Some were fake, but others were the real deal. From Listverse, here is the story of the Cannonball King.
John Holtum – Cannonball King
b.1845 – d.1919
John Holtum, was a strongman from Denmark who drew immense crowds in cities around the world by perfecting the cannonball catch. He lost a couple of fingers the first time he tried, but he eventually got his technique worked out. With Holtum on one side of the stage and a cannon on the other, an assistant would fire a 50-pound ball which Holtum caught with his gloved hands and chest. The feat required immense strength, steely nerves, and lightning-fast reflexes. Several skeptics questioned the legitimacy of his act but were convinced after Holtum brought them on stage for a demonstration. Holtum appeared before Royalty in Europe and was a great success in the US as well.
Interesting Fact: Holtum’s initial attempt to catch the ball resulted in his losing three fingers. Holtum offered 3,000 francs to anyone who would perform a similar feat, but no one ever took him up on his challenge.
There is no way I'm gonna stand in the way of a cannonball. In fact, I'm not gonna stand in front of ANY firearm! Just seems to be asking for trouble to me.
Coffee out on the patio again.