Cannons are a terrifying invention. The basic principle is to force something out of a tube by compressing the air behind it. That compression can be achieved through the use of explosives or a pneumatic system. Explosive cannons are the more dangerous, but any kind could kill you.
Frank “Cannonball” Richards was a Vaudeville performer with a unique act. You might imagine he was one of the people getting fired out of a cannon. Not Frank. That was too pedestrian for him. He was getting in front of the cannon, and taking the ball to the stomach.
The Evolution of Frank's Act
Frank fought in the Great War. While serving in the trenches, he would challenge his friends to hit him in the stomach as hard as they can. This is what fun was like in the early 20th century.
Upon his return from the war, Frank found a way to capitalize on his tough trunk. He joined up with a group of Vaudeville performers. Billed himself as the man with the iron stomach.
Initially, Frank's act consisted only of letting people hit him in the stomach. You pay for your ticket, and get to give him a good one in the tum-tum. Soon he became notorious, which attracted the attention of some serious punchers.
Frank was approached by manager's looking to promote boxers. Heavyweight champion, Jack Dempsey was brought in to test Frank's stomach. Dempsey reportedly punched Frank 72 times at full force. Frank smiled and shook his hand afterward.
Soon enough, the punching became worn out. This happens with all exhibitory acts. If you are planning on performing extreme acts, start small, otherwise you'll have nowhere to go.
Frank Richards had somewhere to go. He started having people line up in front of him as usual. Then Frank would lie down and have each person jump up and down on his stomach.
Next, he'd have a group of people ram him in the stomach with a makeshift battering ram. Soon he was handing out 2×4's (a thick plank for everyone not in the USA) and having people swing that at his belly. Frank laughed it off, every time. The people were stunned.
His big finale consisted of getting hit in the stomach by a sledgehammer-wielding man. Most of the earlier stunts could kill you, the sledgehammer thing is insane. Frank wasn't out of room to grow, though.
Soon he would invent the stunt he became famous for. Frank Richards stood in front of a cannon as 2 men loaded a 104 pound (47.17 kg) cannonball into it. He put on a pair of goggles, for safety, before the cannon goes off, and he is violently struck in the stomach.
Frank would go flying, but got up soon after. He limited this trick to twice a day, because it made his tummy hurt. The man was truly a remarkable specimen. Cannons everywhere were enraged at his audacity.
Frank “Cannonball” Richards – Anatomy of a Trick
There is no doubt that Frank “Cannonball” Richards had a very tough stomach. No ordinary person could withstand the punishment that he regularly endured. You might assume that he died relatively young, of jellified innards.
Frank died of old age at 81. He never suffered any negative effects from his stunts. Only some pain if he did the cannonball thing too many times in a single day.
There was a trick to it though. As we all know, a cannon is an extremely deadly weapon capable of penetrating armor. Frank's cannon wasn't 'real'.
Well, it was a real cannon, in that it was a metal tube which launched things. But, despite the smoke pouring out of the barrel, it didn't use gunpowder. The cannon was actually spring-loaded and filled with powder. This would send the cannonball flying out with sufficient force to knock Frank down, but not tear right through him like a 5-year-old tears through cotton candy.
Frank “Cannonball” Richards truly had a tough stomach. But no man is tough enough to stand in front of a real artillery cannon.
Here's a video of Frank “Cannonball” Richards in action: