Howard L. Scamehorn, in his book “Balloons to Jets” states, “After 1870 aeronautical activity increased noticeable in response to a growing demand for exhibitions.” This statement by an expert on the subject, substantiates the writer’s observation based on newspaper advertising - that it was as if someone turned on a light switch in 1871, and where circuses conspicuously ignored balloons before, balloon ascensions totally engulfed the circus industry thereafter. From 1871 through about 1894, balloon feats rivaled the free street parade as a circus free attraction.
On June 5th, 1783, two brothers named Montgolfier dispatched the first successful balloon into the air. It was a hot air balloon developed out of the observation that smoke went up. It was not a manned balloon, and barely achieved sufficient altitude and endurance to prove their theory. This was one of those situations, however, where man learned “how” before he learned “why,” because 130 years went by before any practical use was found for the balloon. This came about during the first World War, in the form of observation balloons and dirigibles. It is true that attempts to use the balloon militarily were made in earlier wars, including out Civil War, however, for military reasons with which we need not worry about here, these efforts were abandoned following unproductive results.
Very early in the story of ballooning, several spectacular flights were made such as that of a pair of Englishmen who flew from London to Germany in 1836. In such cases, however, the aeronaut had no idea where he was going to land, when he took off. Balloon flights were entirely at the mercy of the shifting winds, and when the lifting power of the balloon gave out, it went down with a rude disregard for the occupants’ destination. The aeronaut’s control of vertical flight was solely limited to manipulation of ballast weights and deflation of the bag. Evidencing this fact, is the report that the Englishmen who went from London to Germany carried passports to every European county. Such whimsical devices could hardly be adapted to a pre-determined purpose, and these long flights failed to change the public’s opinion that balloons were worthless contraptions operated by people blessed with nerve, but not much sense.
For these reasons, governments and businessmen rarely saw any future in balloons that warranted investing money in them - but the element of human courage in ballooning soon found its place under the sun in association with the amusement world. Certainly, we cannot say that the amusement industry actually developed the balloon, as showmen were hardly scientists. On the other hand, it was purely for purposes of entertainment that aeronauts found an outlet for their product which netted any return to sustain them in their work. It can therefore be truthfully said that the balloon, the dirigible, the parachute and fundamental knowledge of flight which lead to today’s advanced achievements, were nursed thru childhood by the amusement industry, including the circus.
In fact, the very first manned flight, taking place only 5 months after the Montgolfiers first proved the theory, was solely a display of courage for the benefit of the King of France.
You can get an argument over who made the first successful balloon flight in the United States, the debate hinging on what one regards as a “successful” flight. In 1819, however, one Louis Guille made a series of exhibition flights along the East Coast of the U.S.A. This transformed ballooning from one-shot tests into scheduled repetition for entertainment purposes. The balloon ascension was thus initiated into the professional amusement field where it remained until the assassination of the Archduke of Austria ignited the conflagration in which it could finally prove itself to the military.
During this pre-Civil War period, balloonists operated their own amusement enterprises, and were rarely associated with circuses. I believe Spalding & Rogers utilized a balloon ascension at one time, but I have not seen any specific evidence of the fact. [see note below] If so, the practice was a rarity previous to 1871. These independent balloon shows were, however, similar in nature to circuses, and can hold an appeal to circus enthusiasts much as minstrel shows, tom shows, and wild west shows do. Such as “O. K. Harrison’s Balloon Ascension” and “Ericson & Hydrogen Balloon Co.” played one day stands through the 1850s. These operations suffered, however, from the fact that the public soon learned that they could observe balloon ascensions from a distance well beyond the range of the ticket wagon. To offset this, balloon shows took on more of the circus hue by adding door prizes, bands, fireworks displays and acrobats. The idea of advanced ticket sales was utilized. Agents would offer a community a balloon ascension on condition that a given number of tickets were sold in advance, to guarantee a return. Fundamentally, however, the very nature of a balloon show was incapable of “capturing” a paid attendance, and they rarely achieved much success as a profit making operation.
The end of the independent balloon shows came about with the outbreak of the Civil War. The seven aeronauts comprising “T. S. Lowe’s Balloon Corps” of the Union Army, were drawn from the free-lace balloonists who had been barnstorming the country with the result that the balloon shows were mobilized out of existence.
In passing, it is interesting to note one John LaMountain of Lowe’s Balloon Corps, made the first balloon observation flight over fortress Monroe, Virginia, reporting to General Ben Butler. The same LaMountain also made an observation flight from a balloon attached to a ship over the Chesapeake, to constitute what might be called the first “aircraft carrier.” In 1877, however, said John LaMountain was doing daily balloon ascensions for the Sells Bros. Great European Zoological Association, as evidenced by the newspaper ad of that show reproduced here.
Nonetheless, the balloon as a military device failed to sell itself to the high command, and Lowe’s Balloon Corps was disbanded in 1863. This left the small band of aeronauts unemployed, having neither their own shows nor government employment to rely on. For a few years thereafter, there is very little evidence of balloon activity.
In 1871, however, balloon ascensions blossomed forth amongst circuses, evidencing the truth of the lead statement of this article, that aeronautical activity increased noticeably after 1870, in response to a demand for exhibitions.
What triggered this sudden development? Why did balloons become the big thing in circuses at this particular date? The writer believes the answer can be found in history, and in close observation of the newspaper advertising of the time.
In October of 1870, while Paris was besieged by Prussian armies, Leon Gambetta escaped from Paris in a balloon with government funds and a destination of Southern France where it was hoped he could organize an army to come to the relief of Paris. The relief army never materialized in time to help Paris, but his flight achieved great publicity as the first balloon flight in which there was a pre-determined destination and purpose in which the balloon machine did all it could do towards these ends.
