Bandwagon, Vol. 2, No. 5 (Aug), 1943. Note: Only some articles are included in this online edition. Illustrations are not included.
In years gone by, and even up to the present time, people have asked me how I happened to get into the show business. I often tell them that I was just “born” that way; that is, when I was a boy I was stung with the circus fever and found pleasure in the lure of the circus with all its enchantment, romance and adventure.
When I was a young chap and my folks took me to the circus, they usually took me into the side show and when I saw the magicians, Punch & Judy and the ventriloquist, I though then, that some day I would be a magician and also do Punch & Judy and travel with a show. I never hoped to be a ventriloquist at that time, and I discovered the art long after I was a magician and doing Punch with a circus.
When I was a young lad I also was interested in music and learned to play an alto horn. My teacher was a coronet player and had an orchestra and also would furnish a band for parades and other doings, so he used to give me plenty of chances to get band experience.
In the early Spring of 1895, he signed a contract to furnish the big show band (they only carried one band) with Stadel Bros. New United Shows, a wagon show, with winter quarters in Wellsville, N.Y. Of course when he told me that he was going with a circus, I asked to be placed. He told me that perhaps my folks wouldn’t let me troupe. I told him - Yes - they would; but he didn’t sign me up until he went to my mother and got her permission to let me go with the show.
The circus was owned by Fred. and Al. Stadel. Geo. Rich was manager and he also had dog and pony acts with the show. He owned a wagon show of his own in 1892 and showed in Ithaca, N.Y., along the latter part of May or early June in that year, as I remember. O. J. Ferguson was the agent for Stadel Bros. circus and Clarence F. Brown was the band leader.
Some acts with the show were: May Stewart and her high school horses; Leonard and Hart, bar performers, also worked in the concert. Eddie Martine, bounding rope and foot slide; Jack Lynch wire and juggling and other acts.
The show was carried on wagons and moved early in the morning to the various stands that the show exhibited in during the tenting season. I remember the show used 50 head of baggage stock and perhaps 22 or 23 wagons. All loads used two horses except the pole wagon and dressing room wagon. These used 4 horses each.
The performers rode over the road in a carry-all and the band in the bandwagon. The bandwagon was a beautiful one, with mirrors on each side and heavy carvings covered with gold leaf. The side show was owned by a man named Chamberlain of Elmira, N.Y.
The owners, executives, performers, musicians and others put up at hotels - that is, slept and ate 3 meals in hotels. The show carried a cook house for the working men.
The show opened the season in Wellsville, N.Y. on Sat. May 4th and Sunday morning moved to Balivar, N.Y. for Monday’s stand; Portville, N.Y> May 7th and Eldred, Pa. for May 8th. The show exhibited in New York State and Penna. during the entire tenting season.
The baggage wagons usually left about 5 a.m.; the performers, musicians and others were called at 6 a.m.; breakfast at 6:30 and left for the next town at 7 a.m. All hotel people with the show were given 3 meal tickets each day, and the hotel collected a ticket from each one as he or she entered the dining room for their meals. The hotel contract called for meals to be served at special hours. Dinner at 11 a.m., supper at 5 p.m. and breakfast usually at 5:30 or 6:30 a.m.
Back in those days and for some years later the circus band went down on the Main street in the evening and gave a concert to remind the townsfolk that the circus was still in town and also to remind them of the night performance.
In going through life there are little instances that happen, that don’t amount to anything, yet you never forget them. Here are a few that remain in my memory. The show was in Ridgeway, Pa., May 16th and the band leader decided that the hotel, being in the centre of the business section, was the proper place to give the concert. So when the band struck up the guests and waitresses came out to see and hear the music. After the band finished the first selection, one waitress, who I imagine was about 20 years of age, remarked, “Hell! they are only a lot of kids.” Well, we were all young. I was 18 and the others ranged in age from 20 to 25 years old.
Randolph, N.Y. was the May 24th stand. The afternoon performance moved along as usual, but at night a gang of rowdies gathered on the lot and about time for the performance to start they attempted to rush the door and were pushed back. The owners asked the town officer for protection, and he remarked that he couldn’t do anything, so the owners said that they would protect themselves. They armed the working men with stakes and layout pins and placed them around the tent and in front of the marquee, so the rowdies stood back while the show was going on. After the circus performance was over and the concert about to start, they attempted again to rush the door, the working men having gone into the tent.
The lot was back of the Main St., with a creek between the back of the stores and the lot, with a foot bridge about 4 ft. wide which was used by people to get to the Main St., without going down two blocks where a street crossed the stream.
The rowdies started for the front door about 25 or 30 strong. The show people met them with their weapons and it was a show in itself. Those rowdies started for the foot bridge and they couldn’t all get on at once, so a great number got pushed into the water in the rush, and others ran into it up to their waist. It was a laughable sight to see them and no one was injured.
