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inside Springs Preserve

Ottavio Gesmundo Discusses His Book The Grand Gypsy

By Elliot Meacham

Grand Gypsy book

The Grand Gypsy book

Ottavio Gesmundo, an accomplished director, choreographer, and stunt coordinator, and now writer, came to the museum to give a riveting talk about the book, The Grand Gypsy, which is primarily a first-person account written by his grandfather, Ottavio Canestrelli, with additional anecdotes from Gesmundo. Canestrelli was a leader in an Italian circus that traveled worldwide, giving stunning performances that were also in tandem with some of the greatest events in world history. Gesmundo explained that he called him a gypsy, because one of the definitions of that word is: "one who follows an itenerant or otherwise unconventional career or way of life." Canestrelli was that indeed, in spectacular fashion.


Ottavio Canestrelli

Otttavio G

Ottavio Gesmundo

Canestrelli was literally born in the circus. His mother gave birth to him in 1896, in their circus caravan, right after she had performed her act. Canestrelli's father began training him when he was three and, by the time he was seven, he had his own part in the show as a contortionist. Later, he took on bareback riding and acrobatic acts. Soon, he was an integral part of the act, doing everything from performing with deadly pythons, to rope-walking and leaping.


The Canestrelli Circus in 1903

Gesmundo told one tale of his grandfather performing with a python. The 23-foot snake was newly-molted, so was supposed to be docile due to the molting. However, the snake, named Satana, slipped its head from Canestrelli's grip, sank its teeth into his shoulder, and began to wrap around him, intending to crush him to death. Canestrelli maintained his cool while in great pain and fear of losing his life. Meanwhile members of the circus wrenched the snake from his body, using pliers. They then had to break Satana's teeth to release him from Canestrelli's arm. Canestrelli walked off the stage, still holding the snake, and maintaining his demeanor, as he bled, his body wracked with pain. The potential tragedy was a performance in itself.


Newspaper article from 1932 showing Canestrelli with Satana

Gesmundo also told of how his grandfather eschewed retirement to train chimpanzees. One of those chimps, Mr. Coco, performed twice with Canestrelli on the Ed Sullivan Show. Gesmundo showed a video of one of the performances, showing Mr. Coco in military uniform and giving Sullivan a kiss. Our audience was just as delighted as Sullivan's was. You can view this video here. Truly, the passing of time and entertainment styles had no influence on how captivating Canestrelli could be across generations.


Canestrelli and Mr. Coco with Ed Sullivan

In our generation, Gesmundo himself is a stellar performer. He currently resides in Las Vegas with his wife, Naomi Brenkman Gesmundo, and they have their own captivating act, called Mr. and Mrs. G. Among other acts, they fire crossbows at each other with the arrows aimed at objects placed just inches from their heads and bodies. The, of course, always successful firings draw an equal measure of shocked and delighted gasps, just as the Canestrelli Circus did. You can view the Mr. and Mrs. G video here.


Mr. and Mrs. G doing their act. Don't try this at home, or anywhere else for that matter

We were enthralled by Gesmundo's account of his grandfather. You will be even more enthralled by reading his book. It stands as an authoritative, highly personal, and poignant recounting of how the circus, and its personalities, are a foundation of human achievement we can all be proud of.

NSMLV Will Soon Offer Spanish Translation of Exhibit Labels

Not everyone speaks English. This is especially true in Las Vegas where, as of 2015, 23% of the population speak Spanish as their first language. Visitor surveys conducted by the Friends of NSMLV in 2016-2017 showed Spanish was spoken at home by 7% of visitors, suggesting the museum is not reaching significant portions of the Las Vegas community. Museums are increasingly expected to engage with society and ensure equal access in the community. Exhibit labels are crucial stories that engage visitors. If you can't read the label, it's hard to understand the exhibit.

The Friends are supporting NSMLV's translation of permanent gallery labels to Spanish. Volunteers updated computer files to make sure they matched the labels in the galleries. The museum sent the final version to a professional translation company for translation to Latin American Spanish.

A revamp of the existing exhibit labels is not currently possible because of the cost. The museum plans to make the label translations available as brochures that can be used at each exhibit. The translation was funded by the Nevada Division of Museums and History and is expected to be finished by the end of February. Once the translation is finished, design and printing of the brochures can begin.

Shop Using Amazon Smile and Help Benefit the Friends of NSMLV

Amazon Smile

Put your online shopping dollars to work in a way that benefits the Friends of NSMLV!

AmazonSmile is a website operated by Amazon with the same products, prices, and shopping features as The difference is that when you shop on AmazonSmile, the AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price of eligible products to the charitable organization of your choice which, in this case, is the Friends of Nevada State Museum Las Vegas.

To take advantage of this wonderful opportunity, always log in to rather than All the same merchandise is available. You use your existing Amazon account to shop. Click here, and follow the prompts to get started!

Come Join Us for Some Wine Tasting At Our Event A Taste of Red and White in May

Wine Taste

Whether you are a wine connoisseur or not, A Taste of Red and White will be enchanting. It includes a pop-up exhibit of an eclectic selection of red and white artifacts curated by the museum team. We will offer samples of red and white wines. You don't need to be wine savvy to have a great time at this event.

A Taste of Red and White will be presented as follows:

Saturday, May 4 from 2-4 pm

Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas

Springs Preserve Campus

333 S. Valley View Blvd., Las Vegas, NV 89107

You must be 21 or older to attend.

100% of the funds raised will be donated to the education programs at the museum.

Raffles and a silent auction will be held during the event.

General admission tickets are only $20/each, $35/pair, or $25 per person on event day. Purchase your tickets here.

All events held at the museum and are free with paid admission or membership. No registration required unless otherwise noted. Friends general meetings are the 3rd Thurs. of month. The museum is at 309 S. Valley View Blvd., inside Springs Preserve, LV 89107
Sat Mar 2 2 pm Sally Denton book signing Discussion and signing of her book “Passion and Principle: John and Jessie Fremont, the Couple Whose Power, Politics, and Love Shaped Nineteenth-Century America”. Tour the Fremont Exhibit in the Changing Gallery. Museum event
Sat Mar 16 5:30-8 pm Dino Discovery Family Night for families in pilot program For invited guests Friends event
Thu Mar 21 6 pm General Meeting A representative from NV Preservation Foundation will discuss Woodlawn Cemetery, the downtown site where many early Las Vegans are buried. Friends Event
Sat Apr 6 2-4 pm Nevada Paleontology Month Event Life of the Sagebrush Seafloor: Exploring the Paleozoic Fossil Faunas of the Great Basin Museum Event
Thu Apr 18 6 pm General Meeting VKish LaPierre, USAF archaeologistwill discuss Nevada rock art Friends event

To see the complete schedule for the year, please go to our Events page.

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