Glass-eating escapologist visits Queensland (1928)

Warning – Do not attempt this at home!

Cartoon of Sidney Dan. Published in Brisbane's Daily Standard newspaper, May 3, 1928

Cartoon of Sidney Dan. Published in Brisbane’s Daily Standard newspaper, May 3, 1928

In 1928 English escapologist and entertainer Sidney Dan, promoted as “The World’s fastest escapologist and nature’s greatest freak”, was wooing audiences as he toured Australian theatres. In May, he appeared at the Wintergarden Theatre in Rockhampton. Audiences were thrilled watching Sidney Dan escape from a straitjacket and leg irons in 33 seconds. Dan was also known for his unusual talent with glass – eating it and walking on it. He appeared to eat an electric light bulb from the theatre’s footlights. The Morning Bulletin reported – “The crunching of the glass as he chewed it could be heard for a considerable distance.”

Advertisement, Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), May 8, 1928

Advertisement, Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), May 8, 1928

During Dan’s visit to Rockhampton he performed a public stunt to raise money for the Cancer Campaign Fund. The stunt saw Dan fitted into a tightly strapped canvas straitjacket then laid on the ground as a motor car charged from a distance of 450 yards. The spellbound audience watched as Dan freed himself easily in approximately 30 seconds with the car still about 50 yards away. Dan performed this stunt in several other Queensland towns.

Advertisement, Maryborough Chronicle, May 5, 1928

Advertisement, Maryborough Chronicle, May 5, 1928

During his time in Maryborough, the entertainer gave a private performance to some of the staff at the Maryborough Chronicle. “Sidney Dan immediately proceeded to demonstrate his unorthodox powers. An ordinary common table glass was immediately smashed to pieces by one bite of his perfect set of teeth. He then proceeded to crunch between his teeth of the glass to small particles and swallow them before our eyes. An examination of his mouth afterwards did not reveal a single particle – all had been swallowed”, reported the newspaper.

Sidney Dan in a straitjacket before plunging into the Brisbane River. From Townsville, May 16, 1928

Sidney Dan in a straitjacket before plunging into the Brisbane River. From Townsville, May 16, 1928

During his tour of Brisbane a few months earlier in March he performed another breathtaking stunt in the Brisbane River. Thousands of spectators gathered on the Victoria Bridge and along the river banks to watch as the straightjacketed Dan was thrown off a yacht and into the water. Prior to the event he joked that he would need to escape in about 40 seconds saying – “if I don’t you had better divert that subscription from the cancer fund towards my funeral expenses…” – so audiences enjoyed the extra excitement brought about by the 65 seconds it actually took.

Sidney Dan in Brisbane. From Townsville Bulletin, May 16, 1928

Sidney Dan in Brisbane. From Townsville Bulletin, May 16, 1928

Sidney Dan. Advertisement for Fullers Empire Theatre in Brisbane. From The Telegraph, March 23, 1928

Sidney Dan. Advertisement for Fullers Empire Theatre in Brisbane. From The Telegraph, March 23, 1928

Not allowed to relax, a special luncheon was given aboard the yacht, where the Brisbane Courier reported he “amused the guests by chewing some glassware…and bending coins in his teeth”.

It is believed that Sidney Dan’s career continued under the stage name Sirdani.

Myles Sinnamon – Project Coordinator, State Library of Queensland