Bandwagon, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Jun), 1945. Note: Only some articles are included in this online edition. Illustrations are not included.
By C. E. Duble, CHS Historian. Bandwagon, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Jun), 1945, pp. 1-3.
The Norris & Rowe Circus first took to the road in 1902. Its territory for five years being that along the Pacific Coast area, and the North West with headquarters either at Oakland or Venice, California. If I am not mistaken, C. I. Norris and H. W. Rowe were the original owners. This circus met with success from the start and became popular in a few years. Important towns and cities were included in its route each year. I have no record of the number of cars required for transportation at the start, however, it was around the 20 car class. For the Summer of 1907 and 1909 the circus went as far east as Fredericton, New Brunswick in Canada, playing that city both years. The Fall of 1909 found the circus in Southern Indiana, new territory for this show, and at that time was in financial difficulties. While showing in Princeton, Ind., in October of that year, a severe wind storm did quite a bit of damage to the show and some people were hurt. The tour ended in October and Evansville, Ind. was selected for winter quarters. One or two of the elephants died during the winter.
The 1910 season opened in Evansville, April 15th and 16th. The city was well billed with attractive billboard and litho displays and good newspaper ads. Advertising car No. 1 was ten days ahead and back with the show there were 22 cars, all in a very much run-down condition, and had never been painted from the season before. All flats were the old 60 ft. wooden type and sagged badly in the center when loaded with the heavy wagons. None of the wagons had seen paint from the year before either. There was a new side show tent with all new banners but all other canvas had been used the previous season. Show had quite a spread, with a 4-pole big top, double row of quarter poles, two rings and a center stage.
Bad luck started with the circus from the opening day. The weather was ideal, and parade went out on time, while the streets were packed with crowds to see the advertised event. All parade wardrobe was from the year before, while all the ring and baggage stock was sleek, presenting a good appearance. There were a few elaborate hand-carved tableau and two band wagons that were still with the show from its prosperous days. During the afternoon show on the opening day, the wardrobe lady with the circus shot and killed a man for peeking into the ladies dressing room. From reports this fellow had been warned several times to stay away. The happening caused some excitement on the lot. The lady was arrested and placed in jail, but I do not know how the case was settled. The next morning there was a full account of the shooting on the front page of the Evansville Courier, with a sketch of the tent, firing the shot, etc., drawn by Karl K. Knecht, cartoonist of the paper, and one of the first CFA members.
The only ones of the staff that I recall were Walter Shannon, manager. The Press agent with the show was Herbert Maddy. Chris Zeitz was in charge of the elephants. Charlie Tinney was bandmaster with a very high class band of 22 real circus musicians. The writer was one of the band.
Tinney had been leader with Cole Bros. Circus (Martin Downs, owner 1906-1909) and most of the musicians were from that show. Who the manager of the side show was I do not know, but among the attractions were Chief De Bro, Eskimo midget, along with his wife. They were from Kendallville, Ind. (not Alaska), and the writer trouped with them with the Mighty Haag Circus later. The original Barnum’s “What is it?” - Zip - was there with Cap White in charge. This was a famous freak later with Ringling Bros. and still later with Ringling-Barnum Circus. There was a good colored band and minstrels and usual line-up of annex attractions. In the menagerie there was an airplane exhibition, a novelty at that time.
The big top performance was high class with a well balanced array of various acts throughout the program. I think Stick Davenport was equestrian director, a noted rider of that era. These acts I recall from memory.
The Flying Moore’s - four people from Muncie, Ind., did a high class aerial return act also the DeComa’s four people. Latter were with John Robinson 10 Big Shows later on. Performed to the strains of “Over the Waves” waltz. There were two Jap troupes who did a remarkable exhibition of foot juggling and balancing. Baker Troupe trick bicycle riders performed on the center stage. Later with Barnum & Bailey Circus. The Davenport’s were the featured riders doing their wonderful riding with beautiful horses. Four people or more. Albion Sisters did trapeze, iron jaw and rings, likewise the Earl Sisters. Jack Albion was head clown. Stoddard and Wallace were also clowns and were with Sun Brothers Circus later. The old time hippodrome races closed the show and the old style after show concert was in vogue at that date. No wild west acts of any kind. The march played for the tournament or grand entry was “On Dress Parade,” the same used by Gentry Bros. also.
From Evansville the circus went to Henderson, Ky., which was Monday, April 18th, a chilly day, snow flakes fell during the parade, and both shows given to fair business. Princeton, Ky. for 19th and Paducah, Ky. for the 20th. Money had to be advanced for transportation. Both shows at latter town lost and weather cold and cloudy. Hopkinsville, Ky., 21st, another cloudy day. Parade and both shows given to fair crowds. Delay leaving caused shows at Central City next day to be called off. More cash needed for moving train was the rumor. Owensboro, Ky., Saturday 23rd, cold day and snow fell during the afternoon show. Business poor. Louisville, Ky. was the Monday date, April 25th and 26th. Parade was out on time, and both shows given to good business. Weather was ideal Monday, but Tuesday poured rain all day. Show started loading at four o’clock in the afternoon.
