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The Sensational Trapeze Artist Adelaide Macarte

A short distance from the entrance to Brockley cemetery aside a shady side path lies an imposing family headstone, topped with its ethereal angelic figure, on which the name Adelaide Macarte is inscribed. Although the lettering has faded the curious passerby can read on the inscription that Adelaide or Addie as she was also known, died in far away Callicoon, New York State ( USA) at the early age of twenty nine from pleurisy and was then laid to rest in this cemetery in August 1908.  So who was this remarkable diminutive acrobat, five feet one, who with her sisters, Julia and Cecilia, (her two other siblings were named Harriet and Blanche) helped to captivate audiences and gained international acclaim for so many years among the 'Olympians of the Saw Dust Circle' both here and abroad with daredevil feats on the trapeze, on horseback and the circus high wire?

Cecilia, Julia and Adelaide Macarte c.1906.
The Macarte sisters (left to right) Cecilia, Julia and Adelaide c.1906.

Adelaide was born into a dynasty of famous circus performers, with the Macarthy family name already well established in the annals of acrobatic and circus lore. Her grandmother was the world renowned bare back performer Madame Macarte of the Ginnett circus family and her Lambeth born father Henry Macarthy (the name Macarte was used as a stage name by the sisters and an earlier generation of female performers from the wider family) worked as a circus acrobat from an early age and died in 1924. He is buried alongside his daughters, Adelaide, Julia and Cecilia. Her mother Regina hailed from an Hungarian ballet milieu. She died in Berlin in 1892.

After many years performing in this country the sisters, who also participated in off-stage charitable causes helping distressed  Music Hall artistes, travelled extensively across the USA . The American newspaper clipping below is from 1899 and offers the reader a wonderful contemporary snapshot of how the Macarte sisters were admiringly viewed as much in demand Vaudeville artists, Addie is described in the post as the sister who does 'all the talking'! Although holding the slack wire in your teeth , whilst one of the sisters walks the tight rope must have demanded truly amazonian strength! Not only was she a nimble gymnast like her sisters, indeed she had begun on the arduous road to becoming a top circus and Music Hall performer at the tender age of four, but she played the piano with some verve and was noted as being a keen linguist.

Source: St Louis Post-Dispatch ( 1899)

Following Adelaide's death in 1908,  sisters Julia and Cecilia continued performing arenic novelties, now with a replacement artiste called Rosie Foote, travelling to Australia in 1912 and touring South Africa in 1916.  Julia died in 1958 and Cecilia (Carter) died in 1965. On both their burial records their occupation is given as retired Variety Artistes. Let's hope that The Music Hall Guild of Great Britain and America, who have restored other headstones linked to circus and music hall performers in the cemeteries, will at some future point be able to bring the Macarte headstone back to its pristine theatrical splendour. Or better still maybe a remake of the 1956 Carol Reed film ' Trapeze' this time with the three main acrobats, being called of course the The Macarte Sisters, now played by modern day olympians of the Saw Dust Circle!

The final resting place of the Vaudeville artiste Adelaide Macarte lies in the family grave in Brockley cemetery ( photo : courtesy of Find a Grave)