Today, this video may be considered a tutorial on how not to parent. But in the 1950s, it was just another day of family fun for Luella Gallagher, a knife thrower extraordinaire, who demonstrated her skills in a backyard in Austin, TX, using her two young daughters as her “target girls.”
Since the late 1800s, knife throwing has been considered one of the premiere impalement arts. At circuses around the country, performers demonstrated their skills with the blade as squeamish onlookers in the audience gasped. But no act was quite as nerve-racking as that of Mama Gallagher, who showed off her precision by putting children, five-year-old Connie Ann and two-and-a-half year-old Colleena Sue, in the hot seat.
Any family involved in the circus is one that’s a little bit renegade to begin with, but the Gallaghers took their unique act a step further. The typical knife throwing duo involves a male star using a woman — sometimes his wife in family acts — as his “target girl.” But in the Gallagher’s case, Luella took center stage as the expert knife thrower, and she used her young daughters as her human guides.
Luella and her daughters were known to tour sideshows, and, at least for a time, they managed their own line-up of acts. In the October 23, 1948 issue of Billboard, the Gallagher Side Show was reported to be appearing on H.B. Rosen’s Magic Midway. In addition to young Colleena Sue appearing in the impalement act, there was to be a magician, a human pin-cushion, illusionists, and a showcase for big snakes. The circus bug apparently ran in the family; “Mrs. Gallagher’s father operates the Animal Show on the Rosen midway,” Billboard reported.