Seeing things were going from bad to worse, I, like many others, took the hint. I had written Harry Crigler, bandmaster Gentry Bros. Famous Shows, which had just started from Bloomington, Ind., that I could join at once. Day after Louisville, Norris & Rowe was at Shelbyville, Ky., a warm sunny day and parade went out and afternoon show given. For some reason no night show. I went to the cars after performance and a crowd of us were talking near the small wooden railroad station when a messenger boy from the station came along with a handful of telegrams. Asked did he have anything for me, he looked and had a message. It was good news. A six word message “Join at New Albany, Ind., Thursday,” signed Harry Crigler, Gentry Bros. Shows. I lost no time getting my belongings off the sleeper and was told by the railroad agent there was no train until next morning. (I had an easy jump to New Albany, less than fifty miles and arrived in time for breakfast in the cook tent. The white tents and everything else new were going up, the show had just started the season a few days before. Here I found all peace and contentment.)
It was after midnight when the Norris & Rowe circus was loaded at Shelbyville. I could see it load from the station, and I wondered how far it would go. The caboose at the tail end of the last flat, with its red light at both sides, was the last I ever saw of the ill-fated circus as it disappeared in the darkness headed East.
A week later the show was billed for Newport, Ky. (opposite Cincinnati). When it arrived there it was attacked by one of the large lithographing companies. Notice appeared at the time in the Cincinnati Enquirer. No one received any salary. Show folks had no trouble being placed with other shows. There was plenty to choose from in 1910!
A few days later, Col. Ben. E. Wallace, of the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus had the Norris & Rowe train with all equipment taken to Peru, Ind., and the property was offered at auction sale in June, and another sale in August. Both sales I remember were advertised in the Billboard. I have one of the flashy letterheads of the circus with picture of H. S. Rowe as owner and manager. Also picture of the elaborate band wagon with mirrors, with the sleek team of eight dapple greys.
This was the end of the Greater Norris & Rowe Circus that had gained popularity in less than a decade, especially in the North West, beyond the Rockies. The title was never used since.
Louis Thilman died from a shot at Dunnville, Canada, May 25, 1920. Was assistant manager of Howes Great London Shows.
Alonzo Moore died in an auto accident outside of Denver, July 27, 1920, at the age of 55. Was a very famous clown.
Chas. Wilson died at Chicago, Ill., Aug. 7, 1920, at the age of 48 of heart failure. Was general traffic manager for R.B.B.B.
B. E. Wallace died in Rochester, Minn., April 8, 1921, at the age of 73. Just 8 years before this he sold the well known Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus.
George Kelley died at Binghampton, N.Y., April 4, 1921, at the age of 80. Was one of the best leapers in his time.
Sam Stickney died at Chicago, April 11, 1921, at the age of 76 of heart failure. One time circus owner and clown and rider.
John Robinson died at Miami, Fla., April 30, 1921, at the age of 78, of bronchitis. One time circus owner, performer, and manager.
Chas. Pfeeney died at Denver, Dec. 1, 1921, of small pox at the age of 40. Was a circus 24 hr. man.
Johnnie Wilson died in Cincinnati, Feb. 7, 1922, at the age of 78. Was one of the better horseback riders.
Dave Costello died at Henderson, N.C., Oct. 16, 1922, at the age of 60. Was one of the most famous circus riders.
Louis Cooke died at Newark, N.J., Mar. 18, 1923, at the age of 73. Very noted writer and circus general agent.
George Arlington died at New York at the age of 73 of heart disease. For 30 years was general manager for Barnum & Bailey. Died on Dec. 1, 1923.
George Conklin died at Bridgeport, Feb. 25, 1924. Was head animal trainer for Barnum & Bailey.
H. E. Wheeler died in the Elks Home at Bedford, Va., June 19, 1924, at the age of 72 of apoplexy.
Taylor Coons died in the Elks Home at Bedford, Va., July 9, 1924. Was first general agent for Gentry Bros. Dog & Pony Show.
H. H. Tammen died in Denver, July 19, 1924, at the age of 68. Was at one time part owner of Sells Floto.
Sam McCrackin died in Chautauqua, N.Y., Jan. 1, 1925, at the age of 50. Was assistant manager of Barnum & Bailey.
Orrin Hollis died in St. Vincents Hospital, Toledo, Ohio, Feb. 23, 1926, of heart and lung trouble at the age of 68. Was one of the famous bareback riders in his time.
