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I am hoping you can point me in the right direction. I am researching the tragic death of my Uncle Louis Bartlett (L.D. Bartlett) who was associated with over 100 American circuses throughout his career as a clown, highwire, trapeze artist and building scaler. Is there anything about Louis Bartlett, taking on the name of ‘Human Fly’ from the early 1900’s to mid 1920’s? The articles I have tell only of his death in Columbia MO, where he was finishing a performance 5 stories high to 3000+ spectators, when he fell to his death – June 18, 1924.

Up until just recently, the only thing our family knew of Uncle Louis was that he was in the circus, he did a tight rope act, and he fell to his death while performing. We serendipitously came across 4 articles of his death and burial found in a family bible. I’m hoping that there might be some small bit of information about him somewhere in the circus archives. My father was also a clown associated with his Shriner’s temple out of Macon and Atlanta, Walter Bartlett (clown name Windy). Thank you for your consideration.

Kind regards, Rick

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The last three decades of the 19th century and first three decades were an era of daredevil activity as humans challenged the governance of gravity and resistance to motion with mechanical devices and their own physical agility, ingenuity and strength. There were human cannonballs and arrows, leaping and somersaulting automobiles, high dives, ascensions and all sorts of presentations to place observers at the edge of their seat. Human fly activity, along with flag pole sitting and balancing at the edge of a building cornice were among the acts staged in city settings, where high places could be observed by crowds gathered below. Much of this activity is considered ‘circus’, but traveling shows featured only those acts that could be moved on a daily basis and performed twice a day, under the big top or as a free attraction on the lot. Non-show daredevil activity was not commonly reported in the weekly amusement trade journals; more frequently you’ll see it in newspapers.

Louis D. Bartlett was aged 31 when he died in 1924. That would suggest his performing would have started not much earlier than 1911, when he was 18. I searched New York Clipper at Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections for the name and variations. The only hit was in the September 21, 1923 issue, page 30, for a L. D. Bartlett, clown with Boyd & Linderman, a traveling carnival. Carnival and circus identities are often incorrectly confused. Some carnivals featured a back end show, in a tent, that presented a circus-style performance. There’s no way of ascertaining if he’s your uncle. You can read the column of news online. You might also conduct further key word searching for his name, with Boyd & Linderman and elsewhere. You can also check issues of Billboard on Google Books, Fulton History and ProQuest. There is always the chance that he performed under an alias, a stage name, or anonymously. An associate named in the 1924 mishap was Walter Allen, and you might also seek his career to learn more.

There was a showman named L. A. [Leslie/Les] Bartlett, unrelated, who was active from c1909 to 1959. Be aware you may encounter postings for him in your search and do not confuse him with your uncle. There weer also other ‘human fly’ performers, but I don’t recall others that suspended their body from a stretched inner tube.

Fred Dahlinger Jr., Curator of Circus History, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL

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