Bandwagon, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Jul), 1957. Note: Only some articles are included in this online edition. Illustrations are not included. The Circus Historical Society does not guarantee the accuracy of information contained in the information in these online articles. Information should always be checked with additional sources.
One of the most colorful and fabulous figures in the circus world of the post was Col. William P. Hall, of Lancaster, Mo. His circus farm, stocked with lions, tigers, elephants and all kinds of animals from all parts of the world, supplied circuses and zoos in this country and abroad. It was an unusual business built by a remarkable Missourian.
Col. Hall was an imposing figure of a man. He bought horses in Mexico from Lee Bros. when his farm was in its heyday. His son, William P. Hall, Jr., of Lancaster, attended the Missouri Military Academy in this city.
A banker who had charge of settling Hall's estate told us that part of what he left was of course circus equipment. This included several elephants. He wanted to dispose of the elephants in one lot. All were well trained but one was at times difficult to handle. Finally he found a purchaser, and sold the lot in a package deal, for something like $4,000 a head. He said it was quite an experience for in the past he usually handled Missouri livestock or land rather than elephants from India and other wild animals.
Hall bought the Lemon Bros. circus when it folded and this started him in the circus field.
Jack Towne, of The Ledger, who lived in Lancaster as a youngster, whose father was a boot & harness maker, recalls Mr. Hall. Quite a few circuses were organized on the Hall farm. Jack's father, Jackson Towne, made the fancy harness for many a circus horse. His son reports that he also made the first clown boots for Emmett Kelly, the famous tramp clown of today.
Many circuses went to Lancaster "to die when they saw financial ruin coming." The Literary Digest once called it the "circus Boneyard."
A letter from Mr. Hall's son in 1955, says that in 1946 he tore down most of the buildings of the old show quarters and about the only circus equipment left there today are a horse barn and a couple of old cage wagons.
The story is told of a traveling man driving past the Hall Farm with a companion years ago. He happened to look up, gave a gasp as he saw a line of camels walking over the top of a hill. He thought that last drink had been too much.
A best seller of 1947 called "Gus The Great" was written about Fred Buchanan, well known showman of that day, and the scene laid on the Hall circus farm.
In speaking of Mr. Hall the Literary Digest of September 10, 1932 said: "Despite the gay splendor of his property and his diamond jewelry, Hall kept his office in an old coach that had been advance car of the Historic Yankee Robinson circus. It was supposed to have been a part of Lincoln's funeral train. Possessed of no paint at all, the coach formed the base for a huge wooden elephant, the Hall trademark."
During the Boer war he established a branch office in Cape Town South Africa, and sold Missouri mules which were used to haul British artillery from battle to battle. Audrain, Calloway and Little Dixie supplied their part of this war material which were supplanted by motor vehicles later. In the first year of World War I, it is said the United States supplied 1,500,000 mules and horses to participate in the war and Hall helped furnish these. He was often referred to as "the biggest horse trader in the U. S.”
The story goes that he bought his first horse as a small boy and paid $11 for it. He traded it for two mules, which were "as wild as wolves" and destroyed the first vehicle to which they were harnessed. Hall's father is said to have told him he must not go back on the trade, but that he hoped the lesson would sink in.
A circus acquaintance who had seen Col. Hall at a horse auction, said he was a most astounding man. He not only could tell the age of a horse from looking at him from a distance of several feet, but if he saw the same horse a few years later, with many other animals at a sale, he could name the date when he saw him first the horse's age, and the price he bid for him even though he hadn't bought the animal.
The Hall farm was a big market for hay and feed for the farmers of Lancaster County. He bought the entire county output.
He is quoted as having sold from 300 to 400 horses in a day. If you didn't take his price he wouldn't dicker and his judgement seemed to be infallible. One day's orders is said to have totalled $55,000.
