Circus Scrap Book
Scroll down for the article you are looking for in this issue. Note: Only some articles are included in this online edition. 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 complete issue of April 1929 is Online! (large pdf file).
When all is said and done, the circus has as great a claim to the appellation, “Great American Institution,” as anything we have any knowledge of. Like a great many things, its outer aspect has changed - it has grown with the country, but fundamentally it has the same appeal today that it had in the days of our grandfathers and before.
In the overland days the circus traveled overland. It followed the trains into new territory and gave of its best to lighten the idle hours of those who had gone westward and still westward in pursuit of the bubble, sudden wealth, until the Golden Gate loomed before them. In the days of '49 the circus was the one touch of home that many of the miners ever knew. All else was wild and strange, but the smell of the tan bark was just as it used to be in the little New England village “Back East.”
One man, Charles Reiche, followed the trail to California with a wagon load of canaries and one bulfinch. A homesick Englishman bought the bulfinch for $260 and Reiche's canaries were sold to such advantage that he found himself comparatively wealthy. The next thing he could find to appeal to the better nature of the miners was to start a circus. He did so with his brother Henry, and for years his name was a household word in the far west. He died beloved and respected. His brother later associated himself with the well-known Van Amburg of menagerie fame.
There has never been a time when things were so stressful in this country that the circus was not a welcome visitor and left the people better and more cheerful and hopeful after the white tents had gone on to bring cheer to other communities. Even in the days of the Civil War the circus played its part just as our overseas entertainers did during the World War. If it comes to that, the circus in accordance to the number engaged in the profession sent its full quota to the front. After the war the circus did its share toward bringing about reorganization of the country. The writer's first visit to the Sells-Floto Circus was five or six years ago when it played Burlington. At that time the ushers and all men who were required to perform light duties about the lot were ex-service men.
It may not be generally known but a circus made its way through this part of the country shortly after the war of 1812. The circus had come to New York from Spain and after playing a winter season in New York made its way up to Albany. Thence it journeyed by easy stages to Montreal where it played a winter season. The winter was a hard one and there was much suffering from want in the Canadian city. It may be taken for granted that the circus people were not too prosperous themselves under the circumstances. Nevertheless they were not lacking in that generous open-heartedness which is still a tradition among show people. The circus went to the Catholic and Protestant clergymen and arranged a benefit for the poor of the city. Every cent of the proceeds was placed in the hands of the clergymen. A record of this generous act may be found in the archives of Montreal today. Sad to relate the following season the ship on which these kind-hearted showmen had taken passage to Cuba was burned at sea and all the company lost their lives.
In the early American circus, a clown or some noted rider was usually the star. There are still those living who will remember old Dan Rice and Pete Conklin, the latter of whom died a couple of years ago. Riders such as Levi North, Jim Robinson, Melville, Cooke, Fish and a number of others were known in almost every city and village in the country.
As we said before, the circus has changed like everything else. The little one ring outfit with its dingy canvas, its sod ring, its tallow candles stuck around a barrel hoop and hauled up the center pole have given way to immense traveling cities, conducted on business principles by alert, intelligent and far-sighted business men. Some day a circus man will be run for president and when he does we will hazard a guess that he will give the country an administration that will be more business-like than many we have known.
The Sells-Floto circus is one of the big western organizations which have grown from a small beginning. Today it is one of the two outstanding circuses in the United States. It does not claim to be more than the second largest circus in the world. But it is that. As for quality it ranks at the very top. It is as large as any circus ought to be and it is as good as any circus can be. This is the verdict of all who have seen it. When it pitches its tents here today Plattsburgh will have an opportunity to see what a real modern 1927 circus looks like and a genuine American institution.
The WREATH OF RESPECT on Our Door, on the HOUSE OF CIRCUSDOM, on Big Top, Dressing Room and Side Show, on Canvas, Pole and State, on Wagon and on Horse, on “Reserves” and “Blues” under the Canopy of White, and the FLOWERS OF LOVE on Casket and on Tomb at this time, tell Story of THE LAST CALL and CLOSE OF SEASONS for ONE, for whom All the World has RICHEST PRAISE and GOOD ACCLAIM. His name - JAMES ROBINSON. His Art - BAREBACK EQUESTRIANISM.
And so the Big Show World records another GREAT and IRREPARABLE LOSS. Because of this, the “White Top” Realm is Bowed in Deepest Sorrow, and Bathed in Burning Tears. Across the Borderland of Earthly Dreams, the OTHER WORLD recognizes TREASURED GAIN. There, in Celestial Accord, the OLD TIME “VETS” and SAGES of the CIRCUS GAME, assemble, not to Weep and Mourn, but to Greet and Meet again a COMRADE and a PAL. We Pause in PRAYER and HOLY MEDITATION, and our Listening Ears almost hear the Angelic Anthems and Praise that's HEAVEN'S HOMAGE to an HONEST, UPRIGHT CIRCUSMAN.
It just seems that GOD walked with “Jim” ROBINSON, and took him that he might have FINAL THOUGHT of the CIRCUS WORLD. The TAKING was Sudden, QUICK - like his Somersaults and Stunts in Riding. THE END came at FRENCH LICK, in INDIANA STATE, where he was visiting HAGENBECK-WALLACE FOLK. It was, Mark you Well, within Sight and Sound of Circus Preparation, just beyond the WEST BADEN WINTER QUARTERS. The Last Thing he SAW and HEARD on Earth was the Hustle and Bustle of CIRCUS WORKSHOP and TRAINING BARN. Oh, what Sweet, Consoling Music it must have been to him as he Passed into the “Dark Valley and Shadow” of EARTH'S FINALE!
He was EIGHTY-TWO - Ripe Age, strewn with Threads of Silver and of Gold, and BEACON LIGHT TO ALL to Live the LIFE OF GOD, of Kindness, Cleanliness, and of LOVE. He was a REAL MAN, manly and Square; an IDEAL HUSBAND, imbued with the TRUE VALUE OF HOME; a STAUNCH FRIEND, who practiced GENUINE FRIENDSHIP; and in his Calling, and on the Parchments of History and Record, THE GREATEST BAREBACK AND SOMERSAULT RIDER THIS WORLD EVER KNEW.
I could go on FOREVER telling of “JIM” ROBINSON'S wonderful Life and its Experiences. So long as there is a Voice to speak, his name will be in the Languages of the Nations, and his Marvelous Riding Art will be depicted by Children yet Unborn. He, for some years, lived in COLUMBUS. We were WARM FRIENDS, and he often came to see me and tell over again the Interesting Stories of TENTS and LOTS. From COLUMBUS he moved to LOUISVILLE. It was there he married the GOOD WIFE, who survives him, and there he has been Buried. I last saw him in 1911. Then, his Step was lively, his Eye keen, his Memory faultless, and his Health fine. His Weight then was 130 pounds against 121 when he was Riding, and his Height 5 Feet, 3 Inches against 5 Feet, 5 Inches, Forty Years back. Listen to what he said to me on that LAST VISIT. Let it be HIS VOICE FROM THE GRAVE, ringing in your Ears, for the purpose of DOING GOOD and BUILDING YOU:
“Fifty-five years ago last Saturday, in Louisville, Ky., I married my wife, a non-professional, and sister of 'Bud' Gorman, equestrian director of the Barnum & Bailey show. She has given me fifty-five years of happiness, fifty-five years of real backing and help. My success at riding was due to my God, my helpmate, my horse, my pipe, and my distance from booze. My right name is James Michael Fitzgerald. I was born in Boston, so you see Boston gave the world two champions - John L. Sullivan and myself. I began riding when a mere kid. I was indentured to a then-celebrated clown, John Gosson of Cincinnati, and he in turn legally bound me to Uncle John Robinson, who gave me the name of 'Jim' Robinson. Uncle John used to ride and carry me on his head, but in riding thus he would hold me by the ankles. When I became the champion of riders I tried the boy on my head and I did it without holding the boy in the slightest. I would ride with the kid actually on my head from ten to twelve revolutions of the ring. The boy was billed as my son, but he wasn't. His right name was Charles Armstrong, and the people, who remember him and wonder where he is, can now find the splendid man at Shawnee, Okla., in the coal and feed business - prominent, wealthy and popular. For forty-four years I enjoyed the title of champion bareback equestrian. I retired in 1889. The horse I rode for so many years was called 'Bull,' a beautiful steel gray, changing to snow white the last years of his existence. For the final five years of 'Bull' I had him on pension on the Hess farm north of Columbus, where he died and was buried. What a sensible animal! He knew just what to do; was precisely like an understander in an acrobatic troupe. When I turned my somersaults he'd meet my feet just right with his body. He knew as much about it as I did. My greatest feat was turning 23 complete consecutive somersaults on the bareback of my horse, backward and forward. I first attempted this at Pittsburg in 1856 with the Spaulding & Rogers circus. I told I was going to, and circus folk thought me crazy. On that try I missed once, turning twenty-two, but thereafter the twenty-three were easy. I was the first rider to introduce dancing and jumping up and down on a horse's back, and at regular intervals I would, in jumping up, let the horse go on from under me and no sooner would my feet meet the ground than I would spring and leap and have my footing again on the bare back of reliable old 'Bull.' I turned somersaults, forward and backward, over banners four and five feet wide; banners of that width are not attempted these days. I would stand well back on the horse at the tail, with my back to his head and back, and throw a backward somersault, catching the horse's back easily. Hard, indeed, with the horse moving from you, but I do not remember of ever missing one of these. I recollect the day with the Robinson Circus, in Columbus, 1864. The hotels were crowded. People came from all over Ohio to, see me ride. There were soldiers galore. And say, part of the embankment of the ring I rode in has been preserved. It was planted and made up as a flower bed and so exists to this day on the lot where the Dr. Hartman home is. I rode all over the world, and have been honored by kings and queens (Queen Victoria in London on May 27th, 1856) and presidents. I was friend of General W. T. Sherman and also Denman Thompson, the actor, who died the other day. Denman started in life a circusman and we were with the same circuses in early days.”
Like all Great Persons, “JIM” ROBINSON never unduly PRAISED HIS OWN WARES. He was FAIR, yea, TRUTH PERSONIFIED. Far be it from him to take the SLIGHTEST GLORY from Those following the Same Line as Himself. So, here and now, I give THE TRUTH as he gave it to me, and which will Prove a Matter of Honest Record evermore:
Eaton Stone was the first bareback rider. He did the stunts that later made ladies famous as riders - going through paper hoops and over flashily covered banners. Eaton Stone lived to be over ninety years of age.
The first bareback rider to do a somersault on a horse was John Glenroy; the year, 1847.
I was never seriously hurt in doing bareback riding. My only bad fall was in doing acrobatic work, when I suffered injury to my spine. Youth and splendid surgeons brought me 'round good as new.
The late Charles Fish, the critics say, was my nearest approach. What prevented him equalling me was in not possessing the power of balance. According to science I was the right heighth, weight and build to accomplish what I did.
The greatest sight in circus life I ever saw was at Washington, D. C., just after the Mexican war. Uncle John Robinson had such a surplus of money on hand that he had canvasmen, without police protection, wheel it to the United States Treasury in wheelbarrows and exchange it for government certificates or drafts.
I wish there were MANY like him. Bless his Memory and Good Works! I once wrote of him: “May he live as long as the Circus, which would mean Life perpetual.” In Sweet Remembrance this will be so.
