Pirate school: 5 things you can shoot from a cannon

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Forgotten history, bizarre tales & facts that seem too strange khổng lồ be true! Host Michael Kent asks listeners to lớn tell him something strange, bizarre or surprising that they‘ve recently learned and he gets to lớn the bottom of it! Every episode ends by playing a gameshow-style quiz game with a celebrity guest. Part of the WCBE Podcast Experience.

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Frank “Cannonball Richards” became famous for an incredible act where he would stand in front of a cannon & have a 100 lb. Cannonball shot into his stomach. In this episode, we talk about the development of this talent and then quiz Comedian và Improvisor Joel Savage!

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In 1887, Frank Anson Richards was born in a Kansas town called Minneapolis lớn Richard và Ellen Richards. 

As a young man, he fought in World War I và at some point, realized he had the ability khổng lồ take tremendous amounts of force lớn his abdomen. How much? Apparently he figured out that he could take a punch at full force to the stomach and not be affected. 

He thought he was on khổng lồ something, so after the war, he entered the Vaudeville Circuit with his iron-clad gut. He would allow people to pay their entry fee lớn punch him in the stomach. Even world-famous boxing heroes lượt thích Heavyweight Champion Boxers Jack Dempsey & Jess Willard punched Richard in the stomach at full force.

His Vaudeville act was success. And if you aren’t familiar with Vaudeville, it was a series of performers who would all perform separate acts together on the same bill and often would travel around doing shows in the late 1800s và early 1900s. You could pay one fee & see all these acts. And Frank Richard’s contribution lớn the show was lớn show off the strength of his amazing iron stomach. He would ask people to lớn punch him with all their might & it wouldn’t phase him. The act evolved into more elaborate stunts. Frank would lie on the ground và have people line up in front of his body. One by one, they’d get their turn to jump on his abdomen. He’d stand while someone ran a battering ram into him. Then, he’d get struck with a 2x4. As a finale, he’d find the biggest man in the room and allow that man khổng lồ swing an eighteen pound sledgehammer into his stomach.

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Many people have seen the famous act of a person being fired from a cannon. It’s a feat that’s been performed in circuses và festivals all over the world. Well in the 1920s Frank Richards had an act with a cannon that was a little different. Rather than being fired from one, Frank Richards had a cannon fired at him. Like into his stomach. & I’ve looked around everywhere. This type of act had never been done before & - believe it or not - has never been done since. It was so popular và unique, he soon became known as “Cannonball Richards.”

Here’s how it went. The cannon would be set up & loaded with a one-hundred pound cannon ball & Richards would stand in front of it, wearing eye goggles & a wrap around his belly - only 10 feet away. The fuse was lit, sparks would fly, and the cannon would fire with a big plume of smoke & Richards would take the hit directly khổng lồ the belly. It became so famous, newsreels of the stunt were spread far và wide as moving pictures became a popular medium. He would tell the newspapers he could only bởi vì the stunt for two shows a day. More than that was too painful. 

 

But here’s the thing that stuck with me when I read about this. I’ve seen photos of this famous piece of armor from the Battle of Waterloo. It’s in the Army Museum in Paris, France và it’s a Napoleonic Breastplate from a French Cavalry soldier. There’s a clear hole through the front and the back of the breast plate where a British cannonball fired through. It belonged lớn either François-Antoine or his brother - history really isn’t sure - but whoever was wearing it died on June 18, 1815 và it’s pretty clear evidence that you can’t survive a cannonball hit khổng lồ the chest.

That led me to bởi vì further research và learn that the cannonball stunt by Frank Richards was just that - a stunt. The ball was real. It was actually 100 pounds. But the cannon was spring-loaded khổng lồ propel the ball & release a cloud of smoke, but it wasn’t really being fired by gun-powder. The cannonball would receive just enough velocity to lớn hit him in the stomach - & that it did. Any normal person would be knocked over và injured doing the stunt. But it’s important to note nonetheless - it wasn’t a real cannon.

 

It didn’t matter. The stunt was so wildly popular, the newsreel footage has lived on. It’s been featured all over popular culture. The slow-motion video of him getting hit but that cannonball & the skin rippling black away from the impact is a popular stock footage video used in everything. He was featured on the cartoon “Freakazoid!” và “The Fairly Oddparents” và was even referenced in Seinfeld. A whole episode of the Simpson’s had a bit about it where Homer performs the stunt. If you’re a Van Halen fan hâm mộ and have the album Van Halen three, you’ve seen it. That’s Frank Richards on the cover. Although he died in 1969 at the age of 81, Frank Cannonball Richards developed an act so original và unique, that 100 years later, we still recognize his image.