William P. Hall bought the Walter L. Main Circus, among others. He put it out as The Great Wm. P. Hall Circus in 1905. In this sale, Wm. P. Hall got all of the Main Circus but the baggage stock and elephants. The baggage stock went to the then being formed Carl Hagenbeck Circus. His show was on the road only a short time. Evidently he preferred to supply showmen with their needs rather than handle a show himself.
Mr. Hall himself did none of this training, but is said to have gone in and about the elephants, lions, tigers, snakes and camels much the some as a proud farmer walks through his flocks and herds. He had a name for every animal, and they seemed to recognize him at sight. He allowed no boisterous conduct among the animals, and punishment was never inflicted upon them. More than one trainer has walked the plank on account of harsh treatment to the animals when he thought Hall was not around; but Hall was always around, reports a newspaper article of the past.
It is estimated that three-fourths of all the shows then touring the country were partially outfitted at Lancaster. Mr. Hall had on hands at one time sufficient equipment to outfit as many more. Painters, car repair men, canvas men and harness makers were at work steadily during the winter months overhauling and repairing the equipment, that it might be ready for the “spring trade."
On several occasions strangers arriving in Lancaster on the midnight train were met by elephants strolling peacefully down the street, and to the uninitiated the experience was quite terrifying, and was taken as the background for many practical jokes.
In addition to circus railroad cars, cages, battered but proud, old cage wagons and other physical show equipment, Mr. Hall acquired many animals from time to time. He rented them to independent circuses and county fair dates as well as selling them.
"Col. William P. Hall, 69, died at his home in Lancaster, Missouri, June 29, 1932. He was widely known as a pioneer exporter of Missouri mules and horses, and as a circus owner," - stated the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, of July 1, 1932."
This truck show was out for the first time in 1944 and was then off the road for the next three years. It was out again in 1948 and has continued since then. In 1948 the show consisted of 9 people, 5 ponies, several dogs and a monkey. Three trucks and several trailers carried the show. During the early years it was a side wall show and in the winter toured small mid-West towns as indoor show. They worked out of their home town, Havana, Ill., for a number of years. Pat Kelly an old timer in the game, with 50 years of circus experience behind him, worked the dogs and ponies. Back in 1915 Pat had a two car rail circus but it soon folded. His son-in-law Bill Morris had a Teeter Board act on various circuses. So in the early days the Morris and Kelly families put on the show.
In 1949 they bought their first bull, Baby Jewell and Bob Couls was ahead of the show as agent that year. In 1950 they started to expand and had a 90 foot top with two 40's, bought their first horses and the show moved on ten trucks. Ayres Davies came on as superintendent in '51 and changed the big top to a push Pole, built a spool canvas loader truck, added another bull and had two liberty acts. 1952 was a big year for the show. They bought three elephants from Cole Bros., making a herd of 5 bulls. They also bought a hippo, 2 camels, 3 zebras, a bison, water buffalo, llama, dromedary and some monks. Paul Kelly, Pat's son, had an interest in the show taking one bull, the hippo, a camel, zebra and other lead stock. Capt. Engerer come on with his lion act. They played the east coast and New England for the first time in 1954.
This show has not always been noted for a strong performance but during the year 1955, they perhaps had their best. Alfonso Repensky did a single riding act and was backed by a fairly strong show. Pat Kelly retired at the end of the 1955 season. Last year the title of the show was changed to Benson Bros. and they were carrying 3 bulls, 12 horses and 4 ponies. This year the show is out again as Benson Bros.
The following article by Charles E. Duble, (Associate Editor, of Bandwagon), appeared in newspapers in Bloomington, Muncie, and Logansport, Indiana, in March and may have been re-printed in other newspapers.
After the closing of Ringling Bros-Barnum & Bailey Circus in July, 1956 at Pittsburgh, Pa., the only other circus left in the United States moving by railroad was the Clyde Beatty Circus using their own fifteen railroad cars. Due to the very high costs of rail transportation these days, that circus will be transported on their own thirty trucks. This will be the first year since the 1870's that no circus will be moving by railroad.