It was the very next circus season that the James Robinson Circus appeared with a balloon “The City of Paris” operated by the “Celebrated French Aeronaut Mons. Paul LeGand.” Lake’s Hippo-Olympiad & Circus proclaimed a “Free Balloon Ascension” as “Something entirely new” in the same year, as did the Empire City Circus proclaim the feats of “Prof. Reno, the renowned French aeronaut.” In 1872, the Great Eastern Circus and Balloon Show featured the same Prof. Reno in a balloon ascension, and also displayed further influence of that Franco Prussian War by naming their elephant Bismark after the Prussian hero. Altho they claimed no balloon, Cole’s Colossal Circus, in 1871, featured the Bismark Prussian Band “clad in the style of the band that preceded the entry of King William into the City of Paris.” It would appear that Gambetta’s escape from Paris, and this spontaneous outburst of circus balloon attractions and play upon the Franco-Prussian War was more than a mere coincidence.
Shortly, however, the drive for new thrills prompted circuses to do more than mere balloon ascensions. In 1873 G. G. Grady’s Great Three Tent Show featured feats on a trapeze suspended from an ascending balloon. Buckley & Co.’s World’s Race Festival did likewise in 1874.
In 1875, P. T. Barnum’s newspaper ads for Peoria, July 30th, announced that “Prof. Donaldson the distinguished aeronaut, will make a gratuitous ascension in the airship ‘P. T. Barnum’,” but it didn’t happen. On July 15th, Donaldson and an associate named Grimwood ascended from Barnum’s Chicago show grounds and undertook to cross Lake Michigan. They never reached the other side. Some weeks later, Grimwood’s body washed ashore near Montague, Michigan, but Donaldson was never seen again.
In 1876, Cooper, Bailey & Co. claimed to have “Prof. C. A. Hutchinson’s Flying Ship of the Air” which was illustrated as a cylindrical dirigible type craft, with propellers and rudders. Such a craft was partially successful in flight in France, in 1872, and some poor examples are recorded to have achieved partial success in the USA thereafter, so the actual existence of the likes on Cooper & Bailey was not wholly impossible.
In 1876, Sells Bros. Great European Zoological Association also claimed to have two balloons race every afternoon. 1887 saw the famous LaMountain doing ascensions for the same Sells Bros. show, and L. B. Lent’s New York Circus offered a balloon ascension to the citizens of Kewanee, Illinois as a free attraction.
For a period thereafter, circus balloon displays waned, but did not totally disappear. W. C. Coup ascended balloons in 1882 as did Col. G. W. Hall’s Big United States Circus in 1884.
Heretofore balloons of the 19th century were mostly operated with hydrogen gas for greater safety and endurance. As described in the Chicago Tribune, February 26, 1961, the balloons were so constructed with “a valve at the top of the bag, sealed with paraffin or beeswax, to be opened by a rope when the occupants chose to descend. The gas was hydrogen produced in mobile equipment from the action of sulphuric acid on iron filings. Wagons carried wooden tanks for this purpose, and gasses were cooled in copper pipes passed thru water and purified by passage thru lime.”
In the 1880s a fellow named Baldwin of Quincy, Illinois, perfected a parachute. The balloon ascension was then revived by circuses with the added thrill of the aeronaut “bailing out” in a parachute. This, however, left the balloon un-manned, so the shows generally returned to the original hot air balloon so the liberated bags would return to earth before going too far from the showgrounds.
The revival of the balloon ascension is evidence by advertisements in 1889 for Hutchinson & Co., Wallace & Co., and Adam Forepaugh. In fact, Forepaugh went all out. He offered the public a veritable air circus featuring the usual ascension, plus a balloon race, parachute jump, and even a wedding in a balloon. Ben Wallace’s circuses like the balloon attraction, as they were repeated by Wallace and Anderson in 1890 and Cook and Whitby in 1893.
In 1894 it was Howe & Cushing which continued the balloon ascension, and the Sells Bros. worked a balloon ascension day-and-date with Ringling Bros. Circus during the famous opposition battle in Texas that year.
The story is told that at one time while Pawnee Bill was in Belgium, he became infatuated with a balloon that was moored to the ground. He and another unidentified man climbed into the gondola just to get the feel. For some unknown reason, (or perhaps, publicity?) the balloon came free of its moorings while these fellows were occupying it, and they were trapped in a free balloon for three days, neither being able to speak the language of the other.
In 1905 Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show featured a self-propelled guided airship. Again, this further development was a possibility, as the first truly successful electrically driven dirigible was a reality in France as early as 1882. This is the first incident that has come to the attention of the writer wherein a circus type show displayed an aerial device as a paid attraction - a possibility only after the advent of the open air arena of the wild west shows.
In 1910, Yankee Robinson Circus claimed to display an aeroplane. It seems inevitable that this was a grounded display, however, as taking off under circus grounds conditions would appear to be an infrequent likelihood, and the words of the newspaper advertisement implied as much.
Unlike modern scientists who put monkeys and mice into orbit before humans, the circus industry tested humans before risking valuable zoological specimens. In 1909 Barnum & Bailey featured “Jupiter, the Balloon Horse,” and between 1916 and 1922 Al G. Barnes achieved fame for “Samson, the Aviated Lion.” An earlier ad for Cook & Whitby, 1893, shows a cut of a horse being parachuted from a balloon, which suggests that such a feat must have been at least imagined by someone that early, but the wording of the ad indicates that the actual feat was done by people.
The advertising illustrations, and written claims for these aviated animals gave the definite impression that they were airborne by means of balloons. On the other hand, the writer has been informed that such as Barnes’ lion were aviated by a platform raised in the tent by block and tackle. Visualising the limitations of a tent, it seems likely that the mechanical device was the more likely, and at best small “prop” balloons may have been used only for effect.
The development of heavier-that-air craft made the balloon obsolete and no longer an attraction as a modern marvel. Eventually, however, it was inevitable that the balloon ascension would return, not as a scientific wonder, but as a recreation of an antique of the nostalgic past. Such was the case in 1953 when King Bros. Circus again utilized the old time balloon ascension along with a street parade.
If the experience of the King Bros. balloon was an authentic comparison with the past, it is evident that these aerial devices did not always perform with regularity and dependability alleged by press agents. Perhaps this is further revealed in the advertised claim of the Empire City Circus of 1871, which claimed to carry eight different balloons, “so that an ascension is guaranteed daily.” If this claim to 8 balloons was an exaggeration, it perhaps reflects the truth as to the frequency of success of any one balloon. However, if these balloons were mechanically unpredictable, they were good crowd getters. It is evident that whatever else might be said for or against them, they served their purpose as far as showmen were concerned, and gave employment to many aeronauts while they strove to perfect their science.
Note: Parkinson was probably correct. The Davenport, Iowa, Daily Gazette, May 20, 1858. Mons. Eugene Godard, balloonist, will make a balloon ascension. Under the management of Messrs. Spauling & Rogers. Balloon tickets admit spectators inside the tent to view the process of inflation, inspect the starting preparations and final start of the air ship.
Scamehorn, Howard L., “Balloon to Jets.” Davis, Burke. “The Civil War in the Air,” Chicago Tribune, Feb. 26, 1961. Otherwise, most information was gleaned from the circus newspaper ads in the possession of the writer.
April 18, Smyrna, Ga., and April 19, 20, East Point Georgia - Pete Cristiani has taken parts and pieces of last year's King Bros. and Cristiani Bros. circuses, put them together under the old title of Wallace Bros., which was last used in 1953, and has come up with truly a fine looking big circus. it was a pleasant surprise to this reviewer to see the size and appearance of the show on the lot and the quality and production put into the performance. The 1961 Wallace Bros. Circus must be classed among the leaders of the under canvas circuses on the road this season.
The first thing you notice as you approach the lot is the size of the big top. The top used on the Cristiani Bros, Circus for most of the 1960 season is the one currently being used. It is a 140 ft. round with one 50 ft. middle piece and two 40 ft, middles. It is constructed of blue canvas and was made by the U. S. Tent & Awning Co. of Sarasota. Part of the sidewall used is solid blue and part is orange and blue striped. The top uses four center poles, two rows of quarter poles and one row of side poles. All poles are aluminum. First row of quarters are painted aluminum and red, the second row of quarters aluminum and blue, while side poles and center poles are solid aluminum color.
The big top interior and seating arrangement is essentially the some used last year by Cristiani Bros. Four mechanical seat trucks for blues, 14 high, are used, two at either end of the top. Reserved are 9 high, with an additional row on the ground, and occupy the long and short sides. The fine comfortable lightweight aluminum and nylon chairs which were adopted by Cristiani Bros. in 1959 are used. These have red backs and bottoms and are very comfortable and easy to assemble and load. Interior of the big top is very neat. New orange and blue striped back door curtains are used as well as new orange and green striped canvas mats for the end rings. The rest of the interior drapings were used by Cristiani Bros. last year and although somewhat faded still look okay The ring curbs have been newly painted red, white, and blue. The lighting in the big top is excellent using center clusters of bulbs over each of the three rings plus light clusters on the two rows of quarter poles.
The combination sideshow-menagerie top was used in a similar capacity on last year's King Bros. Circus. It is a 50 ft. round with two 20 ft. middle pieces and is a push pole type made of white canvas with orange and blue striped sidewall made by the U. S. Tent & Awning Co. The cages are not actually placed under the top but several feet out from the sidewall so that considerably more sideshow-menagerie space is utilized this year. The hippo den and fighting lion dens were those used by Cristiani Bros. in 1959 to house a hippo and rhino. These dens have been equipped with foldout banner panels featuring attractive art work by T. J. Cooper of Sarasota. The two dens are spaced in front of the sideshow top and with their banner lines extended make a very colorful flash. Many small flags fly from the top of the sideshow and pit show bannerlines giving the midway a first class appearance. The cage truck carried on King Bros. in 1960 is also placed in the sideshow. In addition to the elephants and caged animals the sideshow features fire eating, sword swallowing, sword box, "Wallace Act," and a blowoff for the alligator boy.
Other attractions on the midway include a "Killer Monster" snake walkthrough show, which has been built on one side of a last year's Cristiani Bros. sleeper truck, a pony ride, and several neat concession stands. Last year's Cristiani Bros. marquee, done in blue and white, is used.
Other canvas on the show includes a new cookhouse dining tent, a 15 x 15 made of snow white canvas, and a 15 x 15 used dressing room tent.
Five elephants are carried. These include the two that were on King Bros. in 1960 and 3 small punks purchased from the St. Louis Zoo this past winter. In all the herd consists of one large and four small bulls. Other lead stock include 10 horses, 8 ponies, and a goat. Two chimps are caged in the backyard.
Photo: Steam calliope, Smryna, Georgia
A great bally feature of the show is the old Ben Davenport steam calliope which is used for noon and dusk ballyhoo in which it plays for a full hour. The instrument is well tuned and sounds good. It is mounted on the same truck used to carry it on Cristiani Bros. in 1959 which has been repainted with the Wallace Bros. title.
