The advertisers of this and similar tent shows traveled on horse back carrying their small posters In saddle bags. The bills were tacked up in the bar rooms of taverns and under the porches of the hostelries where they would escape exposure to the weather and were also placed in the country stores. In 1830 the Turners had enlarged to a ninety-foot round top and a few lengths of seats were provided for the patrons. The baggage wagons were lined up against the sidewall and utilized by such as chose to climb into them. The performances concluded with negro minstrelsy, the "ethiopian entertainment" which eventually came out of the sawdust ring, took to the stage and became a most popular American amusement. In 1844 Turner expanded with a menagerie which he leased of James June exhibiting an elephant and six cages of animals. In 1851 the Turners owned their animals and were free from paying a percentage for rental to the Zoological Syndicate of the day, of which more anon. There is little that is "new under the sun," even syndicates and monopolies.
With the enlarged show, the Turners' receipts were about $1,200 a week a $400 day being a red letter event. They needed no press-agent to sound their praises. Daily newspapers were like angels visits, and the rates of the weekly newspapers ridiculously low - $2.00 was the limit expended on a paper and the more cuts the editor - and everything else on the sheet - got with his advertisement, the better he was suited, having just so much less type to set.
The acquisition of wealth by Napoleon B. Turner did not increase his enterprise to an extravagant extent. He ran a band wagon until it rotted apart and then assigned the musicians to a box wagon. N. B. was taking more notice of the hotel he was building in Danbnry, Conn., than he was of his show managed by his son-in-law, George F. Bailey, who had forsaken merchandising and taken to the exploiting of the sawdust arena. Mr Bailey delighted in relating how during an engagement of Turner's Show in Washington D. C., he escorted the band in the old box wagon onto the White House grounds and serenaded "The Hero of New Orleans," General Andrew Jackson, President of the United States.
Unbeknown to his father-in-law, Bailey contracted for the body of a new chariot at an expenditure of $328 It was built at Cincinnati and shipped to Frankfort, Ky, and placed on an old running gear. When Napoleon B heard of the extravagance, he was wroth, but angry too late to countermand the order, and George Fox Bailey was severely called to account for his presumption. The gorgeous (?) chariot was a money puller and the father-in-law got his daughter to smooth George's ruffled temper and injured feelings. George Fox Bailey, let it be said, was born in North Salem, N Y, the place where so many of the progenitors of the American circus first saw light.
Previous to 1825 a circus top had not been used by the few small shows hardly worthy of the name of a circus. That year "Uncle" Nathan Howes of Putnam County, New York, became possessed of an ancient elephant called "Old Bet" and organizing a small show he started forth with a topped tent and about a dozen men and horses, making an incursion through New England as far East as the Indian Village of Bangor, Maine. Seth B. Howes, a boy of eleven, afterwards a famous manager, accompanied the expedition. "Uncle" Nate's success turned the heads of many "Put County" investors and all the boys of the region caught the circus fever. In the writer's early days, you could make no mistake by going into any store or office at Brewsters Station and talking circus. Every mother's son of them had "followed a red wagon" in their day in some capacity or "been ahead of the show." The youth of "Put County" "took a course of circus" just the same as they "go through college," these days.
Danbury, like Bridgeport later on, became a circus town, the former on account of its being the home of the Turners and George F. Bailey, and the latter by its' development by P. T. Barnum. Danbury was also famous for horse thieves, it summered and wintered the horse theves and wintered the circus. There was no connection between the horse thieves and the circus, but the fellows who appropriated other people's horses never meddled with the circus stock as Mr Bailey once humorously remarked, "they extended the usual courtesies to the profession," explaining seriously, "the crooks were afraid of being caught before they could cross the York State line and that the showmen would take the law into their own hands and take the halter off the horse and put it on the thief ."
When the small circuses dragged around the country on wheels, there was little offered in amusements summer or winter, outside the, larger cities, and these were few in number and, small in population. The stage was under a ban almost everywhere, and but few of the people traveled or passed beyond the borders of their own town. A stage coach trip, like seeing the elephant on a visit to the circus, was the event of a life.