His OLD TRAINING BARN still stands near MEXICO, MISSOURI. I want it PRESERVED with all its Dear and Valued recollections. May the MOUND OF CLAY covering his Favorite Horse on the HESS FARM never go UNATTENDED, UNSERVED and UNMOURNED. Never let it be said that the OLD RING he rode in in GOOD COLUMBUS TOWN, which now is a Garden of Roses and Vines, on the Lawn of the Palatial Dr. Hartman Home, loses its Beauty and Fragrance, and disappears from the eyes of Passers-by.
Marvelous was “JIM” ROBINSON! His BUSINESS is the ONLY ONE I ever knew that was an Exception to the Laws of Evolution. Never has there been ANOTHER to Equal him. Bareback-riding has been “TOBOGGAN-TOUCHED” in the Run of Years since he held Spellbound the Races of the Globe.
He needs no Marble Shaft to mark his Resting Place, nor Inscription there to perpetuate his Accomplishments. HIGH HEAVEN seems to Whisper it EVERYWHERE, and will ALWAYS. He'll hover about us and others, Here and There, and Whether at Work or at Play, worshipping with Love, or engaged in Prayer, we'll Realize the More each Day that THE WORLD IS HIS MONUMENT; that he was GOOD, HONEST and TRUE; that he DIED in THE FAITH OF THE LORD.
FAREWELL, PURE SOUL AND STAUNCH FRIEND!
When you sit on a hard circus seat and watch a man leap from the top of the tent to a small runway more than a hundred feet below, land on his chest with a terrific jolt and then slide to his feet, it is quite natural for you and all the people around you to exclaim, “I wouldn't do that for a million dollars a week.” Yet the daring leaper, who by this time is smilingly making his way out amid thunders of applause, does it for much less. To be quite exact, he risks his young neck twice a day, six days in the week, for eighty dollars a working day, and he regards it as excellent compensation for his somewhat precarious method of earning a livelihood. Danger and compensation, you must remember, are not exactly compatible terms. If the earnings of circus performers were as high as some of the somersaults they make, there would be much more gold dust in the sawdust. Yet the assay of this white substance which forms the stage of the tented world has been sufficiently rich to make a few milloinaires [sic] and to keep a small army of men and women in more or less affluent circumstances since first the glory of pink tights and glittering spangles burst upon an admiring and enchanted world.
About no class of wage-earners hovers so much glamour as over the people of the circus. To the small boy they live, breathe and work in a rarefied atmosphere of splendor which, from the free and easy manner of the calling and its environment, knows no care and no tomorrow and is simply a dazzle of delight. Yet, like poets, the dashing bareback rider must be fed. Even the bird-like “queens of the air” descend to draw down a thick yellow pay envelope every Saturday afternoon, and often they come to the treasurer fresh from ring triumphs. Just as the circus itself, which many people unknowingly regard as a temporary and makeshift amusement enterprise, here today and gone tomorrow, is in reality a definite, highly organized business institution representing a tremendous investment (even the pink lemonade and peanuts are capitalized), so are circus salaries regulated by the inexorable law of demand and supply and sane and unemotional standards of efficiency.
What do circus people earn? Before trying to answer this question it might be wise, perhaps, to see just how the circus began and observe the financial conditions that invested the start. Like most great undertakings, the beginnings were obscure and modest. The first tented circus in this country was in 1826 and was owned by Nathan Howes. The tent was fifty feet in diameter; all the properties were carried in one wagon; the performers, who numbered less than half a dozen, rode on the backs of the horses from town to town. The menagerie consisted of a lion, a bear and monkey (there was no elephant in the United States then) and the band consisted of a hurdy-gurdy, a violin and a bass drum. The daily expenses of this circus were $35, which is in interesting contrast with the outlay of $7,500, which is required today to keep the wheels of a circus like the Ringlings or the Barnum and Bailey show moving for twenty-four hours. The highest circus salary paid then was $15 a week, and it went to the rider, who was then, and who continued for many years, as the highest-priced and the leading performer of the circus. The salaries of the other performers in those struggling days ranged from $8 to $10 a week.
At that time the menageries were separate and distinct features of the circus, and to see both animals and performers required the payment of two admissions. As the circuses grew the menageries became very important adjuncts. One reason why the animal tent was kept apart from the big tent was to draw a Sunday crowd. It was heralded as a “dignified and refined Sabbath-day diversion”; was billed as an educational and scientific feature, and it drew the pious minded.
Since the menagerie played such a big part in the early circuses, it followed that the animal trainer rivalled the rider in importance and emolument. The tamers then introduced spectacular stunts that would rank well with modern thrillers. It was about that time that the practice began of thrusting the head down into the cavernous jaws of a lion. The first man who did this, however, received only $50 a week for it. Many of the early trainers received what was considered big money for those days, for some of the salaries were as high as $200 a week.
The most notable of the lion-tamers of that era was Van Amburgh, who amassed a small fortune and was able to graduate from the lion's den into the dignity of being a circus proprietor. He earned, on some occasions, as high as $400 a week. He had an interesting career, which is a part of our circus history. He first appeared in New York at the old Richmond Hill Theatre, and later at the famous Bowery Theatre, which in its time was a noted place. The Bowery then was a great amusement highway and the approach to the present Great White Way. It was the Broadway of other days. Van Amburgh was called “The Lion Lord” and “The Forest Monarch” (it was long before Rooseveltian marksmanship), and well did he deserve these titles, for he was one of the most fearless of men. He was the greatest trainer of his day, and he appeared before many of the crowned heads of Europe. Once, after he had appeared before the Queen of England, he was asked by the Duke of Wellington:
“Do you ever know fear while surrounded by your pupils?”
“No, your Grace,” was the reply. “If I ever do, it will be my last appearance among them.”
It was Van Amburgh who brought the Biblical parable down to modern times in vivid fashion, for it was he who first made the lion and lamb literally lie down together. It was in the cage of his own circus. Later he introduced a child into the den, thus completing the picture of the triumph of faith and innocence over the savage beast. Van Amburgh was one of the first, if not the first, circus man to court personal publicity. He was the most accomplished press agent of his day, and cut out the dazzling print-lined path that P. T. Barnum was later to tread in such spectacular fashion.
Van Amburgh was one of the many early circus performers who, on account of their high salaries, were able to embark into the business themselves. Another was the famous John Robinson, one of the fathers of the modern circus, who began as rider and built up the first of the “monster shows.” But it was his adopted son, James Robinson, who became the first of the really high-class performers. It is generally conceded that James Robinson was the greatest bareback rider that this country has ever seen. He was the first man to turn a complete somersault with a galloping horse under him. He received as much as $750 a week, and for a time he held the field to himself. Robinson developed early and became such a card with the Robinson circus that a rival outfit once actually kidnapped him. Another star equestrian of that period was the original Frank Melville, whose name and talent were carried on to the present time by a son. He was the first man to carry a boy on the top of his head while racing around the ring on the back of a horse. He was paid from $500 to $600 a week.
Although the animal tamer was a good rival, the rider for many years received the biggest salary of the circus. There was only one exception and that was Dan Rice, the clown, and of him there will be more later on. The average riders then received $75 to $200 a week. There were not so many riders in each circus and the owners could afford to pay liberal salaries. The circus rider, with the clown, were the cornerstones of the whole tented project. Around them were evolved all the varied activities of the circus arena.
Next in importance and salary in the old days were the leapers. You may recall out of your boyhood circus going that the event that always followed the grand entrance in the circus was the leaping over elephants and horses. This was a favorite act thirty and forty years ago, and some of the most skilled acrobats of the country were engaged in it. One of the greatest was Dick Sands. A rival was George Kelly. Each got about $300 a week. Perhaps the greatest of them all was Levi North, who was one of the first to do a double somersault over a row of elephants and camels. Like Van Amburg, he later became a circus proprietor. The most ordinary leapers got $100 a week, for their act was necessary to the success of the circus. People were always excited over them. Sometimes there were competitions between the leapers for prizes. On one occasion North turned thirty-seven somersaults in succession, defeating the English champion. Other great leapers were Batchelder [sic] and Doris, who later owned their own show.
Among the performers that were part of the organization of the circuses of the fifties and well through the sixties were the posturers, who did bending acts, and who got about $50 a week; the contortionists, who got about the same salary; the acrobats and the aerialists, who had not yet contracted the “family” habit, and were mostly engaged as individuals and who averaged $100 a week; the “cannon-ball man” (forerunners of Sandow), who juggled with iron weights and who got $40 a week; and wire walkers, who have always been a favorite, and whose pay ranged from $50 to $200 a week, depending upon the thrill that they could produce.
It is well to remember at this point that all the circuses up, to the seventies were “wagon shows”; that is, they travelled from town to town in wagons and the performers in most cases slept in vans. The distances between towns were seldom over twenty miles; the march was made at night lighted by torches and the procession was weird and picturesque. The parade in those days was formed as soon as the show reached the outskirts of the town and many a glittering entry was made on empty stomachs in man and beast.
Then it was that the great circus giants were getting the experience that would spread the glory of the tented show to every nook and corner of the land. P. T. Barnum, W. W. Cole, W. C. Coup, “Yankee” Robinson, George L. Bailey, John Robinson, Dan Costello, the Mabies, were all either in the business or getting ready for it. At that time Adam Forepaugh was a butcher in Philadelphia, and James A. Bailey, destined to be the last wearer of the Barnum mantle, was posting bills for a two-wagon show. James L. Hutchinson, who was to be his partner, had just run away to join a circus that had come to his town down in Ohio [Note: James L. Hutchinson’s home was in Jerseyville, Illinois. - Judy Griffin. The oldest of the Ringlings, today the masters of the whole circus world, had scarcely been born. When Mr. Coup came into prominence, just before the Civil War, the day of the performer-proprietor had waned and the era of ownership by practical business men began and has continued ever since. Then, too, began the fierce and costly competition which had much to do with the advance of certain circus salaries, especially to those who could create thrills and play with danger. Those old-time circus owners were game in every sense. One experience of Mr. Coup will serve to illustrate this. After a long partnership with Mr. Barnum, he built the New York Aquarium, at Thirty-fifth Street and Broadway. It was the dream of his life, and he lavished half a million dollars on it. He spent $5,000 trying to get the three-tailed Japanese fish, the Kingio, and it was typical of the way he did things. The manner of his losing this enterprise was characteristic. He had a partner who was a German and who wanted to open the Aquarium on Sunday. Mr. Coup objected, because he said that the Americans did not like to patronize Sunday amusements, but the German was stubborn. One Monday morning Mr. Coup said to him:
“See here, we can never get together on this Sunday business. I'll tell you what I will do. I will flip a penny to see which one of us takes that job lot of elephants and camels that we own and walks out of the place, leaving the other in full possession of the Aquarium.”
The coin was tossed and Mr. Coup lost, and with it his fortune. With the nucleus of elephants and camels, however, he built up a new circus and made a million dollars. He dissipated the greater part of this, however, in various road enterprises, and had comparatively little when he died. But he left a real impress, for it was he who built, with Barnum, the famous Hippodrome on the present sight of Madison Square Garden, and he was the first man to haul a circus by railroad.
Although the rider and the leaper were circus stars practically from the start and earned big salaries, they were forced at all times to yield to the clown in interest and importance. Every man's first memory of the circus is bound up in some way with the clown, and although many changes have come to the big shows, he alone of all the people of the tented world has maintained the integrity of his art and his make-up. In him are combined the heart and humor of the circus, and it is not surprising, therefore, that as the circus developed, the clown had a big part. The period of thirty years ago has been acclaimed as the golden age of our clowning. The clowns then were “talking and singing clowns,” and they kept up a running fire of quip and jest with the spectators. Many were accomplished riders and acrobats, and the leaders were men who might have achieved successes in the theatres had they so chosen.
