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 July 1930 is Online! (large pdf file).
A bright star in the circus firmament during the 80's and 90's of the last century was Linda Jeal, hurricane rider, who was best known to the circus-loving public as "The Queen of the Flaming Zone." Although during the greater part of her career as a rider, Miss Jeal offered $5,000 to the woman who would duplicate her act, the challenge was never accepted. In the words of the press agent, "her fire defying acts were so perilous, intricate and sensational as to paralyze all efforts at even imitation."
Miss Jeal, now Mrs. W. E. Julian, a sprightly lady of 77, but looking many years younger, is living retired in Detroit, Mich. Her last engagement was with the Frank A. Robbins Show, out of Granger, Ia. With an additional five years, her career as a circus rider would have covered a half century.
Hers was not a circus family. She started to ride In 1869, while she was a school girl in her teens at Petaluma, Cal. She had a sister who had been apprenticed at the age of nine to C. H. Lee, a pioneer circus manager of California. The sister rode pad and bareback, as she had been taught both styles, and was regarded as a fine rider. She married G. F. Ryland, who was a partner of Mr. Lee in the circus. "Mr. Ryland," said Miss Jeal, in speaking of her sister's husband, "had an unusually romantic career. I always understood that as a child he was stolen from his home in Canada by gypsies and taken to England. He eventually became connected with Cooke's great circus and was trained by John Henry Cooke, a famous figure in the English show world.
"In the '50's, an American, who was creating a sensation in England by his remarkable riding was James Hernandez, whose backward jumps and feats on one leg everywhere created furores of applause. Upon Hernandez's return to America, he persuaded Ryland and Richard Hemmings, another English performer, to accompany him to the United States and both these men were destined to become figures of prominence in the circus world of this country. Ryland, as we see, became the partner of Lee in the proprietorship of a circus in the West and Hemmings, with Dan Gardner, the clown, launched the show which became the Cooper and Bailey Circus and merged with the Barnum show to form the Barnum and Bailey Circus, now part of the Ringling Brothers Circus.
"As a girl," continued Miss Jeal, "I used to spend some time with my sister as a companion. I had been attending school at Petaluma, Cal., when I visited her at Haywards, Cal., during the winter of 1869. I was then 15 years old. There was a ring barn at Haywards and I used to enjoy watching the performers at their practice. The lure of the circus somehow got to me at that time. I used to ask if I could not try some of the feats I had seen performed. I received no encouragement and felt rather chagrined at being thus ignored. This treatment, however, stirred my ambition and I secretly determined if they would not allow me to do what I wanted to I would try different riding feats without permission. And that is what I did.
"I had been practicing secretly for some time and had mastered a few feats of vaulting and hanging over a horse, when Mr. Ryland dropped into the barn unobserved. I was so absorbed in my practice that it was some time before I noticed him and he had a good opportunity to follow my work. You can imagine how startled I was when he stepped up to me and inquired how long this had been going on. I replied about a week and in dread of the consequence of my disobedience, I took my horse, returned it to the stall and went home to my sister.
"The rebuke, which I had expected, failed to materialize. Mr. Ryland was really impressed by what I had accomplished without any instruction and after consulting with my sister decided that I should be fitted for a career as a rider. Mr. Ryland, with all his experience with the Cooke circus, now became my instructor. He was an excellent teacher and I had little difficulty in catching on and doing the tasks set for me. I put in the winter at Haywards in practicing and by spring was considered a competent performer. The circus people proclaimed me a find.
"I made my first appearance before the public as a rider in 1870 at Sacramento in the hurdle act that my brother-in-law caught me practicing and which he assisted me to develop. This was the act which with improvements I did with the Cooper and Bailey, the Barnum and Bailey and other circuses.