Nathan Howes, who put a cloth roof over the circus, was a wire walker in his younger days, traveling from town to town exhibiting his skill in hotel dining rooms at a shilling a head. He was in himself "the whole show" and when he appeared before twenty paying people assembled with the landlords family and the help admitted free he was "doing a good business."
It was some years before Aron Turner and "Uncle" Nate Howes" called off the mounted advance agent and replaced him with the bill wagon and the advertisers buggy. Paste took the place of tacks to fasten the bills. The wooden curb ring that was hauled about the country in sections and the man on horse back ahead of the show, lingered long after the abandonment of the sidewall topless circus.
It must have been shoemaker Turner who discovered the use of bits of leather to back the tack heads and keep the show bills from blowing away when tacked on the tavern porch. Who else could have had so happy a thought as the inventor and manufacturer of the leather hippopotamus?
The tedium of long winters used to be broken at North Salem and Danbury by putting leathers and putting tacks through them against the time of the coming season's need. Long talks were those of perils and adventures of the road, big boasting of large receipts so ridiculously small they appear now, and some genuine hair breadth escapes crossing fords and swollen streams on decrepit bridges or a dangerous rocky road to travel in the storm gloom of a pouring torrent. Sometimes the old clown sharpened his wits with the business end of a tack, or the advance agent recounted his adventure with a lone highwayman, a dark man he met at the pistol s point, on a dark night in a dark wood, who called with a quaver "Stand and deliver."
The advance man in explaining the startling situation said, "I knew from the tremor of his voice that he was just as scared as I was and I pulled my hammer on him and stuck it under his nose. He took it for a pistol, wheeled his horse and sped down the pike like mad."
"And you," said the clown, "pursued him."
"On the contrary," confessed the advance man. "I put my horse about and ran him as fast as I could the other way."
And when it came to ghost stories the advance man could outstretch the manager boasting of banner business days. He could invoke spooks and spectres that he had met of nights in his lonely rides across the country that were so unreal, canny, headless or all head, blind and bat winged in their graveyard, gambols that the leather cutters and the tack fixers were loth to go home except in pairs. The old showmen believed as firmly in ghouls and ghosts as they did in Jonahs, who brought bad luck to all shows they were connected with.
The showman got the half-cent on the children's tickets as foreign coin, shillings and sixpences were largely in circulation and every merchant's till or farmer's shot bag contained a numismatic collection. It required a coin detector to ascertain the value of the silver junk that passed current.
The next show to come to Frost's town was that of "Uncle" Nathan Howes, the man who had produced the tent top. He exhibited under a sixty-foot round top which would not make a dressing-room for a circus of today. This innovation had seats four tier high and a twenty-foot dressing room; also a four-horse band-wagon. Undoubtedly competitors gave the enterprising manager a wide berth and avoided his chosen territory.
The primitive showman was not slow to take advantage of the favorable climate of the South. The Southerners were very fond of the equestrian entertainment and would travel miles to see the show, bringing the entire family and slaves as well and giving bond and free a treat without regard to expenses. Your Southern planter was a generous fellow and made much of the manager and the artists. By touring the South, the manager saved the wintering of his outfit, if he was successful and the venturesome risked it and found no fault if they cleared expenses and were able to get on the road again at an earlier date in the spring. True, some shows went South from force of circumstances, as many a one has since, being unable to settle their indebtedness and go into Northern winter quarters with bills paid and sufficient cash on hand to carry them over the winter and get on the road the next season with a working capital.
Aron Turner's sons took up riding with their father's show and all the managers had apprentices learning the business, and they did learn it thoroughly, becoming general all round performers of versatility. Today circus artists are specialists. They do one great feat and there they stop. Men are still active in, the ring who were apprenticed to Lewis B. Lent of the famous New York Circus and were brought up in his family with as much care and consideration as his own children. Tony Pastor, the dean of the vaudeville managers, was an apprentice to John J. Nathans, himself a star rider, and in later years an affluent circus magnate.
Levi J. North, one of the greatest equestrians the world ever saw, and the first to accomplish a somersault on the bare back of a running horse, was apprenticed to Isaac Quick of Quick & Mead in 1826 and joined them in a Southern tour. The show was shipped from New York to Richmond, Virginia, by schooner, reaching its destination in nine days. They had half a dozen performers and the advertiser traveled, on horse back. "A Dutchman named Saunders played the hurdy gurdy and the performers took turns in pounding the bass drum. The hurdy gurdy was called on the bills 'King David's Cymbals.'"
