Tivoli’s dark past: Reckless showmanship and children in cages

Tivoli’s dark past: Reckless showmanship and children in cages

When Tivoli opened for the first time in 1843, Copenhageners could leave their cramped and smelly city and step into a magical world of entertainment. A look back at Tivoli’s history reveals entertainment that seems hard to imagine today: from highly flammable hot air balloon rides to children exhibited in cages.

Its highest ride ever
The mid-19th century was a time of innovation and adventure, with hot air ballooning capturing people’s imaginations. In Copenhagen, balloon captain Lauritz Johansen used Tivoli for his exciting ascents.

Accompanied by music from Tivoli’s orchestra, he hung out of the basket and greeted the spectators as the balloon rose into the air. Sometimes he even attached fireworks to the basket, which he detonated when the balloon was airborne to the delight of the crowds below.

In 1891, Tivoli took the excitement of ballooning a step further and created a breathtaking ride for paying guests. Johansen took over as captain of the huge hot air balloon ‘Montebello’. The balloon was tethered to the ground, but when the ropes were untied, it would rise high above the city, giving guests a stunning view.

The height of the balloon’s ascent depended on the ticket price. For one crown you could reach 350 feet, or three times the height of the Round Tower, and for five crowns as high as 1,000 feet. Around 305 meters in the air, it’s an incredible four times higher than Tivoli’s current tallest ride: the Star Flyer carousel swing ride.

Tivoli's dark past: Reckless showmanship and children in cages

19th century cloud coms
To make the ride even more exciting, one of the ropes tethering the balloon to the ground contained a telephone cable. This allowed passengers to make use of another new invention of the time and make phone calls from high in the sky to describe the amazing experience.

Balloon captain Johansen also enjoyed pleasing visitors who wanted to keep their feet on the ground. In 1900, the adventurous and theatrical aviator bought the Grøften restaurant and made it the talk of the town. Today, if you visit Grøften, you can still see its balloon history in the form of lamps shaped like hot air balloons.

Travel around the world in Tivoli
The turn of the last century was also the heyday of ethnographic exhibitions that drew attention to life in different parts of the world. In 1905, Tivoli held its large colonial exhibition with objects, houses and people from its colonies: the Danish West Indies, Greenland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands.

Each colony had its own pavilion complete with human representatives who wore clothing from their culture, displayed their local crafts and acted as guides. The West Indian Pavilion featured a traditional palm hut complete with coconut trees, animals and three people from the West Indies: William Smith and two children Victor Cornelins and Alberta Viola Roberts. The two children’s families had agreed to their trip to Copenhagen in exchange for the children getting an education.

See the spitting child
At the time of the exhibition, Victor was seven and Alberte was four. Then as now, Tivoli was a paradise for children with lots to see and do. Victor was particularly fascinated by the Greenlandic pavilion. In fact, he spent so much time running away to be with the Greenlanders that the two children were put in a cage to keep them in the Danish West Indian pavilion. Understandably, Victor was not happy about his loss of freedom and would show his displeasure by spitting through the cage bars at passers-by.

Crown Princess Louise was patron of the exhibition, and it drew a large crowd of over 100,000 people, including many ministers and royalty.

Although the exhibition was hugely popular, it was fraught with problems. The Icelanders in particular protested loudly as they considered themselves superior to the other groups and did not want their pavilion to show their country as a primitive culture. To allay these concerns, Denmark agreed to display objects and exhibits from its own agricultural history.

Tivoli's dark past: Reckless showmanship and children in cages

End of an era
The Icelanders’ protest was a sign of the changing times and the numbered days of Denmark as a colonial power. Just over a decade later, in 1917, the islands of the Danish West Indies were sold to the United States, and a year later Iceland became an independent state.

And what happened to Victor and Alberte after the exhibition? Unfortunately, Alberta died in her teenage years, but Victor completed his schooling and teacher training. He ended up as a highly respected deputy headmaster at a school in Nakskov, where he lived until his death in 1985.

Source: The Nordic Page


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