The Wall of Death, A Film By Benedict Campbell
For many a year, the Wall of Death show reigned as a venerable staple of county fairs and circus road shows, and I can recall watching in wide-eyed wonder as a young boy in Ohio as the riders hurtled around the vertical track.
The Ken Fox Wall of Death was built in 1995 by Ken Fox and his team at a massive ship yard in New Brighton, was completed in just 20 weeks. The Wall made it’s official debut at the 1995 Rempstone Steam Rally and stands 20ft high and 32ft in diameter.
This unique show first appeared in the United Kingdom in 1929 and throughout the 1930‘s. By 1950 there were many Walls of Death” in the Country. Today there are few remaining in the World with only a handful of people able to meet the exacting standards required.
The Wall of Death – or motordrome – is a carnival sideshow featuring a drum or barrel-shaped wooden cylinder within which stunt motorcyclists ride and perform a variety of “death-defying” tricks. The shows were mostly derived from US motorcycle boardtrack (motordrome) racing which saw its heyday in the early 1900s.
The first carnival motordrome appeared at Coney Island amusement park in 1911 and proved so popular with crowds that the following year portable tracks began to appear at traveling carnivals across the country. In 1915, the first “silodromes” with perpendicular walls was built, and this motordrome which featured straight walls became known as the “Wall of Death.” The Wall of Death became a staple in the US and the craze reached its peak in the 1930s with more than 100 motordromes plying their trade in traveling shows and at amusement parks.
By 2004, only about half a dozen of these motorcycle shows were still touring the US. The first known Wall of Death in the UK appeared in 1929 and was operated by the Messham family.
A similar act called the “Globe of Death” has the riders looping inside a wire mesh sphere rather than a drum to allow viewing from all angles. The globe of death is a circus and carnival stunt where as many as seven performers ride motorcycles inside a mesh sphere simultaneously. Similar to the wall of death but allowing riders to loop vertically as well as horizontally, the portability of the act has made it a circus fixture in the US .
There have been three performance related deaths recorded on these globes between the years 1949 and 1997.
The youngest recorded person to ride a motorcycle in the globe of death is Maximus Garcia who was four years, six months, and 28 days old on August 16, 2006 when he accomplished the feat.