Bandwagon, Vol. 3, No. 4 (Aug), 1944. Note: Only some articles are included in this online edition. Illustrations are not included.
This is the story of the famous Circus Orlando in the year 1910, and if not the largest foreign circus, it was by far the most lavish and elaborate. Had only one ring, but this ring was extra large and the show traveled by train.
Its season’s travels took it through Sweden, Norway, Denmark and some parts of Germany. Played indoors at such places as the Hippodrome in Malmo, Sweden and the Tivoli in Copenhagen, Denmark.
While playing in Stockholm, Sweden in 1910 the show was attended by Count Sparre, a Lieutenant in the Swedish Army and at the time a married man and quite a dashing fellow. He saw the show and instantly fell in love with Rivira Madigan, the tight rope walker, and one of the features of the show. It seemed she also fell in love with him, or his flashy uniform and dashing manner, and to cut the story short they eloped to Copenhagen.
In Copenhagen they lived happily for quite awhile and in one room, until the Swedish Army got to looking for him for desertion, and finally located him.
Somehow or other he found out an hour before they were supposed to seize him and he shot his wife and then himself. Exit the lovers. Sometime later a song was written and published about this famous love story and in some parts of the country is sung today.
Back to the circus - which for a grand finale converted the ring into a large tank and displayed their “Spec” called Water Pantomime. This all took place in and on the water in the tank, with characters representing Neptune, Mermaids, Fish, etc. Finally a bridge was placed over the tank and the personnel and animals paraded over it. This was all concluded when riders dressed as Knights of the Round Table and King Arthur’s Court, rode on the bridge and fought with the rival group of riders. Many of the men were unhorsed and sent into the so called briny deep of the tank.
This well known circus owner was born Andrew Downie McPhee, August 13th, 1863 at Stephens Township, Ontario, Canada. Died December 7th, 1930 at Medina, N.Y.
At an early age he moved with his family to nearby Stratford, Ont., Canada, and at the age of 21 went into partnership with Clarence Austin and they put out a one-ring circus entitled “Downie & Austin Parlor Circus.”
Two years later he went with the Ryan & Robinson Show as a performer. Some of the many things he could do were tumbling, spade dancing, break-away ladder, acrobat, wire walker, juggler and also work some animals.
In 1889 he and a man named Rich organized the Rich & Downie Circus which they took out the following Spring. In 1890 at Guelph, Ont., Canada, he met and married Christena Hewer. She was better known as Millie La Tena. Many years later he put out a wild animal circus and named it after his wife. In fact it was 1914 that he put out the LaTena Wild Animal Circus and it was a ten car railroad show.
At one time he owned the famous Diamond Minstrel Show. After this he bought out Rich and took the show out under the title Andrew Downie Dog & Pony Circus.
His next venture was as a partner in the Downie & Gallagher Wagon Show. Following this he went with the Great Wallace Show. In 1911 he and Al. F. Wheeler took out the Downie & Wheeler Show. This show started out from Oxford, Penna., and they remained partners till the end of the season of 1913.
It was in 1914, as stated above, that he took out his own show (LaTena) and in two years enlarged it from a 10 car show to a 15 car show and made a tour of Canada. The show folded in 1917 at Havre de Grace, Md.
He next leased the title of the Main Circus from Walter L. Main and rolled up a fortune. Then in 1924 he sold out to Miller Bros., famous for their 101 Ranch Wild West Show.
In 1926 he was back and out with Downie Bros. Circus, and it was motorized. This show stayed on the road till 1930 when Downie retired and Charles Sparks took over the title.
Downie was a very loveable person, and certainly made a name for himself in the show business, and remained very active, even up to the time of his death, at the age of 67 years.
In August 1874 when the P. T. Barnum Hippodrome was showing in Baltimore, on a Sunday morning there came up a gale which took the big top and dressing top up in the air, doing great damage to both tops, breaking over a dozen of the long quarter poles, and smashing a great number of folding chairs. A call was sent to New York for 15 or 20 sailmakers and only one day was lost, e.g., the following Monday.
While showing in Alton, Ill. in August, 1877, the menagerie tent was close beside a long high straw stack back of a large glass works. As the evening performance was about to start someone set fire to one end of the straw stack. There was some quick work done - the canvas men cut the guy works on that side of the tent, which let the tent fall away from the fire and we got our cages out of danger, and the city Fire Department got the fire out promptly and the show went on with but little delay and with only a few quarter-poles and one centre pole broken. Also one or two cage doors broken - but there was great excitement for a little while.
In 1883, my Dad, A. C. White, went with the Barnum agent to Burma, India, to get a White Elephant. They had quite a time getting one but finally got one and brought two natives with him. They stopped in England for awhile and landed in New York in 1884. They had him on the road only one or two seasons as he got mean and they had to leave him in Winter Quarters in Bridgeport, Conn. And on November 20, 1887, the animal building caught fire and burnt most all the animals, including the White Elephant. They claimed the loss was two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, with insurance of thirty-one thousand. The elephant was not exactly white, but a sort of flesh color. At the same time that Barnum was showing a real white elephant, Adam Forepaugh had a small elephant “painted” or “whitewashed” and claimed it the only white elephant on exhibition.
C. H. White has a diamond setting that belonged to P. T. Barnum. Barnum presented this to Mr. White’s father when he brought the White Elephant over, and on his father’s death, C. H. White came into possession of this diamond stick pin.
Executive staff, Sun Brothers (George and Pete) prop’s; No. 1 Show, Geo. Sun, manager; Pete Sun, advance representative; S. E. Corbett, Treas. No. 2 Show, Thos. D. Vanosten, manager; Jack Bledsoe, advance representative; J. D. Lambert, Treas. The following people have signed: Rosilin Stickney; The Stewarts (Clarence and Bert); Ajax, Josie Brown, D. D. Strait, Chas. LaNorts, Chas. Gardner, Jenkins and Jewell, Willie Smith, John W. Dillian, Lambert Bros., Chas. Williamson, Geo. Sun, Jr. Musicians, John Shelly, director. C. F. Brown, director, P. E. Keeler, E. E. Fiddler, F. C. Ferguson, Al. H. Williams, Ike Sherman, Fred Tryon, R. S. Randall, John Walters, Kennard Walters, John Kays, Frank Lytton, B. F. Harrington, A. E. Risby and J. C. House, and many others. Both shows opened in Norfolk, Va., early in April. All canvas new, and all property will be in best condition and painted. The No. 2 show is now enroute through the South, under the management of Pete Sun, with Jack Bledsoe as advance representative. The show is making good and will return to Norfolk March 30th.
Some real opposition tactics were resorted to at Green Bay, Wisc. in July, 1900, between Buffalo Bill and Ringling Bros. outfits. The Gazette of July 11 carried an article about a special billboard. It told of how a mammoth billboard was built by the Ringling Bros. crew so as to completely hide the advertising of the Buffalo Bill Show. It said “The people along Pine St. today have witnessed with much amusement the efforts of one circus advertising crew to get ahead of another. A few days ago the advertising men of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West put up a large number of lithographs on the side of a building occupied by Wm. Sequim. In fact, they had literally covered the walls of the building well up to the roof. Today men working for the Ringling Bros. Circus began the erection of a billboard across the front of the vacant lot west of the building and hiding all posters.” From Bob Taber, CHS. Bandwagon, Vol. 3, No. 4 (Aug), 1944, p. 2.
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Last modified November 2005.
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Last modified November 2005.