I recently saw a small report in a 1903 newspaper that related to ‘Mademoiselle Florence the Globe Walker’. Considering the attitudes of the time, It would have been amazing for a woman to have walked around the world in 1903 so I tried to find out more.
Actually Florence, an 18-year-old from New Jersey in the USA, had not walked around the globe but actually walked ON a globe. She had learned her skills as an acrobat at Barnum’s Circus in America and had travelled to England with her sister Queenie and father to seek her fortune.
In 1903 she had announced that she would walk from London to Brighton balancing on a large globe. She actually had two globes, both 26 inches in diameter. They were made of hollow wood covered in sheepskin. The first was 20lb in weight and the second, used for going down-hill, weighed in at over 75lb. She intended to walk 10 hours a day with several breaks en-route.
She set off on Monday morning 15thJune 1903 but no sooner than she left the shadows of Big Ben in the rain, she slipped off. She set off again at 5.30am the next morning dressed in a ‘sailor’s hat and blouse and a short velveteen skirt’. She was cheered by workmen as she passed through Kennington and Brixton.
Florence was accompanied by her father and sister who would throw sawdust over the globe during muddier stretches of the route. Her father described as a ‘naval-looking gentleman’ described his daughter as “the pluckiest bloomin’ girl in the world!” He estimated that the walk would amount to 32,000 steps on the ball. During the feat she wore out seven pairs of shoes.
She arrived on Brighton at 3am on the following Sunday morning, amazingly the streets were thronged with cheering people who had arrived ‘on foot, in motor-cars, cabs, carriages and bicycles.’ Despite the early hour the streets of Brighton were thronged with well-wishers all the way to the Aquarium where she finally dismounted her globe.
The walk was good for publicity as the following week she was booked for a week at the Empire Theatre in London with her ‘Globe Equilibrium Act’. In September she appeared at the Tivoli Theatre in Leeds. On the opening day she tried to walk to the theatre on her globe but was stopped by the police as the crowds were so numerous and were causing obstructions to the roads. After Leeds it was the Hippodrome at Glasgow and other variety halls across the country. Her act was reported in full when she appeared at Derby Palace of Varieties where she was the ‘star turn’. “Miss Florence is exceedingly clever and walks on her globe in masterly fashion whilst she waltzes, dances, skips ad does some fine juggling feats. She works her globe over obstacles and in and around rows of bottles. She winds up her performance by walking the ball down a flight of stairs”.
The following year ‘Miss Florence’, as she was now sometimes called, was in Ipswich walking for a wager of £25.
By 1906 Florence was appearing in panto in Exeter and by 1910 she had re-joined the circus and was working for “EH BOSTOCK’S GRAND INTERNATIONAL RAILROAD CIRCUS” but was now getting second billing to “Great Little Abex the ‘Midget Hercules’ who, despite his size was able to pull a motor car with his teeth.
The sad thing about this story is that despite all the publicity at the time and several recent stories about her, no one seems to know her surname or any more information about her. Did she stay in England or return home? It would be interesting to find out more.
Sources: National Newspaper Archives