William Leonard Hunt grew up in Port Hope Ontario, between Toronto and Kingston. While watching Blondin perform on the tightrope in Niagara, he was smitten with the idea of stunting. He pursued this to what others deemed an unacceptable level: he quit his job and his girlfriend left him over his aspirations.
William changed his name to Signor Guillermo Antonio Farini when performing at Port Hope. Farini would make the move to Niagara in order to match Blondin feat to feat. He succeeded and lived to the age of 90, returning to Port Hope for his twilight years. It is not really his daredevil feats that I wish to address in this article, but another side to his craft... also that of the former gladiators in the Colosseum and Matadors...the women that come to watch the feat-er with no attention to the feat. Farini was one of those feat-ers. He loved the attention and was a terrible lecher in return.
For his flirtatious feats there is one episode that stands out and that is the meeting between him and a young lady whom he had saved from falling over the railing on Luna Island. They met again on Goat Island. She fainted, of course, partly because of her tight clothing and partly because of what SHE was asking of him. She asked him to propose marriage as she was in his debt for having saved her. Farini stated that no debt was owed, and that seeing her smile was payment enough. Adding gallantly that if they should meet again he would propose to her only when he is capable of loving as much as she. This story is taken from his memoirs so he probably has taken a little editorial discretion.
Another, more unfortunate story regarding Farini and a woman involves a stunt which became fatal for the woman. She rode on his back while he walked the tight-rope; when the audience cheered she shifted and threw her arms up, causing Farini to loose his balance. As he tumbled off the rope, he grabbed the woman in one hand and the rope in the other, but the woman’s dress tore apart in his grasp and she fell to the rocks and water below.
Berton, Pierre. Niagara: A History of the Falls. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Inc, 1992. Pages 135-149.
Petrie, Francis. Historical Flashback: 1829-1979 150 Years of Niagara Daredevils & Accidents. Niagara Falls, 1979. Page 15.
O`Brien, Andy. Daredevils of Niagara. Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1964. Page i.
Museum Kids: Ancient Egypt and Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Centre Tour
History & Archeology @ the eXchange
J4BL Book Club