As Mr. North informed the writer, "The ring stock consisted of Romeo, a trick horse, Juliet, a skewbald which matched Romeo; Fanny, the Billy Button mare; Lilly a sorel mare, on which I learned to ride; Lady, a cream colored mare. Arab, a small but powerful ring horse and horse called Doctor, used on the wagon and Bob, a pony." A pretentious array of equines for the period.
The canvas was about forty feet across. The seating accommodations are scarce worth mentioning. The expenses averaged from $35 to $40 a day. One two-horse wagon transported the entire paraphernalia except the cumbersome curb. The performers rode the horses from town to town. Arrived, a covered wagon was utilized as a dressing room, the performers dressing for parade at the hotel. Samuel P. Stickney (father of Bob Stickney), the star of the organization, was distinguished by wearing an ostrich plume in his hat. Saunders, "The Dutchman," headed the procession playing a keyless bugle. In the larger towns, Quick & Mead gave night performances. Stickney was the only performer in tights. None were to be bought in the country. The other performers appeared in shirts and loose-fitting trousers. Where no night performances were advertised the performers were permitted to give a ball, or oftener a dining-room show for their own benefit.
One of the duties of the advance agent was to buy a center pole for the tent, to be delivered on the arrival of the company, as the show had no facility for transporting one from place to place.
North's apprenticeship continued during several changes of firm and combination of interests. On tour in 1829, the managers, after a season at the Washington Circus, Philadelphia, took the road with a strong company, headed by the arenic stars of the day whose salaries were: Ricardo, clown; John Whitaker, rider; Samuel P. Stickney, rider; James Raymond, Charles J. Rogers (later a wealthy circus manager) and Dan Minturn, $ll to $12 a week, the balance of the company $6. The apprentices occasionally got a roll of twenty-five big copper cents. Aron Turner was equally liberal to his apprentices.
During this tour, the show arrived at Harrisburg with its outfit, which was run at an expense of $40 a day, high water-mark receipts occasionally reaching $150. It was Fourth of July and the burgh was over-run with amusements - the circus, a hall show of three people and a menagerie. The circus sent out eight horses in parade; the menagerie put a monkey on horse back in the streets, followed immediately by the hall show forces, three in number, "count them." Two of the performers aired their stage togs, the third wore the motley. The first actor played the violin, the second followed and the clown throwed handsprings as he brought up the rear.
That last "exhibition of the resources of the aggregation" must have been quite as startling as that made by Tony Pastor and a comrade when they toured with Raymond & Waring's Menagerie and appeared as the band atop of an elephant, one beating the bass drum and the other clanging the cymbals.
To return to Aron Turner who had thrived. He appeared at Cherryville, Pennsylvania, in 1842, with a forty-horse show. Tim Turner was riding a principal act, Napoleon riding and driving four horses; Jim Myers, afterwards a circus manager, at home and abroad, was doing a slack-rope and his first clowning. Mike Lipman, later on a clown and manager, was an apprentice and came in for an occasional roll of ''bung towns." In the menagerie was an elephant and six cages of animals. Prices of admission were twenty-five and twelve and a half cents. The canvas was a one hundred-foot round top.
It is a historic fact that the proprietors of these budding tent shows prospered in the main and their sons or sons-in- -laws took up the same 'calling. The Junes, Turners, Quicks, Howes, Cranes and Smiths and later the John Robinsons are familiar names in the annals of the American, arena. Avery Smith, the son of Jesse Smith, was one of the most enterprising of managers in promoting shows in this country and abroad, and for all that he was unknown to the public, his name never appearing in any bill or advertisement, although "his money talked." At his home in Newark, N. J., it was not known that he was a "circus man" until after his death. The last of the Quicks and Junes used their capital and not their names. The same may be said of John J. Nathans. For many years the title of George F. Bailey & Co. included Avery Smith, Lewis June, Elma Quick and John J. Nathans; and no one worked but "George F." except Lewis June at the time these veterans were conducting the P. T. Barnum's Show.