From 1900 on through the early 1930's railroad shows were numerous. Five prominent shows, John Robinson's, Sells-Floto, Hagenbeck-Wallace, Sparks Circus, and Al G. Barnes Show all owned and operated by the American Circus Corporation, Peru, Ind., (Mugivan, Bowers and Ballard), were sold outright and become the property of John Ringling, last of the Ringling Brothers, in September, 1929.
One by One, all had been taken off the road and retired for good by the winter of 1938. A long list of other shows besides those named, also passed from the scene. The so-called lean depression years however, brought the end of those, not tariffs for show trains at that time. At least seven times since 1920 tariffs for show trains have been boosted from 10 to 35 per cent. Southern rates generally were higher while those of Western railroads compared with those in the East. On Eastern railroads a 30-car circus such as Cole Bros., (it disbanded in August 1950), a 70 mile move in 1945 cost $585. In 1950 the cost was $995. From 101 up to 200 miles in 1945 cost $1,063. In 1950 it was $1,812. A federal transportation tax had to be paid by all circuses besides. One can see the vast amount required for transportation alone. A dozen or more motorized circuses are still touring in 1957, the majority of these very small outfits.
The railroads of today do not want this business of moving show trains it appears. So, those who liked to go to the railroads yards on the morning of circus day to see the big red wagons unloaded from the flat cars and other exciting scenes of hustle and activity, will be disappointed now as no more railroad shows will be pulling into town. Another vanished glory. Not like the days when Gentry Brothers Famous Shows from Bloomington, Indiana, was a red-letter day in towns and cities across the country each year.
The photo shown above pictures the air calliope on the Miller Bros. 101 Ranch Wild West Show about 1930. I have been unable to get an exact date for this photo, but it would have to be in the period of 1928-31 for reasons explained later in this article. If some reader can give the exact date this photo was taken, please send in such information to the editor.
This wagon was built for a steam calliope in 1906 for the Cole Bros. Circus that was owned and operated by Martin Downs. I am unable to state just what firm built the wagon. For a guess, and it is only a guess, I would say it was built by the Bode Wagon Works of Cincinnati. Some of the carvings and the archway columns have sort of a "Bode" look about them. It is hoped that someone can give us the correct builder's name.
The wagon was used as the steam calliope on Cole Bros. for the 1906, '07, '08, and '09 seasons. In the winter of 1909-10 the circus was sold piecemeal. I have seen an excellent photo showing this wagon and others that was sent as a postcard to prospective buyers of the Cole Bros. equipment.
The calliope was sold to J. Augustus Jones and was used on his Jones Bros. Buffalo Ranch Wild West Show for the 1910 season. This was a 14 car show that traveled on one advance, 3 stocks, 6 flats, and 4 sleepers.
In the winter of 1910-11 the wagon was sold to Andrew Downie and Al F. Wheeler and they put it on their new circus that was to tour under title of Downie and Wheeler's World's Best Shows Combined for the 1911, 1912, and 1913 seasons, In the winter of 1913-14 the two partners split up and divided the circus property and each partner had a separate show on the road in 1914. The calliope went to Andrew Downie and he put it on his 15 car show that was called LaTena's Big 3 Ring Wild Animal Circus and toured the 1914, 1915, 1916, and 1917 seasons. For the 1918 season Downie secured the use of the Walter L. Main title, and his show used that title for the six seasons, 1918, '19, '20, '21, '22, '23, and '24.
