On November 30, 1908, Mlle. Ybur stepped onto the stage at Vancouver’s Grand Theatre and thrilled the audience by escaping from various handcuffs - some provided by the local police -  and then from a sealed sack locked in a trunk. It was announced that later in the week she would escape from a straitjacket and a wooden packing crate. Soon she added the milk can escape to the act, advertised as follows: “The Death Defying Milk Can Mystery. A pretty girl. A bathing suit. A milk can filled with water. Six padlocks. From the new Wigwam Theater, ‘Frisco.” From here she continued through eastern Canada and the Northwest and Midwest United States.

Ybur, her real name is sadly unknown, was reportedly from San Francisco, California. She said she started her career there when a local manager helped her develop the act. In a later interview, Ybur mentioned a handcuff dive off the Washington Street dock into San Francisco Bay. When Ybur swam to shore she was immediately arrested for attempted s…

Madame LaDa

In 1914 Emily Schupp began her professional career performing interpretive dance as popularized by Isadora Duncan in the early 1900s. Emily spent years studying folk dancing in Europe and brought these skills to the American stage. Her New York debut in April 1914 was a rousing success and she became a very popular performer. Adopting the stage name of “Lada”, she successfully toured until the early 1920s.

Seeing the growing popularity of Schupp’s performances, in 1915 some enterprising vaudeville manager started a novelty dance act called “Madam La Da & Company.” The novelty part was that “Madam La Da” did escapes. Billed as “The Wizards of Locks, Bolts and Bars,” she escaped from handcuffs, a locked mail bag and a straitjacket in full view of the audience. How they combined a dance number with escapes, unfortunately, was never mentioned in the reviews. Not surprisingly the act lasted only one season. Much shorter that the real “Lada.”

The name of the performer who was billed as …

Marie Shannon

On Sunday, July 18, 1909, the vaudeville juvenile quartet the “Four Shannons” left Louisville on the way to their next performance in Owensboro, KY. As the train pulled out of the station two young girls sprang from their car to the platform and ran through the waiting room to a local theatrical boarding house. The escapees were Elizabeth Shannon, age 17, and her older sister Marie, age 22. Two days later Elizabeth, considered a minor, was arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct preferred by her mother. Over the next two days, the case played out in court with allegations of cruelty on the part of the mother and wildness and disobedience on the part of the daughter. Faced with spending time in juvenile detention until her 18th birthday, Elizabeth relented and returned with her mother to Owensboro. Marie declared she would have nothing further to do with her mother and left for Chicago to find work for the rest of the season. So, began the career of Marie Shannon – Handcuff Queen.



Billed as the “Female Houdini,” Shee claimed in her publicity that she performed a straitjacket escape while dangling upside down 500 feet in the air from New York’s Times Building. While this may or may not be true, the highlight of her vaudeville act was doing a straitjacket escape while suspended 10 feet above the stage. The first reference found to Shee was her tour of the Keith Circuit starting in January of 1920.  Her act could include escaping from chains and handcuffs, rope ties and a locked mail bag.

In 1920 she joined the National Vaudeville Artists (NVA), so this may have been her first time performing in vaudeville. The NVA was a “union” of performers controlled by Edward Albee, the manager of the Keith Circuit. If a performer wanted to tour the major circuits, it was a good idea to become an NVA member.

For the next few years she toured as a single act playing big and small time vaudeville and summer parks. By 1923 she teamed with James J. Currey in an act called “Curry a…

Pauline Braham – The First “Queen of Handcuffs”

Lester & Allen’s Minstrels arrived in Cleveland, Ohio for a three-day booking after a long series of one-night stands. On Thursday, October 7, 1886,  the 40-member company marched in a “grand parade" and then proceeded to give five sold out performances at the Cleveland Theater. Amongst the blackface singers, dancers, and comedians were the Barham Brothers who performed shadowgraphs. Sitting in the audience at one show, was a stage struck 19-year-old, Pauline Jackson. She met the 29-year-old Lewis (Louis) Braham and his older brother Abraham, either at the theater or through the local Jewish community.  By Monday Pauline had been persuaded by Lewis to leave with him. She found herself on the way to their next performance in  Sandusky, Ohio. Lester & Allen’s Minstrels then played another series of one-night stands through Michigan, Illinois and Indiana finally arriving in Chicago for a week-long engagement. There on October 19th Lewis and Pauline were married before an eve…

The Orlandos

Sideshows in carnivals, fairs and circuses were home to many relatively obscure escape acts. The Orlandos are one example. They were with “Karr’s World’s Wonder Shows” for the 1916 season. They appeared under canvas with four other variety acts. This was one of the 16 shows with the carnival “Tom W. Allen’s Shows”.  The carnival toured large and small towns in the mid-west from April to October 1916. No description of the act survives. Who these performers were or what happened to them is a mystery. All the information we have is from a single advertisement in Billboard Magazine and a photograph of the couple.
References Billboard, July 1, 1916
Photograph from the collection of Fred Pittella

Gary Hunt Copyright 2017

The Haags

George and Elizabeth (Lizzie) Haag were a husband and wife team that for a time specialized in escapes. Elizabeth’s maiden name was Miller and she was born on March 6, 1876 in Reading, Pennsylvania. She was working in a cigar factory when she met George Haag, a local barber. They were married in May of 1902 and settled down in Reading. George was a semi-professional magician and performed at local events as Professor Haag. In the summer of 1907 they performed magic at Carsconia Park, an amusement park in Reading. That fall they toured with a vaudeville company. During the summer of 1908 they were back at Carsconia Park, but this time Elizabeth was billed as Madam Luella, Queen of Handcuffs. George did his magic act “Magic, Mirth and Mystery” and twice a day dove into Lake Carsconia handcuffed.  To publicise their performances, Elizabeth did an exhibition escape at the local police station. She was restrained with four pairs of handcuffs, shackled and placed into a cell. Within four mi…

Minerva: Don't Ever Mess with a Handcuff Queen

“Minerva is the only woman before the public today who juggles with the handcuffs as though they were gold bracelets and comes out of a locked up straight jacket as if she were wriggling out of a silk negligee.” Cumberland Evening Times, July 13, 1908
Minerva learn the intricacies of being an escape artist from her husband, William van Dorn. He had toured for a number of years as part of the escape act “Vano and Arno”. After he married Minerva in 1903 she was quickly added to the act. They toured as the “Vanos” until they went their separate ways in 1906. By this time Minerva had become the principal performer of the escape act and her husband had developed an act using liquid air. In the summer of 1908, Minerva was finding success touring summer theaters and amusement parks in the eastern states. She was contracted to play a week at Merryland Park in Cumberland, Maryland for the princely sum of $75. Arriving early, she met with the park manager who complained of poor attendance and hop…