W. E. Franklin died at St. Petersburg, Fla., March 29, 1926, at the age of 73. In his day one of the most capable and best known agents.
Simon Schaffer died in Omaha, July 19, 1926, at the age of 76 of heart trouble. One of the world's greatest trapeze performers.
Annie Oakley died in Greenville, Ohio, Nov. 3, 1926, at the age of 60. Correct name was Mrs. Frank Butler. Was champion rifle shot. Body was cremated.
Chas. Ringling died at Sarasota Dec. 3, 1926, at the age of 62 of cerebral hemorrhage.
Joseph Miller died at Marland, Okl., Oct. 21, 1927. Was part owner of 101 Ranch Wild West Show.
Robert Stickney died in Miami, Fla., Feb. 24, 1928, at the age of 81. Was a famous circus rider, a great leaper and tumbler. Known as The Apollo Belvedere of the Arena.
Sig Sautelle died in Glenn Falls, N.Y., June 21, 1928, at the age of 80. Correct name was George Satterlee.
Gil. Robinson died in Cincinnati, Aug. 17, 1928, of stomach trouble at the age of 84. Was the son of John Robinson.
George Miller died when his car skidded near Ponca City, Okla., Feb. 2, 1929, at the age of 48. One of the owners of the 101 Ranch Wild West Show.
Chas. Gollmar died in Baraboo, Wis., Feb. 17, 1929, of heart attack.
Chas. Forepaugh died in West Berlin, N.J., July 17, 1929, at the age of 92.
Otto Floto died in Denver, Aug. 4, 1929, at the age of 66.
Jerry Mugivan died in Detroit, Jan. 22, 1930, following operation for hernia at the age of 57. In circus business for 30 years. One time President of American Circus Corporation.
Dan Ducrow died in Pittsburgh, Aug. 11, 1930, at the age of 75. Last of the famous circus clowns of that time.
Fred Warrell died on Floto show train on its way to Winston-Salem, N.C., Sept. 13, 1930, at the age of 59. Assistant manager of Sells Floto.
Andrew Downie died at Medina, N.Y., Dec. 17, 1930, at the age of 67. Correct name was McPhee.
Lillian Leitzel died in Copenhagen, Denmark, Feb. 15, 1931, at the age of 37. Body cremated.
Johnny Baker died at Denver, April 22, 1931, at the age of 62. Adopted son of Buffalo Bill.
John Slater died in Montreal, July 13, 1931, at the age of 61 of pneumonia. One of R.B.B.B. principal clowns.
Al G. Barnes died on the Robeson Ranch which is near Indo, Cal., July 25, 1931, at the age of 68.
Wm. P. Hall died at Lancaster, Mo., June 29, 1932 at the age of 68. Was a circus owner, exporter and buyer of horses.
Back in 1915, several Cedar Rapids, Iowa business men, encouraged by Vic and Charles Hugo, thought it an easy thing to run a circus. So they launched the Hugo Bros. Modern United Shows. A high class dog and pony show along the lines of Gentry Bros. Vic Hugo was manager; Len B. Williams, G. A.; James Beatty, side show; and Ray Thompson, Eques. Dir.
Show opened the 1915 season on May 10-11 in Cedar Rapids, under a 120' round top with 3-40s and used three rings. A fine parade with Shetland ponies, three bandwagons, 4 bulls, and a steam calliope was presented. The show traveled on 15 sixty-foot cars.
Biz at the start was very good considering this being a war year. Later in July rain hurt the show plenty. Its route was West into Nebraska, then East into Minnesota, Illinois, and Iowa down into Missouri.
A lot happened in Illinois. The hoof and mouth disease broke out among the livestock. On August 14, Vic Hugo was replaced by H. S. Rowe, for many years associated with the Norris & Rowe show. Len B. Williams took the show into Chicago for two weeks starting August 27. During the circus date a terrific fight took place on a show lot located at Van Buren and California Ave. Much damage resulted from this “Hey, Rube.”
After Chicago a few dates were played and then the show returned to Cedar Rapids. That fall the show was re-organized by L. J. Stark, a jewler of this city, who was one of the main backers. On Dec. 8, Vic Hugo vanished leaving affairs in very much of a tangle. Elmer Jones bought the unused Hugo paper and had a two-car show touring the mid and northwest.
In 1916 the show came back in glorious form with the title of Coop & Lent United Monster Shows. W. L. Hanwright was Mgr.; Frank C. Cooper, G. A.; W. C. Cox, Adjuster; Jack Cousins, Eques. Dir.; Art Eldridge, Lot Supt.; and Cal Tower’s Side Show with J. S. Rigger’s Minstrel and Band, Viola Larkin and her seven big serpents, Barney Crutch, tatooed marvel, Grace Allen, Thousand Eyed girl, and Minnie Carl, fat girl.