As Frank Donaldson, a posturer who joined Aron Turner in 1842, explained, "Expenses, were small, my salary twelve dollars a week as a sample; advertising expenses light and living cheap. Tavernkeepers were glad to keep the show folks for from thirty-seven and a half cents to sixty-two and a half cents a day, or, seventy-five at the outside, and the landlords frequently put liquors on the dinner table free and asked the boys to smoke, afterwards. Things were cheap; rum, three cents a glass and you need not turn your back while you filled up; cigars went for from two for a cent to two for three. None "but spendthrifts smoked three cent cigars."
But in the early days the whole show was under a single tent, and so continued to be until a quite recent date. Our forefathers who did not approve of the circus, were just as anxious to secure a good seat as those who saw no harm in the amusements supplied in the curbed ring.
In New England, a large portion of the people were "dead set" against the circus and did not contenance it any more than they did the drama - except when they were away from home. Give them the benefit of not setting a bad example, if they did see the elephant and all that was to be seen, if they chanced to visit Boston or New York. The too good for this earth, do the same thing now when abroad.
The showmen, too, had to contend with a spirit of envy. If a show came to town and did a good business, it was begrudged its good fortune. The receipts were greatly exaggerated and the envious declared that it "carried away all the money." If it lost money, the fault finders made the same complaint, for they imagined that it cost nothing to run the exhibitions. To be sure, the small shows were conducted cheaply, but the outfits were as large and expensive as the conditions permitted.
From the first introductions of the native circus in this country, there was a financial reliability in circus management not to be found in traveling theatricals. The circus manager almost invariably paid salaries, not only from principle, but because he had property in sight and must needs meet his debts. Again the circus man was a business man, while the theatrical manager was generally a dreaming actor without the capital or the "horse sense" of his rival of the tents. The circus manager and his agents were judges of territory, they made a study of it. The theatrical manager learned nothing and repeated his blunders time after time.
When Connecticut made a legislative enactment forbidding the appearance of a circus within its borders, the Van Amburgh party, controlling several tent shows, governed itself accordingly. Vermont was in the same category as the Nutmeg State, and Massachusetts was "as blue as indigo." The Van Amburgh folks fitted out a fine menagerie with Van Amburgh the "Lion King" in the den of lions after the manner of Daniel of the Scripture. It was not a circus, but a clown sang and cavorted with the acrobats and the gymnasts and a monkey on horseback actually rode around the ring without the local authorities taking cognizance of its wickedness or the Governor calling out the militia. The managers saw to it that every cage seen in procession bore an artistically painted scene from the Good Book, and the printed matter circulated in advance of the show, teemed with Biblical quotations about Daniel, the behemoth and all the wild beasts mentioned in the pages of Holy Writ. Besides, the advance agent mailed free family tickets to the ministers, who bit at the bait and lent clerical endorsement by their attendance.
In the early fifties, when the embargo was rigidly enforced in Connecticut, "Old" John Robinson engineered a repeal of the anti-circus bill and rushed his show into the State as soon as the weather permitted. As a sop to the existing Puritanical prejudices, he put the male actors in sailor suits instead of tights and the lady riders wore pantalettes. P. T. Barnum, many years after, adorned (?) his equestriennes in like manner and made a feature of the bloomers and the modesty of the lady riders of his great Moral Show. Barnum by the way, began his circus career in the service of Aron Turner, the shoemaker, who became a circus manager.
The clerical influence in the Connecticut legislature was powerful The ministers were close to the men who represented their towns in the General Assembly and few men were sent to the Legislature outside of the cities who were not church members. Great pressure was brought to bear to re-enact the circus bill, but the result was a compromise. The matter of licensing a circus was left to the selectmen. Even the two State capitals, Hartford and New Haven, had dual governments, town and city. Immediately after the passage of the bill, the selectmen of New Haven declined to grant a license and the circuses exhibited just across the line and carried away the New Haven money just the same, to the discomfiture of the selectmen who became the laughing stock of the town-city.
Undismayed by its defeat, the anti-circus faction persisted until it secured the passage of a bill forbidding circus performances in the State. The triumph was short lived. Some interested party unknown, purloined the bill and it failed to receive the signature of the Governor.
