Balanced Over River, Aerialist Made Cakes
by John McNamara; originally published October 15, 1959
During the summers of 1859 and 1860, a wiry blond Frenchman named Jean Gravelet crossed above the raging rapids of the Niagara River on a slender rope cable. His repeated performances, 200 feet in the air, made his professional name, Blondin, a household word in all America and huge crowds gathered whenever he made a crossing. In later years, other aerial daredevils duplicated the feat, for there are records of a Signor Farini in 1860, a Signor Balleni in 1873 and then a Maria Spelterini in 1876.
Around that time, in the Bronx, a tightrope artist by the name of Leslie announced that he would cross over the Harlem River from Washington Heights to Highbridgeville. In those days, Highbridgeville was a small village and on its Harlem River shoreline were piers at which excursion boats docked. Ashore were amusement centers and picnic spots, and the best known was Kyle's Park, which was situated just north of High Bridge itself, where the Major Deegan Highway is now laid out.
The tightrope was stretched from the Manhattan slope, passed over Kyle's Park, and was anchored firmly in the steep slope alongside High Bridge. Doubtlessly, the resort owner paid Leslie well, for the announcement attracted thousands of people to the park. Excursion boats and trains brought huge crowds, and families even rented rowboats and anchored out on the river to see the aerialist cross over.
Leslie (according to oldtimers) left the Manhattan side, carrying a small stove on his back. Balancing at the halfway point over the river, he set the stove down, lighted a fire, mixed batter and cooked pancakes! These he threw down to the people in the rowboats below him, while he waited for the stove to cool off. Then he deftly packed his portable kitchen, replaced it on his back and crossed swiftly over Kyle's Park.
There the story ends. No one is sure in what year the event took Place, or if Leslie made any more crossings. Even today, the story Is half-legendary and will remain so until the day someone discovers a photograph of Leslie cooking his pancakes high above the Harlem River.