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Stephen Peer Tightrope Costume

Public Submission
Niagara Falls, Ontario
1870 - 1880s
Materials & techniques
Black and red silk, gold metal fringe and sequins, gold ribbon
Niagara Falls Museums, 2012.001.1
Stephen Peer was born in 1840 at Montrose (now found in the south end of Niagara Falls). At age nineteen, Stephen was inspired when The Great Blondin came to town, heralding an era of tightrope walkers performing over the Niagara Gorge. A painter by trade, Stephen was very comfortable performing tasks at great heights. He began perfecting his funambulist skills on fence posts and twisted grape vines strung between trees. In 1873, Henry Bellini hired Stephen as an assistant to care for his tightropes during his performances. Eventually the temptation to try a crossing himself was too great, and while Bellini was absent Stephen took his balancing pole and attempted some of Blondin’s acrobatic feats from years before. Bellini returned during the performance and in a rage began to cut the support ropes. He managed to sever two of the three ropes before the crowd stopped him and ran him out of town.

It would be 14 years before Stephen Peer attempted a crossing again, this time on his own tightrope. The rope had a diameter of 5/8 of an inch, quite a difference from the 2-3 inch ropes used by Blondin and the other funambulists before him. The stunt in question occurred on June 22, 1887 and Stephen remains the only local resident to walk a tightrope over the Niagara Gorge.
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