March 10, 2013

a carte de visite photograph of Lulu, the ‘female’ trapeze artist, formerly known as the boy acrobat El Niño Farini, was actually Sam Wasgate (b. 1855), the adopted son of William Leonard Hunt (1838-1929), known to the world as the tightrope walker and acrobat, The Great Farini.
(photo: The London Stereoscopic & Photographic Co Ltd, London, circa 1873)

‘The New York Evening Post thus discourses on the female gymnast who is at present delighting metropolitan audiences.:
‘“Lulu” is the young woman who swings on the trapeze. The trapeze is over the heads of the audience, and the people stare at her feats of nimbleness and strength as Spanish women do at a bull fight. A net is spread underneath to catch her if she falls; but those who enjoy the show would probably feel additional delight if the net should some time give way and drop her, mangled, to the floor. She also jumps – that is, a 4,000-pound weight drops suddenly on one end of a lever, and the other end, striking a platform on which she stands, send her some thirty feet in the air, where she catches to a stationary platform, amid rapturous applause. She is called the “eighth wonder of the world,” and if jumping like a frog makes a young woman wonderful at all, the play-bill describes her truly.’
(The Galveston Daily News, Galveston, Texas, Thursday, 22 May 1873, p.1b)

‘At a recent performance in a Dublin circus [Hengler’s] Lulu, the well-known gymnast, met with a terrible accident. She is propelled from a spring platform about sixty feet into the air, and then catches a trapeze. On this occasion she missed the catch, and did not fall perpendicularly on the net intended to receive her, but sideways against the gallery railings, and thence rebounded into the arena. Her injuries are most fearful, and the doctors entertain no hope of her recovery.’
(Galveston Daily News, Galveston, Texas, Tuesday, 5 September 1876, p.3f)

‘The London Athenaeum thinks it may be worth stating that ”Lulu,” the female gymnast, whose recent fall from a trapeze in Dublin has excited public attention, is a man.’
(Galveston Daily News, Galveston, Texas, Sunday, 17 September 1876, p.8g)


  1. Si interesting to see this article on Lulu.Have just presented another pose to the NPG and wasnt aware of her true story..interesting to read coverage in a Texan newspaper..this was the state later to give us Barbette who was so memorably idolised by Jean Cocteau and photographed by Man Ray before he also befell an accident whilst performing.

    • Hello Terence. I suppose the difference between Lulu and Barbette is that the latter never tried to fool his audiences into thinking that he really was female. It wasn’t Lulu’s choice, of course; the pretense was wished upon him when he was too young to object (or care). I shall have to post one of the photographs taken of Lulu around the time he was exposed as a man and then you’ll see how very unfeminine he looked then and it was only a matter of time before he was unmasked.

  2. Would love to see further images of Lulu, particularly the ones you describe, and yes I agree their lives and circumstances weren’t that similar except for cross dressing and trapeze acts!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: