Bandwagon, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Mar-Apr), 1963. Note: Only some articles are included in this online edition. Not all illustrations are 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.
The advertising power and lure of the American circus has always relied upon the wonders of color and music. After all, has not the dazzle of gold and color, and the wiles of music always been known as the short route to the hearts and minds of men - and women? Obviously, the theme of color and flash has been so universally followed by all circuses, that these elements have long since become the very image of the circus, itself.
When we pause, however, to observe the role of the newspaper in circus advertising, we are immediately confronted by a conflict with this image. Drab black ink was not only a poor raw material with which the circus could work to weave its spell, but it was the very opposite of the circus itself. Yet, of all media of advertising, the newspaper has been the most important to the circus.
Probably, the circus industry has spent more money on the newspaper than on any other single method of advertising. Many circuses did not parade; many have not used heralds; even a few can be found that did not use lithographs; but the circus that has not left its mark somewhere in the yellowing archives of a county seat weekly, is unknown today, because it has not left its mark any place else, either.
From the outset, the newspaper confronted the circus with a paradox. It was an inescapable advertising necessity; yet, its qualities were the least adaptable to the circus theme of color and fantasy.
The importance of the newspaper to the circus can be seen in the fact that it was the only media of advertising that was regularly delivered into the hands of the largest number of potential customers. Every other form of advertising depended upon the customer coming to it and taking notice; or, for the circus to bear all the expense and labor of its own distribution. Independent distribution could rarely achieve the circulation, assured delivery and follow-up that as guaranteed by the local press.
Thus it was that the circus directed much of its finest executive talent to the mastery of black ink to its gaudy purposes. As necessity is the mother of invention, they succeeded by development of a one color art to the point where it gives the illusion of color.
The result was the most original form of circus art. Certainly, the beauty and power of color lithographs, tableaus and fine bands cannot be denied, but their basis of color paintings, gold statuary and music was hardly original with the circus. What the circus developed from black type of the press, was an art style of their very own unencumbered by anything borrowed. To the contrary, it was this style of art and advertising development which society borrowed from the circus, comprising, perhaps, the most important contribution of the circus to the American economy and way of life.
It was clearly the circus which originated and developed newspaper display advertising which is now the life blood of the press. It started with the very first traveling menagerie, Hackaliah Bailey's tour of "Old Bet" and grew with the industry. The first press agent; the first advertising agencies; first regular and specialized use of cuts and mats, press releases, free publicity and every development of ad art to its most advanced form; all came at the hands of the circus.
To better understand the beginnings of circus newspaper advertising we should first look at the style of non-circus advertising of the early 19th Century. Virtually all such advertising involved fine-print notices much like today's classified sections. Illustrative cuts were non-existant in many publications. Where they did appear, they were the exception to the rule, small, simple and general or unspecialized in subject matter.
For the most part, these early ads included no effort to SELL, being hardly more than the simplest announcements of goods and services available. If a reader was not already aware of a need of an item listed for sale, there was little in this style of advertising to prod him into wanting it. There were reasons why advertising was like it was in the early 1800's. These reasons also shed light on why it was that the circus industry was the first to move ahead in the field of newspaper advertising.
The nation's economy was geared to a slow pace. Few people had much money to buy what their frugal budgets didn't oblige them to buy anyway. There was no mass production in industry, therefore no large surplus of products that had to be dumped or pressured upon the public. The merchant, being permanently located in a community of limited demand and dependent upon an industry of limited supply, had nothing to gain by artificially creating a desire for products in quantity which could be neither bought nor manufactured. He listed what he had available, then stood by to let normal demand motivate his customers.
At first, the earliest American circuses followed the same advertising policies, as they, too, were permanently located. The newspaper ads of such as Rickett's Circus and the Boston Circus were no different than the "classified" style of everyone else.
In 1815 Hackaliah Bailey began a tour of New England with his elephant "Old Bet." He soon learned that he could not sit and wait for customers to decide they needed to see an elephant. By the time they did so, he would be in another town. It became necessary for him to inspire people to want to see an elephant, before he and his elephant arrived.
As a result, he came up with advertisements (see illustration) that displayed a noticeable cut of an elephant, and curiosity-inspiring tidbits about his creature that approached being a sales pitch. The rash of traveling zoos which followed in Bailey's footsteps, followed the same format in advertising. Thus was born the first industry-wide use of display advertising. True, by what we now regard as display advertising, these simple circus displays of 1815-1825 were pitiful; however, when inserted amongst the newspaper pages of the time, they started a revolution.
Utilizing their advantage of mobility, these showmen soon learned to visit only the more prosperous communities, at the particular time when they were most "flush." This liberated them, to a degree, from localized economic conditions to which other businesses were bound. This enabled the circus to venture into the field of pressure salesmanship because they could route themselves into a higher frequency of buying power. It was thus that the circus' quality of mobility made the practice of the "big sell" both necessary and practical.
The point to be made is that the concept of artificially creating customers NOW, thru expressive advertising, dawned not particularly from brilliance, but rather from a combination of necessity and doing what came naturally. But dawn it did, and at the hands of the fledgling circus industry. If any others had ventured into this before, it went unnoticed and faded. When circuses came up with it, they carried the idea from town to town, causing it to take hold and spread.
This style of ad, involving fine print headed by one cut, predominated until about 1855. They improved only in becoming a bit larger, and the quality and sharpness of the cuts improved over Hackaliah Bailey's day. The 1845 ad for Rockwell & Stone, illustrated here, is typical of the period of the 1840's and early '50s'.
