History’s Stunt Performers Took Living Life on the Edge Literally

Stuntmen of the early 20th century lived hard and played hard. They may have been slightly crazy, but they helped prove anything is possible.
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The saying goes that a picture says a thousand words. Looking at photos of amateur and professional daredevils from the black and white era of photography, one has to wonder how many variations of the word “wow” are in existence to describe the thrilling scenes on display.

For some stunt performers, it was about man and machine. From almost the moment they were available to the general public, cars became a key fixture for some stunt troupes. Throw in names like “Hell Drivers” and “Death Dodgers” and of course the masses ate it up.

Motorcycles were also a fixture, with even the British Army getting in on the action starting in 1927 with their White Helmets display team. Until their disbandment in 2017, the White Helmets spent 90 years performing to large crowds, often being seen by more than one million people annually.

Stunts weren’t always about engines and burning rubber on concrete. The argument can be made that Niagara Falls is nature’s gift to tightrope walkers.

The first to take on the challenge, Jean François Gravelet (aka the Great Blondin) walked over the Falls on a rope in 1859.  Walking can be boring though, so Gravelet kept returning to Niagara with added tricks to keep spectators interested. Watching someone cook an omelet in a kitchen is kind of boring. Cook that omelet while precariously perched over Niagara Falls? Different story completely.

These stunt men and women definitely don’t seem like ordinary people…

But they’re just like any of us.

They weren’t always sure of where they’d end up.

Or how they’d get there.

Or if they’d even make it.

Still, they rose to the occasion.

Going out on a limb.

Taking a leap of faith.

They knew they could miss their mark.

But they tamed their fear.

And learned how to cope with pressure.

From people like these, we’re reminded of everything we can do.

And things we perhaps shouldn’t.

It’s all about keeping the balance.

One toe at the time.

Sometimes facing the inevitable consequence.

Or calculating one’s risk of failure.

No matter how heavy that impact may be.

And sometimes, we have to look for inspiration elsewhere.

And join forces with others to achieve our goals.

And accept that some try anything to get attention.

Knowingly harming themselves.

And sometimes we’re elevated by their success.

Claude Grahame-White landing his biplane on West Executive Avenue October 14th, 1910.

Child acrobats in 1930s Sydney.

Captain George Ash lies on his back as he prepares to shoot the bowl from the clay pipe held between a blindfolded corporal’s teeth. (Fox Photos/Getty Images). 18th April 1932

A gentleman in a jeep, celebrating Alaska Day is his own way.

An overland car being driven down steps of Sydney Town Hall: Photos: Milton Kent, photographer, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, mid 1920s

Reynolds, human and daredevil extraordinary, picked one of Washington’s coldest days to do his hair-raising stunt.

Model T ascended three flights of steps in Duluth, Minnesota, winning its owner a $100 bet, 1910s.

Watch: Amazing Vintage Stunts Prove That Life Is More Than A Balancing Act


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