the old Hebrew Cemetery in Corsicana,
Texas is a headstone with only two words on it, “Rope Walker.”
nothing is known of the man in the grave except the manner of his death. It is
a tale of physical bravery and emotional mystery that has endured for well over
What is known is that he came to Corsicana
on a hot day in 1884 to perform at the grand opening of a store. The town was
bustling with new stores and businesses opening, each trying to outdo the last.
This one was “Meyers and Henning Dry Goods Emporium.”
“M & H” was on Beaton
Street, the main artery of downtown Corsicana.
“The biggest shovels to the biggest bodices” had been written on the front of
the store, whose proprietors had hired the man to perform a spectacular stunt
to draw customers to their grand opening.
The Mayor of Corsicana
was there and a band was playing. The stunt had been advertised widely by M &
H as an “astounding, astonishing, amazing, unbelievable, never seen before or
ever again act of strength, gravity and defiance of common sense.”
was a tragically accurate description. The man would walk a rope strung across
Beaton Street from the second story of “M & H” catty-corner across the 5th avenue
intersection to the roof of “Jackson’s Saloon and Gentlemen’s Relaxation Salon”.
What made the feat more astounding was that the man would walk the rope
with a full-size cast iron stove strapped to his back. In addition, he had only
one leg, the other being a homemade wooden peg with a rope-sized slot in the bottom.
Word had spread and the crowd gathered for the noon event to listen to the Mayor
and the band… and to watch the death-defying entertainment.
apt. J. A. Townsend’s school had been dismissed so the children could attend,
which swelled the crowd even more. They all waited in the dusty streets and on
the board sidewalks for the excitement to begin.
The band struck up, the
Mayor cut the red ribbon and the cheering crowd looked upwards, awaiting the unbelievable
feat. The rope was tightened and the man, wearing a sky blue uniform and seemingly
relaxed, bowed to his audience from the roof of “M & H.” After all, he had performed
the trick many times before. After motioning with his hands for complete silence
to aid his concentration, he waited while two strong young men hoisted the heavy
stove onto his back and strapped it tight.
The crowd held it’s breath
as the walker began to gingerly test the rope with his good foot. Then he moved
out, putting all the weight of man and stove on the rope. Using his peg leg on
the rope for balance, he moved slowly toward the center, smiling widely to his
audience from over 20 feet above them.
He had the full attention of every
eye. As he reached the center of the rope, the end tied to Jackson’s Saloon suddenly
slackened and he lost his balance. In a horrifying moment, he fell and the stove
fell with him, crushing his chest.
The shocked crowd rushed toward the
crumpled man and several townsmen carried him to the Molloy Hotel around the corner.
Dr. Gulik was summoned to assist, but little could be done. The man asked for
a Methodist minister and Pastor Abe Mulkey, came and prayed with him. The man
lingered in great pain and that evening asked Dr. Gulik for “a Jew man.” As Corsicana
had no rabbi, the owner of a downtown grocery store, Bernard Simon, came to him
and the man painfully whispered prayers with him in Hebrew. He would not reveal
his identity or history to Mr. Simon. The only thing he supposedly said, also
in perfect Hebrew, was to ask that he be “buried with my people.”
he told anyone his name is unrecorded and lost to history. He was buried in Jewish
tradition the next day in the Hebrew Cemetery and a stone was erected saying simply
“Rope Walker.” Although Corsicana
citizens tried many times over the years to locate and inform his family, no one
was ever found.
Today, both “M & H” and “Jackson’s Saloon” have been gone
for over 100 years. The stone for the unknown acrobat, however, still stands.
Author's Note: I compiled information from William Rabinowitz’s
2003 re-telling of the words of his grandfather Hyman Tikvah Rabinowitz. Hyman
was a traveling salesman who was there that day. Additionally from a 1936 Corsicana
Daily Sun interview with Rachael Mae London, who as a child was also an eye-witness
to the tragedy. Although many details in the two stories differ.
Dianne West Short
Shoe Horse, Don't They?" June
17, 2012 Column
Book Hotel: Corsicana
Related Topics: Grave
Thoughts | Texas Cemeteries
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