The State of Vermont was for many years without a circus within its confines, until a bold management invaded its territory and played the State from one end to the other without interference. Stone, Rosston & Murray's Circus accomplished this seeming impossibility, in the face of a prohibitory law, through the popularity of Dennison W. Stone, a native of the State. "Den" Stone was the son of a Vermont judge and was named for one of Vermont's famed jurists, Judge Dennison. The boy Den had run away from home and joined a circus and attained prominence and fortune. Oscar Stone and Eaton Stone, his brothers, were star riders at home and abroad, and Den was a favorite clown, and early became a manager of national repute.
Stone's friends were consulted in the Green Mountain State and a plan of action adopted which worked to a charm. The advertisers billed the State without a threat or murmur of complaint being made and the show on wheels crossed the border line to reap a rich harvest.
A performance was given without equestrianism and then the announcer, Ringmaster Frank Rosston of the firm, would state that the management had no desire to break the law by giving a circus ingeniously adding "We have the horses and the riders with us and if it is the expressed desire of the audience to have riding --"
By that time the rider and the horse were emerging from the dressing room with Ben Stone in his motley, ready to cry, "Here we are again!"
Then the Vermonters would stand up on their seats and yell, "Fetch in your horses and riders'" No one was of contrary mind from Rutland to Burlington, and then the band would play and the audience in the unadulterated Vermont vernachlar would give a yell that made the tent top flap as they shrieked in glee.
"Three cheers for Den Stune!"
After that successful invasion, Vermont removed the circus embargo and became civilized like the rest of New England.
After the abrogation of the State laws unfavorable to circuses, much power and discretion was given to local authorities. In Vermont the selectmen were required to grant a license on application, two signatures being required to make the document legal. If a majority of the board did not individually approve of the circus, they eased their conscience by charging the highest possible figure. Sometimes when opposition was strong the diplomatic agent would skip the burgh and play a near by place with just as good results at a smaller license.
In some cases when he drove on he left the town officials to meet the decided displeasure of their constituents and their political doom at the next town meeting. The circus has been the contention of many a local campaign, both in town and city, and many an office holder has been permanently retired from the favor of his party and the majority of the voters, because he or they "drove away the show," and sent it to a rival town to have its merchants benefitted by the patronage of the visitors on circus day.
If the town boasted of a newspaper, the circus agent always has a friend at court in he who wrote Editorial Opinions and clipped the Poet's Corner, Literary Miscellany, Wit and Humor and Selected Sentiments A word from the sage of the sanctum to the controlling powers often smoothed the way to a reasonable license fee, even when the minister, the deacons and the church were set against the coming of the circus to a benighted community, where life was only made eventful by an occasional death and a largely attended funeral, and some funerals let it be said, proved great public benefits, by removing clogs to progress.
June, Titus, Angevine & Co, prominent showmen of their day, were the organizers of a scheme to control the tent show business of the country under the general title of The Zoological Institute. They were powerful factors in the circus and menagerie business, and men of means. They were known as "the Flatfoots," not because they dealt in elephants as many supposed, but because when they put their "feet down flat,' they meant it and they were men of their word, one and all first and last for several generations. George F. Bailey, the last of "the Flatfooters," died in New York City, February 20, 1903, aged 84. Prior to James A Bailey taking the active management of P. T. Barnum's Show, it was managed by George F. Bailey (no relative to James A.), in behalf of the associate survivors of the original "Flatfooters," Avery Smith, John J. Nathans and Lewis June The project of June, Titus, Angevine & Co, to bring all the shows and managers under their control was well under way when the panic of 1837, with its bursting of so many financial bubbles, put an end to their unfilled dream of monopoly.
Soon after the disintergration of the octopus, shorn of its tenacles, "General" Rufus Welch of Philadelphia, and Caleb Weeks, fitted out an expedition for Cape Town, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, where they secured several giraffes and a collection of animals, without paying tribute to "the Flatfoots." The giraffes were the first seen in this country.
