The Great Lafayette (1871-1911) was born Sigmund Neuberger (Newburger) in Germany.
February 25, 1871
|Died||May 9, 1911 (age 40) |
|Resting place||Piershill Cemetery, Edinburgh, Scotland|
His family moved to the United States early in his life. Neuberger began his career as an imitator of Ching Ling Foo, but went on to become the highest paid magician of his time. In 1900 he appeared in London changing his name from Sigmund to the Great Lafayette.
His act included a quick-change routine as well as dramatic illusions such as his own Lion's Bride (lady to lion).
The pampered object of The Great Lafayette's affection was Beauty, a perky terrier given to him as a pup by fellow conjurer Harry Houdini. Beauty had her own suite of brocaded rooms, ate five course meals, and wore a diamond studded collar.
Beauty died four days before the opening of a show at the Empire Theater in Edinburgh. After initial resistance from Edinburgh City Council, Neuberger had her buried in Piershill Cemetery. The Council would only give him a plot on the condition that Lafayette himself would be buried their upon his death. Four days later in a freak accident, Lafayette was performing his signature illusion, the Lion's Bride. An electrical fault in a lamp above the performer caused a fire. The elaborate set went up in flames in minutes. The audience, thinking that this was part of the illusion did not evacuate until the theater manager signaled the orchestra to play 'God Save the King'. Ten of the players of The Great Lafayette perished in the fire. The body of Lafayette was soon found and sent to Glasgow for cremation, however two days after the fire, workers were clearing the under stage area and found another body identically dressed as Lafayette. It turned out that the body in the crematorium was that of the illusionist's body double. Two days later the ashes of the Great Lafayette were taken through Edinburgh through a crowd estimated to number over 15,000 before being laid to rest in the paws of his beloved (and stuffed) Beauty.
The 100th anniversary of the fire which The Great Lafayette and 10 other people is being marked by the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, which now stands on the site. They will also hold a seance.
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