Bandwagon, Vol. 1, No. 11 (Dec), 1942. Note: Only some articles are included in this online edition. Illustrations are not included.
Often do I think of the circuses that toured the country in the late 90's and early 1900's that had established a reputation for themselves for a number of years, in their respective territories and now these shows are only a memory.
One of the circuses that I recall of that period was the Gollmar Bros. Circus out of Baraboo, Wisc. Starting as a wagon show in the 90's and in 1903 going on rails and continuing until the fall of 1916 when it was sold to James Patterson. I first saw the show in Racine, Wisc., early in May 1904. I saw the show again in 1911, I was showing at Fairs in the late Summer and Fall through the Central West, that year, and showed at the Benton County Fair, in Vinton, Iowa. Sept 5 - 9th.
Gollmar Bros. Circus showed on the Fair Grounds Friday Sept 8th and the crowds were so large that day that the circus had to give two performances in the afternoon to full houses and had about two thirds house at night. Vinton being a day Fair I didn't have to show at night, so I visited the side-show and Big Show at night and I was quite impressed with the performance. I was acquainted with some of the people connected with the show in 1911 and had trouped with a few in previous years on other shows.
Some of the performers in 1911 that I recall were William Wallet and Family, Featured Riders, Garry Vanderbilt, Clown and Mrs. Vanderbilt, trained ponies; Al. Dean did menage and race riding; the Avalons, wire and swinging ladders and Eugene Enos Troupe, did iron jaw, acrobatic globe and trapeze acts.
Charles Bell was Side Show Manager; Hilda. Geary Snake Enchantress; and Flossie LaBlanche, Strong woman, The others in the side show I do not recall as I only met them that day and don't remember ever seeing then again.
On Feb. 11th 1915 1 signed contracts with Gollmar Bros., America's Greatest Shows for the tenting season of 1915. Charles Gollmar was Manager; Fred Gollmar was General Agent; Ben Gollmar, Treasurer, and Walter Gollmar, Equestrian Director. Others that I recall are Fred, Morgan, Contracting Agent; Harry Wertz, Assistant Equestrian Director; H. W. Wingert, was Bandleader; Emery Stiles and Bert. Noyes in charge of Menagerie; Fred. Seymour, Steward; Geo. Holland, Supt., of Baggage Stock and Doctor Schlack was the show Physician.
Some of the performers with the show in 1915 were the Four Howard Sisters, acrobats and iron jaw; Flying Fishers; Morales Family, Acrobats; Riders were Charles Rooney, Minnie Hodgini, Sadie Crandall and Everitt Grandall. Arthur LaFleur did Roman rings and wire act; The Loos, Roman rings and double traps; Smiletta Sisters, wire and contortion; Al. Dean and Arthur Atlas, trained ponies; Gollmar Bros., performing Elephants and trained seals and sea lions. In the Wild West after-show was Shorty Pride, trick rider and Montana Lillie, Pride of the Prairie. There were many more acts in the Big Show and after show, but I don't recall their names,
Bert Chipman was Side Show Manager; Al. Eisenberg and Geo. McMasters ticket sellers; James Harris, side show Band Leader and the Georgia Minstrels. Alistar MacWilkie, Scotch bag piper and 12 ft. whiskers; Chief Debro, Eskimo Midget; Thelma, Midget Fat Lady; Otisa and her serpents; Karsey, tattooed man; Martinez, Human Pincushion; Musical Campbells for the first part of the season. The Saters, musical act taking their place later. Marquerite Dollins and M'lle Karsey, Dancers; F. M. Farrell Magic, Punch and knee figures, which made a very entertaining side show and pleased the customers in the various towns the show exhibited in that season.
The season of 1915 the show moved on 25 cars as follows; 2 Advance, 6 stock, 11 flats and 6 sleepers. In the menagerie were 12 cages of animals including a Hippo and 7 elephants. The show didn't carry any camels that season on account of the hoof and mouth disease.
