History – Death defying trapeze act

Trapeze artist Michell was famous for her “death spin”.

On the morning of April 25, 1930, the sun rose over Port Albert casting its gentle glow upon the sombre crowd of 200 who had gathered at the War Memorial gates to honour the valiant soldiers who had sacrificed their lives in World War I. The Reverend Tafford and George Reid, a beloved figure of the district and former headmaster, led the ceremony to remember the bravery and sacrifices of these young men.

As the sun set on this memorable day, the crowd reconvened at the local hall, their hearts aflutter with excitement for the much anticipated and mesmerising performance by Mademoiselle Michell, a dainty and demure young woman who had once graced the renowned Barnum & Bailey circus in the USA.

At the forefront of this event was the district’s local entrepreneur and movie theatre proprietor, Fred Thomas. Just months before, he had introduced the community to the marvels of sound synchronisation through the screening of the Metro Goldwyn movie Brotherly Love. Now, he was set to captivate the district’s attention once again, this time with the gripping performances of Peg Michell and her assistant, Greta Andreassen.

Peg, hailed as the ‘world’s most daring and clever lady trapeze artist’, displayed her grace and poise on the stage of the Civic Theatre in Auckland during the production Circus Days, where she shared the limelight with the resounding melodies of Ted Henkel and his stage band. This symphony orchestra, dazzling the entire audience, proved unrivalled by any other band in New Zealand. They were joined by Fred Scholl, a talented musician from Sydney, who played intricate melodies on the Civic’s grand organ. Completing this ensemble were a troupe of specially trained young women known as the Civic Ballet, enchanting the audience with their specialty dancing and vaudeville performances.

The audience at Port Albert were filled with excitement as Miss Michell took centre stage in her rhinestone-spangled costume, delivering an exhilarating performance that left them gasping in disbelief. With each daring swing towards them, she pushed the limits of danger, catching her toe or heel at the very last moment, all without the safety of nets or mats in sight.

In her breathtaking finale, Peg executed her legendary ‘death spin’ with the assistance of Greta, who held the ropes to keep her aloft. The audience collectively held their breath as Peg, suspended above the stage, whirled at an exhilarating speed, her silhouette a spellbinding blend of athleticism and grace, captivating the entire audience.

The thunderous applause reverberating through the hall testified to the sheer brilliance of the performance, ensuring it would undoubtedly be the talk of the district for days and years to come.

Albertland Museum