"For three years, I rode with the Ryland and Lee Circus in California. Charles Fish was the gentleman rider and my sister and myself the lady riders. Circus people are not agreed as to whether James Robinson or Fish was the greater rider. They were undoubtedly both wonderful. I would hesitate myself to express an opinion as to which was the superior, because both were unusually talented. I have seen Fish, who was the younger man, do more tricks than Robinson. Robinson was, however, the best figure on horseback. While with the Lee and Ryland Circus, Fish was a strong attraction.
"When Ryland and Tom Samuels, who had performing dogs, took a show in 1872 to Mexico, I was engaged by John Wilson for his circus in San Francisco. A big feature with the Wilson show was Omar Kingsley, who created a sensation by his impersonation of a female rider, Ella Zoyara. It is a matter of circus history that so effective was the disguise of Kingsley, who would dress even for the street in woman's attire, that men made violent love to him and a nobleman proposed marriage, while Kingsley was with a circus in Europe.
"My engagement with the Wilson show was the second circus with which I rode and was so successful, that I was re-engaged. When Wilson planned his tour of Australia, he desired to engage me, but I did not wish to leave America. Wilson was so disappointed, that an attempt was made to persuade me to visit the troupe aboard ship to see how nicely everybody was fixed. I refused because I suspected that it was Wilson's intention to kidnap me.
I came east in 1878 and engaged for the summer season with the John O'Brien Circus. O'Brien was an Irishman, as his name implies and an odd character. He could neither read nor write and was originally driver of a stage coach. From stage coach driver, he developed into a horse trader and obtained the contract to furnish horses for moving a circus. It was in this way he finally got into the circus business with Adam Forepaugh as his partner. The two quarreled and then divided the circus, each starting his own show. Although early in his career, he put out some good shows, later in life he had with him an element which put his circus in bad repute in many places he visited. Gambling and drunkenness were conspicuous about his show, while O'Brien frequently lost the services of star performers by failure to pay them according to contract.
"In the fall of 1878, with my husband, William O'Dale Stevens, I opened in New York City, with the P. T. Barnum show. In those days, as it is today with the stage and circus star, a New York approval meant much. The Barnum show was then managed by John Nathan, George Bailey and Lew June, who were known as the Flat Foot Aggregation. Why they were called that, I do not know. Every performer with the show in his or her act was a star. The clowns were Johnny Patterson and James Holloway. The engagement established my reputation as a rider."
Miss Jeal was with the Cooper and Bailey Great London Circus and Allied Shows in 1880. With this circus, her act was extensively featured and the lithographs carried the $5,000 challenge, which no woman ever accepted. Five episodes in the act were portrayed in the lithograph. There was the miraculous leap of horse and rider through flames of fire; bounding through fire and over bars; rapid backward riding balancing on one foot; terrific high leap over gate and through flaming zone and, as the centerpiece, the sensational scene of the challenge finish. It was with this circus that Miss Jeal first came under the management of James A. Bailey, with whom she was to be associated in future years, when he became part owner of the Barnum and Bailey Circus.
"Bailey was the most just man I ever worked for," said Miss Jeal. "He was strict, as all the performers who worked for him will tell you, but he was honest. He always impressed me as being the right man in the right place."
Miss Jeal started that same year with the W. W. Cole Show on its Australian tour. The tour covered a continuous journey from St. Louis, Mo., to California, thence to New Zealand, Australia, and other South Sea islands, returning to San Francisco in the spring of 1881 and as far east as Halifax, N. S., recrossing the American continent and going into winter quarters at Utica, N. Y., the trip covering 30,000 miles. Miss Jeal's husband, William O'Dale Stevens, and her sister, Mrs. Ryland, were also with the Cole Circus on the Australian tour.
"Electric lighting for circuses had just been introduced," said Miss Jeal, "the Cooper and Bailey show using it successfully in the United States. On the Australian tour, Cole used the new method of lighting. During my fire hoop act, the lights were dimmed, the effect being very impressive."
Miss Jeal gives unqualified praise to W. W. Cole as a circus manager. She says he was one of the finest men she ever worked for.
