THE CHAMPION JUMPER OF THE WORLD. An Interview With Lawrence M. Donovan.
A few days ago a representative of "The E vening News" had a chat with Mr Lawrence M. Donovan, who possesses a somewhat lengthy list of titles, The " Police Gazette " Champion Jumper of the World, The Hero of Niagara Falls, and The Impersonator of Ally Sloper at Waterloo Bridge, being a few of them. This is a heavy accumulation of honours which would be sufficient to overweight any ordinary man, but the hero of Niagar* and Waterloo Bridge has good broad shoulders, and the multiplication of ! epithets does not (fortunately) ii&pair his buoyancy. Mr Donovan is a somewhat paradoxical hero, the height of his distinction being measured by the depths to which he has fallen. He has gone! down in the world—the liquid section of it — as frequently and as fast as any man alive, bub has always come up smiling. It would appear that his marvellous talent for falling from high places without hjrting himself is a natural gift, perfected^ of course, by experience, but inborn in &he individual, and not to be acquired bypractice alone. Nevertheless, it is evident from the recollections of the champion End from the most authentic contemporary, sources of information, that his leaning towards falling did not) develop itself at i very early ago. Men whom Nature ha* endowed with the poetic faculty will scribne verses almost before they begin to write, qid a good while before they know how to sjpll, and the juvenile artist, once arrived atthe dignity of unassisted locomotion, begiis to decorate the walls of his nursery wjth burnt-match-end sketches and studies in, coal and lamp black. Bub the records <f Lawrence Donovan's infancy show no fcjace of such premature attempts at the expression of his particular genius. W© do n(b read, even in the imaginative newspaper of his own country, of the newly snort-coated Donovan climbing on to a chair wpilst his nurse's back was turned, and froinihat dizzy eminence precipitating himself into the abyss of the footbath. Nor has tradwon -handed down to us any tales of daring deeds accomplished in boyhood ; of his mding a miniature Niagara in the duckponi, and utilising the first-floor window ail; as an amateur Brooklyn Bridge. Porhap/ (to alter Bret Harte a little)— Bis first descent ho may not toll : JSnough to know that in that well His first high aspirations fell. i L, Donovan I ■> Bu\ if any juvenile experiences befell him, no particulars of them have been preserved, ana the champion jumper himsslf has no anebdotes to tell bi juvenile trials and triimphs, or of the ups and downs Of in. famy. At the age of 15 he went to work in the printing office of the u New York Herald,** and became a thorough practical prirter, working at his trade for five years. Thcugh not connected with the literary department of the paper, Mr Donovan was not entirely free from the cacoeihes swibcndi. As will be seen from an extract given a littfe lower down, his tendency towards dropping occasionally leads him to follow the example of Mr Sila3 Westg, and " drop info poetry." Had he remained in the " Herald " office much longer he might have toi/ched a lower depth than he has ever yet soinded, and degenerated into a journalist. However, when he was twenty years old he deserted the " stick" for the sword and enlisted in the United States Army. After eighteen months' service he returned to the practice of his trade, this time on the staff of the " New York Police Gazette." Here his talents for bridge - jumping wore recognised, nnd after some public performances the enterprising proprietor, Mr (Richard K. Fox (who seems to run a champion factory in connection with the "Gazette") dubbed him "Champion, Jumper of the World." When he had 'exhausted the resources of America, and was reduced to the % plight- of Alexander, having no. more bridges to conquer, Mr Donovan set sail for the old country, which has hitherto not appreciated his pluck and dexterity as' they deserve. Mr Donovan is now twenty-five years of age. He is* a handsome young fellow, about the medium height, loosely and"; somewhat ' clumsily built. Though he fe an adept at falling, he naver falls • unless he, wants , to,, and is evidently on the best with his centre of gravity. He / has J a frank' and prepossessing fdee; clear eyes, and very thick dark eyebrows: •In manner Mr Donovan is modest^hdunAss'uming. . Like most brave men whose business; it is to risk their lives in the very" tightest "places, he has not an atom of " side " about him, but is -'particularly gentle' and Tow-Voiced. He is not over willing to talk of his own doiogs, bttt' faahsfreV to a question asking fpr'spme detail^ '.of his Transfttlan.tic exploits, he mentioned a few of them. ", 1 . "It' was on the 28tn of August, 1886, that I jumped off Brooklyn Bridge. I was backed to jump itbyMrRVK. Fox, ,thq 1 proprietor of the * Police Gazette.' It 'was ,140 feet; that one, arid four' days before I • had jumped off another one 104 feet high." T< The feat had been tried before,- .hadn't ifc?" • "Of course. The last one t^at tried it was Professor Odliim—you remember ? He was killed by the fall." ! "You did a bigger jump than. that at Niagara?" ', 1 ' "Yes, In Noyetnber, 18§6. I jumped off the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge, 220 feet high. That was the biggest jump I, •have done yet, but ib is not as, high as [Clifton Bridge, which I meant, to jump, from on Jubilee Day.".. - > ..."That attempt of yours ended unfortunately!'