Frank C. Cooper, an old-time showman, put the show together using the cars, wagons, seats, etc. formerly used by Hugo Bros. The show was named after William C. Coup and Lewis B. Lent, both old showmen of the past. Through some error of the printers, the spelling of Coup was changed to Coop. Mart E. Godwin painted the show wagons and a fine parade was put out. Twenty cars (eight flats, five sleepers, five stocks, pie car, and advance) were used. The bulls and animals were leased from the Hall Farm of Lancaster, Mo. and Horne of Kansas City. Much of the baggage stock was hired. This leased property caused the show to barely break even.
Big top was the same size and menagerie was a 70' round top with 3-30. Animals included 60 baggage horses, 27 ring horses, 5 bulls, and 3 camels. No outstanding feature was carried, but a good performance with the Davenports, riders, Waltons and Rodregelez Troupes, acrobats, and Zendas, trapeze, adding color.
The early routing was good, although on opening date in Cedar Rapids, a chilly rain hurt biz. Route thru Indiana, Ohio, Penn., and southern New York was very good and the show made money. The plan had been a tour thru New England, but during July a bad infantile paralysis epidemic broke out and the circus went into Canada. Business was off on the return swing and the show closed at Oak Park, Ill.
The circus was moved from Cedar Rapids to Dixon, Ill., and the Dixon Amusement Co. was organized. L. J. Stark and a man named Lawrence were main backers. Jess Adkins was the new manager. On April 25, the show opened in Dixon on a cold and rainy day. Afternoon biz. was off, but good night crowds. It again moved on 20 cars with 80 horses, 10 cages of animals, 5 bulls, and 2 camels.
Program: 1. Grand Entry. 2. Aerial Ladders - Humpreys & Wolfgrams. 3. Equestriennes - Misses Guice and Davenport. 4. Ponies - Maude Dillion and Ethel Schafer. Pete Taylor’s Bears. 5. Statue Horses - Etta Meyers and Mrs. Greer, principals - Stick Davenport and Walter Guice. 6. Traps - Haydens and Kafkas, Pete Taylor’s Tigers. 7. Comic Acro. - Kent Bros., Harts, and Kafka. 8. - High School Horses - Etta Meyers, Mrs. Greer, Mr. St. John, and Miss Schafer. 9. Clowns. 10. Pete Taylor’s Lions. 11. Wire Acts - Wolfgrams, Alex Lowande, and Haydens. 12. Clown barber shop and Jargo. 13. Riding troupes - Davenports and Guices. 14. Iron-jaw - Hart Sisters and Kafkas. 15. Alex Lowande’s Comic Mule.
Several incidents happened. On opening day a team hauling a den broke and ran, injuring several by-standers. A few days later at Warsaw, Ind., Archie Paul fell from his wagon and was killed instantly under the wheels. On May 12, at Kenton, O., a stock car containing 5 bulls and 2 camels caught fire when a gasoline lantern carried by a colored elephant man exploded. The car and straw was soon a mass of flames. Two of the bulls were suffocated and a third so badly burned it had to be destroyed. Two showmen were overcome by the smoke.
This was a bad blow as the show had to pay Hall $8,000 for the bulls. Two more were leased. The bodies were sold as fertilizer of $11. After a long struggle the show closed at Connellesville, Pa. on July 11, and sold to L. S. Horne, the Kansas City animal dealer. He, in turn, sold most of the equipment to the H. W. Campbell Carnival. The season of 1917 was so bad that one backer committed suicide.
The circus was reorganized after the 1917 closing by Mr. Horne. He, with the aid of R. M. Harvey, equipped the show with motor trucks, many of which were covered with fancy scroll work. The circus opened at Cottage Ave. and 115th St. in Hensington, Ill., on May 25 to large crowds. The circus was billed by an advance crew which also used motor trucks. An unusual ting was that the show carried two kid shows - Jack Rhode’s Side Show and C. Sidmeyer’s Big Ten-In-One. Two rings and a stage in the center made an imposing layout for the new show. Weather was perfect.
The show got off to a right start, but when they crossed the Ohio River from Kentucky, they ran into bad roads. Due to this and the fact that the huge trailers were too much for the truck engines, the show was from two to three days behind its billing. The show closed at Dover, O. on August 18, after another hectic season.
Now don’t start believing Coop & Lent was the first to use trucks. It wasn’t. Many of the wagon tricks used trucks along with horses. Coop & Lent was the first to travel entirely by truck. Coop & Lent passed into history after being sold to Bernie Wallace, and so another show disappears from the ranks, only to be remembered as the Greatest Hard Luck Circus Of All Time.
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Last modified November 2005.
without written permission of the author and the Circus Historical Society, Inc.
Last modified November 2005.