In the fall of 1924 Downie sold his entire circus property to Joe, George, and Zack Miller of Marland, Oklahoma. These were the famous Miller Bros. that owned the 101 Ranch in Oklahoma and had previously had some years experience in outdoor show business. They had formed a wild west show to play the Jamestown Exposition in 1907, and the venture had proved so successful that they had taken into their partnership, Edward Arlington, to help them put the show on rails in 1908. The Millers and Arlington operated the 101 Ranch Wild West Show from 1908 through the 1916 seasons and after that the Millers retired to their ranch and Arlington continued for the 1917 season with the wild west show property now called the Jess Willard-Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. In the period from 1016-24 the Millers had acquired a fortune in cattle, oil, and real estate, and had become most anxious to get back into show business. They had planned to make their reappearance in 1924 but then postponed it until 1925. The Walter L. Main property became the nucleus of the Miller Bros. 101 Ranch Real Wild West Show that was put on the road for the 1925 season.
This steam calliope remained on the show for the 1925-26, and ‘27 seasons, and then sometime during the period of 1928 to 1931 it was converted to an air calliope. The old steam calliope instrument was removed and it was replaced by an air calliope. No other change took place in the physical appearance of the wagon other than the removal of the smoke stack, which you can see has been done before this photo was taken. I have a photo taken in 1927 that definitely shows the wagon still as a steam calliope, and also have one taken in 1928 but it is not too clear and I am unable to make out if it is steam or air. I do have a shot taken in 1930 that clearly establishes the wagon as an air calliope, so I’d say the change took place about 1928 or 1929. If someone can give us the correct date of the conversion of steam to air please advise.
The 1931 season was the last for the 101 Ranch Wild West Show and after being stranded in Washington, D.C., for several weeks during the summer of that year, the train was finally loaded and sent to the Miller ranch near Marland, Oklahoma. The calliope, along with the rest of the show property remained there for several years.
Some years later at another date which I cannot positively state, but around the year 1938, this calliope along with some flat cars and other wagons were sold to Bill Hames owner of a carnival bearing his name, and were shipped to his winter quarters in Fort Worth, Texas. I have heard the unconfirmed story that the wagons came along in a package deal with the flats, that Hames wanted only to get the flats but was forced to take also several of the wagons.
At last report, which was a couple of years ago, Bill Hames still kept this wagon along with the Great Britain Bandwagon, and the old Columbus-John Smith Bandwagon in a building in Ft. Worth. A fourth ex-101 wagon was being kept outdoors and not in too good condition, but the ones inside were all in pretty good shape.
From looking over newspaper files of the past 121 years I believe this to be almost a complete list of Circuses which have toured Canada in that time.
1836 - Burgess and Dexters Zoological Institute of Boston. This show was last at sea when the Steamer Royal Tar was burned in Penobscot Bay, October 24th, 1836.
1841 - June, Titus and Angevine and Company.
1844 - Rockwell and Stones, New York Circus.
1845 & '46 - Rockwell and Stones, New York Circus.
1867 - Joseph Cushings United States Circus.
1869 and 1872 - Stone and Murrays.
1873 - Great North American Circus.
18?? - Mr. Geo. F. Bailey's Circus.
18?? - Spalding & Rodgers Circus.
18?? - Van Amburg.
1873 - John H. Murray's Circus.
1873 - Dan Stone.
1874 - L. B. Lents New York Circus.
1874 - Mac Ginleys Circus.
1876 - P. T. Barnums Circus.
1876 - John H. Murray.
1876 - Dan Ducello's Wagon Show.
1877 - Seth B. Howe's Great London Circus.
1878 - John H. Murray.
1879 - P. T. Barnum.
1879 - W. W. Cole's New York & New Orleans Circus. New Orleans Circus (first circus to use electric lights).
1881 - W. W. Cole.
1884 - Frank Robbins, New Railroad Show.
1885 - Barnum, Bailey & Hutchinson (The Greatest Show on Earth).
1886 - Adam Forepaugh.
1887 - Frank Robbins.
1888 - Howe's Great London.
1890 - Frank Robbins.
1892 - Leon W. Washburn.
1893 - Pawnee Bills Wild West.
1894 - Cook and Whitbys Circus.
1895 - Sells Bros.
1896 & 1898 - Walter L. Main.
1897 - Leon W. Washburn,
1900 - Lemen Bros. Circus.