The motorized equipment comes from last year's King and Cristiani shows. The color scheme is basically red and white, top half of truck white with the bottom red. The title is in blue trimmed in gold with gold scroll. The trucks from the King show use the same color scheme they had in 1960, a large white triangle on a red background. The hippo and sideshow lion den are painted red, white, and blue, very similar to the color scheme they had on Cristiani Bros. in 1959. The King Bros. 1960 cage is red with blue lettering. Most of the tractor units are painted solid red. A variety of makes are used, with GMC's and Internationals predominating. The truck equipment appears to be in very good condition and all units have been nicely painted and lettered.
The list of trucks on the show are as follows. Note "s" denotes tractor with semi trailer.
1. Stake driver, stake & chain. Painted solid red.
2. (s) Sideshow, canvas, poles, equipment, with a cage on one side. Cage contains 1 chimp, 1 baboon, and 1 bear. Vehicle is painted red and was on the 1960 King Bros. show.
3. No. 20 (s) Elephants (5).
4. (s) Poles and seats. Mechanical seat truck. (Cristiani Bros. in 1960.)
5. (s) Mechanical seat truck. (Cristiani Bros. in 1960).
6. (s) Mechanical seat truck. (Cristiani Bros. in 1960).
7. (s) Mechanical seat truck. (Cristiani Bros. in 1960).
Note: Each mechanical seat truck is also designed to carry other seating properties such as jacks, planks, and stringers.
8. No. 12 (s) Chairs and properties. (Cristiani Bros. in 1960).
9. Pickup truck pulls cookhouse trailer. All cookhouse equipment loads on these vehicles. Cookhouse kitchens mounted inside trailer. Trailer is house type trailer, aluminum colored, and unlettered.
10. (s) Horses and ponies. (King Bros. in 1960).
11. No. 23 (s) Sleeper and properties. (King Bros. in 1960).
12. No. 22 (s) Sleeper and wardrobe. (Cristiani Bros. in 1960).
13. No. 11 (s) Light plant. (King Bros. in 1960).
14. No. 7 (s) Ticket & Office truck. (King Bros. in 1960).
15. No. 8 Concession stand.
16. No. 9 (s) Concessions. (Cristiani Bros. in 1960). Painted aluminum and lettered in blue.
17. No. 6 (s) Walkthrough "Killer Monster" pit show, and sleeper. (Cristiani Bros. in 1960).
18. No. 5 (s) Sideshow fighting lion den, and properties. (Was the rhino den on Cristiani Bros. in 1959).
19. No. 4 (s) Hippo den and properties: (Was the hippo den on Cristiani Bros. in 1959).
20. Panel truck, machine shop and carpenters shop.
21. Welding, gasoline supply, and tire truck.
22. Panel truck, properties.
23. Canvas loader. Pointed red but unlettered.
24. ( s) Steam Calliope. (On Cristiani Bros. in 1959). Rest room trailer.
(Note tractor to the No. 23 sleeper has two huge water tanks mounted and serves as the water wagon.
In the backyard there are some 15 or 20 Private trailers, trucks, and various type vehicles.
The show is playing sponsored dates and uses quite a bit of outdoor billing. There was plenty of stock paper posted from East Point some ten miles almost into downtown Atlanta. The show was on the asphalt parking lot of the huge Tri-Cities Shopping Center about ten miles from Atlanta. This is the type of lot with adequate parking space which draws the crowd. The crowd at the evening performance on the second night, usually the light night, was overflowing. Hundreds were seated on canvas spread around the track.
The 1961 performance is a very good one. Performers like Benny Cristiani and Pete Cristiani's wife, Norma, do at least four or five turns. Wardrobe is new and looks great. All performers make a change of costume for each turn. The spec wardrobe was colorful and the costuming for the web and ladder numbers, in which the show is using big circus production is outstanding. A fine 6 piece band plays for performance, using mainly old standards with a couple of circus marches and gallops.
The performance presented at East Point lasts approximately one and a half hours and was as follows:
2. Norma Cristiani works 2 chimps in center ring. Dogs trained for the "bull fighting" gag in end rings.
3. Clown walkaround.
4. Benny Cristiani Family in center ring for their traditional acrobatic act. Risley act works in one end ring.
5. Mardi Gras Aerial Ballet. Single traps and ladders, with 9 girls up.
6. Evie Karoly, dressage act.
7. Clowns, boxing gag.
8. Evie Karoly, bareback riding. This is a lovely young lady in a beautiful costume and a very pretty act. (Band plays the famous "Go, Gallup" for this act).
9. Benny Cristiani Family Riding Act. This is a superb act and these veteran performers of many a season under the big top never looked greater.
10. Clown walkaround.
11. Miss Eva, hippo, walkaround the center ring.
12. Aerial Extravaganza. Web number. Nine girls up. This act has the production with a lady singing an appropriate song.
13. Benny Cristiani Family, leaps.
14. Clowns, washwoman gag.
15. Elephants (5) worked in fast snappy routine in center ring.
16. Trampolines in two end rings. Norma Cristiani with a chimp in one ring, Benny Cristiani in the other.
17. Clown walkaround.
18. The Flying Wards, flying act, closes the performance.
The show uses five clowns with their gags and props about average. No concert is given although show uses the traditional opening candy pitch.
The show is evidently on a tight nut but with adequate help. Performers were doing "cherry pie" at East Point. Show is moving on time and picked up some good early stands in Georgia despite a couple days sidewall at Griffin and Smyrna due to high winds. The 1961 show is equipped to play the big cities as well as medium sized towns. With a reasonable route and good promotional dates as was the one in East Point the show should be on it's way to a winning 1961 season.