The greatest of all clowns, and one of the most picturesque of all circus personages, was Dan Rice, who had the distinction of having received the highest wage ever received by a white-faced comedian in this country. He is said to have been, with the possible exception of James Robinson, the most daring man that every appeared in the tented arena. It is not so much that he did hazardous feats, but he could face howling mobs single-handed and hurl them back by his courage and iron nerve. Curiously enough, he began his career with a trained pig; later he took up riding with the Robinson show. He would have won fame as a bareback rider alone. He was one of the most versatile of men, for he was a good singer, a master mimic, a born minstrel and a resourceful comedian. He worked for most of the great showmen of his time and then started his own enterprise, which was a river show. It travelled by boat up and down the Mississippi River. Out of this experience he got the title of “The River God.” Then he had a One-Horse Show, the star being a famous blind horse, Excelsior. In the hey-dey of his clowning, he had an historic interview with Adam Forepaugh. The circus proprietor sent for him one day and said:
“Dan, I'll give you a thousand dollars a week all this season if you will let whisky alone.”
“Thanks, Mr. Forepaugh, but I prefer the whisky,” was the clown's reply.
Despite this repulse, Mr. Forepaugh did pay him $27,000 for one season's work, and he received $500 to $700 a week from other showmen. He probably made more money than any other circus performer of his time and almost any other time in this country. But he loved liquor too well. He made and unmade half a dozen fortunes. At one time he owned the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia. Yet he died almost in poverty in a little hall bedroom in New York. Thus passed probably the man who had made millions laugh and who might have been a circus czar had he been practical and temperate.
Rice had many eminent contemporaries. First among them was George L. Fox, who was called “The Grimaldi of America.” Grimaldi was the great English clown. Fox was the original Humpty Dumpty and got from $400 to $600 a week. He played Humpty Dumpty in New York for two thousand nights, and among those who came to applaud him was Edwin Booth. Among his colleagues of that day were Joe Pentland, Peter Conklin, Billy Wallet, Billie Burke, father of the charming actress of the same name, John Lowlow, Whimsical Walker, John Gosson, Al Miaco, Dan Gardner and many more. Many of these clowns, especially Miaco, were Shakespearean jesters. The average man who goes to the circus now probably does not realize that in those days the clowns often took the part and costume of the jester of gentle Will's day. They hurled real jests at the crowds; some of them were accomplished Shakespearean scholars, and most of them took their profession seriously. In fact, the clown salaries then were much larger than today. The average good-talking clown thirty years ago got $75 a week, which is a high price for the best clowns today.
The clowns then, as now, were always full of surprises. Al Miaco once told me that twenty years ago his white-faced colleagues knew more English literature than most college professors. Once while traveling with the Ringling Circus, I happened on Miaco one sunny morning after the parade. He I was lying on the ground under a tent flap. I noticed that he was reading a book, and on investigation I found it to be a volume of Byron. He knew hundreds of the lines by heart. Yet two hours later, I saw him cavorting around in the sawdust making a spectacle of himself. My old friend, Jules Tournour, lead clown of the Ringling Show, goes back to the golden era. He is one of the most serious and dignified of men; his whole outlook on life is clean and chastened. Like many of his craft, he has been thrifty and has a competency for his old age.
Of course, there are no more thousand dollar clown salaries. They died with Dan Rice and, incidentally, there perished with him a large part of American clowning genius. The circuses have grown so large, that instead of having one or two clowns, as was the case with the old circuses, there must be fifty or sixty. As a result, the general clown salary has declined. No clown salary today exceeds $100. Marcelline, the New York Hippodrome clown, is not really a clown. He is what the European circus owners call an “august.” He, by the way, receives $10,000 a year, but his case is an exceptional one. He could not get one-fourth of that with a tented circus. As the circuses grew, the talking business was cut out, because it was impossible to reach the crowds, so varied were the circus programmes, and so vast the distances. Hence, the clown went back to pantomime and the group acts, scenes and tricks that tell a definite story.
But all the earnings of the circus do not come from the “big tent.” For many years the time honored “side show” has contributed its share and likewise a picturesque interest. In fact, some of the circus fortunes were made from a clever exploitation of freaks and fakes. Barnum, who always said that the people liked to be humbugged, was past master of fake manipulation. He made deception a real first aid to circus profits.
Although the side-show will last as long as the circus itself, I regret to say, that some of the traditional features are losing interest. The fat lady, for instance, is ceasing to interest the public. In the old days no show was complete without her. Thirty years ago, there was a famous rivalry between two famous fat women. They were Kate Keathley and Hannah Battersby. Each weighed 400 pounds, and each got a dollar a week for every pound they carried. Once they got into such heated conversation, that it led to a fight, but there was so much body space between the combatants, that they could not reach each other with their arms. Besides, the exertions threatened them with heart seizure, and their managers were loath to lose such a profitable asset. Most freaks make equally freakish marriages, and it followed that Hannah married a Living Skeleton, who weighed sixty-five pounds. The alliance was happy and for years they occupied adjoining platforms in the Barnum Side-Show. The average fat woman got only $75 or $100 a week.
One of the highest-priced side-show freaks was Millie Christine, the “Two-Headed Nightingale,” who got $1,000 a week. The celebrated Siamese Twins were really museum freaks, and were said to have received $2,500 a week.
To return to the women of the side-show for a moment: The Bearded Lady used to have great vogue, and sometimes got as much as $100 a week. A famous side-show story relates to one of this variety. A giant once took a friend home with him. He had forgotten his latch-key, and had to pound on the door. Finally a window was raised upstairs, and a whiskered face was poked out cautiously. The stranger began to swear at it, when he was stopped by the giant, who said: “Don't swear at that person. She's my wife. I married the Bearded Lady.”
Curiously enough, some of the largest returns have been made on fakes. There were forty fake “Jojos.” He was the original dog-faced boy. All that was needed to make a rival was & fine wig that spread over the head and shoulders. Krao, the first of the “Missing Links,” was simply a hairy child, whose father was paid $50 a week, and who acted as nurse and attendant. The proverbial “Wild Men of Borneo” were usually back-country negroes, who got $25 a week and board and lodging. One of the most successful of these wild men was a Russian hairy man, who allowed his skin to be dyed yellow. Then he was chained to a post and ate ravenously at huge chunks of raw meat that were thrown at him.
The two extremes of size have always been great sideshow attractions. The highest-priced giant ever brought over 3 here was Chang, the Chinaman, imported by Barnum. He got $500 a week. The celebrated Dahomey giant, advertised so extensively by Coup, was simply a North Carolina negro. Hassan, the Turkish giant, got $400 a week. Joe Dortel was a giant and a strong man, and he got $400 a week from Forepaugh. Once he went for a ride in Cincinnati and he was so heavy that the bottom of the carriage broke down. He had the presence of mind to land on his feet, and thus walked along practically carrying the carriage. The shock of this jolt, however, injured his heart, and he died soon after. There were two rival giants in the Coup show, who had a bitter enmity. They were Captain Benheim, a Frenchman, and Col. Goshen, an Arabian. Goshen, although not advertised as an Arabian, was really a Kentucky negro. It took an exceptional giant, however, to get more than $100 a week, and this rule still holds. It is a curious fact that giants are always short-lived. Dwarfs live much longer.
When you come to midgets you touch some of the sideshow stars. Tom Thumb got $1,000 a week for a long time, and so did his wife. Admiral Dot, who was a famous midget, got $700. Chemalh, the Chinese dwarf, received $250 a week. The interest in these little people is as keen today as ever before. Little Coretta, the midget of the Ringling Show this year, gets $350, and her diminutive contemporary, Weeny, who is with the Barnum and Bailey Circus, gets about the same. The ordinary museum or small show midget gets only from $50 to $75 a week. Such side-show staples as the Ossified man, the Living Skeleton, the Armless Man, the Tattooed Man, the Man With the Rubber Skin, and the Snake Charmer, have declined in price during the past ten years, and their wages range from $30 to $50 a week.
Their place has been taken by real freaks. One of the most successful attractions today is Francisco Lentino, the three-legged boy, who gets $350 a week from the Ringlings. A two-headed boy could get nearly a thousand dollars a week. The big demand on circus men is for this kind of attraction.
Despite the inevitable jealousies (for the artistic temperament is not lacking even among freaks), there has always been a rude democracy among the inhabitants of the Side-Show tent. There was a notable example of this once when W. C. Coup gave a dinner to his freaks at the close of a very successful season. Never did a more varied company sit down to a banquet board. At one end sat an eight-foot giant and at the other was a thirty-six inch midget. They were a living lecture in anthropology. The jests were really funny, as one will show. As the armless man helped himself to potatoes by the adroit use of his toes, the Living Skeleton, who had a sense of humor, yelled: “Hands off!” and everybody joined in the laughter.
Human beings are not the only money-makers in the circus business. The animals are strong rivals. One of them in particular was the greatest and most profitable asset that any American circus ever had. This was Jumbo, the elephant. Jumbo contributes a chapter of circus history well worth telling, for it was with him that Barnum made his greatest circus strike, and for many years that Prince of Showmen guarded the mighty pachyderm almost as he would have cherished a child of his bosom. On one occasion Barnum refused a certified check for $100,000 for him. This was probably the highest price ever offered for a beast of the jungle. A few race horses have brought more, but only in very rare instances.
Jumbo was obtained by a piece of characteristic Barnum enterprise. He had been for a long time a pet of the London Zoo, but the wily showman, who had coveted him, sent a trusty emissary over, who paid ten thousand dollars for him. When the time came for his removal to the steamer, the elephant laid down and refused to budge. Whether this was natural or forced, the result was a great uproar throughout England. Jumbo's hold on the affection of the British children was such that a great hue and cry was raised against his exile to a strange land. The newspapers started subscriptions, and more than fifteen thousand pounds were raised. But as Barnum had the bill of sale carefully preserved, he remained obdurate, and this mighty protest was the best advertising he could possibly get. The English papers sizzled with indignation and the cables to the American journals were filled with the news. Barnum made every bit of capital out of this episode, and by the time Jumbo reached our shores, he was the most famous institution of the hour. He was probably more extensively exploited than any other animal. Mr. Barnum often said that Jumbo was worth a million dollars to him.
Jumbo naturally recalls the famous episode of the white elephant war. For years there had been a bitter rivalry between Barnum and Forepaugh. The former, determined to get an attraction that no one could possibly duplicate, so he announced with a great flourish, just before the season of 1884 began, that he had secured a sacred white elephant from the King of Siam. Hardly had the season opened than the news came forth that Forepaugh had a white elephant “The Light of Asia,” which was billed as the only “original and genuine” article of this kind. The feeling developed between the two shows, on account of the white elephant, was intense. Fortunes were spent on advertising. There were many rumors concerning the beasts. One was that the Barnum elephant was simply a leprous beast with a blaze of cream color down the trunk. Another was that the Forepaugh prize was chalk whitened. Both animals were shown with great care, partly covered with black velvet hangings, and the keepers kept careful watch on the persons who touched them. Years later it developed that Barnum had really bought a white elephant in Siam, but that he had been poisoned by native priests who repented of the bargain. Meanwhile he had ordered all his advertising paper and he was determined to use it. Despite the great sums spent in the exploitation of the white elephants, they proved valuable and paying assets to the circuses. Roth were fakes.
