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Link - Article by by Frederik de Graaf and Avi Abrams

"Famous Hell Drivers - Racing Lions - Feminine Courage!"

Since there was no "Harry Potter" in IMAX 3-D in the 1930s, where would you go to see an ultimate spectacle? You'd go to the amusement park to see motorcycles roaring up, down, and around a huge wooden barrel, filling the air with atrocious noise, fumes and a tremendous sense of danger - with spectators standing just yards away from the action!

(image credit: National Fairgound Archive)

Roll Up, Roll Up, It's Thrills, It's Spills - It's the Amazing "Wall of Death"!

Derived from normal wood board motordromes the America's Original Extreme Motorcycle Thrill Show became one of the most daring acts at fairgrounds and carnivals in the early 1910s, achieving peak popularity during motorcycle-crazed 1930s....

The first such motordome appeared in 1911 in Luna-Park at Coney island, New York; and in only 4 more years these walls became completely vertical, with not just single drivers, but the whole motorized crews thundering upon them.

(images via 1, 2, 3)

Lions and Ladies at "The LionDrome"

We wanted to start this page with "put your girlfriend with a lion on a motorcycle, and sent her up the wall!" - but we're not going to do that (fearing wrath of.., you know). So we'll just continue with simple facts:

With over a hundred walls of death traveling the US by the 1930s, perhaps the coolest version was the 'Liondrome' in which a rider is accompanied by a tamed lion. We featured one such image before, but now we have more info about this sort of crazy entertainment:

(image via)

With stage names like "Lolita" and "Ethel Purtle" these fearless women actually kept these lions for pets... driving them on vertical walls for fun and profit. Imagine a job description like that... (try to apply for it today, after you read a bit more info):

(images via 1, 2)

To have a lion right behind you on your passenger seat would be quite risky (it might get a bit too stressed and bite your head off, you know), so the drivers placed them in side-cars, and were careful not to smell of alcohol while driving - lions absolutely hated it!

(images credit: ThrillArena)

A true star! (somebody cue the MGM Studio music...)

(image credit: WallofDeath)

These were not necessarily "walls of death", but sometimes "walls of accidents" - here we see drivers Alma Johnson and Rudy Rube Knight, in 1932:

Don't worry, everything turned out fine: here they're seen dancing on the beach:

(images credit: National Fairgound Archive)

From "Walls of Death" to "Globes of Death"... maybe even to "Moebius Strip of Death"?

To up the excitement, there soon appeared the Globes of Death, looking pretty puny compared to the size of the driver:

(image via)

And here is "The Hornby Smith Globe", not for the fainthearted - suspended in the thin air.

(image credit: WallofDeath)

With a bit of good luck and a lot of centripetal force...

In modern times, family teams of riders still take the original "American Indian" motorcycles to the wall, and the attraction still has a dedicated following:

(images credit: Tony Kemplen and Marah Anderson)

Obviously, somebody had to take a small car up the wall eventually - and here is a video to prove it, with two cars braving it:

Mohammed Jawed, for example, drives his compact car up the wall in Afganistan, "circling the shuddering wood-plank Wall of Death during his traveling stunt show's stop in Kabul" -

(image credit: Tomas Munita, National Geographic)

Something more modern, and significantly more viral (alas, completely fake) - is the ad campaign for Nissan Qashqai, featuring outrageous "flying" car stunts: see our article about it here! (lower the volume before opening it)

Continue to "World's Wildest Roller Coasters"! ->

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Anonymous MikaelM said...

Cool post.

The first poster is from a danish amusement park, and the text reads (roughly translated): "For safety, we use Castrol" and "See the champion drivers Capt. Wulfhorst and his partner Miss Iris Johnson in their phenomenal car- and motordriving on the vertical wall (Wall of Death)".

Blogger Peter said...

Haha! If driving a motorcycle in a giant hamster wheel isn't dangerous enough, obviously the best solution is to put a freakin' lion on your motorbike too.

Blogger César Izaguirre said...

Really cool!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm only 56, but my grandfather took me to see one of these when I was a boy. That would have been the late 50's in Oregon.

It was pretty great and yes, it was very stinky!!!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wall of Death where a rider rides a Motorcycle on a wood lined structure started in America around 1908 by Earl Armstrong and Reckless Ross Millman,in 1914 Ross rode his Indian Motorcycle on a complete vertical wall at the PIKE in Long Beach California


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