April 16, Athens, Go. and April 19, Canton, Ga.
The 1961 season sees a new version of the King Bros, a title that is getting around these days as much as Walter L. Main, Gentry Bros. and others in earlier days. Bob Snowden is the manager and principal owner of the 1961 edition of King Bros. Circus, the title being used by arrangement with Floyd King. In 1960 Bob Snowden operated the Duke of Paducah Circus, while the King Bros. title was used on a show operated by Benny and Remo Cristiani
The 1961 King Bros. Circus is a medium sized 10 truck show that makes a neat appearance on the lot and features an adequate performance with a couple of outstanding acts.
The big top is an 80 ft. round with one 40 ft. middle piece and two 30 ft. middles. The top was used as the menagerie-sideshow tent last year by the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus. It is made of white canvas, trimmed in red and blue, and was made by the Leaf Tent Co. of Sarasota. Sidewall is blue and white striped. It is a push pole type tent and still in good enough condition to last for a while. The show uses four aluminum center poles, one row of aluminum quarter poles, and one row of side poles painted red and white. Blues are 7 high, and reserves on long and short side are four high with two rows on the ground, giving total grandstand height of six. Chairs are painted red and built three to a section. Performance is given in 3 rings, however center ring only has curbs, painted red and white. Lighting is adequate with two bulb clusters hung to each of the center poles, A small trailer serves as bandstand for the electric organ and drums. Ilsa Garcia plays the organ and Duke Kamakur the drums for the performance.
The combination side-show menagerie top uses a 3 pole, square end, push pole type tent, about a 30 x 60, which is in fair condition and made of white canvas. Two trucks are equipped with foldout metal banners, neatly painted by Snap Wyatt of Tampa, Fla. One center canvas banner connects the two panel trucks. In addition to the menagerie animals the sideshow has punch, magic, sword swallower, and Duke Kamakur, Hawaiian musician.
Lead stock on the show includes three elephants, all about 5 years old, 1 dromedary, 2 donkeys, and 2 horses. Caged animals are shown in the truck list.
Roger A. Boyd (CHS member) operates a "Calcutta Monster" walkthrough pit show and a couple of small concession stands completes the midway lineup.
Most of the motorized equipment come from last season's Duke of Paducah Circus and appear to be in good shape. Truck color scheme is red with yellow lettering and blue and yellow trim and scroll and make a nice looking appearance on the lot. A few units are still to be painted and lettered.
The truck line-up is as follows. Note "s" denotes tractor with semi trailer.
1. No. 74 (s) Sleeper, sideshow panel truck, and props.
2. No. 12 Cookhouse. (Kitchen equipment mounted on the truck).
3. No. 32 "Calcutta Monster" pit show, pulls trailer for concessions and props.
4. (s) Office and ticket wagon, concessions.
5. (s) Poles, canvas, chairs.
6. (s) Seats, props.
7. Light plant, pulls 3 sided cage trailer containing 1 monkey, 1 baboon, and 1 lion. (Unusual construction, has one cage on either side and one cage facing the rear).
8. (s) Sideshow-menagerie canvas, poles, props, sideshow panel truck.
9. (s) Elephants, three (3)
10. Panel truck, properties, pulls flat bad trailer loaded with 6 miniature cages -
(1) No. 5, 1 monkey (yellow and red)
(2) No. 7, 2 monkeys (orange and yellow)
(3) No. 9, 2 monkeys (white and red)
(4) No. 11, 1 monkey (blue and yellow)
(5) No. 12, 1 coon (purple and yellow)
(6) No. 14, 1 porcupine (red and gold)
In addition to the show owned vehicles there are approximately 7 or 8 privately owned passenger cars, trailers, and trucks.
The 1961 performance runs approximately one and a quarter hour. No spec is given as seating comes almost to the ring curbs giving little or no hippodrome track. Performance given at Canton, Georgia was as follows:
1. Ring 1, juggling, Ring 3, risley act.
2. Lady Barbara and her high school horse.
3. Single elephant, Helen, in center ring.
4. Clowns, baseball gag.
5. Prince Stanley, wire act.
6. Jean Warner and her chimp, Mr. Mike.
7. Swinging ladders, two (2).
8. Clowns, walkaround.
9. Johnny Maurice, upside down balancing, climaxes act going up steps on his head. (This act is very good).
10. Clowns, dentist gag.
11. Web act. Two girls up.
12. Clown walkaround with Whitey King and his donkey.
13. Stanley Book, single trapeze, with heel catch.
14. Miss Barbara and her white horse, Sailor, bareback riding.
15. Elephants, three (3) in center ring. These 3 punks seemed to be well trained and worked in a good, fast, routine.
16. Eddie Friscoe and his midget trick car. This is a terrific act. It lasts about 15 minutes and is the best of this type act ever witnessed by this reviewer. This is the type of "socko" finish that sends them home happy.
(All out and all over.)
The performance features some very good acts, including Friscoe's car, which is outstanding, however it could be beefed up a little especially for some of the larger stands. Clowns are 3 in number and gags are adequate. Good costuming was in evidence and all props were newly pointed and gave a neat appearance.
The show had no candy pitch nor concert, two features usually found on a circus of this size. A printed program was due to arrive in a few weeks.
As usual the show plays sponsored dates. Outdoor billing was confined mainly to the downtown sections using stock one and half sheet lithos. Very little if any billing was observed on the country routes.
