ScotClans to attend Lafayette seance 100 years after his death

Tonight we are attending possibly the weirdest event I’m possibly ever going to go to – a seance on the place where the famous illusionist, The Great Lafayette died 100 years ago – today!.

The Great Lafayette and his dog Beauty

The Great Lafayette and his dog Beauty

A century ago, The Great Lafayette was the highest paid performer in the world. But in the middle of his show, on the 9 May 1911, a fire began in the theatre. Trapped on the stage, Lafayette died, as the theatre burned to the ground. This was the Edinburgh Empire Palace Theatre, on the very same site now occupied by the Edinburgh Festival Theatre.

The finale of this final performance was the ‘Lion’s Bride’ which involved the use of tapestries, cushions, tents and curtains to create an Oriental setting. An African lion paced restlessly in a cage while fire-eaters, jugglers and contortionists performed. A young woman in Oriental dress walked slowly on stage and entered the cage. When she was inside, the lion roared and reared up ready to pounce. The animal skin was then suddenly ripped away to reveal The Great Lafayette who had mysteriously changed places with the lion.

As The Great Lafayette took his bow a lamp fell amongst the scenery which instantly caught fire, the audience (3,000 people) escaped as the band played the national anthem.  The safety curtain on the stage came down, everyone on the stage and backstage were killed in the fire.  Lafayette had actually managed to escape but returned to save his horse, Amazon.  As well as the horse, a lion and ten performers including a child who performed illusions in a bear outfit lost their lives this terrible night 100 years ago.

Exactly one hundred years on, we at ScotClans are joining The Edinburgh Secret Society to take to the stage of the Festival Theatre, the site of Lafayette’s tragic death, in order to conduct ‘The Lafayette Seance’.  The festival theatre is said to be haunted, people have head Lafayette’s voice and also a lion’s roar.

We will be retracing Lafayette’s final backstage steps as he attempted to escape the burning building. Wonder if The Great Lafayette will make a final appearance on stage? And maybe even his beloved pooch who died only a few days before Lafayette’s untimely death. The dog was a gift from Harry Houdini to cheer up Lafayette who was a bit down in the dumps.

Beauty, Lafayette’s dog was buried in Piershill Cemetery, where Lafayette would later join him. She was the object of The Great Lafayette’s affection, and  was famously spoiled by the man of mystery, treated to velvet cushions, diamond-studded collars, five-course meals and even his own room.

But it was this indulgence which was to put an end to Beauty’s life when, during his stay in Edinburgh, he died of apoplexy, a condition caused by over-eating.

Distraught, The Great Lafayette negotiated a formal burial for his pet at Piershill Cemetery, agreed on the condition that he too would be buried there when the time came – which was sooner than he anticipated.

The body of Lafayette was soon found and sent to Glasgow for cremation, however two days after the fire, workers were clearing the understage area and found another body identically dressed as Lafayette. It turned out that the body in the crematorium was that of the illusionist’s body double. Two days later the ashes of the Great Lafayette were taken through Edinburgh witnessed by a crowd estimated to number over 250,000 before being laid to rest in the paws of his beloved (and stuffed) Beauty at Piershill Cemetery.

About Amanda Moffet

I run with Rodger Moffet. Live in Edinburgh and love travelling around Scotland gathering stories.

View all posts by Amanda Moffet →

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