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Human Cannonballs

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The Great Farini, a.k.a. William Leonard Hunt invented the human cannon in 1871. He was already a notable circus performer, known mostly for his tightrope walking over Niagara Falls. Ironically, Hunt's parents actively condemned circus performers during his entire childhood, culminating in them sending him away to medical school to absolutely erase his dreams and save the family name. They failed miserably.
The human cannon act started as a simple thrill to the crowd seeing a man launched 40 feet into the air. In fact, the first "cannon" looked nothing like a cannon, but simply consisted of a catapult and elastic springs (Adams, Cecil).
To increase the entertainment value, the mechanism was confined to a cannon barrel; then light, smoke, and noise were added upon projectile deployment. No human cannonballs are launched using gunpowder. If that were to be attempted, the unfortunate volunteer would be blown to smithereens.
Today's circus cannons are a lot more high-tech, using things like compressed air to propel the performer (Adams, Cecil).
It has been said that the hardest part of being a human cannonball is making it to the net. Most of the performers who've died attempting this stunt have died by crashing into a wall or the floor by over or under shooting the landing. One pair was seriously injured when they collided in mid air after being shot from opposite ends of the tent.
To end on a painfully corny, yet comic note:
"We just heard about the human cannon ball who wanted to retire from his circus job.
'But you can't quit the show after all these years,' moaned the circus director. 'Where else can I find a man of your caliber?'" (Cannon-Mania.com)

Adams, Cecil. "The Straight Dope: How do "human cannonballs" survive?." The Straight Dope Front Page. 20 Aug. 2008 .

"BBC ON THIS DAY | 25 | 1974: Human cannonball misses target." BBC NEWS | News Front Page. 25 Aug. 1974. 20 Aug. 2008 .

"human cannon balls." Cannon-Mania Devoted to the hobby of firing small cannon and their history. 21 June 1991. 20 Aug. 2008 .

"human cannonball@Everything2.com." Welcome to Everything@Everything2.com. 26 Dec. 2004. 20 Aug. 2008 .

 

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