How far the firm of June, Titus, Angevine & Co progressed in their attempt to control the business is best explained by the fact that they had fifteen numbered branches of The Zoological Institute under their direction in 1835. Branch fifteen traveled South and exhibited in connection with a circus, three cages of animals. Another case of "count them." The setback of 1837 did not extinguish them, their successors sent shows around the world and to far off countries and the latest of them, to the last one, George Fox Bailey had more of the appearance of prosperous farmers or country merchants, than they did of the typical showmen of the reporters or the romancer's pen. Unlike P. T. Barnum, they sought no personal reputation or notoriety, but shrewdly looked after the dollars and were conservatively enterprising. For years they kept a room at the Revere House, Houston Street and Broadway, New York, where they received their reports from their several ventures and planned and directed with the latch string always out. No management ever had a greater regard for performers, old and young, and no sawdust professional in distress was ever turned away empty handed. As for their hospitality, it was as genuine as it was antique.
To a very late period, George F. Bailey, the managing partner, maintained some of the business customs of the Turner's. In 1872 Mr Bailey had a relic of the Turned regime traveling ahead of George F. Bailey & Co's Circus & Menagerie, named Horace Stearns. Horace was the programer and he turned in his expense account at the end of the season, the same as he did when working for the Turners. He charged up his laundry, tobacco and rum, along with his other expenses, just as he did in the days of yore, and it all went to swell the total, according to the ancient custom handed down from Aron. Horace was a privileged character and came from Danbury, the town where P. T. Barnum once edited and published the Herald of Freedom, and wrote himself into jail, and came out a brass band hero in true Barnumesque glory. George Fox Bailey was as cunning and shrewd as his middle name implied. The contracting agent ahead of his show carried a kit of carpenter's tools in the bill wagon and in event of the local wood butchers exacting an exorbitant price for the erection of a bill-board, the agent and his fellow bill poster - for they both plied the brush in town and en route to the next town - would get out the tools and do the job themselves, having secured the location and purchased or hired the lumber, to the disappointment of the local Saws and Chisels.
For decades, the clown was the drawing card and the favorite feature in the days of the minor circus. Dan Rice for years commanded a thousand dollars a week and such jesters as Den Stone, Bill Lake and Dan Castello headed their own shows. Clowns under salary, enjoyed the perquisite of the sale of their song books and made a good thing disposing of the "hymns."
Then the managers discovered the man in the lion's cage and the press agents - "writers" they were then called and later "directors of publications" - wrote up the perils of the brave Lion King in the iron-bound den. The posters and the pictures did the rest and the people rushed enmasse to see the foolhardy hero with the hopes that they might be in at the killing and see the imprudent mortal eaten alive to slow music. Suddenly Lion Kings were at a premium Van Amburgh visited England and appeared before Queen Victoria, Carter appeared in most of the capitols of Europe and the new rage was on Van Amburgh, from a Philadelphia barkeeper at Sam Miller's Showman's Hotel, became a man of importance and fortune in the circus line.
Late in the forties and the early fifties, Raymond & Van Amburgh had three shows on tour Raymond & Driesbach being the title of the show taking in the East. (Herr Driesbach was a Lion King) Van Amburgh & Co's Great Moral Exhibition went West, and Raymond & Co 's Native American Menagerie, South, with seven cages of native wild beasts and one foreign monkey. As late as 1868, Raymond's successors and P. T. Barnum put out Van Amburgh & Co 's Great Golden Menagerie. Professor Longworth's Menagerie and Circus (the professor was a lion king) and Herr Driesbach's Menagerie in the Mississippi Valley. This was a formidable combine, quickly covering the cream of the country with Lion Kings, while the furore was at its height.
All these Lion Kings were large full-bearded men and in their costumes of Oriental gorgeousness, looked, as much like the Daniel of the Posters and the picture on the iron-bound den as could be possible. The directors of publication, received their pointers from the champion of boomers, P. T. Barnum and the newspapers teemed with the dangers and hair-breadth escapes of the daring heroes of the hour. It is certain that other showmen kept off the routes of the three shows headed by Lion Kings. This monopolistic essay by master managers had its day and it soon came to pass that crowned heads were as plenty with tent shows as petty German monarchs before the centralizing of Von Bismarck.
Van Amburgh being made so much of in his earlier experience of laudation and homage at one time, became intractable and about as difficult to control as the imperious Dan Rice, the greatest clown that America ever knew, and it was as difficult a matter to handle Daniel in one of his moods of concerete cussedness as it was to ride one of his trick mules three times around the ring and win five dollars.