In 1856 an improved style began to dominate all circus newspaper advertising. It is true that it is difficult to place a specific date on these developments. In this case, however, characteristics which had been rarely ventured by shows in earlier years, became industry-wide at this time, and generally prevailed through about 1870.
As for size, ads now achieved one full column, or its equivalent, but rarely larger. Printing became more diversified with the concept of spacing dawning to improve readability.
Illustrations became more elaborate with two styles being most common. On the one hand would be a series of tiny cuts of a variety of acts, like the Tournaire & Whitby 1858 item reproduced here. On the other, was a reproduction in some form of the "caravan" or street procession entering town. Sometimes this cut would be limited to a bandwagon, but frequently it involved minute detail of the parade stretched out along one side of the column or miraculously twisted and jammed into a box. Often these cuts revealed surprising detail even though they were necessarily small. The 1865 ad for Howe's Champion Circus shown here, is an example.
The visual attractiveness that appeared in circus ads at this time reflect the fact that the color and flash that is now synonymous with the circus had also only recently developed in the industry. The first ornamental bandwagon appeared with Raymond & Waring's Circus in 1847, and by 1850 such wagons were in general use (Bandwagon, July-August, 1961, Richard Conover.) The first color lithograph appeared in 1849 by Sands & Co. (Pictorial History of the American Circus, 1957, John and Alice Durant.) What had been simple displays of talent now spoke of "Variegated Pavilion of American Flags," knights in armor, "Massive Cages of Living Lions and Other Chariots, Cars and Berlins of exquisite workmanship," magnificent paraphernalia, "Richly Caparisoned," "Leviathan Car of Oberonicon," and "Grand Legendary Spectacle of St. George and the Dragon."
As the circus itself had only recently adopted splendor and color, it is not surprising that the same spirit would now appear in its newspaper advertising. Again the development may not have been the result of any particular genius of showmen over other businessmen, but the result was the same. The circus was the first to inject. artistic ingenuity into newsprint, and true display advertising was in being. The doubters need only to look through old newspaper volumes to observe for themselves that circus advertising style was conspicuously superior to all others - without exception.
Exceptions did begin to creep into newspapers around 1869 and 1870, however. Lead by farm implement manufacturers, and patent medicines, non circus advertisers were beginning to follow the circus.
A leap forward into the grandiose developed sharply in 1871. As if at a given signal, shows blossomed forth with 2 and 3 column displays. By 1873 three and four column ads were mill-run, and opposition or temporary whims of agents produced full page classics. The circus had been the first to break with monotonous fine-print and regularly use illustrative cuts to attract attention. They also were the first to diversify and space type, to improve readability, and to produce art into the press. They now showed the way to the ultimate in display advertising, as big as the newspapers themselves.
Why did this "massive blast" appear now, almost overnight? Probably an awareness of improving noncircus advertising was a factor. It became necessary for circuses to move ahead if they were to maintain the standout qualities desired. Also, shows themselves now broke the "mud barrier" and rolled into the big-time on iron rails. Fierce opposition wars broke out between such as Barnum, Sells, Great London, Forepaugh, Coup and W. W. Cole, to add the powerful incentive of competition. All these pressures probably helped pull the trigger at this time.
Circus advertising of this period was impressive and eye catching by virtue of its gaudy size. Ads were bigger, cuts were bigger, type was bigger, and the boastful claims of the ads kept pace. These elements were important to the development of advertising. The eyes of most circus enthusiasts of 1963 will sparkle at the sight of gems of the era, but the full quality of the real circus advertising art which we now regard as "circusy" was yet to come
Howsoever large these ads were, printing was still in straight rows. The idea of lettering on mats in rolling or rhythmic flourish occurred to a few. Such as L. B. Lent, Nixon & Kemp and a few others ventured into this style sufficiently early to claim its origin by the circus. The artistic advantages of an entire ad lay-out, with all wording and illustrations combined onto one uniform cut appeared even less frequently, but did appear early at the hands of a few like Mabie's. Van Amburgh sustained this advanced style through this grandiose period of the 1870's. The great majority of the shows, however, relied upon local type setters for word lay-out, with their own cuts inserted at random. The result was that wording and cuts were generally the same from town to town; however the lay-out was so different in each town, that a second look was often necessary to recognize an ad for the same show. Until the one mat, all-inclusive ad became common practice, the ads lacked uniformity, and were influenced by people who were not "with it." The 1879 ad for Sells Bros. shown here is a classic example of the qualities developed in the 1870's.
During this stage of development of circus newspaper style, the circus became snared in a trap of its own making. It had shown the way to full scale display advertising. When non-circus fields followed, the demand for newspaper space enforced an increase in advertising rates which circus budgets could not sustain. As a result, the era of the big splurge in circus press began to fade in the middle 1880's.
Suggestions of decline began to appear around 1884. By 1886 the massive advertisements were a rarity. Seldom did circus ads exceed two columns, and often they were not full length. Some jamming of type began to re-appear, although it never reverted to the extremes of earlier years. It was evident showmen were still aware of the value of flashy and diversified type. They tried to maintain the style, but were obliged to do so in less space. The inevitable result was some sacrifice in the effect desired.
Circus advertising retreated to its lowest ebb between 1888 and 1894. Ads were almost (but not quite) drab by comparison. Showmen were in an interim period of having less ad space, and not quite knowing how to make the best of it. For the first time since 1815, non circus advertising caught up with that of the circus.
