Tuesday, January 18, 2011

January 11, 1841 --- A Deadly Stunt

Perhaps as many as 10,000 people line the Thames at Waterloo Bridge.  The more well-to-do pay to be seated in purpose built stands in front of Somerset House.  The attraction is the American acrobat and diver Sam Scott. 

The young man had been traveling across England, jumping off cliffs on the Isle of Wight, from the docks at Portsmouth Harbor, etc.  In London, he has sought approval to dive from the Monument, a height of 200 feet, into a ten foot pool of water.  But this day, it's a dive of some forty feet from Waterloo Bridge into the cold January waters of the Thames. 

Using a noose like knot about his feet, Scott's handlers amuse the crowd by dangling him inches above the river.  For a final tease, Scott playfully places the rope around his neck, shouting to the crowd, "I'll show you how to dance upon air."  All appears to be going well until Scott began to struggle violently.  A reporter wrote, "His face began to assume the appearance denoting strangulation."  Some thought it was part of the show.  Others screamed, "Cut him down!"  But, after a last frantic convulsion, Scott's body hung limply above the Thames.  He was dead on arrival at the nearest hospital at Charing Cross. 

At the autopsy, it was suggested that the usually abstemious Scott had been treated to some gin at pre-dive festivities at the White Lion, Drury Lane.  The publican insisted it had been no more than a glass.  The coroner's jury ruled the death accidental and censured the keeper of Waterloo Bridge for allowing such a dangerous stunt in exchange for a day's windfall in their toll basket.  And where were the police?  Bell's New Weekly Messenger declared, "The government graciously permitted a man to hang himself on Monday morning."

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