Some time after the Cooper and Bailey and Barnum shows merged to form the Barnum and Bailey Circus, the Queen of the Flaming Zone joined the new management. She was a feature of the Barnum and Bailey Circus with intermissions for about a score of years. She also filled engagements abroad at different times, having been with circuses in Mexico, South America, Cuba, the West Indies and Europe. She was with the Circus Busch in Europe.
In reply to an inquiry as to the first woman to ride the bareback of a horse in America, Miss Jeal said:
"I do not know who was the first. I have heard of a number who were supposed to be. The first woman rider I remember seeing was Mrs. Sam Stickney. Her husband was a clown. Mr. and Mrs. Stickney traveled with, the Lee and Ryland Circus in 1868 in California. There have in my time been many good women riders. Among a few of the outstanding artists have been Mollie Brown, Madam Dockrill, Josie DeMott, Katie Stokes, Lizzie Marcellus, Madam Adelaide Cordona, Rosa Myers and others. Among the fine male riders were James Robinson, William Showles, William DeMott, William Wallett, whose death occurred only recently, and others I could mention. Mollie Brown was the first woman in America to accomplish the back somersault on a horse's back. The second was her niece, Josie Demott, a great rider, who is still with us, but living in retirement. Others to accomplish this feat were Edna Marietta, who was followed by my niece, Dallie Julian, and then the wonderful girl rider, May Wirth, from Australia, who did back somersaults and forward ones. My sister and I were the first two girls to do a carrying act. That was in 1870. My sister injured her hip while riding in 1901 and died following an operation. Among the clowns of whom I have pleasant recollections are Sam Stickney, Charley Parker, Johnny Patterson, Joe Kennebel, Billy Burk, James Murray and Charley Seeley. Seeley was a very pleasant man at all times. He worked as a telegraph operator in the winter time. He clowned for both my sister and myself in our principal acts.
"During the early days with the Barnum show, my costume was the subject of a controversy which would today be regarded as ridiculous. The display in public of one's limbs in those mid-Victorian days drew down upon the innocent offender all sorts of censure. We had not yet gotten over the excitement caused by the "Black Crook" and the "British Blondes," who, although severely criticized, drew liberally at the box office.
"Of course the requirements of my hurdle act would not permit me to use any but a specially designed riding costume. Because of the danger of fire, gauze, lace and ribbons were barred. I had to dress for the act as short and as close to the figure as possible. So I designed a neat, tight-fitting, jockey costume. In these days it would not be considered immodest. But in some localities at that time the ladies plainly showed their disapproval.
"It was Mr. Barnum's custom to have the women performers of his show come into the pad room before appearing in the ring to pass judgment on the costume. This was 1879. He expressed satisfaction with them all until he came to me.
" 'Miss Jeal,' said Mr. Barnum, 'you are the only one I find fault with. Your costume is a little too short. Some of the women criticize it severely and you know I have to study my public.' I wonder what Mr. Barnum would say if he could see the costumes the women of today have been wearing on and off the stage.
"Circus riding has always been a hobby with me," continued Miss Jeal, "but the day finally came when I had to take my leave of the sawdust ring. Time tells on us as the years roll on. I regretfully bade farewell to my circus associates of the Frank A. Robbins Show in 1916. I was then 63 and had been a rider for 45 years. What is remarkable is that during those years I never had a serious accident. I am now, at 77, well and hearty and only a little the worse for wear."
I recall Mr. Charles W. Fish, the "best of the male riders" very well. When I was a young man he lived for a time in my home town, St. Albans, Vermont; his mounts were familiar sights in the streets of the town.
He was born In Philadelphia, Pa., November 23, 1848, his mother dying when he was a baby. When about seven years old, he ran away to join a circus. He was taken back home by his father, tutored, and trained to ride. When he was eight and a half years old he was bound out to Spaulding and Rogers circus for six years and six months for $40 a year and found.
When fifteen years old, Fish began riding for $100 a week. At one time he received $300, and The New York Clipper stated he received the highest salary ever paid a bareback equestrian. When about twenty, he toured South America for some years.
