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The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised


Leoni, the "King of the Air"

Tight Rope Walker John Devier in Austin, Texas 1867
Tight rope walker John Devier in Austin, Texas 1867

12:30 o’clock. Mons. Leoni will give a tight-rope performance on Main Street. Mons. Leoni has no equal save Blondin as a tight rope and trapeze performer.
6:30 p.m. Mons. Leoni and several noted amateurs will give performances on the trapeze and tight-rope.
8:30 p.m., a grand pyrotechnic display under the supervision of Mons. Leoni and Prof. Pettit, when the monster illuminated balloon, the “Silver City,” will be loosed from her moorings under the directions of an experienced aeronaut.
“Order of Exercises,” The Daily Miner, Butte, Montana, July 3, 1881, page 2



    The bills recently printed in The Times office for Leoni, King of the Air, are pronounced by competent judges to be the neatest of the kind ever printed north of Snake River.
“From Monday’s Daily,” Spokan Times, Spokane, Washington, September 20, 1881, page 3



    Leoni walked across the Spokan River, near Post's Mill, Sunday evening, on a rope, in the presence of about 250 persons. The wind was blowing fresh and cold, but Leoni performed his task manfully. He was prevented from performing the trapeze by friends who thought the weather too chilly for the performances.
“To-Day’s News,” Spokan Times, Spokane, Washington, September 27, 1881, page 3


    A BILK--Leoni, King of the Air, and champion bilk, stole away from this city yesterday, leaving numerous creditors to mourn his untimely departure. This acrobat, tight-rope walker and dead beat should be remembered wherever he may impose his presence upon an unsuspecting public. Pass him around.
“From Thursday’s Daily,” Spokan Times, Spokane, Washington, October 4, 1881, page 3


    Leoni is in Walla Walla.
“Local Intelligence,” Spokan Times, Spokane, Washington, October 11, 1881, page 3


    Leoni, the tight rope walker, gave some exhibitions of his skill on a rope stretched between the U.S. Hotel and the Sentinel office Saturday afternoon. A large crowd witnessed the feats, which were very good. He will perform here again tomorrow and Sunday.
"Here and There," Democratic Times, Jacksonville, November 23, 1883, page 3


    TIGHT ROPE WALKING--Leoni, "King of the Air," has arrived and will give one of his daring performances on the high tight rope at three o'clock this afternoon from the tops of the two highest buildings in Jacksonville. The rope has been stretched from the Sentinel office to the U.S. Hotel, where the performance will take place.

Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, November 17, 1883, page 3


    Leoni, the tight rope walker, gave some exhibitions of his skill on a rope stretched between the U.S. Hotel and the Sentinel office. A large crowd witnessed the feats, which were very good. He will perform here again tomorrow and Sunday.

"Here and There," Democratic Times, Jacksonville, November 23, 1883, page 3


    FINE EXHIBITION.--Leoni, the King of the Air, entertained a large audience here last Saturday afternoon, giving exhibitions in walking a tight rope stretched from the top of the U.S. Hotel to the Sentinel office, showing himself to be an artist in that line and on the trapeze. His performances are wonderful to behold and exciting in the extreme. He will give another exhibition here this afternoon at three o'clock and also tomorrow at 2:30 p.m.
Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, November 24, 1883, page 3


    A tight rope walker styling himself "Leoni," who has been performing in this valley lately, has skipped, it seems. He is a good deal of a bilk, as he never pays his honest debts if he can avoid doing so. Look out for him.
"Here and There," Democratic Times, Jacksonville, December 7, 1883, page 3


    Leoni is going north, bilking the people as he goes.

