'The Fairy on a Cobweb...'
"Every girl ought to walk a tightrope, It develops a rare set of muscles and self-confidence and teaches one how to walk properly on the street." Bird Millman, Milwaukee News 1913.
Bird Millman is not a name many of us would recognise today, but in her heyday, the Golden Age of American Circus, she was one of the most famous performers in the world. Her High Wire acts were incredible feats of derring do and she has certainly has captivated our imaginations at Palava HQ. Our High Wire dress is a little nod of recognition to this amazing performance artist.
Millman was born into a performing family - the daughter of a wire walker and trapeze artist - so it’s not surprise that she took to the stage early on. She made her circus debut aged just 6 years old and was performing on the high wire by the age of 12.
By 1913 she was a centre ring performer Ringling Bros and Barnum & Baile, a travelling circus billed as ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’
But at a time when circus performers were two a penny, what made Bird so special?
It was the lightness, grace and speed of Bird’s performances that earned her such prestige. Described as a ‘fairy on a cobweb’ Bird cut a unique figure high up on that wire. She performed with a parasol and full, frilly skirts - feminine and doll-like - far from the more provocative and skimpy outfits worn by many of her fellow female performers. This gave her a distinctive silhouette - demure, yet daring - which no doubt helped to set her apart.
In addition to her unusual look, Bird took her act a step further than just ‘walking’ the high wire. She danced across that rope. Her incredible skills allowed her to perform popular dances of the day such as the waltz, cakewalk and even a Hawaiian dance, all perilously high above the ring.
Off season, Bird performed on Broadway with the Zeigfeld Follies and even took to the sky in New York city where she walked the wire high above the streets.
How on earth this woman could have fallen into obscurity is beyond us. She was a pioneer, impossibly brave and inansely talented. We’re very happy to have uncovered her when researching for our SS20 Palava collection and hope that you will spare her a thought when you wear our new High Wire print!