Contributing, no doubt, to this decline in quality of ads of the period, was the condition of the circus industry itself. W. W. Cole, W. C. Coup and John B. Doris were out of business. The Sells Bros. and Forepaugh shows were in the last throes of expiring. Barnum and Bailey had "made" as the Greatest, and the high pressure opposition of the previous decade was gone, no longer an inspiration to perfection. This is further borne out by the one standout exception to this brief lapse in circus press, Ringling Bros.
This was a period in which Ringling was a nobody, but was merrily building its fences and bridges on the road to becoming somebody. Their ads, unlike any others, were huge, and genuinely harked to the glories of earlier years. Trying to rise from the unknown, in the face of a virtual Bailey monoply, the Ringlings displayed energy that was impossible for the Sells and Forepaugh has-beens, and necessary for the seemingly secure and confident Bailey.
The 1894 season witnessed the "arrival" of the Ringling Bros. World's Greatest Shows, and Mr. Bailey was obliged to take note. He did, and the old spirit of competition put new vitality into the business, as it girded for the inevitable Ringling vs. Bailey war.
This revival of the incentive of competition promptly found expression in circus newspaper advertising. The big step forward at this time was the widespread use of the press mat which permitted the mixture of illustrations and title into an attractive blend. The mat also permitted use of reverse printing (black background), which enhanced the standout qualities of the circus ads, even if other advertising was larger. By turning to such devices, the circus resumed its lead in development of newspaper advertising. It was now showing what could be done thru ingenuity and finesse, rather than splurge.
Most shows, during this period, used the two column full length ad, with a series of individual (though improved) cuts, and some locally set type. Ringling originality, however, went to the large square ad entirely incorporated into mats, with all the advantages involved. Ringling agents were supplied with a variety of sizes and shapes of ad mats. As larger ads were desired, these mats could be assembled to fit, much like a billposter assembles various "flats," "uprights" and "streamers" to fit a given shed or fence. The Ringling 1897 ad illustrated, is a fine example of this type of ad construction.
The race between advertising rates and the ability' of circuses to jam equally attractive advertising power into even smaller space, reached its peak in the era from 1900 through the First World War. With Ringling supremacy over Bailey, this period may have seen the relaxations of monopoly return, but such was not the case. Such as Hagenbeck-Wallace and Sells Floto came along to keep the five brothers on their toes, lest they fall victim to the same fate they had brought to the old "champs." These factors combined to enforce a perfection of compact artwork that resulted in the style of "circusy" art that stirs the cockles of today's circus lovers.
As the large two column full length ad faded, the Ringling practice of setting up an entire ad on one mat took its place. No longer was it necessary to limit type to straight lines. Every nook and crany of ad space could be utilized in an attractive economy, whereby even reading matter appeared in eye-catching flash. The 10 inch ad of two or three columns width became religion to circuses at this time.
Altho much smaller than the gems of the 1870's, the Ringling 1906 ad shown here is, in the writer's opinion, a classic for circus appeal. The Forepaugh-Sells 1910 ad illustrates the "circle" style ads that became popular. These advertisements, I believe, show the full bloom of circus newspaper art - an art developed entirely by trial and error within the circus industry itself, and un-qualified by anything borrowed. Beginning 100 years before, with the hopelessly limited asset of black ink, the circus had achieved a form of art that was genuinely its own, and did full justice to the image of flash and color that was the circus.
Until this era, circuses almost always used a single style of ad in any one newspaper. This no doubt arose from the fact that ads were set up by local type-setters, and once the type and cuts were set in a frame, that one style had to do for that engagement. With the one-mat-ad, however, standardization set in. At first, the affect was to use one style everywhere along the route. That one ad was almost universally the 10 inch 2 or 3 column style.
It was about 1912 that the pinch of advertising rates showed signs of crowding the circus budgets still further, however, the shows liked the 10 inch ads. Under these circumstances the practice of using more than one style of ad began to spread. They would alternate the favored larger ads with smaller, more economical ones. The practice permitted continued used of the popular 10 inch ads at least part of the time, with the affect that the characteristics of this period of circus advertising can be recognized through 1918.
Possibly the first show to use an entirely different ad style, every day before show day, in the same newspaper, was the 101 Ranch Wild West of 1913. This was a forerunner of a practice to become common in later years, but at the time, almost everyone held to two alternating styles.
During this period, the circus press agent achieved his full stature. As ads grew smaller, the jargon and verbiage of the press agent could no longer find room in the paid ads. The shows found that the burden of high advertising rates could be outflanked by free publicity. The press agents proved their worth by wrangling an amazing amount of free space by fast talk and complimentary passes. The practice continues to this day, altho in recent years, the results have been less spectacular than they were between the two great wars.
Altho this period saw the full bloom of the circus press agent, it should be noted that his work was very evident in much earlier years. It had long been the practice of agents to tag their newspaper ads with their names, evidencing their presence. Their work was also very evident during the circus wars of the '70's and '80's, in the form of publicity stories and competing "open letters" between embattled shows. The small size of newspapers of those days, however, necessarily limited the space they could wrangle. Their full affect could not and did not blossom until the nineteen-teens.
What has followed since 1918 has not revealed much new in either ad art or technique. The past 40 years have seen ebb and flow of circus press activity as affected by prosperity, war, depression, and the comings and goings of various shows and showmen; however, the lessons learned by the industry in earlier years were not forgotten. Circus newspaper advertising remained effective and attractive. This fact is borne out by the fact that advertising of these 40 years had a hand in making circus fans of you and me.