"Here and There," Democratic Times, Jacksonville, December 14, 1883, page 3


    Leoni, the tight rope walker who recently appeared in this place, has been declared a vagrant by the authorities of Seattle. He was first arrested for striking a woman of his own kind, but she refused to prosecute him.
"Here and There," Democratic Times, Jacksonville, March 14, 1884, page 3


    Ocean Beach--Leoni, King of the Air, Sunday.
"The City," Daily Alta California, San Francisco, November 23, 1884, page 8



    Ocean Beach--Leoni in his perilous acts, Saturday and Sunday.
"The City," Daily Alta California, San Francisco, November 30, 1884, page 8


    A few days ago a tight-rope walker, known as Leoni, the King of the Air, while giving an open-air performance at Stockton, Cal., fell and broke his neck.
“West and South,” Jackson Sentinel, Maquoketa, Iowa, March 19, 1885, page 2


    A dispatch from Stockton, Cal., of March 14th, gives the following account of the killing of Leoni, the "king of the air," who walked a tight rope between the Sentinel office and the U.S. Hotel in Jacksonville several years since.
"The wire had been attached across the street from the tops of opposite two-story buildings. Leoni appeared at the top of the building on the west side, dressed in bright blue tights, trimmed with gold fringe. After bowing to the crowd he grasped his balancing pole, cautiously stepped onto the cable and advanced slowly across. When a little more than half way across he keeled on one knee and one foot, and, laying his balancing pole across his knee, placed his elbow on his knee and rested his head on his hand. At that instant one of the tackle ropes parted and let the cable down. Leoni grabbed to catch it where his knee rested, but missed it, and, falling to the ground with a crash, struck on the back of his head and neck, breaking his left clavicle in two places and fracturing his skull. The blood gushed from his nostrils, mouth and ears. A physician was immediately summoned, but Leoni died almost an hour later, while being taken to the county hospital. He was 34 years of age and had been in the show business about twenty years."
Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, March 21, 1885, page 3


    The death of Leoni, by a fall from his tight rope, is telegraphed from Stockton, Cal. 

New York Clipper, March 21, 1885


    "Leoni," the "king of the air," a tight-rope walker who fell from a cable and broke his neck at Stockton, Cal., on March 15th, is said to be John Seaman, an old Wolcott boy.
"Other Counties," The Medina Register, New York, March 26, 1885, page 3    Leoni was not Mr. "Seaman." The death of tight-rope walker James Seman in a performance in Flushing, New York, was reported in the National Police Gazette of May 27, 1882, page 6.  An account in the Batavia Daily News (May 10, 1882, page 1) reveals that he was the son of the editor of the Norwich Sentinel, and had fallen in Hollister, California several months previously. The Syracuse Daily News (May 11, 1882) reported the father was editor of the Methodist Sentinel, Norwich, N.Y., and that Seman was buried in Wolcott, Wayne County, New York.



    "Leoni," the tight-rope walker, who gave exhibitions here some time since, fell from a rope at Stockton, California, a few days ago and broke his neck. He was 34 years old and had been a showman for twenty years.   

"Here and There," Democratic Times, Jacksonville, March 27, 1885, page 3


    Leoni, the "King of the Air," who gave an exhibition of tight rope walking in Ashland two or three years ago, was killed Saturday the 14th, at Stockton, Cal. The following particulars are from a press dispatch of that date. "The wire had been attached across the street from the tops of opposite two-story buildings. Leoni appeared at the top of the building on the west side, dressed in bright blue tights, trimmed with gold fringe. After bowing to the crowd he grasped his balancing pole, cautiously stepped onto the cable and advanced slowly across. When a little more than half way across he keeled on one knee and one foot, and, laying his balancing pole across his knee, placed his elbow on his knee and rested his head on his hand. At that instant one of the tackle ropes parted and let the cable down. Leoni grabbed to catch it where his knee rested, but missed it, and, falling to the ground with a crash, struck on the back of his head and neck, breaking his left clavicle in two places and fracturing his skull. The blood gushed from his nostrils, mouth and ears. A physician was immediately summoned, but Leoni died almost an hour later, while being taken to the county hospital. He was 34 years of age and had been in the show business about twenty years."
Ashland Tidings, March 27, 1885, page 3