In 1872, he married his childhood sweetheart and they sailed for Europe to be gone three or four years. There he had many honors bestowed upon him by nobility and royalty and he became the "Champion of the World." Mrs. Fish was a very attractive woman and the two were most pleasantly received wherever they journeyed abroad.
While abroad they purchased a home in St. Albans and when the tour was completed they returned there to rest. Mr. Fish loved the quiet countryside but he was not long contented in the small community. He longed for New York and soon moved there, later establishing headquarters in California. However, he always returned to St. Albans for a visit before starting his travels.
Occasionally he would come to St. Albans with some company and he would then do his famous bareback act, his jockey act, riding with boots on, and the town would go wild over him. I recall those days very well; I was always on hand when the circus came to town.
During the last days of his career, he rode in the "Winter Circus" on Wabash Avenue, Chicago, and great crowds were turned away. One who went there had "never seen anything so spectacular and really beautiful. The building was circular, with upholstered chairs, ushers in dress suits, a water carnival that was beyond description, wonderful dancers and Charlie's act."
While in Chicago, he was taken sick and he died May 5, 1895. He was buried in Mt. Ida Cemetery, Troy, N. Y.
As a youngster, he showed a very fine mind and he grew into splendid manhood. He was unspoiled by fame and was ever the refined and polished gentleman. He had charming manners, a keen sense of humor, and fluent command of several languages. He made friends wherever he went. While in St. Albans, he was a regular attendant in the Episcopal Church.
Other Fishiana Taken From Our Files
At the age of ten years his father placed him under the charge of James McFarland, who was then traveling with Spaulding & Rogers' Circus, and the following year he was regularly indentured for a term of seventy-eight months to Charles J. Rogers, the junior partner of the firm. With S. & R. he traveled through most of the western, southern and middle states. He also traveled with them in Canada, and spent two years in touring Brazil, Buenos Aires, Montevideo and the West Indies. On their return from this trip they were wrecked on Long Beach Island, ten miles south of Barnegat Light, N. J., on April 2, 1864, and lost everything except three horses and the clothing worn by the members of the show. The indenture with Spaulding & Rogers expired toward the close of 1864, and Mr. Fish then joined Frank Howe's Circus, at Nashville, Tenn., and for the first time received a salary beyond clothes and food. He soon after joined Spaulding & Rogers at New Orleans, La., and for the first time saw James Robinson, at that time one of the leading bareback riders of the world.
In the spring of 1865 he joined S. B. Howes Circus, taking Mr. Robinson's place. The following year he traveled with Mike Lipman's Circus, and in 1867 and 1868 he was with Nixon, Costello & Howe's Circus. In 1869 he was a member of J. M. French's Oriental Circus, and the following year, under engagement to George Ryland, he went to California, where he created a sensation with his bareback trick riding. On his coming of age he secured a horse and joined J. E. Warner's Great Pacific Show. On November 6, 1871, he became a member of L. B. Lent's Circus, then showing in the Hippotheatron, in 14th Street, New York City, and continued there until April 13, 1872. He continued with Mr. Lent until 1873, when he went to Europe, under engagement to Charles Hengler.
Mr. Fish while abroad appeared in many of the leading cities of Europe, and received marked attention from the nobility. He returned to this country early in 1874 and in March of that year he joined Montgomery Queen's Circus, in California. In 1876 he became a member of P. T. Barnum's show, with which he remained for a number of seasons. He was afterwards connected with Forepaugh's, Ringlings, Orrin Brothers and all the leading circuses of this continent. He had appeared in Mexico and Cuba with the Orrin Brothers, the Pubillones and others. He had been before the public for more than thirty years, and was considered to be the best bareback rider of his time. He opened with the Winter Circus in Philadelphia, Pa., November 19, 1892, with which he remained until the close of that enterprise. He joined the Royal English Winter Circus, Chicago, Illinois, last November (1894) but for several months he had not been able to appear in the ring, and five weeks ago he permanently retired.
