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Intermission: Remembering The Great Lafayette

22 Mar

Employees at the Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre are appealing for information on the world-famous illusionist Sigmund Neuberger, better known as The Great Lafayette, ahead of the 100 year anniversary of his death.

The Great LafeyetteBelieved to be the highest paid magician of his time, The Great Layette met his untimely death in a fire whilst performing at the old Empire Theatre – now the Festival Theatre – on 9 May 1911.

To mark the 100 year anniversary of his death, staff at the venue are planning to hold a series of events and exhibitions and are asking for members of the public to come forward with information on The Great Lafayette or any of the other victims who lost their lives on that tragic night.

The story goes that the theatre was full to its 3000 seat capacity when disaster struck while the Great Lafayette was performing his signature illusion “The Lion’s Bride”. As the world-famous magician took his final bow a stage lamp fell and ignited part of the elaborate stage set.

The audience, thinking that this was part of the illusion, did not evacuate until the theatre manager signalled the orchestra to play ‘God Save the King’. The fire took three hours to put out and ten members of The Great Lafayette’s company perished, although all 3000 members of the audience walked to safety.

According to an eyewitness account published over on JK Gillon’s website:

Reports claimed Lafayette had escaped but had returned in an attempt to save his horse. A charred body, dressed in Lafayette’s costume, was found near the stage, but a further search of the basement revealed another body, this one with the diamond rings which Lafayette always wore. The first man was one of the doubles that Lafayette often used in his act.

To add to the mystery, days before Lafayette’s death he buried his much loved dog Beauty – a gift from fellow-illusionist Harry Houdini – in Piershill Cemetery. Edinburgh council only allowed this on the condition that The Great Lafayette would eventually be buried alongside his cherished pet upon his death.

No one could ever have guessed that he would be joining Beauty just four days later…

Please email suggestions on how this important date should be celebrated, or any information on the Great Lafayette to kim.mckenna@eft.co.uk.

Image copyright JK Gillon