It is only fair to the unsightly hippopotamus to say in this connection, that he was perhaps the first of the great animal money-makers. Long before Jumbo was dreamed of, a hippo was exhibited by George L. Bailey, who invented the tank on wheels now used so generally in the circuses. The beast was advertised as “The Blood-Sweating Behemoth of Holy Writ,” and he made several men rich.
Most people have a very natural curiosity about the compensation for the “thrillers” in the circus. As I remarked earlier in this article, the pay is not always in proportion with the danger. The first of the so-called “modern sensational acts” perhaps was the feat performed by Zuella, who began the “death-defying” practice by riding an old-fashioned high bicycle on a rope. She got $700 a week from Barnum and other circus men. Zazel, the woman who was shot out of the mouth of a cannon, got $500 a week. Juan Caicedo, the greatest of all slick wire performers, got $400 a week. Little All-right, the greatest Japanese acrobat to be seen here, got $500 a week.
The tendency in the present day circus is to get some really hair-raising act, and as a result of this ambition, men and women toy with death more than ever before. The “loop the loop” performance was originated by a bicyclist, Chiro, who was also a Barnum importation, and first shown in this country at Madison Square Garden. He turned a somersault on a bicycle and got $750 a week for it. The natural development from this act was the “Dive to Death” in an automobile, which was also a Barnum importation. The first somersaulting automobile apparatus brought to this country cost $20,000, and the lady rider, who smiled so sweetly on the audience from mid-air, got $500. This feat became so scientifically simple and danger-proof, that it got quite common and women were known to ride in the “death car” for $75 a week. The latest producers of shivers up and down the spinal cord is Desperado, who dives from the top of a tent onto a runway, landing on his chest. He gets $500 a week. His feat is practically the limit of daring and danger.
One of the best of the common sense acts of the present day circus is the “strong man” act by the Saxon Brothers, who get $800 a week from the Ringlings fifty-two weeks of the year. This means that the circus proprietors must find them a winter engagement.
In connection with modern high-priced circus acts, it is worth while mentioning the fact that Lockhart's elephants receive $1,000 a week, fifty-two weeks of the year. There were only four elephants in the act, hut they had appeared before all the Kings and Queens of the Continent, and were a very remarkable quartet.
Now for a word about circus “families.” When you read the programmes you see that most of the acrobatic feats are performed by families. It may be the Lorch Family or the B1itz Family. They represent a distinct institution. In few cases are more than two of the members of these families really related. They are organized just as a man forms a theatrical company. The foundation (literally) is called the understander, for in ground feats he stands at the bottom and holds up all the rest. Likewise, he is the walking delegate and business agent, for he hires boys when they are eight and nine years of age, takes them on as apprentices and makes great acrobats of them. These boys all take the family-name, and in this way a family is built up. Some of these families get as much as $1,000 a week. The average weekly pay of a good acrobatic family now ranges from $300 to $700. Aerialists build up families the same way, and the groups of eight or nine men and women who do a thrilling trapeze act get from $600 to $800 a week. When you consider that there are often eight members in the family, this only means about $100 a week for each performer. Yet they are content with this income, and many save money on it. Individual acrobats, tumblers and wire-walkers get from $50 to $200 a week.
The salaries of riders today are really not as large as they were in the older days. A good and fearless bareback rider can get $150 a week now, but, as in the case of acrobats and aerialists, there are many equestrian families. Some of them are really families, however, and descendants of -the old kings of the ring. It is an interesting fact, that when the circus germ once gets into the system of a family, it always stays there with the same tenacity that grease paint sticks to the actor's face, or printer's ink to the writer's fingers. In all the big curcuses [sic] today you will find men and women bearing names that were in some of the first circus bills.
The average circus performer of the present day is thriftier than you would imagine, and much more temperage [sic], too. In the first place, the habit of life out in the clean open air makes for robust health. Besides, the women of the circus have no time for frivolity. Their life is work, travel and sleep. What do the circus people do in winter? Most of the star performers get engagements in vaudeville halls, where there is always a big demand for the kind of work they do, and thus they have a salary all the year around.
It remains only to tell briefly just how the circus kings have fared with fortune. The richest of all showmen was P. T. Barnum, whose estate was worth more than three millions of dollars. He had good investments in real estate in Bridgeport and in New York, in addition to his circus interests. The right to use his name in connection with “The Greatest Show on Earth” alone was worth a small fortune. His partner, James A. Bailey, left more than a million dollars; likewise, James L. Hutchinson, who completed the famous trio, whose names have flashed from billboards the world over. Adam Forepaugh died very rich. W. W. Cole, who was a great circus man in his day, and who is now a resident of New York, is a millionaire. The Sells Brothers (Louis, Al, Peter and Ephraim) built up a fortune of several millions and left their families with big estates. These successes are in contrast with the poverty-stricken end of some of the circus leaders of other days, notably Dan Costello and “Yankee” Robinson. But the wonder chapter in modern circus annals is the record of the Ringlings. Thirty years ago these five brothers (Al, Charles, John, Otto and Alfred T) were “trouping” with a few horses, a few dens of animals and providing the music themselves. Today, they own the three greatest circuses, the one which bears their name, the Barnum and Bailey Show and the Sells-Forepaugh Circus, and dominate the business. These three circuses represent a total investment of approximately eight millions. They have brought the commercial and the artistic organization of the circus up to its highest and cleanest efficiency. And, incidentally they have proved that a goodly quantity of gold dust can cling to the sawdust.
There are thousands of men, women and children hungry for things having to do with the Circus. Therefore, I feel it would be selfish of me to allow the mass of material in my possession, handed down by ancestors who were the very heart of Circus Life, to remain hidden away in trunks in dust and darkness; material that has to do with an amusement that brings joy, happiness and entertainment. And so, to the best of my ability, I will write, reproduce, present or donate for or to THE CIRCUS SCRAP BOOK, that portion of this rich monument of momentos that I consider of greater interest to its readers.
The picture of James Robinson, the great rider, presented with this number, I consider the best in my collection. It represents him at the age of sixty-nine. My father always referred to him as “Jimmy.” The widow of James Robinson is still living and enjoying a ripe old age. Her home is in Louisville, Kentucky. The Robinsons had one child, born in London, England, which died in infancy.
In one of my father's old Circus books, I find the following list of Famous Elephants:
Boliver - Robinson & Eldred's Circus.
Romeo - Robinson & Eldred's Circus.
Juliet - Mabie's Circus.
Columbus - Raymond's Circus and Menagerie.
Hannibal - Van Amburgh's Circus.
Chief - John Robinson's Circus.
Canada - Adam Forepaugh's Circus.
Charlie - Wallace Bros. Circus.
Samson - Cole Bros. Circus.
Rajah - Lemen Bros. Circus.
Mary - Sparks Bros. Circus.
In digging out the Elephant data, I came across what appears to be an army of the greatest Clowns of their time. I list them alphabetically. Perhaps someone will set them in their respective classes of Talking, Pantomime, Trick, Silent or Tumbling, and give the periods in which they held sway. It is about time that our great Clowns were catalogued, classified and rated.
William Buck Gardner
James Jerry Reynolds
Frank Robinson (no relation)
Let us all add to this list, leaving out no one who deserves a place on this very worthy roster.
It might be interesting to reprint a list of colossal spectacles which were put on many years ago by Circuses. I know that the list contains most of the larger ones that required a large aggregation of participants, costly raiment and colossal props:
Year, Spectacle, Circus
1851, Cinderella, Robinson & Eldred
1851, St. George and the Dragon, Welsh and Delavan
1851, Putnam or Days of '76, Spaulding & Rogers
1852, Field of the Cloth of Gold, Dan Rice's Circus
1855, Hun, the Hunter, Welch & Lent's Circus
1856, Miser of Bagdad, Madigan & Meyer's Circus
1860, Jack the Giant Killer, L. B. Lent's Circus
1866, Mazeppa, William Lake's Circus
1873, Congress of Nations, Coup's Circus
1875, Custer's Last Charge Forepaugh's Circus
This is by no means a complete list, but they are the bigger spectacles of the earlier years. Perhaps this list can be lengthened, so that we can have a complete and accurate list of these costly and splendid spectacles.
“I am a descendant of one of the earliest families of American settlers,” said Charles W. Fish, the Champion Bareback Rider of the World, who is now holding forth at Grenier's establishment, at the corner of Madison and Throop streets, and which contains the features of a zoological garden and a winter circus.
“Having seen you ride tonight,” said the Herald Man, “and being convinced of your superiority in your especial line, tell me something of your life.”
“Well,” said the little man, whose wiry frame looks much bigger when on horseback than it does in citizen's clothes, “my family settled here in America, landing at Cape Cod in 1634, and I think I may claim to be an American. I was born in Philadelphia, and when I was but eight years old, I went to see a circus at Cincinnati. Spaulding & Rogers it was, and I saw a boy riding there, John Berry by name. I suppose that boy's performance wasn't worth a row of pins, but I thought different at the time, and I made up my mind I would eclipse that boy or die. My father opposed it. He wanted me to become something 'decent' as he called it, but when I had cried for a week or two, he gave in and allowed me to go for a year as apprentice with Jim McFarland, of Spaulding & Rogers. The next Spring, in 1858, I was indentured to Rogers, the junior member of the firm, Charles Liberty, a lawyer of Philadelphia, making out the papers. It was April 2, a day which has proved quite eventful in my life, for on that day I became an apprentice, I was ship-wrecked and I was married to my wife; so you may judge.
“After being apprenticed for six and one-half years, and going in the meantime to South America, introduced to Emperor Pedro II, and all over the West Indies, I was thought to be a thoroughbred. In the Spring of 1865 I saw James Robinson ride in New Orleans, and I took a notion to imitate his pirouettes on horseback. Jim Robinson was then about twenty-eight years old. I practiced until I was able to do the trick as well as he, and then we rode for the championship of the world and $10,000, but in reality only for the championship. That was in 1867 and 1868. It was conceded then that I could ride better than he. Since then I've played in every State of the Union, except Oregon, and in every town and city almost, and then I joined Hengler's circus and exhibited in London, Dublin, Belfast and Glasgow. In St. Petersburg, at one of my representations, the Emperor Alexander I, the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Oldenburg, the Prince of Leuchtenberg and Count Schwaloff, and a number of the most famous men of the country, were present. They feted me and said they had never seen anything like it, and St. Petersburg, you must remember, is the gayest city of all Europe during winter.
“In Moscow I was presented with a laurel wreath by Schamil Bey, the gallant Circassian chieftain who so long withstood the arms of the potent Czar. Then I was at Vienna, at Pesth, at Berlin. This was with the Renz combination. The Crown Prince of Germany commanded me to appear before him, and he was the first to applaud me. This was in 1874 and in the Spring of 1875, I came to America and have been here ever since.”
“And what can your family advance,” Mr. Stickney, “as to their claim to being the oldest clowns in the country?” Mr. Samuel E. Stickney, a son of the well-known Samuel P. Stickney, of New Orleans, was asked.
“I was born while on the road, in New Orleans,” the funny clown of Grenier's circus remarked, “and my brother is Robert T. Stickney, about whom it is not necessary to say anything, while my sisters are Rosaline and Sally Stickney, both good riders. I have been travelling all my life, and I've been in every hall in the United States, and in Cuba besides. My wife is Ida Stickney, the daughter of Charles Sherwood, who is the originator of Peter Jenkins, the old countryman, which role Forrest admired so much.