The show was in Arcade, N.Y., June 4th. We were all to the hotel for supper as usual and some lingered around the Main St. after supper, watching a man with a performing bear on the street. There was a canal that ran under the street near the hotel, and the bear was doing his stunts along the back and a town drunk pushed the bear into the canal. While this was going on the sky grew black and the wind started to blow with plenty of thunder, so the baritone player and I started for the lot to get our instruments. The lot was on a Fair ground and there was a ticket office at the main entrance and the door was open. As we turned into the lot the rain came down in torrents and we went into the ticket office. When we looked out the big top was flat on the ground. After the rain was over, the tent was set up again and we showed as usual that night. We usually had 40 to 45 people with the show, that put up at the hotels. The hotel in Arcade couldn’t accommodate all with rooms, with their other guests, so we made a night drive to Franklinville, N.Y., where we showed June 5th. In my collection of circus material I have a meal ticket, concert ticket and also a hotel contract for Franklinville, for the season of 1895. I consider these prizes and consider them rare as I trouped my first season with that show.
Back in those days and years later, circuses put on a variety show which in later years was called vaudeville, for the concert after the show. They used an orchestra to play for the acts, consisting of 1st and 2nd violin, tuba, cornet, clarinet, trombone and drums. I was one of the band who didn’t double in the orchestra, so some afternoons, while the concert was in progress, I would visit the side show and watch the magician and Punch & Judy to get ideas on how to present their acts with a circus. In fact I used to do the same when a circus came to my home town for a number of years previous, for the same purpose. I didn’t learn much about magic, but I was enlightened to some extent. Although I was trouping with a circus, I was still hoping to add more to my store of magical knowledge.
I will not take up any more space now, as to how I became a magician and presented Punch & Judy myself in later years. The season of 1896 and 97 found me still trouping, and playing my alto horn in the circus band. Possibly at some future date will write-up these two seasons for the memers.
It was the magic rumble of the big red wagons, the spangled battalions for the circus and nomadic tented cities of sawdust and spangles that moved from place to place that enticed me to troupe with the circus.
J. Augustus Jones wintered his Cole Bros. Circus in Riverside, Calif., and opened the 1917 season there on March 7th. The show made a very favorable impression from the parade through the concert. It was described as a “nice” show - just right for medium sized towns.
Show had 8 seventy-foot flat cars; 5 stocks; 6 sleepers, and one in advance. Troupers say no show train was ever loaded as tightly as this one. Barely a foot of space was wasted. Cole Bros. that season present a pleasing parade which lined up as follows:
No. 1 Bandwagon, 8 grays
7 two-horse cages
4 four-horse cages
2 six-horse cages
Clown bandwagon, 6 grays
Prince Mungo, 6 grays
No. 2 bandwagon, 8 grays
3 bulls, 4 double back camels
2 single hump camels
10 ponies pulling equestrian director
Big show performance was not as pretentious as that on H-W or Ringling, etc., but was interesting. Displays were run off in the following order:
1. Spec; 2. Clowns; 3. Iron Jaw - Muriel Craft’s serial Lion; 4. Trained ponies, riding dogs; 5. riding lion (Mr. & Mrs. Gay), performing dogs; 6. contortionists; 7. Clowns; 8. Gay’s leopards; 9. Clowns; 10. Statue horses; 11. Gay’s 5 male lions; 12. perch act; 13. tumbling; 14. horse liberty act; 15. Clowns; 16. dogs; 17. swings - trapeze; 18. 3 bulls, presented by Cheerful Gardner; 19. Clown band; 20. Menage; 21. Slack wire; 22. Girl singing on horseback accompanied by trained pigeons; 23. Bucking mules.
Concert was a vaudeville show. Howard Robinson was treasurer; F. J. Rogers, Equestrian Director; J. Kennedy, boss canvasman; Whitey Crosset, trainmaster; Jack Sund, boss hostler and John Ogden side show manager.
The season’s first incident occurred at Pocatello, Idaho, where the show ran into a bad snow and wind storm. All tops were blown down and the menagerie tent and several cages were wrecked. Despite these adversities, business was good. The rest of the season was a routine affair. Cole Bros. played a number of the smaller Western towns and encountered little opposition with the exception of Texas. It is said that so many shows were playing late fall dates in the Lone Star State that it was impossible to count them.
On November 17th, 1917, Cole Bros. Circus was offered for sale. Property was listed as: 20 cars, Pullmans, sleepers all steel flats and stocks. Baggage and Parade wagons; 4 elephants, 6 camels, one group of performing lions, group of 5 performing pumas and leopards; one baloon act lion; three riding lions; 2 untrained female lions; 2 hyenas; 1 deer; 3 bears, 1 gnu, 1 sacred ox, 3 fast-working elephants, 70 draft horses, 20 ring horses, 40 Shetland ponies, seats, tents, lights, harness, etc.
Show closed November 20th at Atlanta, Texas and moved into State Fairgrounds, Shreveport, La. Jones announced that the show was for sale because he had other interests. He claimed to have the only all-steel flat and stock cars on any show.
E. H. Jones, brother of J. Augustus, operated and co-owned Cooper Bros. 2 car show that same season. This show also wintered in Shreveport. The brothers also operated the Virginia and Alabama Minstrel Shows, each on 2 cars. Cooper Bros. made 16 states, 4 Canadian provinces, 17,183 miles and closed at Howorth, Okla., December 10th, 1917.
Buyers for the Cole Show were not too plentiful, so on December 15th shops were opened and the 20 car “Gold Leafed” Wild Animal Circus prepared for the 1918 season.
No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or means
Last modified November 2005.
without written permission of the author and the Circus Historical Society, Inc.
Last modified November 2005.