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Cannonballs, solid spherical chunks of Iron or lead, have to be lifted and well handled for one to imagine the fearful impact these metal projectiles would have In an early engagement. MILO BRINN used to Juggle with them, and this Italian strongman, one of the greatest herculean athletes of the last century, aptly named himself THE CANNONBALL KING, with an act that has seldom been beaten for its demonstration of strength combined with skill.
MILO BRINN's real name was LUIGI BORRA, and he was born In Milan on 14th January 1866. One of a large family, his youthful ambition was to become extra powerful and well developed, with a secondary aim, common with youth, of wishing to travel the World, not so easy a task In this pre-aviation era. His early youth was an active one, developing a fine and useful physique joining the Milan City Gymnasium, learning the skills of acrobatics, gymnastics, wrestling and also weight lifting. Neither did he neglect his occupational studies, qualifying highly In his trade as a telegraph Instrument maker.
True to the tradition of many other famous strongmen of that time, a time of great adventures, Milo, or to be exact, then Luigi, gave up his safe employment at the age of 23, to join a circus as a member of a wrestling troupe. Circus life Is nothing if not perilous, and rife with unpredictable hazards. The Circus became wrecked in a storm In Turin, and Luigi's new profession was saved by a French talent scout searching for acts for the Folies Bergere, primarily as a wrestler, but later as a strongman act. His basic act at the Folies included tumbling, hand balancing, juggling with weights and cannonballs, and posing, with a finale where he lifted a 200lb bar across his shoulders with attendants hooking 6 x 561b weights to a harness hanging thereon, after this four men hung on to the bar, two each side. With this over half a ton weight supported, Milo would turn around three or four times, or even walk (shuffle) across the stage, to thunderous applause.
Luigi continued to train dally as well as giving his normal evening exhibitions under the name Milo. He juggled regularly with heavy cannonballs, swinging one particular 80 lb ball around on a chain and eventually catching it on the back of his neck. Balancing came into the act, with single arm handstands on a moveable cannonball, and pressing into a long arm balance, whilst holding 150lb with his teeth. The latter feat he could do for several reps, and historian David Willoughby, suggested that Milo was capable of military pressing 215 lbs, a good lilt for a light weight. Milo claimed, and there's no doubt in his biographer, Bill Pullum about his ability, to be able to bent press.
I.e. lift overhead in a sideways movement with one hand (In this case the left hand) the creditable poundage of 250lb. Leo Gaudreau in his 'History of Strong Men', suggests less e.g. 225lbs. For the reason of better showmanship, the solid bar was often substituted for a large one with huge baskets on either end. Milo, after lifting the baskets overhead with one hand, on putting it down again, two men dressed as clowns would jump out of the baskets. This idea of using normally youths or young ladies dressed in expansive fluffy clothing to give the illusion of great weight was a common one, used by Sandow, Thomas Inch, and many other strength showmen and variety acts, was probably originated by Prof Louis Attlla.
Milo was certainly an impressive showman and gave good value to the public with his stage presentations. A popular lift at the time was the 'harness' lift, and instead of dead weights, Milo stood on a platform above, and with the harness hanging below attached to a heavy, (400lb) platform, lifted two Llfeguardsmen and their horses. A further heavy style lift was his 'back' lift off two trestles, of a large rowing boat, loaded with fourteen sailors, total weight approximately 2,OOO lbs, a great feat of strength for a man with a bodyweight of just around 160lb.
Not a large man by any means. The renowned Prof Desbonnet recorded Milo's actual measurements at Height 5'5.25", Weight 1671b, Chest 46.5", Bleeps 15.75" Thigh 23.5" and calf 15.75".
Tiring of his previous act with cannonballs, the logical progression from bullets was the actual artillery! Changing his name to Brinn, he built up a sensational act, one of which included balancing and supporting overhead on his chin a complete motorcycle and its rider. The latter; normally a naval rating, for a finale, would fire bursts from a machine gun fitted to the motorcycle. "Total weight around 550lb" says Pullum, but a poundage treated with just a little skepticism by historian Leo Guadreau, suggesting on close examination the motorcycle is possibly a light one weighing less than 200lbs still a lot of weight to support on the chin. Having personally handled for years, in the chemical Industry 560lb/250kg drums, rolling, tilting and generally manhandling them, there is no way I can conceive such a weight on the chin, but that does not prove a thing, the thought of a 700lb bench press also astounds me, but it has been done!! Strangely enough, David Willoughby in his epic work 'The Super Athletes' accepted these poundages without his usual jaundiced look at quotations. Willoughby stressed that the stunt was a supporting feat i.e. the muscles acting statically to maintain balance.
Brinns new act was very popular and his show entitled 'Passtimes on a Battleship' toured Europe, America and Australia, topping the bill right up to the year 1911. His specialty was balancing heavy objects on his chin, from a 174lb shell balanced on the end of a pole, which he knocked away to catch the shell on the base of his neck, to a massive field gun "weighing from 400lb to 600lb" reports Bill Pullum in his early historical articles on Milo, and on which much of this article Is based. Pullum says, "On seeing Milo Brinn balancing a field gun and carriage, total weight 600lb, which was hoisted into position overhead to a small braced platform on Milo's chin, the gun was fired.
Photos of this actually taking place, with the gun firing survive. at Shrewsbury as a witness to Milo's amazing power. Whether 600lb is an exaggeration, who can say, again Willoughby reports them from Pullum's writings without question. Leo Guadreau in 'Anvils, Horseshoes and Cannons' generally suggests Bill Pullum's writings stamp him as a romanticist. Whatever the exact weight it was a terrific combination of balance and power.
Milo Brinn retired after his successful tours, for a short while becoming a publican of the Grafton Arms in London, later he moved to Ascot, then Manchester.
Milo remained really active right up Into his twilight years, loving outdoor activities, regularly felling trees and similar physical endeavours when over 70 years of age. Strong until the end, he died at Twyford In Berkshire on 19th January 1955, a few day. after his 89th birthday.
His daughter Vallerle Inherited his stamina and vitality with an acclaimed act of her own, and the last I heard he had a fine family under the name Willmott keeping up the fitness tradition, and being proud of MILO BRINN THE CANNONBALL KING.
The Amazing Milo Brinn © Copyright by David Gentle All Rights Reserved
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