1907 - Pan American Shows.
1905 - Lemen Bros. Circus.
1905 - Sells and Downs.
1906 - Barnum and Bailey's Circus.
1907 - Hargreaves Circus.
1908 - Cole Bros. Circus.
1910 - Howe's Great London.
1912 - Mighty Haag Circus.
1912 - Joseph G. Ferari Wild Animal Show.
1913 - Howe's Great London Circus.
1914 - Mighty Haag-Wheeler Bros. and John Robinson's Circus.
1918 - John Robinson's Circus.
1919 - Sparks Circus.
1920 - Hagenbeck and Wallace Circus.
1921 - Sells Floto Circus.
1923 - John Robinson.
1925 - Al. G. Barnes.
1930 - Al G. Barnes.
1931 - Sparks Circus.
1932 - Sells Floto.
1934 - Al G. Barnes.
1936 - Cole Bros. "Adkins & Terrell.”
1938 - Cole Bros. "Adkins & Terrell."
19?? - Christy Bros.
19?? - Gentry Bros.
19?? - Barnett Bros.
19?? - Ringling Bros.
19?? - Gollmar Bros.
1945 - Clyde Beatty Circus.
1947 - Cole Bros. Circus.
1947 - Sparks Circus "Ringling Bros."
1948 - Bailey Bros. "Big Bob Stevens"
1949 - Dailey Bros.
1949 - Robbins Bros. "Big Bob Stevens"
1950 - Dailey Bros.
1950 - R. B. B. & B.
1950 - Dales Bros.
1951 - Biller Bros. Circus.
1953 - R. B. B. & B.
1953 - King Bros. & Cristiani Bros. Combined.
1955 - Ringling Bros. B. & B.
1955 - King Bros. Circus.
1956 - Cristiani Bros. Circus.
April 3 - Chicago, Ill. Coliseum through April 24
April 26 - St. Louis, Mo.
April 27 - St. Louis, Mo.
April 28 - St. Louis, Mo.
April 29 - St. Louis, Mo.
April 30 - Terre Haute, Ind.
May 1 - Indianapolis, Ind.
May 3 - Akron, Ohio
May 4 - Youngstown, Ohio
May 5 - Alleghany, Pa.
May 6 - Johnstown, Pa.
May 7 - Altoona, Pa.
May 8 - Harrisburg, Pa.
May 10 - Washington, D. C.
May 11 - Washington, D. C.
May 12 - Baltimore, Md.
May 13 - Baltimore, Md.
May 14 - Coatesville, Pa.
May 15 - Wilmington, Del.
May 17 - Allentown, Pa.
May 18 - Reading, Pa.
May 19 - Williamsport, Pa.
May 20 - Elmira, N. Y.
May 21 - Binghamton, N. Y.
May 22 - Albany, N. Y.
May 24 - Montreal, Canada
May 25 - Montreal, Canada
May 26 - Sherbrooke, Canada
May 27 - Berlin, N. H.
May 28 - Lewiston, Maine
May 29 - Portland, Maine
May 31 - Boston, Mass.
June 1 - Boston, Mass.
June 2 - Boston, Mass.
June 3 - Boston, Mass.
June 4 - Boston, Mass.
June 5 - Boston, Mass.
June 7 - Springfield, Mass.
June 8 - Holyoke, Mass.
June 9 - Worcester, Mass.
June 10 - Lowell, Mass.
June 11 - Manchester, N. H.
June 12 - Fitchburg, Mass.
June 14 - Schenectady, N, Y.
June 15 - Gloversville, N. Y.
June 16 - Utica, N. Y.
June 17 - Auburn, N. Y.
June 18 - Amsterdam, N. Y.
June 19 - Kingston, N. Y.
June 21 - Newark, N. J.
June 22 - Long Branch, N. J.
June 23 - New Brunswick, N. J.
June 24 - Trenton, N. J.
