Chiropractic History Assignment: December 2009
By Steve Zoltai
By Steve Zoltai
William Leonard Hunt grew up among the small towns and rolling hills of
southern Ontario in the 1840s. With his birth in 1838 began a life so
extraordinary that fact often blurs with fiction, leading one amazed
spectator to label him the “the most versatile man in history” and
another to dub him “a genius, a devil, a hero, a Peter Pan, Houdini and
Barnum and many more wrapped in one.”
The Great Farini
William Leonard Hunt grew up among the small towns and rolling hills of southern Ontario in the 1840s. With his birth in 1838 began a life so extraordinary that fact often blurs with fiction, leading one amazed spectator to label him the “the most versatile man in history” and another to dub him “a genius, a devil, a hero, a Peter Pan, Houdini and Barnum and many more wrapped in one.” 1 Hunt was all of these but history will better remember him by his stage name, Signor Guillermo Antonio Farini – The Great Farini – and this is what we know about him.
|The Great Farini, a.k.a. Bill Hunt, of Port Hope, Ontario.
Farini first achieved notoriety in 1860 for his death-defying high-wire performances spanning the Niagara River gorge. His manoeuvres included crossing a tightrope with a man on his back or with a sack over his entire body, hanging from the rope by his feet or descending to the Maid of the Mist to enjoy a glass of wine before ascending to complete his crossing. One time, he hauled across a 100-pound washing machine, stopping midway to do his laundry. He followed up by stilt-walking along the edge of the American Falls in Niagara and, at about the same time, performed a high-wire feat over Quebec’s Chaudière Falls.
Farini sought adventure for a while in the American Civil War, some say as a Union spy, before decamping for London in 1866. He quickly became a legend, and was one of the most celebrated acrobats in Europe as the headline performer in the famous Flying Farinis trapeze show. “So extraordinary were the dangerous feats his protogés performed and so mesmeric was his presence that a rumour circulated that he was the model for George du Maurier’s evil character Svengali.” 2 Anticipating injury, he ended his acrobatic career in 1869 and reinvented himself as a showman, arranging many of the more sensational entertainments at London’s Royal Westminster Aquarium and other venues. He also entered into an association with the circus giant P.T. Barnum for a time.
|Farini crossing the Niagara gorge with an Empire Washing Machine, 1860.
But, according to his biographer, Farini was much more than a merchant of entertainments. “He was an inventor with at least 100 patents to his credit, [among them folding theatre seats and the now famous ‘human cannonball’ apparatus] an explorer, an author, a respected horticulturist, and a linguist who could speak seven languages, and in old age he was a painter, a financier, and a businessman.” 3 Moreover, Farini was a man of invention. A creative genius who restlessly sought out fresh challenges, a man who was continually recreating himself and who contrived to turn his very existence into the most implausible of stories.
At the age of 40, Farini’s search for adventure turned to Africa. History may remember Farini for his legendary high-wire acrobatics and as a renowned showman, but perhaps most enduringly – and accidentally – he will be remembered as the discoverer of the Lost City of the Kalahari.
The Lost City
“A half-buried ruin – a wreck of stones on a lone and desolate spot;” 4
|What they found: LuLu’s sketch of the amphitheatre at the heart of Farini’s ruins.
In 1879, Farini’s gaze turned to the “Dark Continent.” Africa occupied a special place in the 19th-century imagination. The Victorian public was perennially enthralled with revelations of otherworldly landscapes populated with human and animal oddities, the superhuman explorations and evangelical zeal of Dr. Livingstone, and, most topically, horrified with the near slaughter of the British army at Isandlwana by Zulu forces. Overnight, “Africans shot to the Empire’s front pages with the speed and impact of a Zulu thrown assegai.” 5 The tragedy, however, generated an instant market for shows featuring actual Zulu warriors. Sensing a show business first, Farini speedily arranged for performances billed as “Farini’s Friendly Zulus” in New York and London’s Aquarium showplace. It was a show business sensation! He followed up with public performances by the short-statured San people of South Africa, then sometimes identified as Kalahari Bushmen or simply as “pygmies.” 6
|Farini in showman mode: with San people at the Royal Westminster Aquarium, 1884.
Ever restless, in June of 1885, Farini set off from the Cape Town Railway Station on a journey that would culminate in travelling hundreds of miles across the Kalahari Desert, much of it on foot and becoming among the first white men to do so and survive. Buried in a narrative of his travels, Farini describes coming across the ruins of an extensive structure that was partly submerged beneath the sand, and whose wall extended for nearly a mile. The ruins were described as made up of huge, flat-sided stones with cement visible between the layers in the general form of an arc. After some digging at what they identified as the centre of the arc, they uncovered a pavement about 20 feet wide intersected with stones and forming a figure like a Maltese cross. Farini concluded this must have at one time held an altar, column or some sort of monument.7 The formation was later identified by some as an amphitheatre. After spending a few days in the location, the find was recorded in a sketch by LuLu, Farini’s adopted son and the group’s resident artist and photographer, and the expedition moved on. Given, however, the lack of accurate maps or geographic location systems, no one seemed to know precisely where they were when the discovery was made. The only clue to the whereabouts of the “ruins” is that they were three days’ travel over a gentle slope from the Ki Ki Mountain.
Although the discovery was given brief mention in Through the Kalahari Desert, a distillation of Farini’s travels in the Kalahari, it nonetheless became the basis for the enduring legend of the Lost City of the Kalahari. Farini’s discovery, whatever it may have been, has since become firmly entrenched in the popular culture of South Africa and has been responsible for the launch of numerous attempts to locate The Lost City. Searchers have included novelist Anton Paton, professors, writers, politicians, doctors, military men, distinguished ladies and the Northern Rhodesian Boy Scouts.8
None, however, was more relentless than a chiropractor from Saskatchewan. •
Part 2 of “Dr. Joshua Haldeman and the Lost City of the Kalahari” continues with the story of a legendary city buried in the sands of the Kalahari Desert and a single-minded chiropractor’s resolve to find it. It will appear in the February 2010 issue of Canadian Chiropractor magazine.
- Peacock, Shane. The Great Farini: The High-Wire Life of William Hunt. Toronto, Viking, 1995: p. vi, viii.
- Peacock, Shane. “Africa Meets the Great Farini” in Africans on Stage: Studies in Ethnological Showbusiness, Bernth Lindfors ed.; Indiana University Press, 1999: p. 83.
- Farini, G.A. Through the Kalahari Desert: A Narrative of a Journey with Gun, Camera, and Note-Book to Lake N’Gami and Back. Cape Town, C. Struik Ltd, 1973: p. 359.
- Peacock , Shane. “Africa Meets the Great Farini” in Africans on Stage: Studies in Ethnological Showbusiness, Bernth Lindfors ed.; Indiana University Press, 1999: p. 85.
- Ibid: pp. 88, 94.
- Farini, G.A. Through the Kalahari Desert: A Narrative of a Journey with Gun, Camera, and Note-Book to Lake N’Gami and Back. Cape Town, C. Struik Ltd, 1973: pages 357-359.
- Peacock, Shane. The Great Farini: The High-Wire Life of William Hunt. Toronto, iking, 1995: p.349.
Steve Zoltai is the collections development librarian and archivist for CMCC and is a member of the Canadian Chiropractic Historical Association. He was previously the Assistant Executive Director of the Health Sciences Information Consortium of Toronto. He has worked for several public and private libraries and with the University of Toronto Archives. Steve comes by his interest in things historical honestly – he worked as a field archeologist for the Province of Manitoba. He can be contacted at email@example.com.