1894 Mr A. Blackwell appeared to be part of Leila’s entourage! He is listed as a passenger... Continue Reading →

Granny Dalton: Eccentric

One of the many colourful characters I came across during my research for The Only Living Lady Parachutist was a local Whanganui identity known as Granny Dalton. She doesn’t feature in the novel, but when Leila Adair made a balloon ascent from the Whanganui Racecourse, Granny Dalton was living in a shack nearby. Feisty, independent,... Continue Reading →

Leon Sagehomme

Most barnstorming aeronautical performers (including Price and Van Tassel) kept scrapbooks of clippings, photos, and advertisements to prove their worth when arriving in a new town — and at last, I’ve managed to locate one of these elusive items! A few weeks ago, I obtained a copy of Leon Sagehomme’s ballooning scrap album from the... Continue Reading →

The Notorious Jimmy Price

In a previous post, James William Price: Balloonist, I bemoaned the brick walls I ran into tracing his elusive genealogical origins. I can now report after a bit more sleuthing on Ancestry and GenealogyBank, thanks to a tip-off from Jerry Kuntz (who is researching a non-fiction history of the parachuting craze of 1887-1890s) — I’ve... Continue Reading →


Millie Viola was the stage name used by various female balloonists who appeared with Professor James Price. Their first billing was at the Minnesota State Fair in 1888. Millie made several appearances around Salt Lake City in 1889, until Price (forced to leave town in a hurry) resurfaced in Australia the following year — with... Continue Reading →

The Fakir of Oolu: Illusionist

Alfred Silvester (1831 – 1886) was a magician who first appeared in London in the 1860s with Pepper’s Ghost, a transparent ghostly illusion created by reflecting an image onto a sheet of glass. A special effect, similar to the holograph, it’s still used today in amusement rides such as Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. Silvester ran into... Continue Reading →

The Faust Family of Acrobats

The Faust Family arrived in Australia from London in 1884 with Chiarini's Royal Italian Circus. Their act included acrobatics, bell-ringing, musical clowns, Risley acts (foot-juggling), and tableaux vivant (living pictures). This review appeared in the Australian Town and Country Journal 16 February 1884: They are ten in number, and including three of the female sex,... Continue Reading →

Harry Rayward: Ventriloquist

Henry Hampton Rayward arrived in Melbourne, Australia in 1890 with his brother (Arthur Leslie Rayward) and half-brother Frederick Broad aboard the SS Ormuz from England. He’d trained as an engineer and found work as a draughtsman but he also performed on stage as a ventriloquist, a popular form of entertainment in the late 19th century.... Continue Reading →

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