Bandwagon, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Mar), 1943. Note: Only some articles are included in this online edition. Illustrations are not included.
“Hold your horses, here come the elephants!" - That was the cry of the mounted parade marshall, as old-time Circus parades drew to a noisy end. However, we wonder whether it was really the bulls, or the gaudy steam calliope, which followed, belching forth huge clouds of black smoke, and emitting tunes which ranged from raucous, to melodious songs of the day, which the parade marshall should have warned of.
If it was a parade of the Barnum and Bailey Greatest Show on Earth, the Calliope Player was no doubt Cap Carroll, who returned to the Big Show the past two seasons, to play his beloved old instrument in Spec. True, his shoulders were just a bit stooped, his face lined with kindly wrinkles, and his Steam Calliope now modernly streamlined in the best of fashion of this motor age with huge rubber tires replacing the brilliant sunburst wheels of its heyday Even the boiler was now fired by oil instead of the coal to which it was formerly accustomed. But as the six horses started, with a slight tug at the reins, Cap returned to the past. His hands caressed the keyboard and his eyes sparkled, as he adjusted the steam control, and shouted above the noise of the first note. "This is my theme song!" - Then he was enveloped in smoke and steam, and although we sat side by side on his small stool, I saw no more of Cap until the last note of "Auld Lang Syne" died away in the far corners of the Big Top.
Auld Lang Syne! It brought memories to me, too, as I thought back over the years to the first steam calliope, which was invented by Josiah Stoddard, a Seventh Day Adventist, in Worcester, Mass. Stoddard had grown tired of pumping the old Church Organ, and figured that his task could be done as well by steam, but he had no way of controlling the volume for indoor use, and on the very first time his steam organ was used, the congregation were driven to the street with ringing ears and that week’s sermon went for naught. It is interesting to note that Stoddard also wrote many hymns which are in present use, and that the first "steam organ" which was his hobby contained only enough notes to play these hymns.
Steam Calliopes next appeared on the Mississippi River Showboats, to attract crowds to the docks at which they tied. It is claimed that their first use in parade was for an old time Election rally by torchlight, when a calliope was removed from a visiting showboat, and placed on an express wagon, to drown out cries of the opposition. A circus manager was impressed by the possibilities and obtained the organ for his parades, at once, and soon all shows carried at least one of the steam chariots, which were advertised by various names, but always featured in parades of that time.
The Two Jesters Calliope was built in 1884, and was originally painted Red with Gold figures, and rolled on White wheels, with orange sunbursts. It was driven by four horses in early seasons. Later, the color was changed to Green and Silver, or blue and Yellow (and once appeared in natural colors, according to Alex. Clark, of Stamford Conn.). Among early Calliope tunes were "Camptown Races;" "Hot Time Tonight"; "Wearin of the Green"; and Bicycle Built for Two." When Jumbo was killed in St. Thomas, Ont., in 1895, the Calliope played "Auld Lang Syne", and the same tune was repeated at P.T. Barnum's Death, a few years later. Once, when "Crazy Ray" Choisser, of Cole Bros., Circus was passing thru his home town, he kept up enough steam to play his favorite tune for the natives, although it was well past midnight,
As the 1919 season drew to a close, the Two Jesters wagon was badly wrecked, when the brakes failed on the way to the runs, and one side of the Calliope was splintered, as it crashed down a hill, running over the wheel horses, which were terribly bruised by the heavy vehicle. The wagon was returned to winter quarters, and did not appear in parade again until 1934, when used by The Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus.
The last completely new carved circus wagon was the Steam Calliope built for the John Robinson Circus in 1917, and later used by Walter L. Main in the early '20's. It was usually painted Green and Gold, and was played by Deacon Albright, This Calliope is the one now on display in Henry Ford's Greenfield Village, at Dearborn, Mich., although somewhat disfigured by the addition of non-matching carving, and placing of pipes on the roof, instead of in the original position in wagon body,
Jess Adkins told me that the Calliope used by Cole Bros. Circus in 1937 was not the same used by Pawnee Bill Wild West Show, as believed by some persons, despite the Indian head in center panels. Jess claimed the Pawnee Bill Calliope was one with Clown heads, and was obtained by Sells-Floto when the Two Bill Show was purchased by Bonfils and Tammen. This S-F Calliope was stored at Peru, Ind., winterquarters, and was among the wagons recently destroyed there for salvage purposes. Walter L. Main had a wagon of similar design, but lower front section and although this was a light wagon, compared to most calliopes, was sometimes drawn by ten white or dappled horses, in parade.
But the steam blows away, and almost before the last note echoes in the near distance Cap removes the cotton from his ears, and carefully covers his organ keyboard and looks to remain undisturbed until the next parade, wherever it may be. The sun is shining brightly as we emerge from the tent, but somehow our mind seems to still wander in the hazy past. We still hear "Auld Lang Syne" and "Hold Your Horses", Ladies and Gentlemen, "Here Come the Elephants".
Indian Bill’s Historic Wild West and Mexican Hippodrome. J. Augustus Jones and Elmer H. Jones, owners, E. H. Jones, manager; H. H. Whitter, general agent. Season opened at McKees Rocks, Pa., April 22nd, 1903. Walter Leslies, managers of side show, Wm. Lane and Harry Bowman on tickets; Lewt Bill Herrington, Oriental Department. Show traveled on 13 cars, until Fall when they showed at Hagerstown, Md., on Saturday as a 13 car show and at Shepherdestown, Va., on Monday as a 3-car show. Season closed at Grafton, W. Va. Oct. 3rd. Winter quarters at Clifton Forge, Va. Two 2-car shows were put out from Clifton Forge in the Spring of 1904, viz; The Jones Model Plate Railroad Shows and Jones New Empire Show.
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Last modified November 2005.
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Last modified November 2005.