As told to Jerry Klinger by his Great grandfather, Hyman Tikvah Rabinowitz. (If [I've] taken the liberty to edit this):
There are many stories that Gramps shared with us. One of my favorites was about a man who, when he died, no one knew his name. On his tombstone was carved only "Rope Walker." "Corsicana was celebrating something new being built or something new being dedicated all the time. It was growing so fast that just opening a new store and hanging out a huge banner with the grand opening announcement was not enough. You had to do something that would attract attention. The biggest dry goods store ever was opening that day, Meyers and Henning Dry Goods Emporium. M&H, it was called for short. 'The Biggest Shovels to the Biggest Bodices, We Have It', was their motto. "They needed something to get people into town and into the store. They did not have radio – they had word of mouth and gimmicks. Bands worked sometimes, even marching bands but what worked best to get folks into town to see what was what, was something new, something that had never been seen before. "M&H came up with a brilliant gimmick. They had a band playing and they even got the mayor to stand in front of the store and cut a grand opening bright scarlet ribbon. What really got the people to come outside M&H was the special traveling, astounding, astonishing, amazing, unbelievable, never seen before or probably never again, act of strength, gravity and common sense defying stunt. They had hired a 69 year old one legged, the other was a peg leg – like a pirate – man to tight walk across a rope strung across Beaton street, from the second story of M&H to Jackson's Saloon and Gentlemen's Relaxation Salon. "The rope was drawn taught between the two buildings twenty maybe it was thirty feet in the air. I am not sure anymore. What was even more amazing is that the ancient one legged tight rope walker was going to do this amazing feat carrying a full sized stove on his bare back. Can you imagine carrying a stove on your back – that is very hard. Now try this walking a rope high in the air and with only one leg. "M&H gathered quite a crowd for the noon event. The band struck up a high note and the people grew silent. Sam Hennings proclaimed to all that the "rope walker" would be performing but he needed absolute silence to perform his dangerous act. He had done it many times in the past. But he had to concentrate and silence was called for. The street grew quiet even two barking dogs were grabbed and thrown into a shed in back to shut up their yapping. It was so exciting as Rope Walker appeared in a sky blue outfit and bowed to the assembled throng. Every eye was upon him as two strong young men hefted a stove on his shoulders and then stepped back. Rope Walker adjusted the weight and with his good leg tested the rope gently then with his full weight. He edged out little by little, the awkward sight transfixing every tongue in every mouth. My own mouth turned dry one wrong step and…. Rope Walker edged out, his good leg leading and feeling the rope, his peg leg stabilizing him from behind. Slowly he edged out foot by foot until he stood in the middle of the rope high between the two buildings in the middle of Beaton Street and smiled a semi-toothless smile to the crowd. He was an amazing sight of courage and strength. My heart was beating very fast with excitement and amazement. "From the far side of the street it happened. The rope across from M&H had not been tied securely enough. The rope started to sag and then suddenly I saw that Rope Walker knew he was going to fall. It was terrible. The people screamed as he fell to the ground with the stove crashing down and crushing his chest. We all surged forward but there was nothing to do. A priest rushed up and offered him a chance at confession and last rites before he died. He only managed to look up into the priest's face and say, 'I am Jewish. Please bury me with my people'. "The funeral was the next day at the Hebrew Cemetery in Corsicana. Everyone attended. We never did learn his name. Rumor was that he came from Princeton, N.J. but we were never sure. When he was buried a tombstone was erected over his grave. It said simply – "Rope Walker". You can go to Corisicana someday and you will find this unknown Jew resting amongst our people in the Jewish cemetery to this very day."