He was fond of writing and was otherwise handy with his pen, and contributed a series of pen drawings to the 1894 Route Book of the Ringing Brothers show. He was a member of the B. P. O. Elks and Knights of Pythias. His body rests in a cemetery in Troy, New York.
Charles W. Fish died after suffering from a complication of intestinal troubles and pneumonia, and for some weeks his life was despaired of. The trouble originated in a cold, which settled on his lungs. His wife and a niece were at his bedside when the end came. He was 47 years old.
Charles W. Fish was probably the best-known circus rider of his day. He started his career at the age of nine with a little two-wagon country circus owned by a man named McFarland. After serving an apprenticeship with McFarland, Fish took up with various circus concerns, and during his life had been under contract with all the famous showmen from Barnum to Ringling. It was while with Barnum that Fish electrified Queen Victoria and her Court by his daring and grace as a bareback rider. Fish had been traveling with the Ringling Brothers for the past two years, or since he severed his connection with the Barnum & Bailey shows. Last winter (1894) he got permission from Ringling to accept an engagement with Frank Hall at the Royal English Circus in New York City, and while here he defeated DeMott for a purse of $500 offered by Manager Hall. In attempting to follow Fish in some of his dare-devil feats, DeMott was thrown from his horse and hurt so badly that he lost the contest by default.
A story in connection with Fish's initial appearance as an apprentice to McFarland is still remembered. McFarland and his wife had quarreled in the hotel of a small Missouri town, a rival circus man named Mason having had much to do in precipitating the estrangement. McFarland was driven to a violent spree by the affair, and Fish, a mere lad, endeavored to conciliate matters by bringing man and wife together. He got the address of Mrs. McFarland and furnished it to her husband. The latter attempted to get an audience with his wife, when he was met in the hallway of the hotel by the landlord. The latter did not know McFarland, and, seeing his condition, ordered him out of the house. McFarland made for the landlord with a dirk and the latter, in self defence, shot and killed him. Later, when the motive of McFarland in visiting the hotel developed, his slayer was so wrought up and overcome that he became a raving maniac, and to this day (1895) is an inmate of a Missouri Insane asylum.
Many of the older people of this community will remember Orton Bros. Show having been here many years ago. The first year the show was on the road, that was in 1854, the circus visited towns in Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and one town in Texas. It has been over these states many times since, and has visited some places over thirty different seasons. Every once in a while some old gentleman or lady will come up and tell us something that happened when the show appeared in their town many years before. Very recently the death of Mrs. Charles Schaefer at her home in Des Moines at an advanced age, recalls the pioneer days of the Orton Shows, in the minds of older folks who knew the show man personally and of the experiences of those early days, or who at some time have heard those stories retold.
It was during the days of Hiram Orton shows that Mrs. Schaefer was a member of the female band that traveled with the show. Other members of the band were Mrs. Mattie Longmire, Mrs. J. W. Russell of Adel, Miss Irene Orton; who passed away several years ago at her home in Ortonville, and Mrs. Hattie Mann. To complete the personnel of the band W. H. Lehman, for many years a Des Moines music dealer, and R. Z. Orton, father of Criley and Miles Orton, who now manage the shows, donned women's attire and played in the band.
R. Z. was just 12 years old at that time. The boys had considerable difficulty in adjusting themselves to wearing hoop-skirts which were quite the fashion those days and was the regulation dress of the women players of the band.
It was during an engagement in a wild Texas town that season that something thrilling happened and it put an end to the show that night. A bunch of ruffians came riding into town with the avowed purpose of making a rough-house and they succeeded all right. They started to ride around the ring and to shoot out the lights with their six-shooters. All odds were against the showmen who left the place to the tender mercy of the roughnecks, as the onlookers fled terror-stricken. R. Z. had left his cornet in his hasty retreat, and after reconsidering the matter, thought he would run the gauntlet in the hope of securing the cornet. In so doing, he met a fusillade of bullets. One bullet penetrated his back, lodging under a lung and he was shot several times through one arm. After the ruffians had done all the devilment they could they rode silently out of town.
