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The Ken Fox - Wall of Death (left) and the Circus at Pickering Steam Fair 2009

The audience looks on as the stunt rider passes nearby

The Wall of Death or motordrome is a carnival and Fairground sideshow featuring a drum- or barrel-shaped wooden cylinder, ranging from 20 to 36 feet (6.1 to 11 m) in diameter, inside of which motorcyclists, or automobile drivers, travel along the vertical wall and perform stunts, held in place by centripetal force.


Derived directly from US motorcycle boardtrack (motordrome) racing in the early 1900s, the very first carnival motordrome appeared at Coney Island amusement park in (New York) in 1911. The following year portable tracks began to appear on traveling carnivals and in 1915, the first "silodromes" with perpendicular walls were seen. These motordromes with perfectly straight walls were soon dubbed the "Wall of Death." This carnival attraction became a staple in the US outdoor entertainment industry with the phenomenon reaching its zenith in the 1930s with more than 100 motordromes on travelling shows and in amusement parks.

Ken Fox Wall of Death show. External view sowing heavy bracing to support wall panels and viewing gallery

The audience views from the top of the drum, looking down. The riders start at the bottom of the drum, in the center, and ascend an initial ramped section until they gain enough speed to drive horizontally to the floor, usually in a counter-clockwise direction (the physical explanation behind this act is found at Banked turn and The turning car.) This act is famous in the United Kingdom, and often is seen at steam fairs. In the 2000s, there remain only a few tours of the wall of death; "The Demon Drome"[1], "Messhams Wall of Death" and "The Wall of Death World Tour"[2]. These touring groups use the original American Indian Motorcycles, which have been used since around the 1920s. The most authentic of these being the Demon Drome which uses the oldest wall of death still travelling, they also use original 1920's Indian Scouts and are the first to put an Austin 7 Car on the wall of death since the 1950's.

A similar act called the "Globe of Death" has the riders looping inside a wire mesh sphere rather than a drum. This form of motorcycle entertainment had a separate and distinct evolution from carnival motordromes and derived from bicycle acts or "cycle whirls" in the early 1900s.


In India, the show is also known as the Well of Death (Hindi: मौत का कुआँ, Punjabi: ਮੌਤ ਦਾ ਖੂਹ) and can be seen in the various melas (fairs) held across the country.[3]

Apart from motorcycles, the act may also feature other vehicles such as cars. As of 2005, this act has been performed regularly in Adilabad in India using automobiles instead of motorcycles.[4]

The show involves a temporary cylindrical structure about 25 feet high and 30 feet in diameter (or sometimes even wider when cars are to be involved) assembled together by association of hardwood planks. The people who wish to see (audience) stand upon the platform build around the circumference of the structure and gaze down into the round hollow where motorcyclists or cars drive.[5]

The vehicle remains in the orbit, because of the carefully-built perfect circlular structure. This leads to centrifugal forces, and the vehicle is able hold to its motion upon an almost vertical wall as easily and spontaneously as if it were on normal ground.[6][7]

This is risky but accidents rarely happen so authorities have never been known to interfere. The only condition is that the moving body (bike or car) should not stop while it is on the "wall" of the so-called well for that will cut the centrifugal pressure and gravity will take its toll.

In popular culture

Wall of Death performances have appeared in various films including My House in Umbria (2003), Spare a Copper (1941), Roustabout (1964), Eat the Peach (1986), There Is Another Sun (1951; titled The Wall of Death in the US) and Scotland Yard: The Wall of Death (1956).

A short-length Greek documentary film on the practice in Greece, "Ο γύρος του θανάτου" ("The Spin of Death"), released in 2004, made the rounds of various film festivals in the country.[8]

An earlier full-length feature Greek film of the same name, produced in 1983, features a protagonist who does the Wall of Death at the local carnival grounds; the film became a cult classic.[9]

The song, "Wall of Death", by Richard and Linda Thompson Thompson, can be found on their album Shoot Out the Lights and is sometimes sung by Richard Thompson in his live performances. The song lyrics are about the singer's desire to "ride on the Wall of Death one more time," saying not to waste time on the other (carnival) rides, because the Wall of Death "is the nearest to being alive."[10]

The Irish-American band Gaelic Storm references the Wall of Death in their song "Cyclone McLusky" from the 2010 album "Cabbage".

See also


  3. Neena Sharma, Well of Death faces extinction, The Tribune, Chandigarh, India - Dehradun Plus
  4. S. Harpal Singh (Dec 15, 2005). "Defying death in `maut ka kuan'". The Hindu.
  5. 'Well of Death' carnival show in India
  6. ਸਾਂਝਾ ਪੰਜਾਬ ਕਿਸ਼ਤ-26, Punjabi Newspaper Ajit
  7. India's 'well of death', Reuters
  8. ecofilms web site [1], Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival web site [2]
  9. Cinemainfo web site [3]
  10. Richard Thompson's website[4]

Further reading

  • Ford, Allan, and Corble, Nick, Riding the Wall of Death, 2006, Tempus Publishing (ISBN 0-7524-3791-7)
  • Ford, Allan, and Corble, Nick You Can't Wear Out An Indian Scout - Indians and the Wall of Death, 2009, Amberley Publishing (ISBN 978-1848680944)
  • Gaylin, David, The Harley-Davidson Reader, Motorbooks (ISBN 978-0-7603-2591-9)

External links

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