June 25 - Lancaser, Pa.
June 26 - York, Pa.
June 28 - Wheeling, W. Va.
June 29 - Zanesville, Ohio
June 30 - Columbus, Ohio
July 1 - Springfield, Ohio
July 2 - Toledo, Ohio
July 3 - Flint, Mich.
July 5 - Detroit, Mich.
July 6 - Detroit, Mich.
July 7 - Detroit, Mich.
July 8 - Jackson, Mich.
July 9 - Grand Rapids, Mich.
July 10 - Kalamazoo, Mich.
July 11 - Kensington, Ill. (Sunday)
July 12 - Aurora, Ill.
July 13 - Princeton, Ill.
July 14 - Rock Island, Ill.
July 15 - Burlington, Iowa
July 16 - Hannibal, Mo.
July 17 - Macon, Mo.
July 18 - Kansas City, Mo. (Sunday)
July 19 - Kansas City, Mo.
July 20 - Topeka, Kans.
July 21 - Junction City, Kans.
July 22 - Concordia, Kans.
July 23 - Hastings, Nebr.
July 24 - Gothenburg, Nebr.
July 26 - Denver, Colo.
July 27 - Denver, Colo.
July 28 - Colorado Springs, Colo.
July 29 - Canon City, Colo.
July 30 - Pueblo, Colo.
July 31 - Trinadad, Colo.
Aug. 2 - Great Bend, Kans.
Aug. 3 - Hutchinson, Kans.
Aug. 4 - Wichita, Kans.
Aug. 5 - Arkansas City, Kans.
Aug. 6 - Guthrie, Okla.
Aug. 7 - Enid, Za.
Aug. 9 - Oklahoma City, Ok a.
Aug. 10 - Ardmore,' Okla.
Aug. 11 - Shawnee, Oki.
Aug. 12 - Cushing, Okla.
Aug. 13 - Tulsa, Okla.
Aug. 14 - Bartlesville, Okla.
Aug. 15 - Kansas City, Kans. (Sunday)
Aug. 16 - Kansas City, Kans.
Aug. 17 - Carrollton, Mo.
Aug. 18 - Ft. Madison, Iowa
Aug. 19 - Kewanee, Ill.
Aug. 20 - Rockford, Ill.
Aug. 21 - Milwaukee Wisc.
Aug. 22 - Milwaukee, Wisc. (Sunday)
Aug. 23 - Waukegan, Ill.
Aug. 24 - Gary, Ind.
Aug. 25 - Fort Wayne, Ind.
Aug. 26 - Marion, Ind.
Aug. 27 - Muncie, Ind.
Aug. 28 - Lafayette , Ind.
Aug. 30 - Decatur , Ill.
Aug. 31 - Dixon, Ill.
Sept. 1 - Clinton, Iowa
Sept. 2 - Dubuque, Iowa
Sept. 3 - Waterloo, Iowa
Sept. 4 - Des Moines, Iowa
Sept. 6 - Council Bluffs, Iowa
Sept. 7 - Lincoln, Nebr. (Fair)
Sept. 8 - Lincoln, Nebr. (Fair)
Sept. 9 - Lincoln, Nebr. (Fair)
Sept. 10 - Lincoln, Nebr. (Fair)
Sept. 11 - Manhatten, Kans.
Sept. 13 - Salina, Kans.
Sept. 14 - Eldorado, Kans.
Sept. 15 - Iola Kans.
Sept. 16 - Fort Scot, Kans.
Sept. 17 - Pittsburg, Kans.
Sept. 18 - Parsons, Kans.
Sept. 20 - Muskogee, Okla.
Sept. 21 - McAllester, Okla.
Sept. 22 - Denison, Texas
Sept. 23 - McKinney, Texas
Sept. 24 - Pittsburg, Texas
Sept. 25 - Shreveport, La.
Sept. 27 - De Ridder, La.