It is true that the advent of radio, automobiles and movies increased the tempo of Americans to where they simply would not take the time to ready wordy ads. By the mid 1920's, this tendency was evident in circus advertisements. They mostly eliminated the fabulous phraseology of the earlier years, and became simple announcements of title, date, time and place with rarely more than brief mention of one feature. The allure of the circus relied more and more on ad art. The Corporation lead the way in this theory of "less lecture and more lustre."
With the demise of the Corporation, and domination by Ringling controlled press staffs of the 1930's, ads again included some fine-print reading. For one thing, this was a popular time for name acts, which warranted mention. Even if some people did not read every word of such fine print, the affect was the mass of fine print conveyed a message of "wonders too numerous to mention." The presence of such a block of compact reading became an actual part of the ad-art with the question of its being read a secondary matter. One ultimate result, particularly for lesser shows, was a lot of ad working of generalities and adjectives that gave an illusion of grandeur that cloaked the truth.
In more recent years, shows like Ringling, Cristiani and Beatty have frequently returned to the utilization of a series of tiny cuts illustrating various acts, the same as was done in the 1860's. Perhaps it is indicative that ads of the pre-rail era (1860's), and the post-rail era (1960's), are similar. Are we on the return trip of a cycle?
But then Floyd King's operations have favored the colorful "circle" style of aids of the 19teens. Kelly Miller follows the Corporation style of an impressive picture and less to read. The affect of the modern practice of local tie-ins and sponsors has had no singular affect on circus newspaper advertising. With Mills Bros., the affect of sponsors has been to minimize press coverage. On the other hand, Kelly-Miller, with its local tie-ins, has virtually bought out entire weekly newspapers to surpass the greatest achievements of such as Sells and Great London in the 1870's.
In general, however, the circus today follows a healthy program of newspaper advertising. In various forms it retains the best in style and technique that was long since proven by the predecessors. The final test is in the eyes of the 12 Year old boy when he opens the family newspaper and sees that snarling tiger heralding the season's first circus. There are those in our Society who will argue that the blase kids of the space age do not respond. I know better. I have seen my 12 year old son dash out the door carrying the glad tidings to his neighborhood buddy. He's one in a thousand you say? Perhaps, but when he meets his buddy coming the other way with the same happy news, then we know there are at least two in a thousand don't we?
Walter Guice on the Ringling show is certainly a veteran of the white tops. Majority of his days for 60 years have been as a rider, aerial performer, clown and owner of aerial bar acts.
His career easily fills a big chapter in the circus history of this century.
He has seen the circus pass from overland travels by wagon to rails and back to trucks; from tents to buildings and stadiums.
It was only natural that he should be of the circus. Others had taken to the sawdust ring.
The Guice home was on a farm near Danville, Illinois. That town during the 90's was headquarters for the J. H. LaPearl circus. This show moved at first on wagons and later via rail.
His older sister was adopted by the LaPearl family. As Elizabeth LaPearl she appeared in a carrying act with Abe Johnson. Later she married Earl Pearse. He was long in the White Wagon on the Sells Floto under Zack Terrell. He was also an advance man. They now live in Denver. As a kid he went along on the LaPearl circus in '98, Then he was not old enough to start training, but the right age to get into mischief.
When a rail show LaPearl had two elephants, one hippo, one camel and 14 cross cages. The season usually opened in Danville, playing Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. One season it went into Missouri, Arkansas and states between the home base.
William Guice, a brother, and Jerry Dashington operated Dashington Bros. circus soon after 1900. He recalls statuary numbers, clog dancing and black magic were on the program.
In 1902 Walter was given a place on that show as a kid boxer. It was his job to meet all comers. Some of those kids were pretty rough and right off the farms, he remembers.
He had higher ambitions. Between performances he played around the trapeze bars. He wanted to be a performer not a fighter.
Frank Ellett had a bar act and Walter got on the good side of him. Frank taught him some of the fine points of a bar performer. These lessons and his natural ability were to enable him to earn a living for years as a performer and owner of aerial bar acts.
In 1904 Walter was on Busby Bros. two car circus out of Pana, Illinois. He spent several winters in Grand Rapids attending school and practicing on the bars afternoons and evenings.
Advancement as a performer had to a point gotten so that in 1906 he was a member of the Ellett troupe on the Carl Hagenbeck circus.
That show opened in Cincinnati April 5-6, played the middle west most of the season to close at New Orleans November 4-7.
After a short lay off it re-opened at New Iberia, La., Nov. 20. The early part of December spots were played in Texas before going into Old Mexico for December and January.
That was a disastrous trip culminating in a bad wreck on the Mexican railroad.
Equipment was returned to the United States. B. E. Wallace bought it at a sale in Algiers, La. He moved everything to Peru. There he combined it with what he had from the B. E. Wallace circus and formed the Hagenbeck Wallace show to give its first performance at Peru on Saturday, April 27, 1907. That show was enroute under various owners until September 20, 1938, when it closed for the last time at Riverside, California. The sheriff took over.
In 1907 Mr. Guice went to the John H. Sparks show as a bar performer. The owner used the slogan "The Circus Deluxe." That was the beginning of years of pleasant associations with the Sparks family.
The season opened at Serdina, Florida, February 12, closing at Augusta, Ga., late in January, 1908; almost a year tour. The Sparks show was noted for giving the help long seasons.
Next, Walter was in one of the Bert Delno bar acts on the Hagenbeck-Wallace circus. Delno had two acts of four people each at the Peru opening May 2. The closing was at Chicago, October 5-10, after playing 132 towns in 17 states.
The first trip of Guice to the Pacific Coast was in 1909 on the Sells Floto in a Frank Ellett troupe.
