written by Rosa Morgan
My name is Rossa Matilda Richter, but do call me by my professional name, Zazel. Being the first human cannonball, I would enjoy ever so much the opportunity to recall my maiden performance at the vernal age of fourteen.
It happened on April 2, 1877 at the newly opened Royal Aquarium. With its glass roof, palm trees, and fountains, the Aquarium was fashioned after the Crystal Palace, and was intended to hold highbrow lectures and art exhibits. However, working class gents didn't fancy spending their hard earned pence on such dubious fare, and so the developers turned to more entertaining venues. That's when I came into the picture.
Scheduled to appear after the dancing bears and hypnotists, I found my knees knocking so terribly, I considered backing out of the whole shebang. To my rescue came William Hunt, better known as The Great Farini. It was he, who designed the devilish cannon and who convinced me of its safety. I had trained long hours for that moment; calisthenics to strengthen my legs, and a strict diet to maintain my weight, lest our precise mathematical computations of thrust and matter be thrown off course. And so, with the crowd cheering crazily in anticipation, I lowered myself into the cold black hole of that cannon, whispered a curt Hail Mary, and faced possible death head on.
The brief moments I stood there with body rigid and mind intensely focused, felt an eternity. Though I knew gunpowder was to be used for dramatic effect only, elastic springs being the impetus for propelling me, I was still quite startled by the fantastic explosion that resounded in my ears and the indescribable affect of finding myself actually flying through the air at a height of thirty feet. Though my aerial escapade lasted only a few seconds, the thrill of it was intoxicating, and when I landed safely in the net, I was fully prepared to do it all over again.
( Zazel went on to work with P.T. Barnum, but retired after breaking her back in a fall. Out of 50 human cannonballs, 30 have died, mostly from missing the net.)