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Queen of the Air: Leitzel's Love & Tragedy

Updated on June 10, 2015
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Leitzel - Queen of the Air
Leitzel - Queen of the Air | Source

A true circus story: Leitzel, love & tragedy

It was 1927 and the acknowledged queen of the circus, Leitzel, was performing her astonishing circus aerialist act high in the air at the new arena at Madison Square Garden. The vast and adoring crowd didn't notice the man dressed in worn circus workman's overalls who hovered below.

They hadn't noticed when, before the star had started her act, the same man had climbed to her domain in the sky and checked her equipment; her trapeze and her steel aerialists' rings.

He was invisible because to them, he was just another of the busy circus work drones who kept the wheels turning for the greatest show on earth. Wasn't he? No.

He was Alfredo Codona

His name, and that of Leitzel, might not be familiar to us today but had we been around in the first two decades of the twentieth century, we would definitely know them. Just as she was the queen of circus performers, Alfredo was the king. He was known as the greatest trapeze flyer of the day.

He was the only performer who could execute the most dangerous of all circus feats, known as the Triple or the Salto Morte.

But Leitzel meant more to him than life itself. Every time she did her performance, which can truly be described as 'death-defying' as she used no safety net, he prowled the ground below, determined that should she fall, he would catch her and save her life.

Reunited

The couple had first fallen in love when they were young teenagers, appearing on the same circus bill in 1909. They had been forced by the circus life to go their own ways but now, all these years later, they were reunited in New York. The flame was still alive.

Not only were they the king and queen of the entertainment world of the day, they were also astonishingly attractive - what were once called 'pin-ups'. What did their future hold?

You'll love this book from the very first paragraph

Even without the story of Leitzel and Alfredo, this book would still be a fascinating account of world that is now forgotten - the world of the travelling circus, the freak shows, the astonishing lives and terrible tragedies.

The story starts with Leitzel's mother, then a twelve year old from Silesia, who was part of a raggedy circus touring the wilds of the Carpathian Mountains. But don't let the word 'circus' deceive you.

The little troupe was composed of the boss (a Scotsman in his thirties), two younger children, one wooden wagon and one horse.

As the tiny band travelled through Poland and Czechoslovakia the inevitable happened and the illegitimate Leiztel was born before her mother was thirteen years old...

The circus world

The world of entertainment has changed dramatically since the days of Leitzel.

In those days, the circus was something truly mystical and dangerous.People didn't have the entertainment options that we have today and a visit to the circus was indeed an exciting event.

It was dangerous for the performers in a way that we can't imagine today. Take for example the case of Nik Wallenda. From the famous circus family of high wire performers, in recent years he crossed the Niagara Falls on a tightrope.

The television company that was filming it insisted that he wear a safety harness. Nik was disgusted. His family had never used any sort of safety devices, including nets.

There had been several tragedies in the family when performers had fallen (including his famous great grandfather, Karl Wallenda) and had been killed.

But the traditional circus eschewed the use of anything that made their performances safer, as Leitzel's story shows.

Also recommended

See too these highly recommended books.

Circus and the City: New York, 1793-2010
Circus and the City: New York, 1793-2010

I have always been fascinated by the circus. My grandfather travelled with funfairs so it's likely that the travelling entertainment world is in my blood.It's hard for us to understand today that at one time, the circus - and circus acts - were the most popular entertainment of the day. This book is a wonderful way of learning more.

 
Balance: A Story of Faith, Family, and Life on the Line
Balance: A Story of Faith, Family, and Life on the Line

Although the popularity of the circus has declined considerably, there's one famous family that keeps up the traditional family business.Karl Wallenda was twenty three when he and his troupe were added to the same bill as Leitzel and Alfredo (to the latter's disgust). Today, Karl's great-grandson (and other members of the Wallenda family) maintain the tradition.

 

Amazingly, footage from the 1920s is still available of both Leitzel and Alfredo.

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© 2014 Jackie Jackson

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    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @jolou: I find the circus wonderful and a bit creepy at the same time.

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Brite-Ideas: Thank you! I can't get enough of the story. There are so many fascinating stories and people.

    • jolou profile image

      jolou 

      4 years ago

      I have never heard of them, but it sounds like an interesting read. I went to the circus as a child and remember it well.

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 

      4 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      actually sounds like I would enjoy this! excellent review

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