Human Cannonball


Human Cannonball


At the end of August of 1881, the city of Hopkinsville, KY, prepared for the great thrill of “Shelby, Pullman, and Hamilton’s Grand United Mastodon Shows!” A highlight among the shows many attractions was Zazel, The Human Cannon Ball (a clip from the full ad is attached). Zazel’s real name was Rossa Matilda Richter (1863-1937). She was billed as fearless and as the first human cannonball. Rossa M. Richter was born in London, England. She was a gymnast, trapeze artist, actress, singer, and aerialist. She was not actually the first human cannonball, that honor went to Lulu in 1873. Lulu was the son of William Leonard Hunt [The Great Farini], a Canadian who had created the stunt of firing a girl from a cannon. Though, Lulu was not a girl, he was Hunt’s son dressed up like a girl. Lulu’s true identity was revealed when he was taken to the hospital after he was injured during a performance. Hunt needed a replacement and Rossa M. Richter’s parent or parents signed her up. Thus, Zazel was born. Her cannonball career started in 1877 when she was 14-years-old and was launched from a cannon at the Royal Aquarium in London, England. There was concern for her safety, and when England enacted legislation against dangerous acrobatic stunts, Zazel and Hunt took her act to other European countries and the United States. She later toured with the P. T. Barnum Circus, and in 1881, at the age of 18, she was with the Shelby, Pullman, and Hamilton Shows performing in Hopkinsville, KY. Rossa M. Richter would continue as a performer until 1891. She would marry George Oscar Starr, a P. T. Barnum press agent. Together they created the Starr Opera Company in 1886. Rossa also promoted safety net education, proving the reliability of the apparatuses by jumping out of buildings to be safely caught in the waiting nets. Her career as a performer ended after a devastating accident during a high wire act in New Mexico in 1891. She fell and a pole fell on her. She was transported from New Mexico to a New York hospital and spent months in a full body cast. She and her husband later returned to England.


Chas. M. Mecham




1. “The day and date are fixed…Grant United Mastodon Shows!,” The South Kentuckian, 1881-08-30, p.2.
3. World’s First Human Cannonball Zazel or Rossa Matilda Richter by Geri Walton, 12/07/2018. Accessed 2021-05-13.
4. Rossa M. Richter, Wikipedia. Accessed 2021-05-13.



“Human Cannonball,” Kentucky Digital Newspaper Program Exhibits, accessed March 25, 2023,

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