The Obit says [SOURCE NOT CITED]:
"In the late 1890s a one-legged tight-wire walker was performing his act in downtown Corsicana as a promotion to bring people to town. He would walk a rope stretched across Beaton street from the tops of two buildings. The rope walker carried a cast iron stove on his back to add to the trick. On July 28, 1898, the 69 year old man, who claimed to have been born in Princeton, New Jersey on February 6, 1829, was performing his tight rope performance when the rope sagged excessively and he fell while halfway across Beaton Street. Mortally injured, the man called for a rabbi. There were none to be found but a Jewish merchant prayed with him in Hebrew. The dying man stated his date and place of birth but no cone could remember if he have his name and he was never identified. He was buried in the Hebrew Cemetery in Corsicana. His headstone simply reads "ROPE WALKER"
"Rope Walker" [AGLOBULATION FROM VARIOUS SOURCES]
"Many questions can be asked about the Peg-legged Rope Walker and his feeble attempts to tight rope walk across Beaton Street in downtown Corsicana with a stove strapped across his back. Through the years, many stories about Rope Walker have been told. One story says that in 1884 a stranger arrived in town, stretched a wire across Beaton Street from the southeast corner of Collins Street to the opposite northwest corner of the street. The most unusual part about the wire walker was the fact he had a wooden leg. The man then attempted to cross the wire on his one good leg and the wood peg-leg with a cook stove tied on his back. The rope walker used a long bar in his hand to help balance himself, but as he made it just halfway across the wire, he lost his balance and fell to the street. Of course, the heave weight of the stove badly crushed the man. He was immediately picked up and carried to a nearby hotel where Dr. J. T. Gluick, a pioneer physician tended to him. When the rope walker first fell, he had stated he was Methodist and would like to see a preacher, so Abe Mulkey, a famous evangelist was called upon to pray for him. When Rope Walker was asked his name, he turned his head and did not answer. He was asked once again about his relatives and home and again he did not answer. Finally, the man realized he was dying and looked around and then to the doctor and said, "Doc, I wish to talk with a Jew. I am a dying Jew." The startled Protestants withdrew from the hotel room and they rejoined the crowds on the street. Soon, the strange story spread around town that this man who had denied his religion and in the face of death had deserted his teachings, barely snatched them back in time. A Jewish merchant was called (there were no Rabbis in Corsicana at that time) and he requested the dying man to repeat a certain prayer, which the man did in excellent Hebrew and there was no doubt he was a Jew. Some other stories that have circulated around over the years is that the man was a middle-aged artist whose peg-leg prevented his working for big-time shows. One tale says he was hired by a group of Corsicana merchants who thought his act would bring crowds to town and stimulate business. It has also been said it was the first time he ever attempted to walk a rope with a heavy cook stove on his back. Some stories say he walked across on a wire and others say it was a rope. Another tale says he was accustomed to a wire rather than a rope and he had not yet mastered the technique of balance. When the rope became slack under the heavy weight, he fell. Supposedly, the man had the peg-leg fitted to the rope. According to different sources, for years, attempts were made to uncover the identity he carried with him to his grave. Descriptions sent to various circus and vaudeville troupes, theaters and newspapers brought no information. Different sources say the man was a stove salesman who came to town on a Trades Day and volunteered to walk the tight rope to attract attention to his goods for sale. After saying the prayer, the man died, and according to the Perpetual Record Book of the Jewish Cemetery, which is located on the west end of Corsicana on Second Ave. behind Lee Elementary School, the Jewish people of Corsicana made up a purse and buried him with the simple marking of "Rope Walker" on his grave. In other newspaper articles, there is a story about a man who called himself "The Great Professor Berg" who was a one-legged tight rope walker. It was supposedly read in a Mesilla, N.M. newspaper in either 1878 or 1879 there was an account of how Professor Berg walked a tight rope, actually a lariat rope, stretched between Hogan's Saloon and the roof of a barber shop. He did this despite several handicaps. One being the fact he only had one leg, and wore a peg-leg. And another being the fact that some of the uncouth onlookers had been expressing applause by firing their six-shooters in the air. The idea of two different peg-legged tight roe walkers performing in Texas in the 1870s and 1880s is pretty farfetched. Professor Berg, according to the Mesilla newspaper, had quite a troupe of performers. It could have been that between the late 1870s and 1884, he had some bad luck, lost his wagon show, and would up doing that solo show in Corsicana. So, it may be true that The Great Professor Berg is the same fellow buried in the Corsicana graveyard under the name of Rope Walker."
- Corsicana Daily Sun - Sep 13, 1998.