Sept. 28 - Port Arthur, Texas
Sept. 29 - Beaumont, Texas
Sept. 30 - Eunice, La.
Oct. 1 - Baton Rouge, La.
Oct. 2 - New Orleans, La.
Oct. 3 - New Orleans, La. (Sunday)
Oct. 4 - Gulfport, Miss.
Oct. 5 - Mobile, Ala.
Oct. 6 - Hattiesburg, Miss.
Oct. 7 - Brookhaven, Miss.
Oct. 8 - Yazoo City, Miss.
Oct. 9 - Kosciusko, Miss.
Oct. 11 - Greenwood, Miss.
Oct. 12 - Water Valley, Miss.
Oct. 13 - Holly Springs, Miss.
Oct. 14 - Jackson, Tenn.
Oct. 15 - Paducah, Ky.
Oct. 16 - Murphysboro, Ill.
Oct. 17 - East St. Louis, Ill. (Sunday)
End Of Season
Winter quarters, Denver, Colo. Tommen and Bonfils, Owners. Henry B. Gentry, Manager with show.
Charles E. Duble was with circus 1918 and 1920 seasons.
(Note: This story was written about circus ads from Decatur, Ill. newspapers, typical products of 65 to 85 years ago, Bob Parkinson of Cambridge, Ill., clipped the ads from the old files, after papers had been converted to microfilm. Some of these classic examples were presented by Parkinson to the writer for his collection of circusiana.)
Those masters of the fantastic word and the flamboyant phrase were at the peak of their glory in the really old circus days, for example between 1873 and 1891.
Their startling combinations, as shown in the old-time newspaper circus advertisements, were aimed at luring the greatest possible number of patrons in an era when competition between shows was colossal.
Elaborate woodcuts, products of the artists' imagination, decorated the ads. The fancy type faces were as garish as the ads themselves and every ad had at least eight to twelve varieties. The presentations often were very large, ranging in size up to 14 by 21 inches. Words in all sizes of type were crammed in often between 500 and 700 words in one ad, despite profuse illustrations.
For better than any 1957 writer could generate is this copy from an 1879 ad of The Great London Circus and Sanger's Royal British Menagerie, measuring 4 1/2 by 21 inches. These quotes, speak for themselves in mighty tones, but may lose some effectiveness because they cannot be presented in the fancy type of the period.
"Overwhelming grandeur! Immense Shows! The Monarch Comes! Congress of the world's greatest living artists. The foremost performers of every known country on earth. Senate of the earth's great celebrities. All champions and the highest salaried people in the profession.
"Mark this. Look at our illumination. No coal oil torches, every inch of our immense canvas, 168,000 yards in all, is illuminated by the grand, the wonderful, the amazing and ever-glorious ELECTRIC LIGHT!
"Like the concentrated rays of a dozen suns. The smallest print can be read with perfect case in any part of our canvas. You cannot imagine the effect. Creating an ethereal splendor that reminds one of the realms of eternal heaven. It annihilates night and casts daylight completely in the shade.
"No other circus in the world has it. It belongs to us exclusively. 10,000 glittering attractions, immense inducements.
"$10,000 that we have every single great circus performer in the world.
$10,000 that our performance was never equalled. $10,000 that we have the best, the biggest and grandest show in the world. $50,000 in solid cash that we give the finest, largest, most magnificent and original Mardi Gras street parade ever seen. Farmers will revel in it.
"Ten monster elephants. Every age, size and sex represented, Nothing on earth equals them. Marvelous! Grand!! Mighty!! Immense!! Glorious!! A monster menagerie, containing a representative of every beast mentioned in natural history."
Want time to catch your breath? WELL, nothing in print would get results if those ads didn't bring in the throngs, each adult at 50 cents and each child under 9 at 25 cents.