“My father had a performing monkey in New Orleans,” said Mr. Stickney, “a baboon, a very large one and a very smart one, too. An old darkey, with a gray beard and ever so old, had taken quite a fancy to the monkey, and the baboon played all his tricks when the old darkey came to his cake. 'Well, what do you think of him?' I asked one day. 'He knows more than any nigger I knows of,' said the old man, 'and that monkey knows enough not to get out of his cage. If he did, some white man would get back of him and sell him for a nigger.’ That was in the old slavery days. Once when I was travelling with Dan Costello, while in New York, he offered ten dollars to anyone who would ride a mile around the ring without being thrown. Well, a nigger wench was sitting up in the gallery and was spellbound during the performance. When it was over, she cried suddenly: 'Good Gawd, where is dat chile?' She had dropped her pickaninny over the gallery railing during the performance.”
It is a brick building, 300 feet by 140, corner West Madison and Throop, where Grenier's Circus is located, and when the Herald man had been all around it, he reached the conclusion that it was very comfortable, well heated, well lighted with electricity, having a fine entrance and commodious seats. The novelty of the enterprise is what surprises most people. There is in New York almost every winter an establishment of this kind. In Paris one finds the famous Cirque d'Hiver, and in Berlin and Dresden there are similar enterprises, but in the West there has never yet been seen a circus except under the tents. This circus, however, has all the good features of a theatre, giving the performances of first-rate jugglers, riders, clowns, equilibrists, as well as the conveniences of a play-house with the added attractions of a menagerie.
EDITOR'S NOTE: If any reader has more bona-fide information or data regarding this rider, other than that outlined in the foregoing, please submit same for our consideration. If a good photograph of Charles W. Fish is in the possession of any reader of this magazine, we would like to borrow it long enough to have an inset printed therefrom for our Portrait Gallery of Circus Celebrities. We will guarantee its safe return.
(These fights took place in 1842, in England, and this is the first description of them ever printed in America)
From the Circus sawdust ring to the English prize ring, where he won the championship of England, was the unique jump made by Charley Freeman, the American Giant, of Circus fame in this country, in the early forties.
Freeman stood 6 feet, 10 1/2 inches high and weighed 250 pounds. He performed feats of strength and could turn handsprings and cartwheels around the Circus ring. He was the first American fighter to win the English title.
Ben Gaunt, retired English champion, was in this country and took Freeman to England in 1842. He taught him how to box, trained and matched him to fight Bill Perry, the “Tipton Slasher,” champion of England, which created great excitement, as Perry, game as a pebble, had slashed many to the grass by his powerful blows.
The match was made for $500, London P. R. rules. They met in a ring pitched on the turf near London, December 14, 1842. Ben Caunt and King Dick waited on Freeman. After fighting 70 rounds, in 84 minutes, darkness stopped the mill. Freeman tossed his hat into the ring. His colors, an American flag, were tied on the ring post in his corner. “The Slasher” sported the Union Jack and looked small as he faced the “American Giant.” His slashing blows had no effect; he was wrestled down with hard falls.
They met again on December 16 of the same year, near Gravesend on a zero day. As they started hostilities, the police hove into sight and all hands scattered. The fighters dashed through the field clad in short fighting pants and shoes.
They met for the third time on December 20, 1842, after fighting 38 fast rounds, in 39 minutes, when “The Slasher” fell and was unable to leave his corner. The Giant's powerful blows had done their work. His being an American, and a Circus performer, did not change the English sports, who hailed him as a great fighter. Crowds followed him on the streets and the “American Giant” was an idol.
He challenged all England, but none dared to meet the big Yankee. He died in London, October 22, 1845, aged 28 years. A monument was placed over his grave in 1860, by John C. Heenan, champion of America, when he went to England to fight Tom Sayers, the English champion.
Stepping around in a cage where half a dozen big rattlesnakes are squirming and coiling in a space ten feet square is not very pleasant even to a snake charmer. “When she flirts a piece of flannel among them to make them uglier, she must keep her eyes about her to prevent a strike. Even then one is likely to hit her with its fangs.
This happened once to Mlle. Clio. She left the cage before any of the spectators knew what had happened, sucked the wound vigorously for two or three minutes, and then put a powder on it and bandaged it.
The next day was Sunday, and Clio was an ordinary woman. Dressed in ordinary costume, with a big apron to prevent her dress from getting soiled, she prepared the weekly bath for her pets. “Yes, the snake that struck me had its poison sacs; but I do not mind that. I do not wonder they get angry, teasing them as I have to. You see, they won't rattle until they are mad, and I have to do it because it makes the act more interesting. But they are quiet enough today,” and she pulled a flannel blanket from a box that contained a big knot of reptiles the size of a bushel basket. Pulling one fully six feet long from the mass, she threw it around her shoulders as if it was a fur boa. “It knows me, and I should not think of being bitten as it is now,” and she stroked the smooth skin along its back.
“Certainly snakes get to know you, just like dogs or cats. If you treat them right, they will not harm you, and I am always sorry that I have to tantalize them; but it is part of the business.”
Then she took the snake from her shoulders and laid it on the floor near the big stove. It slowly crawled toward the box, while she placed a big pan near the stove and directed an attendant who had brought two pails full of a white fluid. “Everyone is so careless around here that I generally do everything myself when I want to bathe the snakes; but I feel rather tired and my wrist pains me yet where it was bitten.”
She picked up the big rattler and laid him in the bottom of the pan, which was three-quarters full of the fluid. One by one the half-dozen snakes in the mass were pulled out and put into the bath; for this was the weekly ablution of her charges. They suffered themselves to be carried like so many pieces of rope, wriggling slightly as they were pulled out and laid in the pan. One was a young python about eight feet long. Clio merely put his head and neck over the edge of the pan, and he did the rest. “He know's what's good for him, and would get into the bath himself, I believe, if I waited long enough for him to find out where it was.” Then she covered the pan with another cloth and let them remain fifteen or twenty minutes.
“Now they are not only bathing but feeding. That is milk diluted with water and a little cornmeal sprinkled in. It is warm enough so that it feels good to their skins, and while it cleanses them it is nourishing. Some of the snakes will swallow five or six tablespoonfuls while they are in there, unless they are not feeling well. Yes, they like to mix themselves all up. I do not know why, unless they feel warmer in that way; for snakes suffer from cold more than you would think. It makes no difference about the species. Rattlesnakes, moccasins, and boa constrictors will get themselves into a regular knot so that you can scarcely tell where one begins and the other ends; but it is easy to pull them apart, as their skins are so smooth. How long would they stay there? All day, if I did not bother them. It is snug and warm for them. Perhaps, after the bath got cold, they might try to get out; but the cloth keeps them from seeing how they came in, and a snake is very stupid when his eyes are covered.”
Next she picked up a piece of soft flannel and, taking off the cover of the pan, lifted one of the dripping reptiles from the mass. Taking it by the neck near the head, she began wiping it as one would a knife or a fork. Every part was thoroughly dried with the flannel, even the back of the head, and the snake seemed to enjoy it, although it stuck out its tongue in a way that made the three or four persons standing round keep at a safe distance. After she had wiped it with a cloth, she began stroking it downward with her hand. “He likes that. It seems to quiet him, and I presume I could do it for two or three hours if I wanted to.”
She put the snake on the floor in a bunch by itself. Then another was taken from the pan and dried in the same way, until four of them were slowly wriggling at her feet. Some formed themselves into a bunch, while one or two stretched out their full length on the boards. “It is time these were put into their box so they can go to sleep.” An attendant rolled over a wire covered box, and the snakes were put into it, the others following as fast as they were dried and rubbed.
“How can I tell when they are sick? “Well, there are different ways. They move more slowly, and their mouths are discolored. Sometimes the skin becomes wrinkled and rough. If the skin is sleek and shiny, a snake is usually in pretty fair condition, and I think that rubbing is good exercise for it. I can tell by the way one moves whether it is weak or not. Of course rattlesnakes are not nearly so strong in their bodies as boas or pythons. They depend upon their bite. While the others may bite you, it really does no harm; but I have to look out when giving an act in case I put one round my body, as he might take it into his head to tighten himself, and he could crush in my ribs very easily. He is strong enough to kill a mule.
“Yes, I know many people think that rattlesnakes and others we perform with have their fangs drawn; but it is only occasionally that this is done. It is not necessary to get drunk in case you are bitten, and most professional snake handlers know of an antidote that will prevent any harm. I got mine from East India, and, while I have been bitten a good many times, it has never laid me up. In the first place, a rattler cannot strike at you until he is in a certain position. He must have his body coiled so that he can throw his head far enough to make an impression. He has not enough muscle in his head and neck alone to do much. The Indians in the Southwest know that they can pick up a wild snake in a I certain way and keep it from hurting them. There is also a way of keeping it from coiling. They take a feather and , stroke it along the back. It seems to affect the spine in such a way that it cannot coil, and the snake shrinks from it. I imitate this motion with my hand. I do not care to take any risks with new snakes, and if I have to handle them I pick them up as the Indians do.
“Can they be trained? In a sort of way. It is natural for a snake to twine round a post or a person's body, and this is the secret of the way we can pose with two or three of them; but I have their heads where I can watch the movement and grab them if one should strike. You can take a pedestal with two or three cross arms and snag a snake upon it, and he will put himself naturally into some sort of pose, moving only his head. Boas and pythons will pose better than the others, as they have so much more strength, and it is more natural for them to coil round anything.
“There is one difficult feat I have tried. It is to coil two of them together in such a way that the upper parts of their bodies and heads will stick up in the air. The only way to fix it is to twist them round each other as you would two pieces of rope. If they are coiled on each other, they can support themselves straight up to a height of two or three feet; but they do not like it and will try to bite if they get a chance.
“No, snakes do not like the cold weather. They are very delicate, and can stand little change. One of the best ways to keep them from getting cold is to pour warm water over them. Sometimes the water is too hot and the parts of the skin that are badly scalded peel off, leaving sore spots where they have rubbed against the sides of the box.”
I have just learned from the owners of the late “Jennie Lockhart,” famous elephant belonging to the Orton Brothers, that about two years ago the Ortons purchased two young elephants. Theretofore Jennie was the only elephant on the circus. It being a mud show, Jennie had to walk over the country from day to day. When the two tiny pachyderms were purchased, they accompanied Jennie on the road, and they tell me that she mothered these two youngsters to such an extent that when there was a blade of grass, or other food, along the road, she let the little ones have it, in preference to taking it herself. And it was the same way with her food. She always deferred to the little ones, and owing to her motherly care of them, she began to go down in health and strength. A typical old-fashioned woman, unselfish and self-denying. The Ortons believe that this sacrifice was the beginning of her failure. She was an elephant of fine disposition, and it is no wonder that she merited the affection of us Circus Fans and those who associated with her daily.
Miss Grace Orton told me that the Orton family termed her as just “a big, loving doll.”
As you know, “Jennie Lockhart” was ninety-five years of age, the only surviving member of Lockhart's troupe of elephants that were one of the star features of Ringling Brothers Circus twenty-two years ago. In traveling overland in this modern age, Jennie was frequently annoyed by gravel getting between her toes, and nails puncturing the soles of her feet. When this occurred, Jennie usually stopped, raised the injured foot, the keeper would remove the disturbing object, and the journey across country would continue.