The show opened the season in Baraboo, Wisc., Sat. May 8th with the usual Grand Street Parade in all its splendour. Following is an ex-tract of write up in the Saturday evening Baraboo newspaper:
"Promptly at 10 o'clock the parade left the circus lot and wended its way through the principal streets of the city. It was an inspiring sight, bands were playing and the beautiful equipment of the parade and show property brought hearty commendation from the multitude of spectators. Comical clowns perched perilously high on great gaudy tableau wagons, did many funny stunts much to the amusement of the children who crowded the sidewalks to view the gorgeous pageant. Many open dens revealed to view the imates - savage denizens of forest and jungles. The magnificent draft stock with their shining trappings drew wagons of red and gold which glistened as they went along. There were gayly dressed lady and gentlemen riders, there were cowboys and cow girls from the far West and Mexicans from below the Rio Grande. Many bands were in the line of march and also two calliopes, the modern pneumatic style vying with the shrill voiced steam affair of olden times. Many followed the parade to the show grounds where several exhibitions were witnessed after which the side shows were liberally patronized".
The show moved in the night to Cresco, Iowa for Monday's stand, The itinerary for the balance of the week was May 11th, New Hampton, May 12, Britt; 13th Algona; 14th Emmetsburg; 15th Spencer and Monday May 17th Estherville, all in Iowa. Sat. May 22nd the show was in West Point, Nebr., and Monday May 24th in Bonesteel, S. Dakota; Tuesday, May 25th stand was Dallas, S.D., where the show was billed for two performances.
The show had encountered a lot of rain and cold weather since opening. Dallas was the first real warm day so far. In the afternoon clouds began to gather and late afternoon the sky looked like a bad storm, About six o'clock Charles Gollmar gave orders to tear down, but long before the show was off the lot the rain came down in torrents. The loading of the train was finally completed under severe handicaps of rain and mud.
The Show pulled out of Dallas in the night and when we awoke in the morning we were in Bonesteel, where an order had been put in to hold the show train on account of a bridge being washed out on the line. As the day went along word came of more washouts. It rained all day Wednesday and the rest of the week. Sunday it cleared and the sun came out for the first time since Dallas. We spent most of the time during the cold rainy weather in the depot where there was a good fire in the big pot-bellied stove. Across from the depot was the “Hotel Stevens” which had a good restaurant, and the landlord certainly did all he could to make our stay as pleasant as possible.
I was in S. Dakota in 1918 and again in 1919 but never made Bonesteel again, The show pulled out of Bonesteel, Wednesday June 2nd about 10 a.m. for Spencer, Nebr. where it was to give two performances Thursday, June 3rd without any billing. The show arrived in that place Wednesday at noon. It started raining shortly after the arrival and rained all that afternoon and night and all day Thursday and that night. The show gave two performances to fair business, despite the rain.
The town was on a hill and the railroad in the low land. During Thursday night the water was nearly up to the sleeper steps. The show left Spencer late Friday afternoon enroute to Niobrara, Neb. and after dark the train again went through water nearly up to the car steps. The engineer said at the time that he never saw the water until he got into it.
Niobrara was another wild-cat-town. No regular billing only some bills printed in a local printshop, reading that Gollmar Bros. Circus would exhibit there the afternoon and evening of Saturday June 5th. The sun shone brightly all day until after the afternoon performance. Then clouds began to appear in the sky and it became darker. Charles Gollmar gave orders to tear down and get loaded before the bridges went out again, which were to be ready for the show to move over that night. Long before the show was loaded the rain came and then word came that two bridges and 700 ft of track went out with the high water, The show stayed in Niobrara until Monday evening. The first section pulled out at 6.30 p.m. consisting of Baggage stock Baggage wagons and working mens sleepers. The railroad officials held the 2nd section until the first was over all the danger spots. The second section left at 10 p.m. and consisted of ring stock, elephants, menagerie and performers' sleepers. The show caught up with its regular billing at Hartington, Nebr., Tuesday, June 8th and moved on schedule the balance of the season and enjoyed good business.
Monday July 5th stand was Glencoe, Minn.; The Labor Daystand was at Louisiana, Mo.; September 15th stand was Harrisonville, Mo., and the lot was a sea of mud after heavy rains during the night and the show lost the day. October 1st stand was Fayetteville, Ark., on the Fair Grounds, the last day of the Fair. On account of the vast crowds that day, the show was compelled to give two performances in the afternoon and the usual show at night,
The route for 1915 covered the States of Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, S. Dakota, N. Dakota, Minnesota, Upper Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
The show closed the season in Kingfisher, Okla., on Monday October 18, and returned to Winter Quarters in Baraboo, Wisc. The homerun was 927 miles,
Anyone passing through the little town of Girard Penna., on U.S. Route 20 may well wonder what sort of person would build a large three story house on the main street, just off the centre of the town, and decorate the front of it with carvings of Clowns! What sort of person would build a "Summer" and "Well" House and guard their entrances with iron statues of lions! And sprinkle his lawn with more statues of bears and deer.
