Fall of the Empire

A hundred years ago today, a fire raged through Edinburgh’s Empire Theatre, sparing spectators but claiming several performers. Among them was the evening’s main attraction, The Great Lafayette. As previously reported, the flamboyant conjurer met his flaming end after an elaborate routine went awry (footage of the ruins here). However it was only some time after the incident that the body thought to be his was revealed to be a doppelganger. Just a few days earlier Lafayette had been dismayed by the death of his beloved dog Beauty, predicting that he would soon join her. And sure enough, within a fortnight the Mr G and Celine of their day were united for eternity under an ostentatious slab, Lafayette’s ashes resting between Beauty’s dainty paws.

The theatre now on the site of the Empire is holding a séance tonight while the centenary is also marked by a whole festival dedicated to Lafayette, including an exhibition and the launch of a new book, The Death and Life of The Great Lafayette. This is a welcome re-examination of the man born Sigmund Neuburger who conquered audiences the world over, becoming the highest-paid magician of his day. Which, in turn, allowed him to indulge his über-swishy tastes (as in his extravagant London digs). Head to Booktryst for more details on a remarkable man.

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