The Big Apple -- The Windy City

As to who gets the credit for dubbing New York the “Big Apple,” I will leave it
to Cecil and Popik (weren’t they renowned vaudevillians?) to continue their
struggle, mano a mano.

But what of the origins of the “Windy City?” I hope to provide the last word on
the matter.

In point of fact, credit belongs to one Joseph Pujol, celebrated at the turn of the
century on the European stage as Le Petomane. For the ignorant among you, it
was Le Petomane’s rare gift to be able to control the intake and expulsion of air
and water via his anus. (For a robust and detailed recounting of Pujol’s feats,
not to say farts, I direct you to Ricky Jay’s groundbreaking, not to say wind-breaking “Learned Pigs and Fireproof
Women.”) Indeed, Le Petomane became a sensation, the toast of Paris and the
Continent. He commanded huge fees and regularly performed for royalty.

On this side of the Atlantic, Le Petomane was less successful if no less notorious.
Perhaps Americans were inured to his talents, having frequently observed
similar behavior in pulpits and legislatures across the land. Still, Pujol did
mount one triumphant U. S. tour in 1902. He evoked hosannas in the New York
press (and performed privately for J. Pierpont Morgan and several other noted
robber barons), nearly touched off a riot in San Francisco and got himself run out
of Boston.

But it was in Chicago that Le Petomane made his greatest impression – and
established his gassy legacy. Here is a portion of M. L Brooks’s Chicago Sun
review of Pujol’s sold-out performance at the Fort Dearborn Theater, July 2,
1902:

“After nearly an hour’s time, Le Petomane had left one and all agape with his
spectacular sphincterian feats – the grand spoutings of water, the subtle playing
of “A Bicycle Built for Two” and other popular tunes, the keen mimicry of every
creature in the barnyard. But even these could not prepare those in attendance
for the grand finale. For this, the performer extraordinaire enlisted the ladies
and gentlemen sitting in the first row of the audience. Each was provided a
lighted candle. At the appointed moment, the house lights dimmed to black, a
tympani drum thundered and Le Petomane, moving with feline agility, raced
from one wing to the other, posterior aimed to perfection, and snuffed out each
flame in turn! There followed a stunned moment of silence; then the audience leapt to its
feet as one and roared in tribute.

Truly, dear reader, it was a night that Chicago was transformed into a windy
city!”