Van Amburgh filled with his importance, would take his ease at the tavern instead of getting up and driving to the next town, thus missing a one or three o'clock breakfast in the morning and failing to appear at the afternoon show to the injury of business, because the Lion King was not seen. In the lion's den Van Amburgh could not be dispensed with because he was "the whole show." In truth, Manager Hyatt Frost, who directed the affairs of the Van Amburgh Show, feared to even admonish or rebuke his partner, but he did remark "If I only had some one with the show who had the nerve to do Van's act, I'd bring him up with a round turn." Oscar Hyatt, an assistant to the manager, volunteered "If he don't turn up tomorrow for the afternoon show, you have his costume ready and I will enter the den myself."
The manager thought that Hyatt was joking, but the next day he made his word good. Van Amburgh was a man of splendid proportions and Hyatt was slab sided long lean and lank, and came as near filling the costume as if the clothes were put on a pole for a scare crow, but he entered the "ironbound den," defied "the monsters of the jungle" and got out of the cage alive, to Frost's satisfaction and Van Amburgh's disgust when he heard of it. Van Amburgh missed no afternoon performances after that. Frost laughed in his sleeve but said nothing.
The cumbersome curb ring had been discarded through an accidental discovery of John Robinson. One winter while the show was in quarters, having no suitable place to practice riding, he found a ring bank of snow out of doors which answered the purpose and suggested the dirt ring which was afterwards adopted and is utilized to this day.
The dirt ring accounted for the general superiority of the Ameican riders for generations. For years Levi J. North, John J. Nathans, Barney Carroll, James Robinson and Charles W. Fish surpassed all other equestrians anywhere.
American managers set a lively pace for publicity. They employed press agents "to write up the show" and decry the alleged attractions of rivals that crossed their path. They were the first to use posters and erect bill-boards. Posters at the outset were expensive and engraved on mahogany for the black block the colors or tints being done on apple wood. One Joseph Morse, an artist as well as an engraver, discovered that a set of blocks could be done on pine, greatly cheapening the cost. Lithography has since taken the place of pine wood engraving.
Outside display was not overlooked. In 1845, Seth B. Howes provided a special carriage for Dan Rice, the star clown. who entered each town throwing small coin to the crowd right and left. In 1847 he exhibited in his street parade in New York, the first great golden chariot drawn by twenty horses, display which was rather more showy than James Raymond's previous exploiting of four elephants drawing the band wagon.
Three giants of the sawdust arena, forged rapidly to the front, who were destined to do wonders in expanding the circus business and setting a pace of enterprise and innovation which surpassed all previous efforts to secure patronage and outstrip all rivals. Seth B. Howes, "Dr." Gilbert R. Spalding and P. T. Barnum were the men of the hour and possessed of educational qualifications which easily made them recognized leaders.
Seth B. Howes, on his own account, imported eleven elephants and set to work organizing the largest show as yet seen here for the season of 1852. Howes induced P. T. Barnum to join in the venture, although he then had his hands full in managing Jennie Lind. Barnum at first demurred against the alliance for monetary reasons, having $100,000 tied up as security for his contract with the "Swedish Nightingale." Howes, who was not looking for capital, wanted Barnum, his popularity, his pen and his name and P. T. was aamitted to the firm without putting up a cent. Lewis B. Lent was let in for his managerial ability and P. T. Barnum's Traveling American Museum and Menagerie coined money.
Seth B. Howes had the peculiarity of sharing his plums with others of worth who shared the responsibility and helped to make his projects the successes that they invariably were. He had in his employ a towering boss canvas man, Col. Joe Cushing. One day there was an attack on the show and Howes rushed to the defense of his property and was getting very much the worst of it when Colonel Joe smote the enemy right and left, saving his employer from serious injury and perhaps death. At once the boss canvasman was admitted to a partnership and the firm became Howes & Cushing.
Howes, convinced that American Circus artists could beat the world, organized ithe Howes & Cushing Circus and landed it in England, splendidly equipped with sixty cream colored horses with white manes and tails and his Yankee performers riding from stand to stand in American light buggies drawn by trotters of speed and breed. No such outfit had ever been seen in Great Britain and as for the performance, it surpassed all previous displays on British soil. The English managers attempted to make it uncomfortable for the peaceful invaders, but the Queen put her stamp of approval on the show in 1858 by commanding a special performance by the United States Circus for herself and suite at the Alhambra, London. Victoria rewarded the management by causing a £500 check to be remitted to the cousins from over the waters.