Photo: The Walter Guice Comedy Trampoline Bar Act, around 1912. Burt Wilson Collection.
in 1910 he had become ambitious enough to have developed a bar act of his own. In fact he had two on the Floto show, each with three people. It opened at Albuquerque in both 1910 and 1911.
In the meantime he had become interested in riding. Consequently in 1912 he had a jockey riding act as well as his bar acts on the Gollmar show. It opened in Baraboo May 4. The route was as far away as New Mexico and Texas, where the show seldom ventured. It was out 26 weeks and one day, played 157 towns in 12 states. The closing was at Dexter, Mo., November 21; mileage 11,467.
Commencing with 1913 through 1915 the Guice troupes were on the John H. Sparks show doing bars and riding. Display newspaper ads stressed 168 circus champions, 27 clowns, 3 rings, 2 stages, 40 cage zoo. They had Tiebors' seals telephone elephants, Woodford's animal statues as well as aerialists and riders.
In 1916 both acts were with Gollmar for a season of 25 weeks playing 155 towns in 12 states, opening at Baraboo May 6, closing at Fredericktown, Mo., Nov. 2.
The season of 1917 was a hectic one, he recalls. The World War No. 1 was on.
First the acts were on the ill-fated Coop & Lent circus out of Dixon, Illinois, for a few weeks.
On April 16, when the R. T. Richards Supreme Show of the World opened at Dover, New Jersey, they were with it.
That was launched by Richard Ringling, son of Alfred T.
Those 13 weeks on one of the pioneer truck shows he will never forget. Walter tells how he put it up and took it down, moved the show besides doing bars, worked the statuary horses and an 8 pony drill.
Those were rough times for keeping help. The draft got the regulars, including the general agent. It closed at Oakridge, New Jersey. The trucks were shipped back to the Ringling wheat ranch in Montana.
One thing he does recall, the show paraded in New York City. The lot was at 245th Street and Lenox, in a colored ball park.
This man had an enviable reputation as a top performer, owner of acts and an all around circus individual. He was never found waiting when the season opened.
The Spring of 1918 found him on the Sparks World Famous shows when it played Reading, Ohio, April 20. It was then operated by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Sparks. Of these people he has nothing but words of praise. That title was a household word along the Atlantic and other regions. The show never had a losing season, he recalls.
Season after season he went back to the show.
In 1919 at Newman, Georgia, Nov. 26, the display advertisement said "all new except the name and business methods; big menagerie, one step ahead of Noah's Ark." When at Sikeston, Mo., Sept. 4 of that year, they featured Kijo Namba, the man who walks on his head. At Marshfield, Wisconsin, July 15, 1920, "Big Zulu, earth's mightiest monster, a sky scraper elephant; Caeser champion high jumping mule." In 1923 in Missouri it was termed "The Twentieth century wonder show." July 4, 1925, at Ashland, Wisconsin, features included Major, the football horse, and Prof. Kloske, presenting 16 rotation horses.
The Guice performers were always in good company. One year besides them there were advertised The Original Nelson Family, Wright duo, Bartoys Bears, the Ten Astounding Garcerettas.
For a change he played parks in 1925.
Desiring to work in new pastures he was on the John Robinson circus in 1928, owned by the American Circus Corporation. Louis Chase was manager, Arthur Hopper, general agent. It moved on 25 cars made up of one in advance, 6 stock, 12 flats, 6 coaches. It opened at West Baden, April 21, closing at Koscuisko, Miss., Nov. 1.
In 1929 on the Sparks show he worked under two owners. It started out at Winston Salem, under the American Circus Corporation. John Ringling bought it September 10. It closed at Gainesville, Fla., Nov. 2, going to Macon, Georgia. The managers that year were H. B. Gentry, Ira Watts, Sam Dill. The train had 20 cars - 6 coaches, 8 flats, 5 stock, one in advance.
He was again with it when it opened at Macon, April 17. The season of 23 weeks, 1 day was along the Atlantic Coast, going to Sarasota at the end.
His first performance on the Ringling-Barnum show was in 1931, where he remained until 1938 doing comedy riding and having two troupes on aerial bars. That was the year of labor trouble. After the sudden closing at Scranton he worked fairs.
The next year he was back with Charlie Sparks, who had the Downie title out. It was a truck show, the first really big one.
In 1934 and 1935 he had bar acts on two shows; Three on the Ringling and one on Al G. Barnes. Bill Lenett managed the act on Barnes.
There was a comedy bar act on Cole Bros. in 1940. He was in that. It was called Three Jesters.
Between 1941 and 1950 his acts played fairs. It was on a wet night at Milwaukee he suffered injuries that caused him to turn to clowning exclusively, although he had clowned in the riding and bar acts.
His wife, a performer with him for many years, passed away in 1950. She was known as Flora Bedini, of the famous circus family by that name.
The following year he married Bessie Hollis from another well known circus family of riders. She is now retired. They call Florida home.
A quick note from the pen of Joe Bradbury let me know that the elusive Beers-Barnes Circus was in my vicinity and by all means to catch it before it got away. Needing no prodding, I grabbed my trusty Argus 35mm, pen, clipboard and other necessary implements and hurried across the river that George Washington made famous to corral my quarry and to renew old friendships. A forty mile trip to the sleepy village of Delaware City, Delaware, and I located this veteran show of some thirty seasons up and ready on time at the Bayard St. School ground and showing under the Fire Department Auspices. Since school was still in session, the local board had requested that no matinee be presented and the request was granted. This permitted more time than usual to cut up jackpots with Roger Barnes, Charlie Beers and Walter Davis. A pleasant afternoon soon was gone and these three gentlemen proved the point that showmen do not forget for I had set three dates for the show during the 1959 season for their veteran agent, Gene Christian.
