The acrobat whose name would become synonymous with tightrope walking was born Jean-François Gravelet in Saint-Omer, Pas-de-Calais, France. Generally known as Charles Blondin (1824-1897), the performer was also referred to as Jean-François Blondin, Chevalier Blondin, The Great Blondin, and, in his first public appearance, The Boy Wonder.
Blondin traveled to the United States in 1855, joined a circus, and became famous for crossing the Niagara Gorge, at times doing summersaults, on a tightrope. In a series of articles, originally reported in the Rochester Union and reprinted in the Washington, D.C., Constitution, the acrobat himself and his first crossing are described on July 6, 1859, this way:
“About four o’clock M. Blondin arrived in a carriage decorated with the American and French flags, and was received with cheers from the multitude, music from the bands, and the firing of a cannon, which was answered from the Canada side. A ring was made by a rope, and within the ring was a tight rope six feet above the ground, upon which the preliminary exhibition took place.