Baby Isla, Named after Coney Island

Isla Tudor, 1915In the late 1800s and early 1900s, English showman and “Animal King” Frank C. Bostock brought his performing menagerie of lions, jaguars, elephants, camels, and other animals to various cities in Great Britain and America.

Given that Bostock was famous for hosting weddings (for humans) inside the lion cage, the following story isn’t too surprising:

On August 23, 1903, Bostock’s English-born, Brooklyn-based business manager, Harry E. Tudor, had a baby girl. At three weeks old, the newborn was taken to an afternoon Bostock show on Coney Island, at the Sea Beach Palace.

Bostock’s lion tamer, Captain Jack Bonavita, took the newborn inside the lion cage, which contained 27 lions at the time. “[H]e commanded them to stand on their hind legs, which they did, supporting themselves against the bars of the cage.”

He then conducted some sort of naming ceremony in front of several thousand spectators, choosing the name Isla for the baby because, he said, it paid tribute to Coney Island. The baby was then passed out of the cage “and the regular exhibition took place.”

According to New York City birth records, the baby’s name was officially Isabel, same as her mother. Regardless, she was always called Isla by the newspapers.

And why was she in the newspapers? Because she led a fascinating (if short) life.

During her childhood, Isla crossed the Atlantic dozens of times “and visited Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.” She spent her eighth birthday sailing to Europe aboard the RMS Olympic, and her 12th picnicking with a lion named Baltimore at Prospect Park in Brooklyn.

When her father took up flying, she took it up as well. She participated in aviation exhibitions in both England and America, eventually piloting a plane herself. Aerial Age Weekly said Isla was “known on two continents as the youngest girl aviator.”

isla tudor, air lady
Isla Tudor, “Little Air Lady” (1914)

Sadly, Isla Tudor died of appendicitis in 1916, one month after her 13th birthday. News of her death was reported in the New York Times, Billboard magazine, and many other publications. (In the New York City death records she’s listed as Isla, not Isabel; her name may have been legally changed at some point.)

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One thought on “Baby Isla, Named after Coney Island

  1. This info didn’t fit in the post, but I had to put it somewhere.

    Some facts about larger-than-life lion tamer “Captain Jack Bonavita” (born John F. Gentner in 1866):

    • A young Mae West was fascinated by his lion show
    • His right arm was amputated in 1904 after a lion-inflicted wound became infected
    • He was married for a time to a Belgian princess
    • He went on to train animals for Hollywood movies
    • He was mauled to death by a polar bear in 1917 in California

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