"Dr." Spalding was a druggist in Albany, in 1845 he loaned one Nichols, a rider and manager, a sum of money to put out his show and finding that he was not able to repay the amount, he took hold of the outfit and directed it with a view of regaining his own without a thought that he would take up the business and achieve fame and fortune therein. Spalding, soon after, associated himself with Charles J. Rogers, a native rider and graduated circus man and the firm was long active in the management of circuses on land, water and located and controlling theaters in St. Louis, Memphis, New Orleans and Mobile. Spalding was an aggressive innovator and probably the first American manager to appreciate a press agent at his full value, and his scribe was his brother-in-law, Dr. Van Orden, as bitter a writer as ever dipped a pen in gall. Spalding was more a man of war than peace and fond of the fray. Rival showmen hated him, although they admitted his ability and in referring to their great competitor, they spoke of him as "Pills." But they had to take the doctor's medicine if it did make their stomachs squirm and put a bad taste in their mouths.
Spalding & Rogers were always doing the unlooked for. In 1849 they put in parade, a musical car called the Appolonicon, drawn by forty horses, four abreast, driven by one man. Spalding was a leader. He first used quarter poles, seats eleven tier high and the low front seats that encircled the ring. All shows of which he was the head were perfectly equipped and he never permitted anyone to give a higher grade of entertainment or surpass him in advertising. Spalding & Rogers were among the first to abandon the wagon road and take to the rail. The change of transportation permitting them to skip small places and run into cities in advance of the slow moving shows on wheels. The "Dr." recognized the power of music as well as the attractions of a money drawing parade, and it was his practise to have a firstclass band of musicians.
Spalding & Rogers were at the head of many enterprises. In 1862 they bought a ship, put a circus on board and it visited, during a two years' tour, Brazil, Uraguay, Buenos Ayres and the West Indies.
The West was spreading out and new towns and cities were growing on the Mississippi. Theaters and halls were not yet built by the newcomers, but they pined for amusement. Spalding & Rogers were quick to occupy the field. At first they adopted minlstrelsy as a vehicle and sent the Banjo up and down the river, giving performances on board, keeping in the upper waters in the summer and dropping down stream with the coming of winter. The success of the Banjo inspired a larger and more costly speculation. They had a large amphitheater built which they called "The Floating Palace," large enough to hold an audience and admit of the exhibition of a circus or menagerie which was towed up and down the river for several seasons.
The third giant Of the circus was Phineas Taylor Barnum, himself an expert bill writer and inciter of public interest whom many patterned after and imitated for decades. Barnum was a great believer in newspaper advertising. In his younger days he did the advertising and promoting for the Bowery Theater and when he owned the American Museum, he wrote his own notices and personally delivered them to "H. G." of the Tribune and "Old Man" Bennett of the Herald. Barnum always expressed his gratitude to the press and to the writer's knowledge once expressed it at his own expense. The Barnum show had in its employ a shrewd contractor for advertising space who figured to save all he could for the show. In a certain city he found the rates for the space he required in the dailies to amount to $125.00 each, but in one counting-room a substitute in charge made the error of calling the bill $75 and received a check on the ticket wagon for that amount. The mistake was discovered, but the agent was obdurate and declared "The show is fifty dollars ahead." The young man who made the miscalculation felt badly about it and wrote to Mr. Barnum at Bridgeport, explaining the circumstances. The showman acted promptly. As he had partners he remitted his personal check, making good the deficit and gladdened the heart of the youth who ever after sounded the raises of P. T. Barnum. Mr. Baram, it will be remembered, was the originator of the saying: "The great American public likes to be humbugged."
No. 1 - During the Merry Times of the Topless Tents, Washington Post, January 6, 1907.
No. 2 - The American Circus in the Bud, Washington Post, January 13, 1907.
No. 3 - The American Circus Under the Ban, Washington Post, January 20, 1907.
No. 4 - An Early Tendency to Monopolize, Washington Post, January 27, 1907.
No. 5 - Three Circus Giants in Management, Washington Post, February 3, 1907.
Last modified October 2005