Shooting the lad, dressed in girl's attire, was a cowardly act, even for such fellows, who claimed to be chivalrous to women, for they did not know that he was disguised. It was a year before R. Z. recovered from his wounds.
During those show days, Charles Schafer, pioneer Des Moines policeman, who died last summer, was also a member of the organization. He was the strong man of the show, putting on various juggling acts that required great strength and was also champion with Den Orton in the balancing perch act. Orton performed various contortions on a high pole that was balanced by Mr. Schafer.
It was during one of these southern tours that Den Orton contracted what proved to be small-pox. He came home ill. His home was what is now the Rudrow farm. He was cared for by Claire Byers, who had gone through the disease, but good care did not save his life. The remains of Mr. Orton now repose some place on the farm.
After the war Mr. Schafer went on the Des Moines police force and was an officer for many years, retiring only on account of advanced age. In an early day Mr. and Mrs. Schafer lived in a residence in what is now the down-town district. Driven farther out to find a place of residence, they located at 1001 Twenty-sixth street where they lived many years and where both died.
As most folks know, the Orton shows were conducted and became famous under the management of R. Z. Orton, and after his passing, the show business was taken up by the surviving members of the family, and management has devolved upon the two sons, Criley and Miles Orton. Mrs. Sarah Orton, their mother, and widow of R. Z. Orton, although now fairly well along in years, is out with the shows each year, occupying her familiar position as ticket seller.
There is an outstanding feature about Orton Bros, shows that few can boast of. Time after time they are invited back to the places that they have showed and these towns consider their appearance a real asset. They pay their bills, always try to give more than they advertise, never permit gambling of any sort on the grounds, and never exhibit on Sunday.
When Montgomery Queens Circus was advertised to show in Oakland in 1875, I was greatly excited as a visit to the circus was an event to be looked forward to as a rare treat - they didn't come annually in those days. More excited was I when I learned that the Circus folk were to stay at the Eureka Hotel whose proprietor, Mr. Myers, owned our house which adjoined the garden of the Hotel which was equipped with swings, see-saws and rings and in which we were allowed to play. Here my sister and I met the circus children and I was greatly elated to find I could do stunts that they could not do.
Among the children were George D. Atalie and his sister, whose mother held a cannon on her shoulders which was fired by George standing on it.
Then there was Louis and Harry Sebastian, advertised as pupils of Sig Sebastian, shown on the posters as standing on his shoulders riding a beautiful dapple grey horse. Also, there was with this Circus, Chas. Fish and James Robinson and as clown, Billy Burke, father of the present Mrs. Florenz Ziegfeld, winsome Molly Brown whose somersaults on a bareback horse were a revelation to Circus fans of that day and whose mother took the place of the ringmaster for that act.
But, the small boys was the act I especially was interested in and the first night of the show after the ringmaster announced the appearance of Sig Sebastian and his pupils the band struck and in rode the three. But suddenly there was a commotion and several men in civilian clothes entered the ring and after a hurried conversation with the Circus people the ringmaster announced that Louis and Harry Sebastian would not be allowed to perform.
The S. P. C. to Children had once more abrogated their authority straining at gnats and swallowing camels. To say the writer was disappointed would be putting it mildly.
I recollect the Signor did the best he could - one of his feats showing him seated in a chair on his horse while reading a newspaper.
Years after when I aspired to become a poster artist, a small show came to San Francisco and I secured a poster of a man on a white horse reading a paper billed as Signor Quaglini, on soaking off the date beneath it, read, and his pupils Harry and Louis Sebastion - now who was Signor Quaglini.
Last week at a reunion of the Acme Athletic Club which disbanded 30 years ago, I asked Bob Leando, teacher of acrobatics at the Olympic Club who trouped all over Europe in wagon shows (Bob is only 67 years young) if he ever knew Sig Sebastian and he said, "I did, indeed. I saw his tragic end when he was seated opposite me at dinner in Havana and taken from the table stricken with Black Plague and died within a few hours."