The 1962 version is gradually unchanged since I last saw it except for the gradual updating of equipment. All trucks and tops are in excellent condition and on this date a tractor was bought from Anchor Motor Freight in nearby Chester, Pa. Roger Barnes revealed that the show has gotten to the point of buying on the average of one piece of canvas per season for the big top. Careful handling and good maintenance have saved many dollars over the period of years.
Also revealed to me for the first time was the history behind the show. The Beers family had worked for the Barnes rep show from 1918 until 1929. At this point the families separated and two separate shows were formed. This lasted until the depression year of 1932 when the two families, under George Barnes and Chas. Beers, took out a combination rep and picture show under canvas. This lasted only four weeks but was the foundation of what has become the Beers-Barnes Circus, still under the same banner and controlled by the same families. Over the period of years, this combination has built up a reputation of honesty and good will second to none and can be justly proud of their enviable reputation. Crossroad towns and new suburban areas from Florida to Maine and from the Eastern coastal areas to the banks of the Mississippi have been visited and revisited over the period of these three decades and the welcome mat is always out. It is Sunday School from front to back and may it always remain so.
Returning after an absence of one season, Gene Christian is again the guide that finds the path that usually seems to lead to the money areas. Others on the payroll include Roger Barnes and Charlie Beers, owners and managers; Walter Davis, supt.; Ella Barnes, organ; Art Duval, animals; Abe Abernathy, annex; Mike Minelli, purchasing agent; Harold Barnes, pit show; Irene Barnes, concessions; Frank Peeler, floss joint; Letha Peeler, tickets; Edw. Frye, pony ride.
The midway has a truck mounted "monsters" pit show, new Wells-Cargo concession trailer, and the office wagon down the right side. Across the way is the pony ride and annex top fronted by a canvas banner line. The usual novelty joint is centered. At the back end of the midway is 20 x 30 marquee, white with orange and blue sidewall. The big top is a white 80 with 3 30's bale ring top with white wall. Annex top is a 30 with 2 20's white with orange and blue wall and all canvas is from U. S. Tent and Awning.
Featured in the annex are the two bulls, Hazel and Cora, two wheeled cages containing a monkey and African porcupine and five drop cages with monkeys, snakes and a civet cat. The bulls are leg chained to their truck that is just behind the sidewall.
Much of the performance is a repeat of the last several seasons but there is enough variety and action to keep. everyone happy for the hour and ten minutes that it takes for the production. Backing the show musically is Ella Barnes at the organ and Mike Minelli, drums. This is adequate music for a show and top of this size. The displays presented on this date were.
1. Harold and Roger Barnes, clowning on the trampoline.
2. Las Aerials, iron jaw and neck loop.
3. Chas. Beers and sea lion, Sparky boy.
4. Walter Davis, single pony, see-saw and hurdles.
5. Los Argentiona's, high perch act.
6. Roger Barnes and single bull, Hazel.
7. Gayle Barnes, canine review.
8. Harold Barnes, low wire routine. This is the former boy wonder who appeared as a star on the Cole Bros. Circus in the 1930's and is one of the greatest of American trained wire walkers.
9. Miss Tina, upside down foot loop walking.
10. Walter Davis, three spotted liberty horses.
11. Clown gag with Roger Barnes and Mike Minelli.
12. Gayle Barnes and Miss Tina, web.
13. Roger Barnes and Mike Minelli, clown water gag.
14. Harold Barnes, inclined cable walk to the peaks and back.
15. Gayle Barnes and Miss Tina, swinging ladder.
16. Walter Davis, three liberty ponies.
17. Roger Barnes and Mike Minelli, chair gag with town kids and bull, Cora.
18. Roger Barnes and Miss Tina, single bull turn with Cora.
A very pleasing program presented with a minimum of people but with a sufficient variety of acts. Helping to make it a worthwhile production is the fact that all prop hands and animal handlers are clean and neat.
The big top interior present the same novel appearance that it has in recent years. Long side grandstand has five high chairs totaling 250. Eight high blues on each end plus a couple of sections of the same on the short side complete the seating which is estimated at about 1,000. On this night they were about half filled. Overhead lighting has four bulb clusters on each center pole and the neatly painted organ trailer which also houses the sound equipment is adjacent to the back door. Everything neat clean and bright which always helps to sell it.
Closing date, as usual, is scheduled for about the middle of October with all equipment being again stored at Wallace, N.C., and the families and stock closing into Miami, Florida, quarters.
The truck lineup is as follows:
|No.||Show No.||Type||Contents||Make||Color and Comments|
|1.||3||Semi||4 horses and 10 ponies||Chev.||Red tractor, silver trailer, red trim|
|2.||Semi||Seats, props and sleeper||Chev.||Red with silver lettering|
|3.||2 wheeled trailer||Organ and sound equipment||Red|
|4.||Semi||Bibles, chair and sleeper||Chev.||Red with silver lettering|
|5.||1||Semi||Big top poles and canvas||G.M.C.||Red with silver lettering|
|6.||4 wheeled trailer||Concession joint||Wells-Cargo||Blue and white|
|7.||7||Semi||Light plant 25 KW I-H||Chev.||Red tractor, silver trailer, red lettering|
|8.||11||Semi||cookhouse, annex and sleeper||G.M.C.||Red with yellow lettering|
|9.||2||Semi||Two bulls and annex cages||G.M.C.||Red with silver lettering|
|10.||Truck||Aux. lights, mech. dept., pulls pit show trailer||Chev.||Red and white|
|11.||2 wheeled trailer||Pit show||White|
|12.||Pickup||Tires, pulls con cession trailer||Chev.||Red|
|13.||4||Semi||Office, seal tank, concession supplies||Chev.||Red cab, silver trailer|
The subject of this first in the series is the advance cars and outdoor billing of World Bros. Circus in 1923 and Robbins Bros. Circus seasons 1924-25-26. The photos are furnished by our new member, Ben J. Kubly of Monroe, Wis., who served on the advance car of World Bros. for 3 months and on Robbins seasons 1924-26 at which time he was head lithographer for 13 months.
