The Great Lafayette

It’s one hundred years since the tragic death of one of the world’s greatest entertainers here in Edinburgh, and we’re marking the centenary with a series of events in libraries.

On May 9, 1911 a devastating fire broke out at the Empire Palace Theatre. Sigmund Neuberger, better known as the Great Lafayette, the self-proclaimed ‘Man of Mystery’,  was performing to a sell-out crowd when fire erupted on stage. The fire safety curtain descended preventing the spread of the fire and allowing all 3000 members of the audience to escape unharmed. However, those on stage and behind the scenes were less fortunate. Lafayette perished along with members of his troupe, his horse and his lion.

In an ironic twist of fate, the corpse of Lafayette’s stunt body double was initially mistaken for the magician’s. The remains of the real Lafayette were found the next day under the stage of the wrecked theatre. Huge crowds gathered in Edinburgh to see his funeral procession as it travelled to his final resting place. Lafayette is buried beside his beloved dog, Beauty, in Piershill Cemetery.

The Great Lafayette’s death sent cascades of emotion around the world. But before he died his life was a true rags to riches story. From simple beginnings he rose to command the highest fees for any stage performer of his time – the equivalent of £15,000,000. He had one love in his life – his dog Beauty, a gift from the great escapologist Harry Houdini. The Great Lafayette was a magician, a stage illusionist and a guaranteed success in theatres.

But his life was shrouded in mystery and he is little remembered today. A new book, however, pulls back the curtain on the death to reveal the hitherto hidden life of The Great Lafayette. And Edinburgh Reads are delighted that the launch of The Death and Life of the Great Lafayette by Ian Robertson and Gordon Rutter will take place on Thursday 12 May at 6.30pm in Central Library. Booking is essential. Please contact or phone 0131 242 8100 to reserve your place.

About the authors

Ian Robertson is a Scottish author with a passion for historical mysteries. His first book The Quest for the Celtic Key (2002), co-authored with Karen Ralls-Macleod received excellent reviews, as did the his follow up book Rosslyn and the Grail (2005) co-authored this time with Mark Oxbrow. He has appeared in the TV programmes Mysterious Scotland (2003), Richard Hammond and the Holy Grail (2006), and The Search (2007) with Jamie Theakston.

Gordon Rutter is passionate about all things Fortean – that is anomalous phenomena and he has lectured and written extensively on Fortean aspects of the world. His books include How the Mushroom Got it’s Spots (with Sue Assinder, 2000), Paranormal Newcastle (2009), Paranormal Edinburgh (2009) and Ghost’s Caught on Film 3 (2011). He has also contributed to many books and writes extensively for various magazines. Television appearances include such shows as Glorious Gardens, The Culture Show, Newsnight and Reporting Scotland.

Coming soon: more information about exhibitions, events and related activities – this May, Libraries are magic!

1 thought on “The Great Lafayette

  1. Pingback: Libraries are magic! « Tales of One City

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