I was born in Linden, Alabama, on the 5th day of August, 1871, and lived there until December 1st, 1890, when I moved with my father's family to Demopolis. I attended college (the University of Alabama) the last three of those years.
The first Circus I ever saw was John Robinson's Show. His show, when I was a boy, traveled in wagons, and visited Linden several times while I was living there. My father was the Judge of Probate of Marengo County for all those years while we resided there, and lived right at the end of the Main Street of this little town, in the center of a twenty-acre pasture. In this pasture, all the Circuses gave their performances, and the old show-ring is still visible there, though grown over with grass. I saw it only two weeks ago.
Two things I remember distinctly about the John Robinson Circus, are a very large elephant, called Anne, which died the next day after the show was in Linden, on the way to the next town, Shiloh, and the famous clown, Johnnie Lowlow, tho I was only a small boy at that time. The same show visited Uniontown since I have resided here, after I was a grown man, practicing law here. Lowlow was very old on that occasion, and was in charge of the tent where the meals were served. He made his appearance in the ring only a few moments, and called out his old time slogan, "Bring in another horse." I talked with him for more than an hour after the performance. He knew my father well.
The first time the Miles Orton Show visited Linden while I was there, and the only time, that I can recall, was about the year 1881 or 82. It was travelling by wagon train, at that time, and I saw every wagon come into town and go out.
Al G. Field was the business manager of the show, and one of the clowns. I saw him come into my father's office and arrange for the license for the performances, and listened with eagerness to the general and happy conversation that he and my father had. My father was very fond of a circus, and knew many circus people, and never missed a performance within 50 to 100 miles of his home town, and always took me with him.
The next time I saw Al Field, was in December in the year 1888 or 89. It was while I was in Tuscaloosa, at the University of Alabama, and on the nite before I returned home for the Christmas holidays.
He had organized what he called "The Military Minstrels," and as the University was, at that time, a strictly military school, his show was especially pleasing to us college boys. It was a departure from the old-time minstrel show, and opened with the prettiest DRILL I ever saw, and the nicest costumes, with all performers singing.
Field's Minstrel Show has visited Selma, thirty miles from here, nearly every season since that time, and I have never failed to go to the performance. And I have on several of those occasions had many conversations with him about the old days. And he remembered Linden and my father well.
He was quite a trim, handsome and athletic man while he was with the Orton's Shows, but grew very stout in his latter days. In all our conversations, the main subject was about the Miles Orton Shows; and the main event to me, was that first visit to Linden.
When the Orton Shows came into Linden on the day first mentioned, I discovered the prettiest little boy I ever saw, and to me he seemed much brighter than any other boy of his age I ever met. He was a little fellow, several years younger than I was, dressed in little Lord Fountleroy style, with velvet suit and long curly hair. I was so pleased with him, I obtained permission from his father to take him up to our house from the show-grounds, where the tents were going up, so that my mother could meet him. She was the kindest, gentlest soul on earth, and was so pleased with this little boy, she made him stay to dinner with us, which delighted me beyond measure.
In the performance that afternoon, Miles Orton, himself, performed a feat that I have never seen before nor since. He was a great bare-back rider, and during his individual performance on a beautiful white horse, he wound up by having this pretty little boy stand up straight on top of his (Miles Orton's) head, while the horse still galloped around the ring. I was thrilled beyond all comparison, and never have been able to decide whether the father or the son were the greater hero to me; both were great.
There were three clowns in this show, whereas, I had never before seen but one at a time, - Al Field and two others, and I still remember, and could relate many of the funny stunts that they entertained the people with.
But that pretty little boy, with his beautiful manners and bearing, is still as fresh in my memory as though I had seen him only yesterday.
Last year I saw a short paragraph in Ed Howe's paper, mentioning a letter that he had just received from Mrs. Miles Orton, of the celebrated ORTON SHOWS.
