Judging from old newspaper articles that I discovered, Ella clambered to the top of a 90-foot platform wearing a special bathing suit. She somehow set herself ON FIRE, then leaped from the tower and splashed into a shallow pool below, which was also ON FIRE.
Ella, who called Miami home when she wasn't on the road, traveled the country in an old truck (shown below) with brightly painted signs on the side that proclaimed that she was "the only high swan diver in the world 'on fire into fire.'" Another sign said that her diving act is "the one that never fails the public."
And what makes this even more amazing? Ella was doing this act when she was 73 years old!
In a June 1961 "Strolling" article by Memphis Press-Scimitar columnist Eldon Roark, he said, "She is still a daredevil. She dives from a 90-foot ladder into a six-foot-deep tank only 14 feet wide! And she is all lit up when she takes off. By that I mean she sets herself on fire, comes down as a flaming torch."
He continued: "What's more, she does it in a swan dive — hits the water head first. That's the hardest way. Just try it."
No thanks, Eldon. I'll take your word for it.
"I'm the only diver in the world who does a swan dive from such a height," Ella told him — not bothering to mention that she was ON FIRE when she did it. "Other high divers do turnovers and hit the water feet first."
But Ella was finally retiring — after 60 years in the business. Not because of her age, as you might think. No, it was all that traveling. Ella, it seems, lived alone and told Roark, "It's too hard driving that truck hundreds of miles across the country. And I have to look after setting up my rigging and tank. If it were just the diving, I can still do that."
I just wish I could have found a picture of the "Fire Diver" in action. The Press-Scimitar ran the photo (shown here) of her — knitting. A good way to steady the nerves, I guess, between performances.
PHOTOS COURTESY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS, UNIVERSITY OF MEMPHIS LIBRARIES