The show experienced good business at Canton, the night house being a full one. The night before at Gainesville they were strawed to the ring curbs and the previous day in Athens also saw good business despite high winds most of the day. A good route is being followed and the show appears to be moving on time. It was reported that a canvas loader would be obtained shortly as well as new canvas for the sideshow-menagerie.
Jerry Mugivan sat in Geo. Moyer's room in the Palmer House in Chicago. A few agents were waiting for orders, the telephone was ringing briskly and bell boys had come in twice with telegrams. Yet, it was a quiet morning, as mornings go with the boss nowadays.
There was a great deal of oldtimers' talk. The agents got Mr. Mugivan to contribute here and there. Finally urgings that had failed in the past prevailed. For the first time in his life Jerry Mugivan suffered in interview.
Here's the yarn:
"My first circus experience was with the Sanger & Lentz Show, J. B. McMahon, owner and manager. That was in 1893, and it was then that I met Bert Bowers. We were on tickets, Bert and I. After that season I was out of the circus game for several years retailing bargains in railroad tickets.
"In 1900 I was with the Sells & Gray Show as assistant to John Talbott, legal adjuster. In 1901 I managed the dining car on the Great Wallace Shows for William Hart, and in 1902 John Talbott and I had the privileges and the dining car with the same troupe. The following year, 1903, I had the privileges and dining car with Howe's Great London. We closed at Macon, Ga., Dec. 15. I went to Denver. In the spring of 1904 I went to Kansas City to take over an amusement park. With me was an expert, who was outspoken. After he looked things over - most of the buildings sagged and gapped with age - He said: 'Bring a grip full of money, and after it's gone you won't know where it went.' He was right. Among other things the street car folks wouldn't give us a five-cent fare. That ended that.
"Shortly after this I talked circus with Bob Schiller, who had $2,700 worth of circus property stored in an old building in Kansas City. Schiller agreed to join Bert and me in putting out a show. I took Ed Brennan, our first general agent, with me to St. Louis, where I talked with Henry V. Gehm, of the Venice Transportation Company, about renting our train. I found Henry somewhat wary; in fact, he wanted four months' rental in advance, but we finally compromised on an advance payment of one month. At this juncture Bert called me from Kansas City to state that Mr. Schiller had learned that other interests would prevent his sharing our circus adventure. This was hardly good news, but I had in mind W. F. Smith, who had just sold in Kansas City the Howe's Great London Circus property. Brennan and I returned to Kansas City, where I talked with Smith. He was willing to invest, but he declared himself thru with trouping. Things moved along to the point where I was to meet Smith at the bank where he was to deposit the check for his share of the show. Meanwhile Bert was at the stockyards looking over horses and hanging on the telephone awaiting the word from me to buy. Smith appeared on time and we closed our transaction. I immediately called up Bert, who bought twenty-eight head of draft stock.
"We had to get the horses to Centropolis, Mo., the old winter quarters of the Howe show. It was not a matter of shipping - not with us. We weren't shipping just then. We led that stock to Centropolis. There had been a fire at the winter quarters, and only the walls of the buildings were standing.
"We used one long coach as a cookhouse and workingmen's sleeping quarters. Two old stock cars were the stables. We set about getting the troupe, which we decided to call the Great Van Amburg Shows, ready for the road. From Mr. Gehm came four flats, two stocks and three sleepers. Our advertising car was an old Arms Palace. Five days before it opened the season the billposters came on. They built in paper lockers, berths and everything.
Photo: This unusual camel hitch was used in the Howes Great London Circus parade in 1910-11-12.
"However, the day the billers joined they were greatly interested in a portion of our herald which showed the Van Amburg show on wagons, and, under the picture, the line, 'How We Traveled 40 Years Ago.' Below was a picture of a gorgeous circus railroad train with the line, 'The Way We Travel Now.' That night the men bunked in the car for the first time. It rained; it poured. Within five minutes the whole crew was astir. Men had wash basins, buckets and tarpaulins over their heads to shield them from the leaks in the old roof. It was miserable going. However, one ancient trouper got a laugh when he declaimed: 'How We Traveled 40 Years Ago - The Way We Travel Now.'
"The exterior of this car was covered with animal pictures - a regular pictorial jungle. When we returned it an Armour shipment of calves went in it from Kansas City to New York. When the car arrived in New York the unloading crew was afraid to open the door. The pictures of the leopards and lions had 'em scared. They wasted two hour before they mustered up courage to look in the door. 'A h--l of a car to ship calves in,' they complained.
"Our menagerie was imposing. We had four cross cages. In them we had one lioness, bought from Francis Ferari for $100; one grey wolf, worth $25; one black wolf, worth $25; one cage of monks, worth $100 a dozen, and a cage of cockatoos, worth $10. That gave us a $260 menagerie. We had anodd assortment of wagons - some with high wheels, some with low wheels, some with both high and low wheels, some with brakes and some without brakes. Our chandelier wagon had one wheel that wouldn't turn. This wheel slid thru the whole season. That was one wagon that needed no brakes.
"We opened at Waverly, Mo., April 23, 1904, with a mile haul uphill and green horses. We had to rent mules and a traction engine to put the Great Van Amburg Shows on the lot. But we made it. We had grief in plenty, but we kept trouping. There were blowdowns, washouts and clems. Many a plaid vest and red necktie was left on the lot that season.
Here somebody interrupted to ask about “th' elephant. Mr. Mugivan laughed, and then he let his hearers in on the joke.
"At Cedar Rapids, Neb.," he explained, "the natives looked over our $260 menagerie carefully, failing, as usual, to locate an elephant. That evening we found leaning against the marquee one of those big tin elephant signs that merchants used to stand along country roads. On it was painted: 'Donated to Mr. Van Amburg by the Cedar Rapids Zoo.' As Cedar Rapids only boosted 700 people the joke was doubly good.
