Before the invention of television, people had to be very inventive to find fun things to do. In the Victorian and Edwardian times, magic shows became increasingly popular and the first real magic stars were born. You have probably heard of Harry Houdini, a Hungarian magician who was famous for being able to escape from just about anything, from handcuffs to sealed underwater boxes. But did you know that another star of the Edwardian magic scene lived in nearby Shawlands? Her name was Etta Travers, otherwise known as ‘Vonetta’.
Etta Travers was born in Yorkshire in 1878. Her father was an iron worker with a love of music, and he used to perform in charity concerts. At one of these concerts Etta met Thomas Monaghan, who later became her husband. The two began to work together, with Etta as performer, and Thomas acting as her stage manager. Two of her best-known acts were driving a carriage whilst wearing a blindfold, and making a coffin float! She was also an amazing quick-change artist. Here is a description of the beginning of her act from 1914: ‘She came on in male evening dress, smoking a cigarette … Then retiring behind a screen for a second, she reappeared as a Spanish dancing girl and went into her quick-change act of twenty-four costume changes.’ That must have been tiring to perform! You can see some of her amazing costumes on this poster:
Her performing life was put on hold during the war, but afterwards she moved to Glasgow and settled in Shawlands. Could she have been one of the first users of Govanhill Baths? We will probably never know, but she must have needed to rest and relax in between her very involved shows!
Etta and Thomas then became involved in an exciting new art form: cinema. Etta even acted in a few early films, though footage of these appears to have been lost. The couple joined the Glasgow Cinema Club, an organisation where all of the pioneers of cinema in Scotland could socialise. After retiring from magic in the late 1920s Etta tried her hand at running a beauty salon, a costume & fur shop, and a dancing school, which was called De Russe House (one of her other stage names was ‘Countess de Russe’) and was situated in Regent Park Square in today’s Strathbungo! Who knows, perhaps some of her pupils came to soak their tired muscles in Govanhill Baths’ pools after a hard training session!