Ludger Sylbaris: The man who survived a volcanic eruption because he got arrested for being drunk and got into a fight


Ludger Sylbaris was an Afro-Caribbean man who was hired and traveled with the Barnum & Bailey circus.

He became famous worldwide because he was the only one who survived after the volcano Mt. Pelée completely flattened the entire town of Saint-Pierre to ashes. The devastating volcanic eruption killed an estimated 40,000 people.

Ludger Sylbaris.


Remains of the cell in which Sylbaris survived. Photo Credit

Sylbaris was born either August Cyparis or Louis-Auguste Cyparis. Later, he adopted the name Ludger Sylbaris as his stage name. Ludger was born in 1875 on the island of Martinique and all his life he was known as a troublemaker. He was also a convicted felon who was arrested on May 7th in 1902 for beating another man and was thrown into jail overnight. Some accounts claim that he was really drunk that night and even killed the man so he was thrown into jail for murder.

Ludger was put into solitary confinement and locked in a single-cell which was underground and bomb-proofed with stone walls. This cell was away from the volcano, without windows and it was the safest building in the city. So when the volcano erupted, the cell saved Sylbaris’s life and it still stands in the same place today.

Mt. Pelee eruption in 1902. Photo Credit

On May 8th, all of the buildings of the city were flattened and the people burned or suffocated to death. After the disaster, Ludger was locked in the cell for four days before the rescue team came. They heard his cries from the prison and got him out, horribly burnt but alive. According to his account, it got really dark on the day on the eruption.

He had to urinate on his clothing and stuff them in the door because hot air mixed with ashes had entered his cell. He had terrible burns because of the heat on his arms, back, and legs. Within one brief moment, the pressure wave that was over 1, 000 degrees, flattened the city. Ludger believed that he survived only because he avoided breathing the hot air.

It is believed that the two other only survivors were Haviva Da Ifrile, who got into a boat at the time of the eruption, and Leon Compere-Leandre, whose house was in a safer place. Sylbaris’s future turned drastically after the eruption. He was pardoned of his crimes and welcomed into the Barnum & Bailey’s circus.

St. Pierre in ruins after the volcanic eruption. Photo Credit

He became a celebrity after he told his story many times when he was touring America with the circus. People called him “the man who survived Doomsday”.

Read another story from us: The bizarre story of how a railroad worker survived an iron rod which went through his skull

The 27-years-old Ludger was the first black man ever to star in the circus’s segregated show called “The Greatest Show on Earth”. Sylbaris died in 1929 of natural causes at age 54.