Sigmund "The Great Lafayette" Ignatius Neuberger

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Sigmund "The Great Lafayette" Ignatius Neuberger's Geni Profile

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Sigmund "The Great Lafayette" Ignatius Neuberger

Birthplace: Munich (München), Stadtkreis München, Bavaria (Bayern), Germany
Death: May 09, 1911 (40)
Empire Palace Theatre, Edinburgh, Scotland (United Kingdom)
Place of Burial: Edinburgh, Scotland
Occupation: Famous illusionist The Great Lafayette
Managed by: Private User
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About Sigmund "The Great Lafayette" Ignatius Neuberger

THE GREAT Lafayette was one of the best-known entertainers of the early 20th century. A two-week stint in Edinburgh in May 1911 would end in dramatic fashion.

Lafayette’s mystifying illusions and elaborate quick-changes were presented in the most lavish and spectacular act ever seen in the music halls. He was the highest paid entertainer in the theatre, receiving a weekly fee of £350.

The Great Lafayette started out in life as Sigmund Ignatius Neuberger, a German Jew, born in Munich on 25 February 1871. Little is known of his childhood, but we do know that he emigrated with his family to America in 1889. His father ran a successful silk business in New York and wanted Sigmund to join him, but he had already decided that his career destination was the stage. In 1890 he headed west to become a vaudeville star

Sigmund Neuberger, "The Great Lafayette", had an eccentric lifestyle. He lived as a bachelor recluse with a small cross-bred terrier, named Beauty, which he had been given by Harry Houdini. The dog slept on velvet cushions, dined at the table with Lafayette, had a collar of pure gold studded with diamonds. The radiator ornament on Lafayette’s limousine was a metal statuette of the dog. Lafayette’s London home and his private railway carriage had special rooms for Beauty, fitted with dog-sized settees and miniature porcelain baths. A plaque over the entrance to Lafayette’s London home was inscribed: ‘The more I see of men the more I love my dog’.

One evening Beauty broke free from her lead and appeared on stage with her master during one of his illusions. The crowd, thinking that Beauty was part of the show, gave Lafayette the biggest applause that he had ever received. Seeing the potential in this, he incorporated Beauty into the act as a magic dog. She was taught to perform tricks as a magician in her own right, something that no other artist was doing. Their rise to fame was instant and within a few years Lafayette was arguably the biggest star in America and Europe. In 1901 he became the first illusionist to take a big cat on stage, for his famous Lion’s Bride sketch. With this addition to his show, his future was assured.

Lafayette opened a two-week season at the Empire Theatre of Varieties in Nicolson Street, Edinburgh on May 1. Four days later Beauty died of apoplexy - caused by over-feeding.

Lafayette was grief-stricken, and had the dog laid out on a silk pillow surrounded by lilies in his rooms in the Caledonian Hotel. Lafayette had Beauty embalmed and was given permission to have the dog interred at Piershill Cemetery, provided he agreed to be buried in the same place. Meanwhile the show went on.

On Tuesday May 9, 3,000 spectators packed the Empire Theatre for Lafayette’s second evening performance. Lafayette’s act was the finale of the show. He entered, to a trumpet fanfare, dressed in a satin costume and proceeded to shake dozens of birds from a sequined cloth, finally producing a goat from the folds of the material. His act continued with ‘other remarkable illusions and elaborate scenarios in which he demonstrated his habit of changing identity with his many assistants

As The Great Lafayette took his bow a lamp fell amongst the scenery which instantly caught fire.

A mass of flame shot over the footlights to the stalls. The audience, now accustomed to unusual effects, were slow to recognize the danger. Only when the fire curtain was rapidly lowered did they hurry to the exits. By this time the stage was an inferno. It took three hours to bring the fire under control, and eleven people died. They included members of the orchestra, stage hands, a midget in the act called Little Joe, Alice Dale, a tiny 15-year-old girl who operated a scene-stealing mechanical teddy-bear and the Great Lafayette.

On May 14, 1911 the streets of Edinburgh were thronged with spectators to see his ashes moved from a funeral parlour in Morrison Street to Piershill Cemetery. The funeral was described as 'one of the most extraordinary interments of modern times'. The first car in the long cortege was Lafayette's silver-grey Mercedes, the sole passenger being a Dalmatian hound. There was great ceremonial at the Cemetery, as Beauty's coffin was opened and Lafayette's ashes placed beside the dog. Harry Houdini sent a floral representation of Beauty to the funeral.

The grave, with memorial stones to Beauty and The Great Lafayette, can be seen on a grassy mound just inside the Portobello Road entrance to Piershill Cemetery Scotland

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Sigmund "The Great Lafayette" Ignatius Neuberger's Timeline

February 25, 1871
Stadtkreis München, Bavaria (Bayern), Germany
May 9, 1911
Age 40
Edinburgh, Scotland
May 14, 1911
Age 40
Edinburgh, Scotland