The writers still were juggling the adjectives in 1891. The gentlemen hired by Sells Bros. Millionaire Alliance come, up with gems like this;
"The moral giant of mirth and wonder's realm. Attracting the wise and the good. From unity of diverse monster exhibitions to richest, rarest and daintiest detail. This show comprises in always undivided, most tremendous, exclusively presented magnitude, grandeur, purity and perfection, absolutely the biggest wild Moorish caravan, hippodrome, menageries, circuses, spectacular pilgrimages to Mecca, aviary, tropical aquarium, performing herds, Arabian Nights entertainment, Imperial Japanese troupe, and innumerable features, feats and pageants.
"The most tents, the most trains, the cages, the most cars, the most chariots, the most prodigies, the most wild beasts, the most artists, the most acts, the most arenas, the most lady riders, the most liberality . . . the most knowledge, the most satisfaction.
"Cyrene: The one and only great Spanish dancer. The Bewildering Incarnation of Emotional Art. Appearing in Long Skirts Only."
As the 1957 teen-ager would remark, "that's the most . . . " The roster of "mosts" continued. The circus production made far better reading than any of the paper's actual news stories.
Now just one more. Turn back to 1873, 84 years ago, when John Robinson's word wielders heralded the coming of the Great World's Exposition to Decatur, Ill., July 2.
Modestly the admen wrote: Embodying in one grand travelling exhibition, more genuine usefulness, general information, great curiosities, more object teaching, rational amusement and inimitable show demonstrations than were ever congregated together by the will of man, backed by millions of capital.
"Use a special fleet of steamers for transportation, employ 2,000 men and horses, have 100 male performers, 20 beautiful lady celebrities, 42 cages of wild beasts, 15 sun bright tents, 40 musicians, 5 great golden chariots, 3 solid miles of procession."
Nor were the publicity men at all bashful about quoting financial figures (no guarantee as to their accuracy). John's boys wrote:
"List of specialties exhibited, $1,000,000 challenge to substantiate the same. South African giraffe, cost $12,000; hippo from the Blue Nile, $30,000; double-horned threeton rhino, $13,000; 5-ton performing elephant, $20,000; Royal taurus, with three horns and eyes, $9,000 . . animals well worth one week's patient study of the naturalist and lover of Our Divine Ruler's handiwork."
Writers were wordy in those days. They could cast a joyful spell of anticipation with their enthusiastic productions. Monarchs of their craft, shrewdly skilled at exaggeration, they were one of the reasons for the gigantic success of the old-time circus.
We will never see their equal again in these modern days of the concise phrase, just as the circuses of which they wrote have been telescoped into skeletons of their famous forerunners.
It would be very interesting to know just how many old circus rings still remain on vacant lots in Australia.
I am told that Wirths haven't dug a ring for twenty years. Silvers never dug a ring at all and as for as I can gather all existing circuses have given the ring digging away. There are a few very good reasons for this, one being the shortage of time. Man power is another reason as there are very few men in Australia today who can dig a good ring properly in the short time available. And last, but by no means least, is the fact that there are very few "principle" acts in circus business these days.
Should any reader be uninitiated in circus routine, I might explain that a "principle" act is a single horse carrying a lady rider who wears a columbine dress and performs dancing and skipping and other tricks while the horse runs around the ring at a fast gait. It was for this act in particular that a ring was dug to enable the horse to be sure footed and not stumble over lumps and bumps.
But with the vanishing of this kind of act it has not been necessary to put time and labour into digging a ring so the famous old land mark, if we may call it that, has disappeared. I think, should a good principle performer appear again she would insist on a ring being dug but I am afraid we shall not see many more of these riders and it is a great pity that such a traditional act should vanish.
At the time of writing these notes, Bullens have left Sydney, all the circus pictures have gone and Worths are on their last few days so once again our city will be berefit of circus fare until goodness knows when. I suppose we can't grumble. During the past three months we have had a bigger share of a circus than most Australian cities ever have and it is also pleasing to know that the weather during the whole season has been made to order, in other words perfect. (May, 1957)
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Last modified December 2005.
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Last modified December 2005.