A Rope-Walker Killed.
    Prof. Leoni, a tight-rope walker, met with a tragic death at Stockton, Cal., a few days ago. He was performing upon a wire cable stretched from the roof of the board of trade building to the roof of the old Stockton theater. The cable was fastened to the former building with some ropes and a block. The guy ropes were held by 12 men in the street. Leoni appeared at the top of the building on the west side, dressed in bright blue tights, trimmed with gold fringe. After bowing to the crowd, he grasped his balancing pole, cautiously stepped on the cable and advanced slowly across. When a little more than halfway across he keeled on one knee and foot; and, laying his balancing pole across his knee, placed his elbow on his knee and rested his head on his hand. At that instant one of the tackle ropes parted and let the cable down. Leoni grabbed to catch it where his knee rested, but missed it, and falling to the ground with a crash, striking on the back of his head and neck, breaking his left clavicle and fracturing his skull. The blood gushed from his mouth, nostrils and ears. A physician was immediately summoned, but Leoni died an hour later, while being taken to the county hospital. He was 34 years of age and had been in the show business about 20 years.
The Coast Mail, Marshfield, Oregon, April 2, 1885, page 4


    When M. Leoni came to Eureka in the sumer of 1883, he was the sensation of his day. His fearless presentations, high over Eureka on a tight rope, were the talk over every table.
    At one time, the Vance Hotel--then the Vance House--was topped with a cupola. From this, arrivals of ships could be viewed and announced by raising signal flags. The great Leoni anchored one end of his tight rope to this, and the other end across the street to the top of the Masonic Hall. Below him was Second Street, and below him came a great crowd to see Leoni at his best. Perform he did. Leoni was satisfied with the crowd's pleasure, and they filled the passed hat with suitable monetary response.
    Two years later, in March 1885, came the news of one of M. Leoni's greatest performances--his last, for his luck had run out--in Stockton.
    The San Francisco Chronicle responded to the sad story, and the editor of The Weekly Humboldt Times followed:
    "This afternoon (in Stockton) a large crowd gathered at the corner of El Dorado and Main Street to witness a rope-walking performance by Leoni, 'king of the air.' A wire had been stretched across. When a little more than halfway across [omission] story buildings, Leoni appeared at the top of the building on the west side, dressed in bright blue tights, trimmed with gold fringe. After bowing to the crowd he grasped his balancing pole, cautiously stepped  up on the cable and advanced slowly across. When a little more than halfway across he keeled on one knee and rested his head on his hand. At that instant one of the tackle ropes parted and let the cable down. Leoni grabbed to catch it where his knee rested, but missed it, and falling to the ground with a crash, striking on the back of his head and neck. He was 34 years of age and had been in the show business about 20 years."
    The report said the performer's parents resided in New York and his wife lived in Santa Rosa. "M. Leoni's true name was Maloney. One of his last performances in this city (San Francisco) was walking a tight wire from the dome of the pavilion at the ocean beach. About five weeks ago, he daily walked a wire stretched across the street in Oakland."
    A brave man, a good showman of his time!
Andrew Genzoli, "M. Leoni's 'Farewell'," Times Standard, Eureka, California, March 29, 1972, page 23


A Plunge from a Tight Rope.
    John Leon, the well-known rope walker, who lives at Springfield, Ohio, and who walked a rope over the Genesee Falls last season, had a bad fall at the fair grounds celebration at Springfield. While performing on the rope at the height of forty feet one of the guy rope holders slackened his grip, as he thought, to aid the performer, but instead it threw him off his balance and he was pitched headlong to the ground as a shriek of horror arose from the crowd. Fortunately he managed to light sidewise, bringing the main force of the fall on his hip. His hip joint and arm were fractured and his nose broken. He was also injured internally, but it is not thought fatally. He is under engagement to walk a tight rope over Niagara Falls, Rochester and other places this season, but his injuries will probably lay him up too long for that.
"Our Pictures," The National Police Gazette, July 24, 1886, page 2.   This may be the source of Leoni's stage name.


Last revised February 20, 2012