That is the former home of the man who made the red, white and blue suit and chin whiskers of "Uncle Sam" famous; the man, who, while a circus clown, published a newspaper and ran for president of the United States. The man, who, in his time, and possibly in all time, was the highest paid clown to ever step into a circus ring - that King of Jesters - DAN RICE.
In 1937 while on my way through Girard I thought of Dan Rice and so inquired as to where his home was. It was on a dark rainy Spring day late in May. The old house looked very gloomy with its paint peeling off, its blank windows and its once beautiful lawn knee-high in grass and weeds, with vines and rose bushes running wild, and broken limbs scattered about.
The once-gaily painted clowns in the front of the house, over the front porch were no longer gay, but dull, cracked and weather beaten.
In the rear of the house, some distance away was a small hill or mound topped by an ornamental Summer house, fallen to ruins and guarded by two sitting Lion statues at the foot of what was left of the flight of stone steps that once led to the top.
Another Summer house was guarded by a large standing lion statue while scattered about were other animal statues, all life size. The estate is on a corner, facing the main street and extends back a full block. Facing the street at the rear in a long, low shed-like building, doors sagging down and roof caved in in places, which at one time housed many gaily colored hand carved parade wagons.
And that is all that is left of the house of the most widely known clown in the world - DAN RICE.
I am writing this short trip down memory lane, because I get a kick out of dreaming of the wonderful circus days of yesteryear, when you and I were young, Old Timers. I also hope this dream of mine will conjure up a flock of happy memories for the other old fans, who like myself, got their greatest circus thrill in the days of the old "one ring” shows.
Maybe the young circus fans of this generation, who read this, will get a kick out of it also, I hope they do, for somehow I pity the youth of today who know the circus only as a mammoth, streamlined, three rings and two stages affairs, where there is so much going on you can't catch a fifth of it, for they can hardly realize the thrill of those old time intimate one ring outfits.
How these young folk would have loved those early "Sells" equestrian feasts. Why those Sells boys had the grandest educated horses this world has ever seen, and in the tiny one ring and hippodrome a fan got to see them at their best and not divided up into several troupes so you never could tell what it was all about. You fellows know the name of Ringling as it is today, but wouldn't you have got a thrill out of their little old wagon show that toured the dusty summer trails out of Baraboo, Wisconsin.
There were two features of those early one ringers that I was a sucker for, or as we say now "I was nuts about". The Leaps and the Clown song. They were just naturally and a feature of every performance. All male performers had to double in the Leaps, When the call "All out for the Leaps" rang out in the dressing tent, it meant every man had to trot out and line up by the runway for this thriller.
At the edge of the hippodrome track was a long elevated runway, with a spring board at the end. In front of this spring board a couple of horses and an elephant would be placed. The performers came running down this runway, hit the springboard, whirled out over the animals, landing on a monster straw-filled mattress. Then another elephant and more horses would be placed and over they would go, until finally there was such a line up that only the Star Performer could make it. To see those men do the double turns on those long leaps had the audience yelling. Then there were lots of laughs too, for the clowns never could make the leap but would land on the back of an elephant, fall over the other animals, land on the mattress and get up for a bow, others would sneak under the animals.
The other feature, The Clown Song, came a little later in the program. The band would strike up the introduction of one of the popular songs of the day. The Singing Clown would come trotting out. These fellows all had big baritone voices that reached to every part of the big top and always seemed able to deliver a song in a way that had the audience yelling for encores.
Of course the size of the modern circus makes such "close up" stuff impossible and it may not sound very exciting, but just the same we loved it and miss it still, for no matter how grand the modern circus may be, I for one will never feel it is complete without the Leaps and the Clown Song.
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Last modified November 2005.
without written permission of the author and the Circus Historical Society, Inc.
Last modified November 2005.