I, at once, wrote Mr. Howe, and asked him how I could get into communication with Mr. Orton, and he told me. Whereupon, I addressed a letter to him, which was answered by Mrs. Miles Orton, and in the several letters that followed between her and myself, she told me many things that I was pleased to know about the older members of the family, as well as the others who have come along since.
As one generation passeth away, another cometh; and several generations have passed since the time I first saw this show, but I hope they will still carry on succesfully; and if this show ever comes within reach of me, into this or any adjoining state, I am surely going to give myself the treat of my life by going to see it, and where I know the old-time happiness of my boyhood days will be brought back to me again. And, further, if they should ever come to THIS TOWN, before my term as Mayor expires, I will not only remit and suspend all city licenses, but will declare a holiday, from all business, and get all the people to turn out in fullest numbers.
In the last number of the "Circus Scrap Book" are several allusions to one-legged dancers, real or "imitation." and it seems to me that subject of the one-legged artiste, acrobat, dancer, skater, swimmer or bronco buster, etc., would be a good subject for an article in your excellent magazine. I have only seen one reference to the monopedic entertainer in all the books on circuses, performers, etc., that I have ever read and that was a brief reference in a German book ("Fahrend Volk," by Signer Saltarino, Leipzig, 1895). In the preface to this book, the author says, "The one-legged dancer first came into style with Julio Donato, a Spanish bull fighter, who lost a leg in a bull fight. Through industry and practise, he was able to perform the most graceful, surprising and agreeable dances. His appearance, manner and personality were far from painful. He married the daughter of the Viennese actor Julius, herself a popular actress, who bore him a lovely daughter, Dora Donato, who became a very well known light opera singer. After Donato's death, a number of "artificial" (kuenstlich) and genuine monopedic dancers and clowns sprung up, all of whom were only weak imitations of their prototype. Only the one-legged clowns who called themselves the "Donatos" after their famous original appeared not only to inherit the artistic ability of their predecessor but also his luck as well, for they were known everywhere as the "Mascots." Do any of the old-timers know when Donato lived, or when his namesakes, the Donates, lived, and what their type of work was? It seems to me that the monopede deserves at least a chapter in the history and records of the circus, acrobats, etc. Years ago, I recall seeing a performance of "Humpty Dumpty' in which a troupe of trapeze artistes numbered among them a monopede, who not only equaled but outdid his more fortunate brothers. A few years later, the monopedic teams of Conway & Leland ("The Merry Monopedes") and Manning & Ducrow were on the boards and later still, Ernie & Honegger and "Guess, Try & Guess" showed up. At present there are quite a number of onelegged "singles" in the outdoor and vaudeville worlds, possibly due to the havoc of the World War, mostly pegleg dancers, although there are skaters, bronco busters, high divers, hand-to-hand balancers, bicycle riders, trapeze artistes, barrel jumpers, wire walkers - in short, almost every line of work that a two-legged man would attempt - and some of them are better than their biped brothers. Among them are Jack Joyce, Homer Coghill, Frank "Peg" Jones, Charles Bennington, Art Stanley, King & Brown ("Broken Toys"), Smilie & Ross (Trap and barrel jumpers) and Large & Morgner. There are many others the names of which I cannot recall, except a "three act" of bicycle riders, all one-legged, the "Three Castles." Of all the 'two acts" that I have caught during the years, there are only a few of them in which both men share one pair of legs between them, Conway & Leland, Guess, Try & Guess and Large & Morgner, these teams being able to walk together on their one pair of legs, just as if they were one man. Conway & Leland made their exit as a two-headed policeman, the two male members of Guess, Try & Guess merely walked together and jumped rope that way and Large & Morgner made their entrance, the two of them clad in one suit of clothes, which they later discarded before going into a hand-to-hand routine of lifts, etc., that was superb.
Why not give the monopede his due and write him up? I read your excellent magazine whenever I get my hands on it.
CHS webmaster J. Griffin, last modified May 2006.