Fred Buchanan, who had operated the Yankee Robinson Circus from 1905 until selling the show in the fall of 1920 to Mugivan and Bowers, remained inactive as a circus owner for only two seasons. After managing the James Patterson Big 4 Ring Wild Animal Circus in 1922, Buchanan went to his old quarters at Granger, Iowa, and organized a new 15 car railroad show that toured in 1923 under title of World Bros. Big Four Ring Wild Animal Circus. Buchanan obtained circus equipment from W. P. Hall and other sources and built several new wagons and other items of equipment at his quarters. Also present in the new show were an air calliope, wardrobe, harness, and other items he had "held out" on his notorious sale of the Yankee Robinson Show to Mugivan and Bowers. Jerry Mugivan, so associates say, never got over the skinning Buchanan gave him on the sale.
Following the 1923 season World Bros. went into quarters at the Hall Farm in Lancaster, Mo. The name of the show was changed to Robbins Bros. Big 4 Ring Wild Animal Circus United With Ponca Bill's Wild West for 1924. Some rebuilding was done but for the most part the equipment remained the same for 1924. As was generally true with Buchanan's shows the tour took the show mainly through the mid-west playing extensively through the Dakotas, Iowa, Minn., Neb., Kan., and then into Texas, Okla., and Ark., in the fall. Following the 1924 season the show went back into Buchanan's quarters at Granger.
In 1925 the title remained the same but 5 cars were added to the train now giving the show a total of 20. These cars were added during the season to take care of new equipment, including the first of the Spellman tableau wagons that were added. (See Jan.-Feb., 1962, Bandwagon article for details on this). A big feature of the show in 1925 that was played up in the billing was the Historic America Pageant and also the hippo named Miss Iowa got quite a bit of attention in the paper posted by the show. The circus generally played the same territory in 1925 but went as far west as Montana. After another winter in Granger the 1926 show continued on 20 cars, but shortened the title to simply Robbins Bros. Big 4 Ring Wild Animal Circus.
Examples of the large amount of colorful paper posted by the show in 1925 are shown here. Also shown is the open end advance car used by the show in the period 1923-26. This car was the home of Ben Kubly while on the road and he says he never spent a more enjoyable time in his life. The advance crew was a close knit, friendly, bunch that despite hard work usually had a big time and didn't have to suffer many of the unpleasant things that sometimes happened back on the show.
On Saturday, July 14,  I caught the Hunt Show at Bellingham, Mass. The weather was clear and cool. When I arrived on the lot about 11 A.M. I found show all set up. The equipment is painted white and red, all well lettered, carrying the title "Hunt Bros. Presents Royal International Circus." Trucks are all in first class shape and show moves in convoy every morning, under the direction of Harry Hunt.
Big top is 100 or 110 round with three 40, middles, bail ring type, using one row of aluminum quarter poles with four aluminum center poles. Inside finds three rings well painted red and white with excellent lighting, and a small bandstand trailer with organ mounted inside. Stella Wirth plays the organ with Gil Wilson on the drums and Ray Sinclair is the announcer. Show has 20 x 30 marquee. Ticket wagon is manned by Mrs. Harry Hunt and supports a large clown on top in standing position with its red nose lit up.
The side show annex, run by Lee Bradley, has a small 20 x 30 top with a double banner line plus two banners over entrance and two ticket boxes and bally stand outside. Bradley, who started the season in Texas with Sells Bros., came over to Hunts when they opened in April. Midway consists of side show annex on one side, pop corn trailer, grease joint, whip-ride, and show owned ice cream truck on other side.
New on the show this year is a Mack diesel used to haul one elephant truck and also to take the elephants on winter dates. There is a new workingmen's sleeper, semi-trailer, built this year at winter quarters. Show is family owned by the Hunt family of Burlington, New Jersey. It makes small jumps every morning in convoy which accounts for the fine way the equipment looks. New on the show this year was a route card put out for four weeks at a time instead of the usual one. All stock is clean and well groomed. All personnel trailers are located in back yard and show owned trucks carrying horses and lead stock have canvas canopies covering the stock to keep out inclement weather and to provide shade. Show was sponsored in Bellingham by the Fire Department and enjoyed two good houses on a large lot with plenty of parking. Town was well papered.
Display 1 - Grand Spectacle.
Display 2 - Latin Ladders.
Display 3 - Petite Dancing Ponies.
Display 4 - Announcement (thanking local merchants and sponsor in promoting circus).
Display 5 - Hunt Bros. Junior Elephant Performers - Muna, presented by Roy Bush; Rahnee, presented by Miss Marsha Hunt; Dinnu, presented by Junior Clark.
Display 6 - Buffoon Brigade, Chalk-Faced Comics.
Display 7 - Carlos & Co., Europe's Foremost Exponent of the Bounding Rope. Miss Joann, Captivating Contortionist.
Display 8 - Capering Clowns.