To me “Jenny Lockhart” was three and one-half tons of kindness.
Requiescat in pace.
Jenny Lockhart Is Dead
From El Reno, Oklahoma, Daily Despatch, December 29, 1928.
It was not such a happy Christmas this year among the employes of the Orton Brothers Circus, which is wintering at Union City. Shortly after the show arrived at Union City, a few days prior to the holidays, Jennie, one of a trio of performing elephants, was taken ill.
The huge tusker was removed to a shed where she was given every care and attention, and two huge stoves were kept blazing to make her quarters comfortable. Jennie did not respond to treatment and continued to grow worse. Her old trainer, who had trouped with her for more than 50 years, was sent for, but as he gazed at his sick friend, with tear-dimned eyes, he, too, knew that Jennie would never again bask in the applause of the circus.
So it was just a day or so before Christmas that Jennie died and there was genuine grief among the circus employes with whom the big tusker was a popular favorite. Under the guidance of Roy Bates, her trainer, Jennie was laid to rest near the spot where she died, and the circus went into winter quarters.
Jennie was 95 years of age and weighed three and one-half tons. She was said to have been trained in Germany, and had toured many countries of Europe and Asia with circuses before coming to America. Music was Jennie's specialty and she was reputed to be one of the best trained elephants in the circus world. Following Jennie's demise Orton Brothers arranged with George Schumacher for winter quarters on the latter's farm east of Union, and the remaining elephants and other animals of the menagerie are now housed there.
In reading the Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi, written by Charles Dickens (“Boz”), and published by George Routledge and Sons, London and New York, in 1838, the most pathetic chapter therein is the one having to do with the great clown's farewell appearance. It occurred at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, on Friday, June 27, 1828. Mr. James Wallack arranged the farewell and exerted himself as much as he would have done if the night had been his own. The theatre was crowded, and in the last piece “Harlequin Hoax” Grimaldi acted one scene, but being wholly unable to stand, went through it seated on a chair. Even in this distressing condition he retained enough of his old humor to succeed in calling down repeated shouts of merriment and laughter. The song, too, in theatrical language, “went” as well as ever; and at length, when the pantomime approached its termination, he made his appearance before the audiences in his private dress, amidst thunders of applause. As soon as silence could be obtained, and he could muster up sufficient courage to speak, he advanced to the footlights, and delivered, as well as his emotions would permit, the following Farewell address:
“Ladies and Gentlemen - In putting off the clown's garment allow me also to drop the clown's taciturnity, and address you in a few parting sentences. I entered early on this course of life, and leave it prematurely. Eight-and-forty years only have passed over my head - but I am going as fast down the hill of life as that older Joe - John Anderson. Like vaulting ambition, I have overleaped myself, and pay the penalty in advanced old age. If I have now any aptitude for tumbling, it is through bodily infirmity, for I am worse on my feet than I used to be on my head. It is four years since I jumped my last jump - filched my last oyster - boiled my last sausage - and set in for retirement. Not quite so well provided for, I must acknowledge, as in the days of my clownship, for then, I dare say, some of you remember, I used to have a fowl in one pocket and sauce for it in the other.
“Tonight has seen me assume the motley for a short time - it clung to my skin as I took it off, and the old cap and bells rang mournfully as I quitted them forever.
“With the same respectful feelings as ever do I find myself in your presence - in the presence of my last audience - this kind assemblage so happily contradicting the adage that a favorite has no friends. For the benevolence that brought you hither - accept, ladies and gentlemen, my warmest and most grateful thanks, and believe, that of one and all, Joseph Grimaldi takes a double leave, with a farewell on his lips, and a tear in his eyes.
“Farewell! That you and yours may ever enjoy that greatest earthly good - health, is the sincere wish of your faithful and obliged servant. God bless you all!”
It was with no trifling difficulty that Grimaldi reached the conclusion of this little speech, although the audience cheered loudly, and gave him every possible expression of encouragement and sympathy. When he had finished, he still stood in the same place bewildered and motionless, his feelings being so greatly excited, that the little power illness had left, wholly deserted him. In this condition he stood for a minute or two, when Mr. Harley, who was at the side scene, commiserating his emotion, kindly advanced and led him off the stage, assisted by his son. As a token of his respect and gratitude, Grimaldi took off a new wig which he wore on the occasion, and presented, it to Mr. Harley, together with the original address which he held in his hand.
Having been led into a private room and strengthened with a couple of glasses of Madeira, Grimaldi had to sustain another, and a scarcely less severe trial, in receiving the farewells and good wishes of his old associates. The street was thronged with people, who were waiting to see him come out, and as he entered the coach, which stood at the stage door, gave him three hearty cheers, amid which he drove off. But all was not over yet, for hundreds followed the vehicle, until it reached his house, and upon getting out he was again hailed with a similar overwhelming shout of approbation and regard; nor could the crowd be prevailed upon to disperse until he had appeared on the top of the steps, and made his farewell bow.
Grimaldi died nine years later on May 31st, 1837.
The gladiatorial feats of Mr. Van Amburgh, at the National Theatre, though somewhat at variance with the legitimate drama, have been of a character truly remarkable and extraordinary. The complete control which he exercises over animals the most ferocious shows the effect of culture and education in a new and surprising form.” His fearless acts of placing his bare arm, moist with blood, in the lion's mouth, and thrusting his head into the distended jaws of the tiger - the playful tenderness of the lion and the tiger toward the infant and the pet lamb, who are put into the same cage with them - are all attended with the most thrilling and dramatic interest. The enterprising proprietors of these beasts deserve much credit from the students of natural history for the perseverance and skill they have displayed in forming their admirable collection. Mr. Van Amburgh, who is quite a young man, sails with his lions and tigers today for England, where we cannot doubt, that his truly wonderful exhibition will fully remunerate him for his exertions, and for the intrepidity with which he manages the docile animals under his care. We bespeak for him the kind consideration of our trans-Atlantic brethren of the press.
New York Mirror, October 6, 1838.
The enterprising American, Mr. Van Amburgh, is producing quite a sensation in London, by his remarkable performances. The Court Journal says: “Some lions have been produced here, and some tigers, also, and a sprinkling of leopards. They displayed great judgment in the manner in which they performed their various parts, and no little knowledge of their business. The exquisite self-denial which induced the lion NOT to eat his keeper's head when the latter put it into his mouth, was pleasing on many accounts. Mr. Van Amburgh is the gentleman who pays so little respect to his head.”
THE GREAT UNITED STATES CIRCUS - HOWES and CUSHING'S - This unequalled establishment - the largest in the world - is NOW OPEN for a short Winter Season in BIRMINGHAM in a splendid brick building erected for the purpose. The Company - entire American - comprises the greatest amount of talent in every branch of the Equestrian and Gymnastic profession ever concentrated in one arena. The feats of the Native Bedouin Arabs also stand alone and unrivalled. The Stud of Trained Horses and Mules will be brought forward from time to time in all the feats peculiar to the equine race; and novelty will succeed novelty during the necessarily limited stay of the Company. There will be two performances every day, commencing at Two, and a Quarter past Seven.
The following pleasantry spoken by Johnny Patterson, the Irish singing Clown, while pathetic, is certainly clever. It seems that when Johnny lay dying in a circus tent, the physician who attended him said: “Well, good-bye, Johnny, I'll see you in the morning.” The famous Clown replied: “Perhaps you will, but, doctor, will I see you?”
Danny Green, a noted side-show talker, had charge of Cole's side-show at one time. He always prided himself in the fact that he was an expert in judging whiskey. And in addition to this qualification he was a great gambler. One night in New Orleans, after the show, he went to a gambling establishment and sat down at a faro-table with two thousand dollars in his pocket. Luck, however, did not seem to be with him. He began to lose. Morning found him still at the game. He sent out for something to eat and kept on backing his ill-luck. After all of his money was gone, he began to borrow from friends, and when theirs also had disappeared, they loaned him their diamonds. All through the day he sat and played and night found him still at it. Some time during the afternoon, or evening, his luck changed, and when he quit, on the morning of the second day, he had won back all his losses and a thousand dollars besides.
M. B. Leavitt, in his Fifty Years in Theatrical Management, writes as follows:
“A circus event that occurred in Bangor, Maine, is worth narrating, the occasion being the meeting of two tent shows upon the same lot on the same day. These two exhibitions were run respectively by James Myers and Joe Pentland, both well-known Clowns and proprietors. Myers here presented for the first time, to my recollection, the then extraordinary feat of walking head downward. This was accomplished by the use of rubber contrivances attached to his feet, which, when pressed against the ceiling, held him suspended by the power of suction. There was great rivalry between the shows on that joyous Fourth of July, 1856, which was particularly emphasized in the street parades. Looking back upon the affair, I have a mild suspicion that behind this apparently competitive disturbance there was a tolerably clear understanding between the two managements, designed to work up interest in Bangor and all the countryside. It certainly had that effect, whether so intended or otherwise, for vast crowds were drawn to both performances. I made a great day of it by witnessing one show in the afternoon and the other in the evening, becoming so thoroughly imbued with the spirit of the occasion that I made up my mind to be a real circus man myself sooner or later.”
A good anecdote is told of George H. Adams, when he was clowning away back in 1879, and perhaps George, when he reads this, will recall the incident. It happened at Quincy, Illinois, when Adams was frequently interrupted by a slightly intoxicated and loquacious society man who was seated up front and close enough to annoy the great clown. Noting that the man in the evening clothes thought it was smart to worry the funny fellow in the performance of his part, Adams paused in his work, and looking straight at his tormentor, shouted: “One fool at a time, if you please.” The applause that followed made the interrupting one retire in shame.
We had the pleasure of reading the other day, the following letter written by Buffalo Bill when he was showing in England:
London, June 23, 1887
My Dear Colonel:
It was a genuine pleasant surprise to receive your letter. I have often thought of you and wondered what had become of you. So glad you are still on top of the earth. Well, ever since I got out of the mud-hole in New Orleans, things have been coming my way pretty smooth, and I have captured this country from the Queen down, and I am doing that to the tune of $10,000 a day. Talk about show business, there never was anything like it ever known, and never will be again, and, with my European reputation, you can easily guess the business I will do when I get back to my own country.
It is pretty hard work with two and three performances a day and the society racket, receptions, dinners, etc. No man, not even Grant, was received better than your humble servant. I have dined with everyone of the royalty, from Albert, Prince of Wales, down. I sometimes wonder if it is the same old Bill Cody, the bull-whacker. Well, Colonel, I still wear the same sized hat, and when I make my fill I am coming back to visit all the old boys. If you meet any of them tell them I ain't got the big head worth a cent. I am over here for dust. Will be glad to hear from any of them. Write me again. Your old-time friend, BILL CODY.
In 1891, the following letter was sent to all of the Agents of the Adam Forepaugh shows:
“Special and important instructions to agents: I believe in conducting our business in a legitimate and respectable way, and therefore issue these instructions for your government, and they must at all times be implicitly obeyed. I intend and insist that our exhibition shall be conducted in a clean, moral and honorable manner, and to that end these rules are instituted. All. agents and employees are emphatically enjoined from engaging in any disgraceful or wordy broils with agents and employees of other shows regarding the merits or demerits of either our or their exhibition. You must not resort to low devices, write, print or circulate any personal, libelous or other derogatory matter concerning other shows, their managers or agents. Nor must you cover up their paper, take down or disturb their lithographs, change their dates, or otherwise mutilate their advertising matter. If other agents or their assistants, whom you meet in a legitimate discharge of your duties, see proper to resort to such disreputable devices, you must report the facts to me and await my decision. You must not degrade our character by retorting in kind. Our exhibition stands so high, is so powerful and strong, that we have no occasion to resort to illegitimate modes of advertising. The country is large enough for all, without wrangling in opposition. I will not permit any departure from these instructions. Our route is always arranged so far in advance that any show, which desires it for honorable purposes, and to avoid it, can obtain it upon application, thus avoiding all opposition. JAMES E. COOPER, Sole Owner Adam Forepaugh Shows.”