! *. ' ' l ' , ' " Yes. The police waited at each endpf , the bridge, and looked into every carriage that came past. When the one that held me came they took me and arrested me." \ "And then?" J " Well, then I was brought-up and held to bail in £200, and two' sureties of £100 each. I could get one of the two sureties, but not) the other. So I wa* lent to Bristol Gaol, and spent a month there. Then I ""*«iplie>l \i* "!> ''it ■«t on Riy..M?*'irr N *^'"*Tr*'»*
ances, and, after some trouble, I was released. My bail will expire on December 26." " You mean to try again, then?" " Yes, I'm going to jump off that j bridge in January next, the same week that Jem Smith and Jake Kilrain fight for the championship of the world." " Will you wait until they do fight before you try tho jump ?" MriVnovri was not to be had by this insidiou.- <vi mpt to see what he thought of the r •iiuiiiones" of tho pi ize-fijrhting "boom." Hc'cvoi, in anr-wei to a question as to KilminV> prospect*, of success, he delivered the following oracular statement :— " I'm Mr Fox's champion of the world in the matter of bridge jumping, and I think I'm the only champion of the world he'll have just yet in anything," " You have not been very well treated in this country, Mr Donovan, over your attempt to signalise the Jubilee." " No, it wasn't quite what I expected — to be sent to prison for a month. You see, I'm a great admirer of the Queen, and ib was my great ambition to be introduced to her after I jumped off Clifton Bridge in honour of her Jubilee. I was the only man that tried to do any feat specially in honour of the Jubilee— the only man in England, and I'm an American. I have a great respect for Her Majesty and for the Prince of Wales. I'd value a sixpenny medal from, the Prince more than a pur3o of gold from another man. I did jump from London Bridge you know, in honour of the Jubilee, on June 5. But I wanted to do the Clifton Bridge." j "You should not be over loyal by dcsI cent ; your name is an Irish one." "Yes. My father and mother both came from Dublin ; but I was born in America, and have lived there all my life. I have no i sympathy with the dynamiters, and that i lot. . I have never been to Ireland, and I'll never go there unless I get introduced to the Queen. Then I should go, when I was known as a friend of Her Majesty." "You have turned your hand to a good many things beside bridge jumping, haven't you ? " "Yes. I'm a printer by trade, you know, and have worked at it a good many years. I was President of the Pressmen's Union, Number 9, of New York,, .until recently. I served in the United State* Army— the Artillery, for eighteen months. I also served in the New York State Militia, and "Was a firefc lieutenanb in Company A, 12th Regiment, at the time of General Grant's funeral. lam also a lieutenanb inthe New York Volunteor Life-Saving Corps." " You have written poetry, I believe?" "Well," said Mr Donovan, with a conscious smile, " I have tried my hand at ib once or twice." He produced a manuscript* on which were inscribed the following verses, suggested by his sojourn in Bristol Prison : — It is night's silent hour ; on his lone prison cot A convict in slumber reposes; There's a smile on his lips, for there's hope in his dream, That sweet vision of freedom disoloxef. He dreams it has come— the day looked for solong, Through years of privation and pain, And with footsteps elate through the dark prison gate He steps forth to freedom again. Ho smiles in his sleep, for ho sees in his dream A form that is waiting to meet him ; His fond mother is there, and in smiles and In. tears With a kiss of affection doth greet him. But, hark I In his ear thoro broathes a Bad sound. Like tho notes of a funeral knell ; Alas, he but dreamt ! 'Tis the signal to rise, And sorrow returns with that bell. Oh, who can describe how the the convict must feel. When after the long weary years He mingles once more in the gay busy world. And Freedom's sweet music he hears I Ifc would be unjust to close this interview without mentioning some of tho gallant actions whioh- Mr Donovan has done.' No less than five people owe their lives to him, having been at various times rescued from drawing by his pluck and skill A fewyears ago he also saved from probable death two Boston ladies, by stopping the runaway horses of their carriage at great risk to himI self. The feat of jumping from Clifton Bridge, on the performance of which he has I set his heart, is a terribly dangerous one ; but if anyone can do ifc " Larry " Donovan is the man, and he himself has no doubt that he will accomplish it safely and sueMssfully.