Display 9 - A Lesson in Peaceful Co-Existence - Grand Canyon, Painted Ponies, Sacred Abyssinian Pongas.
Display 10 - Levines Chimp-A-Nauts.
Display 11 - A Mid-Air Rhapsody from the Land of the Tower Eiffel, featuring Aerialetta and Miss Joanne.
Display 12 - Inter-Continental Mixed Animals - Tibetian Camel, Peruvian Llama, African Ponga, presented by Professor Paul Nelson.
Display 13 - Foremost Artistes of Balance - West Germany's Karin - Doris.
Display 14 - After Show Announcements.
Display 15 - Beautiful Arabian and Palamino Liberty Acts. Presented by Miss Marsha Hunt and Professor Paul Nelson.
Display 16 - Clownland.
Display 17 - Dressage Exhibitions, featuring Hajim, pure bred Arabian stallion.
Display 18 - Thrills, Spills and Laughter - More Jesters.
Display 19 - All American Stars of the Canine Kingdom. Trained and presented by the Wilsons and Ray Sinclair.
Display 20 - Beautiful Latin Lovelies on the Spanish Webs.
Display 21 - Happy Go Lucky Funsters.
Display 22 - After Show Announcements.
Display 23 - Hunt Bros. Combined Elephant Herd. Presented by Capt. Roy Bush and Capt. Junior Clark.
Display 24 - Grand Finale.
Menagerie animals carried in compartments of cage semi No. 9 include spider monkey, badger, monkey, mandrill, Rhesus monkeys, and ant eater. The menagerie was sidewalled at Bellingham.
Lead stock consists of 1 camel, 2 llamas, 3 small donkeys, and 8 elephants named Dolly, Blanche, Jewel, Rahnee, Chandre, Dinnu, Sita, and Muna. Roy Bush and Junior Clarke are in charge of the elephant department and June Badger heads the menagerie.
The staff includes Charles J. Hunt, executive producer; Harry T. Hunt, executive director; Marvin Case business manager; Walter Long: general representative; Stella Wirth, musical director; Paul Nelson, head horse trainer; Roy Bush, supt. of elephants; Gil Wilson and Ray Sinclair, producing clowns; Wayne Newman, big top and lot supt., and John Wasowsky and Milton Yale, supts. of electrical transportation departments.
|No.||Show No.||Type||Contents||Make||Color and Comments|
|1.||9||Cage semi||Chev. T.||White - carries poles - men, canvas|
|2.||Light plant||Chev. T.||White - carries poles - men, canvas|
|3.||54||Horse semi||GMC T.||Dark blue|
|4.||50||Lead stock semi||Chev. T.||White|
|5.||88||Prop and trunk semi||Chev. T.||White|
|6.||Big top, poles, canvas semi||Chev. T.||White, semi red|
|7.||8||Workingmen's sleeper||Chev. T.||White|
|8.||6||Concession semi||Chev. T.||White|
|9.||51||Bull semi||Mack T.||White, tractor red|
|10.||53||Bull semi||White T.||White|
|11.||Dining dept. semi||Chev. T.||White, semi red|
|12.||1||Ticket Office semi||Chev. T.||White, tractor used as water wagon|
|13.||Whip ride truck||Chev. S.B.||White|
|14.||Grease joint trailer||Chev. S.B.||White|
|15.||Popcorn joint trailer||Chev. S.B.||Green - trailer white|
|16.||Mech. dept.||Chev. S.B.||Green - Pulls comfort station|
|17.||Pick up||Chev. P.U.||Red-pulls band stand|
|18.||Pick up||Chev. P.U.||White-Ice cream truck|
|20.||Seat wagon semi||Chev. T.||Red-White|
|21.||Seat wagon semi||Chev. T.||Red and White - Tractor's white|
|22.||Walk thru. van||Chev. Panel||White, red letters, advance dept.|
Photo: Cheerful Gardner and bulls Bonnie, India, Shirley, Gentry Babe, Wilhelmena and Vera. Harry Quillen photo.
Arthur Bros. Circus Route Season of 1945
26 Oxnard, Calif.
1 San Bernardino
1 Savannah, Ga.
Photo: Loaded flat No. 17 with wagon No. 11 that had been on the 1934 H-W as sideshow trunck wagon. Carried the Blackaman pictorial on the Bary edition of H-W.. Elbirn collection.
On Sunday, June 4, 1911, the Downie & Wheeler Shows arrived at Pittsfield, Mass., in one train of 2 horse cars, 5 flat cars, 2 sleepers and 33 wagons. They immediately unloaded the train and then set about putting up the various tents on the lot just off Appleton Avenue. Being Sunday, there was of course a large crowd on hand to watch them setting up the show.
On Monday, June 5, it rained all day long. Despite the downpour of rain they did present a little parade in the morning. Only a small crowd attended the show in the afternoon, but a good crowd came out to see the show that night.
All animals on the show, and they had lots of ponies, were in the side show along with a few freaks. The rain slowed up the tear-down and loading operations and so it was well after 2 A.M. before they were able to leave for North Adams.
During its 1917 season, the Murphy's Dog and Pony Show played in Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota. The show moved on 3 show owned trucks, employed 15 people plus an 8 piece band under the direction of Prof. Fern Hill. Carried on the show were 30 dogs, 12 ponies and 20 monkeys. They used a big top measuring 80 ft. round end with one 30 ft. middle section. W. R. Murphy was the show owner and manager; advance agent was F. H. Walden.
No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or means
Last modified February 2006.
without written permission of the author and the Circus Historical Society, Inc.
Last modified February 2006.