Posted on every Barn and Dead Wall in 1873 in opposition to John (Pogey) O'Brien's “Dan Rice” Circus. Pogey was associated with Doc Spaulding and Patrick Ryan in Rice's circus at this time. The item also exemplified with what brotherly love showmen carried on their business during those years of cut-throat opposition.
Take heed! Take heed! Heed this warning! If the people of this place are wise, they will stay away from the little affair which is here today under an assumed name and which, stead of being “Rice's” show is John alias “Pogey” O'brien's band of organized thieves and robbers. Every man, woman and child in this state knows John O'brien to be as big a thief as that departed, defunct and depraved leader of all predatory prowlers, Jesse James.
The latter, however, was eminently respectable as compared to O'brien. He was a robber whose deeds of daring awakened in people, despite the horror of his calling, a certain amount of admiration for pluck. He became a national representative of his calling; his name was a synonym for expert and daring robbery.
Jesse James, whatever his faults, and they were numerous, was not a sneaking, petty, cross-road thief, who could not even let a clothes-line bear its bleaching fruit, or a wood-pile preserve its symmetrical proportions. If he tampered with a poor-box, it was to inflate rather than deplete the contents of that sanctified repository of charitable donations. If he relieved a cripple, it was not by taking his purse from him to lighten his load; if he relieved old age - and he ofttimes did - it was not to relieve it of what little possessions it had.
The unsuspecting and honest farmer could be in town with Jesse James and his gang and no confidence game, no pocket-picking pastimes, or no sand-bagging festivities would be indulged in to relieve him of his hard-earned dollars.
James and his gang would pay hotel bills and purchase their necessaries and respect the female portion of society. 'Tis true that an affection for the directors of a banking establishment every now and again would tempt Jesse to keep that august body at home, and his high religious training would prompt him to relieve the aforesaid body of such temptations as foreshadowed a trip to Canada.
He might, even in the greatness of his charity, substitute his pony express for the iron horse of an express company betimes, but with all that, thief as he was, scoundrel that he was, outlaw, outcast and villain that he was, he was infinitely the superior, we repeat, of the sneaking, lecherous, vampire-like horde of petty, mean, low-down cut-throat knaves and turn-pike free-booters which disgrace humanity by their semblance of the same that travel into the nameless, characterless and vile concern known as a circus, and which exhibits here today, or will if the law allows it to.
James was no assassin, no destroyer of female virtue. They committed neither arson nor sodomy, and in all these things were the superiors of the latter-day sinners. Look out for these despicable wretches who are among you today; they will overrun your town, and such a reckless band of cutthroat robbers seldom breathe free air. They are the refuse of penitentiaries and jails, outcasts, vultures, fiends, fit only for gallows frames. Take heed, good people, keep at home, watch your stores, your business houses and your pocketbooks. Guard your women!
A Clown drives into the ring in a cart drawn by a mule. He shouts, “Whoa, January!” The Clown then gets into an argument with the Ringmaster, who has a fine horse at his side. The Clown wants to make a trade, which is agreed upon. But no sooner does the Ringmaster try to move the mule, than the animal becomes balky and will not budge. Meanwhile, the Clown goes off in triumph with his horse. The Ringmaster, failing to remove the mule, calls to the Clown to come back, but the funny man treats his plea with contempt. Then the Ringmaster shouts that he will give cash if the Clown will take his mule away. This brings the Clown back. In a moment Old January is hitched to the Clown's wagon and the Clown drives off.
Mr. Bass, widely known in museums and side-shows as The Ossified Man, was born four miles outside of Lockport, Niagara County, New York, in 1820. At the age of sixteen, while rafting logs on the canal, he was seized with ossific rheumatism, but the doctors treated him for inflammatory rheumatism. He was prostrated for nine years, and then his body began to turn into bone. The process of ossification went on for a year, during which time the patient suffered acute agony. In 1846 he was left in the condition in which he had since remained, a vital unimpaired organism, living in a shell of stone. In 1882 he was first exhibited as a freak, by Fred Latta, at the Globe Museum. Since then he had been carried on the bedstead, on which he had lain forty-six years, all over the country. He earned enough money from his professional engagements to pay off the mortgages on the farms of his relatives, and although more helpless than a baby, was the main financial stay of a brother and sister. He became totally blind during the progress of ossification, but his manager read the papers to him every day, and he conversed intelligently on all popular topics. His memory of voices was remarkable. This faculty enabled him to call his friends by name in cases in which he had not conversed with them for years. For the last two years, what the doctors term de-ossification had been going on in his system. The bones of the arms, the shoulder blades, etc., becoming gradually dissolved. This resulted in a slight articulation at the shoulder joints, enabling him to move the arms slightly. All the bones of the fingers and toes were long ago dissolved.
Mr. Bass died on September 12, 1882, at his home in Lewiston, New York. His last engagement was at Huber's Palace Museum, in New York City.
It may not be generally known to the public, but it is a fact, that nearly one-half of the entire expenditure of a circus is incurred in the work of the advance brigades. The advertising material, its distribution, express, freight and cartage, together with the salaries, transportation and living expenses of seventy-five to one hundred men, amount to vast sums of money. The largest number of men I ever used in advance of my show was seventy-five, and for this people called me crazy.
Though, of course, there is a limit to possible receipts, there is no doubt that the business secured is in proportion to the sum used in advertising, and it is almost impossible to draw a line at which judicious advertising should stop. This is demonstrated by the fact that the dressing-room tents of the present day are larger than were the entire old-time circus canvases, when the advertising was done by one man on horseback and all the paper used was carried in his saddlebags, and the salary of any star advertiser now is as much as was required to run the entire show of years ago.
I early learned, by experience, that big receipts at the ticket wagon followed big advertising expenditures. In 1880, in order to boom the “Newly United Monster Shows,” I arranged some very peculiar and novel advertising features in the way of three cars especially fitted out for the use of my advance agents. The first brigade was accompanied by an enormous organ, for which a car was built, the latter being drawn through the streets by an elephant. This organ was a masterpiece of mechanism and was specially built by Prof. Jukes. Its tones resembled the music of a brass band and could be heard at a great distance. This, of course, attracted the people, and the brigade would then advertise the show by a lavish distribution of hand-bills.
Unfortunately, the elephant and the music combined to frighten many horses, and I soon found myself defendant in numerous damage suits. Indeed, that single elephant seemed to frighten more horses than did the entire herd with the show.
At one place temporary quarters for the elephant were secured in a stable which could be reached only through a private alley. When we came to take possession of the barn, the owner of the alley, with several policemen, stood on guard and undertook to stop the progress of the huge animal. Their efforts, however, met with no success, for, with the most sublime indifference, the beast moved quietly forward. For this I was sued for “trespass” and “injured feelings.” As the elephant was the offender, my lawyer proposed to bring him into court as the principal witness, a proposition which caused considerable amusement. As no damage had been done, the “laugh” was decidedly on the owner of the alley.
My second advertising car was fitted up with another enormous organ of far-reaching power, and attracted much attention, while my third and last advertising brigade rejoiced in the possession of an engine to which was attached a steam whistle of such power and discordant tone that it could be heard for miles. This the men would blow while going through the country. Professor Jukes had christened this diabolical invention the “Devil's Whistle,” and so well did its sound fit the name that the people must have frequently thought His Satanic Majesty was nearby.
As that car with its whistle would steam into a town, the inhabitants would flock as one man to see what it was that had so disturbed their peace, and thus we were enabled to advertise more thoroughly than any show before or since, I have often thought that I really deserved punishment for thus outraging the public ear.
Between these three advertising brigades I had smaller companies accompanied by a colored brass band, which discoursed pleasant music while my bill posters decorated the dead walls and boards. The band also gave concerts at night upon the public square and, between pieces, a good speaker would draw attention to the excellence of the coming show.
A uniformed brigade of trumpeters was also sent through the country on horseback, and a band of Jubilee singers marched through the streets singing the praises of the “Newly United Shows.” Added to these attractions were two stereopticons that pictured, from some house-top or window, the main features of the show. This, together with perhaps the most liberal newspaper advertising that ever had been done, made the whole advance work as near absolute perfection in show advertising as possible.
One of the picturesque features with the advance show was Gilmore's “Jubilee Anvil Chorus.” The anvils were made of wood with a piece of toned steel fastened at the top in a manner which secured a volume and resonance of tone that could be heard much further than that of an ordinary anvil. At intervals, to strengthen the chorus, cannon were fired off. This, though a great novelty, caused some dissatisfaction, especially amid crowded surroundings. My excuse was that the chorus was a free feature furnished by my friend, Gilmore, and that, as it cost the public nothing, the latter should be satisfied. Never before nor since was a country so startled and excited over the coming of a show.
A great circus uses large quantities of advertising paper - so much, in fact, that it is difficult to keep track of it. True, the superintendent of the advertising car gives each man so many “sheets” in the morning and the man at night hands in a statement which is supposed to show where and how he has placed the paper. These brigades are followed by watchers, or, as the railroad men term them, “spotters,” who look carefully over the ground. But the impossibility of detecting all crooked work may be readily understood when I say that from eight to twelve wagons containing bill-posters and paper start out on country routes in as many different directions, so the “spotter,” not being ubiquitous, cannot follow every trail. One of my “spotters,” however, did once ascertain that a party of my men had driven into the country and dozed comfortably in the shade all day, had not put up any paper and had not fed their hired horses, although they did not forget to charge for the “feeds.” The horses were thus made to suffer and the men pocketed the money which should have gone for oats. Of course my superintendent discharged the entire brigade although, when the season is well under way, it is very difficult to obtain skilled bill-posters, for it is quite a difficult craft and experts are in good demand.
The reader, however, can easily see what a great loss such doings entail on a show, considering the cost of the paper at the printer's, the freight or expressage, the cartage, and the money paid the men for putting up the sheets. The printing of a first class show are enormous. My lithograph bill alone, the last successful season of my show, amounted to $40,000, and this was before the days of extensive lithographing. I believe I ordered the first three-sheet lithograph ever made, and also the first ten-sheet lithograph. This was considered a piece of foolishness; but when I ordered a hundred-sheet bill and first used it in Brooklyn it was considered such a curiosity that show people visited the City of Churches for the express purpose of looking at this advertising marvel. How things have changed! The Barnum and one or two other shows now use nothing but lithographs, and many of their bills are beautiful works of art, some of them being copies of really great pictures.
I can remember when one-sheet lithographs cost one dollar each, and for several years later they could not be bought for less than fifty to seventy-five cents apiece. They can be had now in large quantities for about five cents or less the sheet. As shows nowadays frequently use hundreds of sheets a day, imagine what would be their cost at the price paid in the pioneer show period.
