A century of stunts

The fascinating history of the world’s most famous daredevil stunt performers is brought to life at the Harley-Davidson Museum®

Roll up, roll up! The new ‘Daredevils: A Century of Spine-Tingling Spectacles’ exhibition is pulling in the crowds at the Harley-Davidson Museum® in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

An ode to the daring entertainers who have thrilled audiences around the world with their death-defying stunts, the exhibition features fascinating artefacts, photographs, videos, costumes and motorcycles from daredevil history.

Highlights include the Urias Family Globe of Death, first constructed in 1912 in Brazil and used by four generations of the Urias family for various gravity-defying performances; a rare buckskin costume worn by American showman Buffalo Bill Cody; and a rocket-powered, custom-built motorcycle (‘The Space Cycle’), complete with helicopter blades, that was designed to jump Niagara Falls.

Among those in the daredevils hall of fame is, of course, the late Evel Knievel, and his famous Harley-Davidson XR-750, ridden during his famed 1975 Wembley Stadium jump, is on loan to the exhibition from the Evel Knievel Museum.

One of the greatest showmen in American history, Evel gained international stardom for his hair-raising motorcycle-jumps in the 1960s and 70s. His legendary career also influenced a generation of risk-takers, from BMX and motocross superstars to backyard daredevils.

But his story is a chapter in a much older history of stunt performers. There was James Kolsto, aka ‘Jimmy Canton’, who started leaping motorcycles over cars in 1951; Joie Chitwood, a racer and Hollywood stuntman who set up a touring show after the Second World War; and, decades earlier, circus performers such as Barnum & Bailey, the Ringling Bros and the Adam Forepaugh Circus, who all used bicycles, cars and motorcycles in their performances. Without these and many other pioneers, Evel may never have jumped his Harley-Davidson® motorcycle into history.

‘Daredevils: A Century of Spine-Tingling Spectacles’ closes on September 8, 2019.