"By this time our 'menagerie' had mostly died off, and we had to do something, especially after the Cedar Rapids practical joke had aroused our showmanly pride. George Hall, Jr., was playing fairs, so we made a deal with him. He joined us as Bryant, N. D., with one car, one elephant, four or five cages of real animals, a 'talking' pony, some educated dogs, a trained hog and a big snake. Hall did Punch and Judy and magic in the sideshow. We had filled our wolf den - the two wolves had long since died - with goats. These were now replaced with Hall's animals. Things were picking up. Hall stayed with us until we decided to play the Red River, where we needed fewer attractions. We closed at Dumas, Ark., selling the stock to a mill at Arkansas City, Ark., keeping one team of horses, a January mule and the lioness. We went in to Kansas City.
"In January, 1905, Bowers, Brennan and I attended the Forepaugh-Sells sale at Columbus, O., to purchase equipment and animals. We spent two days going over the equipment menagerie and stock selecting what we would buy the day of the sale. We had a great time window shopping. 'That's the very thing I need,' Brennan would say. Bert would pick out a wagon or an animal and so would I. We were all set when we got the word the show had been sold as a whole to James A. Bailey. Somewhat disappointed, to say the least, we left Columbus for Peru, Ind., where we bought of Ben E. Wallace two lions and a camel. Brennan and I returned to Kansas City. There I met Martin Downs, who persuaded me to go to Topeka to look over some stuff at the Sells & Downs winter quarters. While I was in Topeka Martin engaged Brennan to contract railroads for the Lemon Brothers' Show in Canada. When I got back to the city I found I had no show and no agent!
"We then bought for $400 of the National Printing Company, Chicago, a sleeper which had been in use by a hall show. On it in big letters was the name of the show, 'For Mother's Sake.' We shipped to Kansas City via East St. Louis, where we attached to it another car bought for $500. We had Ikey Lewis bringing the cars in. When they reached the Kansas City yards a burly yard man awakened Lewis. 'Say, cull,' he growled, 'that other car is named "For Mother's Sake." What t' h–l is the name of this one?' 'For Christ's Sake!' roared Ikey, sleepily, as he ducked under the blankets again.
"We bought of Major Gosney, New York, an elephant, our first pachyderm. It's name was 'Major.' From the National Printing Company we purchased our first advertising car. By the way, that car is now the paint shop for the Venice Transportation Company. We also bought seven cages and had ten cars with the show and one ahead. We opened at Pleasant Hill, Mo., with Ike Strebig as general agent. The season was prosperous, and we closed at Montezuma, Ga., December 18, going into winter quarters at Piedmont Park, Atlanta."
Thruout this interview Mr. Mugivan referred to no data to refresh his memory. He was able to name the number of stands played in each state, the number of horses, animals, cars bought at any time, from who bought and the amounts paid. Dates and names of people, towns and animals he recalled instantly. In fact, he made a memory expert look like the absent-minded professor of the comic papers. Not one-tenth of the data he gave out can appear in this interview, due, of course, to space limitation. The chap who tries to sell the boss of the world's largest cluster of big top organizations filing system is certainly on a blank.
"in 1906," continued Mr. Mugivan, "we opened in Atlanta under the auspices of the Shrine. Bert Bowers had bought at Glen Island, N. Y., two camels, a llama and 'Babe,' our second elephant, a big one, standing nine feet high. We also added another car to our train, making eleven back with the show. This car had been the No. 2 advertising car of the Walter L. Main Show. We closed at Hallettsville, Tex., December 1.
"Our first equestrian director was Frank A. Gardiner, the double somersaulting leaper. George A. Kline was our principal clown. He was a noted mule rider. Dan Leon was equestrian director in 1905. There were many celebrated old timers on our roster in those days. Their efforts were a great factor in making the show a success.
"I remember that Gardiner had three high school horses with the show. He had Jim Ward working for him. It seems that Gardiner owed Ward for salary and the latter threatened to sue. Frank offered to settle by giving Ward one of the horses. It was a good horse, and Jim agreed. So they finished the season amicably together. However, when the show closed, Gardiner presented Ward with a bill for feed. It came to the exact amount of Gardiner's original debt to Ward. Jim could not pay, and he lost the horse. It was a painless method of paying off an obligation. In time Jim told the joke on himself. 'Well, it was a horse on me,' he would conclude. Gardiner had a dog with the show. It was a busy little tyke, but foolish. Every night it would round up a bone, and, with admirable foresight, bury it under the stake and chain wagon. It knew the wagon and the relative position it occupied on the lot. Next morning, after the train had moved sixty or one hundred miles, the pup would frisk onto the new lot and scoot for the stake and chain. Then it would dig earnestly for the bone. Failing to find it where he remembered placing it, the puzzled little pup would paw up every foot of ground under the wagon, while the bosses had their daily laugh.
"In 1907 we opened at Houston, Tex., playing twenty stands under the auspices of the Daughters of the Confederacy. John Talbott and I had bought a half interest in the Great Wallace Shows, and, with the combination of the Hagenbeck-Wallace Shows, we had an interest in that organization. We added three elephants to the Van Amburg herd, making five - Major, Babe, Mama, Monte and Topsy. There were thirteen cars back with the show.