The circus of the present day is judged by the quality of its paper. One season I arranged with a publisher to use a folded quarter sheet, three sides of which advertised our show and the fourth side contained the first chapter of a story about to be published in his magazine. These were furnished to us in enormous quantities and our agents distributed them. In Boston we had four four-horse wagons full and these followed our parade. The men tossed the folders high in the air and the wind carried them in all directions. While this style of advertising surprised the people, it was soon stopped, and properly, too, by city ordinance. I think circus people would be better off if ordinances were passed wholly prohibiting bill posting; but unfortunately such a movement would go far toward breaking up a profitable industry, since many of the bill-posters are rich men, some making as much as $25,000 a year and a few fully $50,000. I believe Mr. Seth B. Howes, the veteran circus manager, was the first one to order a billboard made for pasting paper on the outside. Previous to this all bills were hung or fastened up with tacks.
There was always a sharp rivalry between the advance brigades of opposition shows, and many are the tricks which they play upon each other. Perhaps the most serious and daring trick played on me was when the agent of an opposition show actually went to the railroad office and ordered a car-load of my paper, which was on the side-track there waiting for our man, to be shipped to California. Believing him to be representing me, the freight agent did as he requested, and my advance brigade was delayed until a fresh carload could be sent on from New York, which could be done in less time than it would have taken to have brought the original carload back from San Francisco. After accomplishing this contemptible trick the fellow escaped, and, although I had Pinkerton men closely on his trail, I was never able to get service on him. Of course the scamp's employers were legally responsible; but in those days we never thought of bringing suit in cases of that kind, although I was strongly tempted to do so in one place, where an opposition show had covered my dates with their own and had greatly damaged us by misleading the people.
Of the many other sharp tricks played on me by opposition shows one of the best, or worst, was that of equipping men with sample cases, and sending them in advance of my show in the role of commercial salesmen. These men would step into prominent stores and, after a short business talk, incidentally mention my name and then impart the information that my show had disbanded and gone to pieces. This, of course, would set the whole town talking, and the news would soon spread over the entire country, thus doing me irreparable harm.
The general public has very little idea of the extent to which opposition tactics are carried by the representatives of circuses and menageries. The rivalry between two shows often costs thousands of dollars and is sometimes kept up by the agents long after the proprietors have become reconciled. Once we became involved in one of these contests, and the opposition, in order to harass us, actually had four of our men arrested in different States on a charge of libel. The Indiana libel laws were very severe, and in each instance we were compelled to give a heavy bond for the release of our man.
That year the train of a rival outfit ran off the track, and one of the proprietors in the course of time, became my agent. One day, in a confidential chat, he alluded to the mishap, and told me that at the time it occurred he fully intended accusing us of having had the switches turned, thus causing the disaster. To that end he had even gone to the length of swearing out warrants for our arrest. They knew that we were perfectly innocent, but their object was to gain notoriety and sympathy. At the last moment, it is to be presumed their better natures asserted themselves; at all events, they weakened.
Another party in opposition warfare copied our money orders. Orders of this kind were given by our agents and paid by our treasurer on arrival of the show. They were given for services rendered or goods bought, and covered the expenses of livery teams, distributing bills, flour, feed, advance brigade supplies, newspaper advertising, etc. They were made out something after this style:
“On presentation of this order and ten issues of . . . . . . . . . . Newspaper, containing advertisements of the Coup Show to exhibit at . . . . . . . . . . . . on the . . . . . . . . day of . . . . . . . . . . . . . . pay Mr . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $ . . . . . . . amount due him. (Signed) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . , Agent.”
These orders were extensively used by the opposition for some time before we discovered it. Its object, of course, was to make the newspaper proprietors and the public think they were advertising the Coup Show, while of course their own dates would be inserted instead of ours.
At a certain place in Ohio a bridge was burned in advance of us and entailed the loss of our next “stand,” or date. We could not safely accuse any of our competitors of this contemptible and incendiary trick; but we knew they were driven to desperation and were capable of resorting to any such outrage.
There were agents so utterly unscrupulous as to receive pay from opposition shows for disclosing to them information that should have been jealously guarded, even betraying the advance route. I knew of one agent who was an expert telegraph operator and able to take messages by sound. He would scrape acquaintance with the regular operator and pass his spare time in the telegraph office secretly taking our messages as the latter were being sent over the wire, the local operator being ignorant of the loafer's telegraphic skill.
These opposition fights greatly benefitted the local bill posters and were frequently urged on by them. Sometimes a show would send a brigade over the country at night, placing its own dates on the paper of its rival, thus getting all of the advantages of the first show's paper. Sometimes the indolence and laziness of my own men have annoyed me greatly. I am reminded that, while my advance brigade was billing Texas, one of my agents became utterly disgusted with the sleepiness of his men. They were mainly of corpulent build, and their captain actually sent me this message:
Waco, Texas, July, 1881.
W. C. Coup, Sturtevant House, New York City.
“There is one more shade tree in Texas; send another fat man to sit under it.”
On numerous occasions I have had to pay dearly as a result of the sharp practices of unscrupulous people, and it is a well-known fact that a circus man has to deal with a great many of this class. Our advance agent always engaged the lots on which we were to exhibit, and he did so at Austin, Texas, renting the necessary ground at a most exorbitant figure. As usual he gave an order on the company which was to be paid immediately on our arrival. But the owner or pretended owner, inserted a clause in the agreement that the lots were to be used if still in the possession of the signer. Immediately on our arrival the bill was presented, and as promptly paid. Imagine my surprise when, as the show opened at night, another bill was presented for $150. It seems that this sharper had made a fraudulent sale of one of the center lots on purpose to swindle me. Of course I paid it, under protest, in order to enable the performance to proceed, as, anticipating a refusal on my part, they had illegally attached some valuable ring stock.
Some years ago when George Peck was struggling with Peck's Sun, long before it had been recognized as a “leading comic paper,” I visited Milwaukee with my show. My invariable instructions to my agents were to advertise in every paper, but especially to place an extra advertisement in all young papers struggling for recognition, provided, of course, that they had merit. For some reason, or through oversight, George Peck's Sun had been entirely forgotten. Nevertheless, I found on reaching Milwaukee that Peck had, on several occasions, good-humoredly alluded in his columns to my coming, and had not roasted me, as many other editors so slighted would have done. Accordingly I sent him a check which would have more than paid for the advertising he should have had but did not get. To my surprise he returned the check, saying I owed him nothing. I declined to receive it, and once more sent it to him, telling him not to come any of his “funny business over me,” and to reserve his jokes for his paper. This brought him around to my hotel, and I was delighted to become acquainted with one of the cleverest men I have ever met. Later he became Governor of his State.
As an example of the courteous treatment I have invariably received at the hands of the newspaper editors I cannot refrain from giving the following incident which occurred when the show was in North Carolina. In a town in that state one paper, through an oversight, had been skipped altogether in the distribution of the advertising. When the second brigade of the advertising army arrived in town, it found that the issue of this paper had already been mailed to its subscribers. Nothing daunted, however, this agent arranged with the publishers for a special issue which, teeming with praises of the Coup show, was issued and mailed to all subscribers. As a result excellent houses greeted us when we exhibited in the place.
The rivalry between the great shows extended to the newspaper advertising as well as the bill-posting departments. I remember that once, at Pittsburg, the opposition was very strong, and I had as press agent the brother of the man who held the same position in the employ of my rival. They were both excellent newspaper men and thoroughly understood their business. We would take whole columns in the newspapers, and my men with the show would telegraph to the papers at Pittsburg after this manner:
“The W. C. Coup show did a tremendous business here today; the largest and best show ever seen here.”
These telegrams would be used to head our other notices in the Pittsburg papers, and whole columns would follow, setting forth the merits of the show. With more solid endorsements these telegrams so worried my agent's brother that he was at a loss to know how to overcome them. He finally hit upon a novel and dashing plan. After our columns had been set up in the various papers, he would then engage the adjoining columns. In this space, in display type, he denounced our telegrams as bogus, stating that he had seen his own brother write them at the hotel. This announcement completely took the wind out of our sails.
Many amusing things of this sort occurred in the war of opposition, but others of a more serious nature would, of course, come up.
The greatest amount of free advertising ever received by a big show, within my knowledge, for any one thing, was that which was incident upon the purchase of “Jumbo.” The elephant was bought by Barnum, Bailey & Hutchinson from the Zoological Gardens in London. When the day arrived for his removal, the elephant lay down and refused to leave his old home. This created a sympathy for the dumb creature, and the children became so interested that petitions were signed by hundreds - yes, thousands - of children and adults of Great Britain, protesting against the delivery of the animal to its new owners. Jumbo's stubbornness proved a fortune to his new owners. Taking advantage of the opportunity they began to work upon the sympathies of the Humane Society, which made every effort to prevent Jumbo from being sent to this country. The news was cabled to America by the column. I happened to be in the editor's room of a daily paper in New York when one of these cables came into the office. The editor laughingly called my attention to it and threw it into the waste basket. I said, “What, are you not going to use this?” He said: “No, of course not.”
“Well,” said I, “you will use Jumbo matter before the excitement is over.”
I saw how the excitement could, and surely would, in such able hands, be kept up. I left that night for St. Louis, where my educated horses were being exhibited, and made a call on my old friend, Col. John A. Cockrill, then editor of the Post Dispatch - when another Associated Press Jumbo dispatch came in, with which they were delighted. I then related my experience with the New York editor who had refused to use the cable that came into the office while I was sitting there. The colonel and Mr. Pulitzer said: “Well, we are glad to use it - this and future dispatches.”
The next day the Colonel handed me a New York paper, which proved to be the same that I had mentioned, and in it appeared a double leaded account on the Jumbo excitement. Their show agents in London did wonderful work in keeping the Associated Press filled with new matter, and the free advertising they secured would have cost at regular rates a half million of dollars and even then would not have been as effective.
The agents succeeded in working up this opposition to Jumbo's removal until they induced the editor of the London Telegraph to cable Barnum, asking what price he would take to leave Jumbo in his own home, explaining the feeling of the people, especially the children. This editor had no idea then and perhaps does not even now know that he was made an innocent agent in the big advertising scheme. The children of Great Britain had ridden on Jumbo's back, fed and fondled him for years, so that it was easy to arouse this feeling of indignation and sympathy. The multitude even threatened violence if he was removed. The excitement had purposely been kept up to such a pitch by these people that it became international.
There was much excitement about Jumbo's wife, Alice. Elaborately written articles were cabled over, expressing the sorrow of Alice at the enforced departure of Jumbo and her consequent separation from her husband. The feelings of the people were so worked upon that sympathy for Alice and Jumbo almost equalled that aroused for the slave by the description of Uncle Tom in “Uncle Tom's Cabin.” The advertising matter for Jumbo - the lithographs, etc. - had already been printed, and in them he was called “Mastodon.” When he refused to be moved his right name, Jumbo, was used, as the dispatches had gone out in that name. The strategy used by these managers and their agents to get all this notoriety did no one any harm and made good sensational reading for the newspapers.
Barry Lupino, comedian in The Red Robe, and of the famous Lupino family of clowns, writes as follows:
“Among my interesting Circus scraps is a manuscript in the Elder Astley's handwriting, describing an entree for one of his acts with his Circus in 1772. Here it is:
“Enter Lupino with Beauty Hoops. Backs. Pirouettes. Enter Price, drunk. Business of pulling Lupino from horse. Lupino dismounts and assists Price to mount. Ad lib business. Falls. Finis hanging on tail. Tail breaks. Price remounts. Hat off. Then coat, vests, ad lib. Breeches. Shift. Then act as usual. Flags exit,”
CHS webmaster J. Griffin, last modified May 2006.