I received an email from a man in Mill Hill called Nicholas Leonard who has been reading my blog and had heard about the book. He believes his great great grandfather is truly one of the son’s of Barnum.
From a family archive, he came across some extraordinary facts about his great great grandfather, Percival Stein, who started out as an early vaudeville press agent in the U.S.
Apparently, Nicholas Leonard’s great great grandmother, a wealthy shoe maker’s daughter, was travelling in the U.S. when she met Percival. She adored the world he inhabited and married him only a few months after they met. They had a daughter, Omer-Li who, inheriting their somewhat bohemian life style, left the U.S. to travel to Europe where she met an Englishman, Norris Leonard.
They married and set up home in Mill Hill and the family has been there ever since. Nicholas Leonard has disclosed some of the information in his possession about Percival Stein.
Stein worked in the main with street performers and escapologists, some of whom he placed in the larger vaudeville theatres of New York, performing handcuff and mailbag escapes. Stein wrote to P.T. Barnum in 1891, late in Barnum’s life, offering to sell Barnum one of Stein’s most extraordinary escapologists, named the Great Lulu.
Stein tried to persuade Barnum that this woman could make Barnum more money than he could ever imagine.
Barnum, who was well aware of the Great Lulu’s dubious past, declined the offer. Lulu’s best attribute was her ample bosom and both Barnum and Stein knew that the buxom Lulu’s greatest escapology trick was to distract audiences away from her poor powers of escape by mesmerizing audiences with her exotic dancing, thrusting her breasts into their faces. Unfortunately for Lulu, this resulted in numerous arrests for indecency, but nothing was more fortuitous for Stein than Lulu’s arrest for fraud.
In Barnum style, Stein profited from actually publicizing the details of Lulu’s arrest, which occurred after an incident at one vaudeville show when her usual trick of hiding keys in her vagina went horribly wrong. An unexpected shift in the keys rendered her trapped, in agony and having to be rushed to New York’s infirmary.
The keys were finally removed after a two hour search by doctors. Audiences flocked to subsequent performances, hoping to see the moment when Lulu would try to extract the keys from her nether region. Unfortunately for all concerned, the crowds became so rowdy that one night a minor riot broke out.
This resulted in yet another arrest for Lulu which unearthed the fact that the Great Lulu was not an escapologist at all but actually a woman of easy virtue, who had worked the bordellos of the mid West for over 20 years. Lulu, crippled by the shame, ran off and Stein decided to change acts and go into legitimate theatre.