"It was a good season. We closed in Whitman, Ga., wintering at Valdosta. In 1908 we opened at Valdosta, and invaded New England. We had purchased two stock cars and an elephant car, and we owned our own train. At Charleston, S.C., we changed the billing to read Howes' Great London Circus, our first use of the title. We closed at Cochran, Ga. In 1909 we opened at Atlanta, playing for the Firemen's Widows' and Orphans' Fund, and we closed at Jacksonville, Fla., Christmas day. We opened there for a week March 13, 1910, and thirteen proved a lucky number for us, for it was that season we jumped into Canada for the first time, playing Montreal July 9. We closed at Charleroi, Pa., October 28, after a big season, and wintered at Verona, Pa.
"An amusing thing happened that season. You gentlemen recall, no doubt, that it was the year of the Jeffries-Johnson fight. Naturally, interest in the bout was keen on our show. But, at that, I don't believe we were as worked up as were the members of the advance. Our special agent was a fight bug of the first water, and he worked out a scheme both to do his work and to see the fight. It was a good scheme. He made two towns a day for three weeks, and made 'em well at that. He left forwarding addresses, and had things done up brown. He saw the fight and returned to his next open town ready to go on as tho nothing had happened. But, when he alighted from the train, Ike Strebig, with a new special agent, happened to be on the platform. Ike told the erring fight bug what he though of him. It was a good dressing down.
" 'But, Mr. Strebig,' protested the agent, 'I made all those towns right, even if I did make 'em fast, didn't I?'
" 'You made 'em fast,' roared Ike, 'but you'll make the rest of the towns on this season's route a darn sight faster. You'll make 'em in nothing - flat! Here's your money!'
"Up to this time we had been a one-ring show. We purchased that winter three tableau wagons, one stock car and one flat, We also acquired the Dode Fisk Show, which we called Sanger's Great European Shows. We operated it separately. We now made Howe's Great London a two-ring, one-stage aggregation, with 15 cars back and one ahead. We had Richard Dockrill as equestrian director. Our 1911 route extended thru Ontario, Western Canada and the Coast. We closed at Tucumcari, N. M., and wintered in Hutchinson, Kan.
"In 1912 we opened at Hutchinson, moving into Eastern Canada. Ike Strebig died in July, and W. E. Ferguson took over the routing of the show. We closed at Montgomery, Ala. We now acquired the Robinson Famous Shows from Dan R. Robinson, and substituted that title for the Sanger name, with Harry Mann as agent. That winter E. C. Knupp joined us as general agent of the Howe Show. Both troupes wintered at Montgomery. The Howe Show opened the season of 1913 with nineteen cars back and one ahead. The Robinson Show had eighteen back and one ahead. I managed the Howe and Bowers the Robinson Show. There were four 'bulls' with Bert and six with me. We had added Mabel, Betty, Tom and Dutch to our herd.
"That fall both shows ran into Montgomery again, taking the road in the spring of '14 with twenty cars back and one ahead. Both shows wintered in Peru, Ind., that year, and George C. Moyer, who had made the season of '14 interesting with his Haag Show opposition, was secured as general agent of the Robinson organization. George Aiken, the old Robinson manager, was general agent of the Howe Show.
"The Robinson Famous took the road the spring of '15 with twenty-two cars back and two ahead, and the Howe with fifteen cars back and one ahead. The former show had six elephants that year and the Howe Show had four. In 1916 the Robinson Famous title was changed to John Robinson's Circus, with twenty-eight cars back and two ahead. We made the Coast trip that spring. The Howe Show had twenty cars back and one ahead.
"With it were seven elephants, while the Robinson Show carried eight. On May 13 Ed C. Knupp relieved George Aiken as general agent of the Howe Show, The former show closed in Americus, Ga., and the latter in Brewton, Ala. Both wintered at Americus.
"We took the Howe Show off the road in '17, putting the John Robinson Circus on forty-five cars. George Moyer was general agent and Ed Knupp was traffic manager. The following season, that of '18, the Robinson Show opened with twenty-eight cars back and two ahead. George Moyer was general agent and traffic manager. We closed early on account of the flu at Elizabeth City, N. C.
"Early in 1919 we bought the Hagenbeck-WaIlace Circus at a receiver's sale. Both it and the Robinson Show took the road in '19 as thirty-car troupes. George Moyer was the general agent of the Robinson Show, and Ed Knupp returned to the firm's employ, becoming the general agent of the Hagenbeck-Wallace Show. The former troupe closed in Holly Springs, Miss., and the Hagenbeck-Wallace Show in Jackson, Tenn. Mr. Bowers had managed the Hagenbeck Show since its purchase. Last year we put out the Howe Greater London Show on fifteen cars, with Dan Odom as manager and Bert Rutherford as general agent. This year we are enlarging the show, increasing from fifteen to twenty-five cars. The title will be Howe's Great London Circus and Van Amburg's Trained Wild Animals. Mr. Odom will manage it and Mr. Rutherford will be the general agent. The show will be perfectly equipped. This winter we bought from H. H. Tammen and F. G. Bonfils, the Denver publishers, the Sells-Floto Circus, and, with it, the Buffalo Bill title. We bought from William P. Hall, Jr., the Yankee Robinson Circus."
This was the end of the story - the narrative of the circus round-up. In the lobby of the hotel a group of man waited to talk business with the boss, and, as he told the tale, Mr. Mugivan realized that he had two days' work to do in one - but he told it patiently.
Someone asked: "Do you and Mr. Bowers always agree?" It was a blunt question, to say the least.
Mr. Mugivan grinned. "Well," he replied, "we don't ever disagree - seriously. Nothing could cause us to do that - nothing. What's a circus more or less between partners anyway?"
No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or means
Last modified January 2006.
without written permission of the author and the Circus Historical Society, Inc.
Last modified January 2006.