Bandwagon, Vol. 1, January, 1954. Note: Only some articles are included in this online edition. Illustrations are not included. The Circus Historical Society does not guarantee the accuracy of information contained in the information in these online articles. Information should always be checked with additional sources.
Seventeen miles west of Erie, Pa., lies the sleepy little borough of Girard with a population of 2,000. A toy factory is the only manufacturing plant, so Girard can properly be classified as a rural community.
But nearly a century ago the village was renowned throughout the States as a "show town" for it was here that Dan Rice made his winter quarters. Here, too, were the winter quarters of other shows: Thayer & Noyes, Rice & Forepaugh, G. R. Spalding & Co., Anderson & Co., and Warner, Springer & Henderson, and others.
With the exception of the latter concern, these shows were so interlocked that with the Rice debacle of 1875 each one of the shows were effected. Forepaugh and Spalding deserted the town and the star of Girard lost its brilliancy.
The Warner, Spring & Henderson show was not financially affiliated with Dan Rice, although the show was started by Dan Rice's first wife following their divorce. She married Charles Warner, business manager for Dan Rice for many years, and the show capitalized on the Rice name by being advertised as "Mrs. Dan Rice's Show." This helped perpetuate the story that Dan Rice was dead; a story first circulated along the Mississippi River after Rice became a victim of yellow fever.
The writer had the privilege of talking, some years ago, to four parties who had trouped with the Dan Rice show, but Girard borough contributes little of circus lore to the collector of circusiana. Few of the landmarks known by show folks are standing. The first Girard home of Dan Rice has been converted to the American Legion quarters; the pretentious mansion built by Rice has been razed, and so have the Rice barns and training stables. Only one building remains standing besides the Legion quarters that has circus background - the Battles barn on Walnut Street where horses and elephants of the Thayer & Noyes show were quartered, and later housing the elephants and horses of the Warner outfit. The barn was originally built for circus animals, the basement barn being used for the elephants, whose weight and trampling would wreck the framework of any structure.
In the Girard cemetery, on the headstones, may be found the names of departed show folk who once trouped with the various circuses wintering in this northern Pennsylvania village.
And it is in this cemetery that may be seen a stone reading "A. D. Martin, 1810-1896." It marks the grave of Agrippa D. Martin, one of the foremost animal trainers of his day. If any of the Bandwagon readers think that the name "Agrippa" is an odd one, it is only fair to enlighten them that it is a medical term denoting an infant born feet foremost, which was the manner of birth of the character of this sketch. He was born in New York state in 1810 and when eight years old his parents moved to Girard, Pa. The father was a farmer, and "Grip," as the lad was familiarly called, was brought up behind the plow. He weighed only 100 pounds when 18 years old, yet he had such a masterly way with animals that he could do more with oxen and horses with a word than most men could accomplish with a whip. Grip loved all animals and living creatures and in a corner of the barn he had many wild animals he trapped, and these he proceeded to teach tricks.
While still in his 'teens he was driving a stage for Col. Reed, of Erie, Pa., on the line running from Erie to Conneaut, Ohio. His masterful way with horses attracted attention and when he was 22 he became a professional horse trainer, later joining the famous Raymond, Ogden & Waring Caravan, one of the first all-animal shows in the United States.
From horses it was but natural that Mr. Martin should train other animals and he was with the caravan but a few months when he was exhibiting lions and tigers. He was absolutely fearless, and the tricks he made the big cats perform were regarded as wonderful. Old-timers had stated that a greater animal trainer never lived and that Grip performed feats with wild beasts that no modern trainer has ever attempted.
It was Grip Martin who first gave to the circus going public undreamed of feats with elephants. One of his performing pachyderms was the famous bull elephant, Hannibal, which had a reputation of being a man-killer, Yet under Martin the treacherous and ponderous Hannibal performed docilely and willingly. Martin was the only animal trainer in the world who taught these big beasts to throw him into the air and catch him on their tusks, a trick that delighted Hannibal, who would wind his trunk around the Martin and toss him high into the air and then catch the lithe trainer safely on the great tusks. It was an act that held the spectators awe-bound; men would bite in two the cigars they were smoking; women stuffed handkerchiefs in their mouths to stifle any cry, while young girls would chew on the sleeves of their dresses. Not a sound was to be heard while Martin had the great Hannibal go through his act, but when Martin was safely deposited on the ground by the giant elephant, the ovation accorded him was thunderous.
Martin trouped with many of the old-time wagon shows. He was with Dan Rice many seasons, and also traveled with Van Amburgh, as well as others. While Grip had scores of narrow escapes, and his body was covered with scars as the results of his fights when putting the cats through their paces, he never sustained serious injuries.
When he retired from the circus business it was to be a hotel keeper at Girard, and it was he who built the famous old Martin House which for many years was a rendezvous for circusmen and sportsmen. The hostelry was known far and wide for its wonderful cuisine.
He finally gave up the hotel and retired to his farm on Depot Road. He died in 1896, aged 86 years. The Martin homestead is now known as the Elmwood Home, a haven for aged folk.
Martin's daughter, Nellie, married Charles Noyes, an employe of Dan Rice and later part owner of the Thayer & Noyes Circus. She was famous in her day as one of the most daring and skillful horsewomen in America.
Bandwagon readers who delve into circus history have no doubt read how, in 1853, Dan Rice's show floated down the Erie and Beaver Canal to Girard, a village that so intrigued Rice that he purchased property and made it his winter quarters for many years, My supposition is, that young Martin, an employe of Rice, extolled the beauties of Girard to Rice, easily accessible by waterways to any point, and it was at the behest of Martin that Rice made it his home, following his trouble with Spalding who seized Rice's property in New York State.
Wichita, Kansas - November, 1953
Produced and Staged by Orrin Davenport
Equestrian Director Earl Shipley
Norman Carroll, 'Golden Voiced," Announcer
Jack Cervone, Band Director
Programe as follows:
Kayletta, High Act
The Zoppes Unsupported ladders - Johnnie Laddie Ladders
Helen Haggs Chimpanzees
Portis Sims, Pony Drill
Joandies - Juggling on the wire (this is an outstanding act)
Aerial Display -Miss Grace, Elly Ardelty, Corrine
Smetona, Perch - The Olveras, Perch - Franscisco-Delores, Perch
Miller Bros. Liberty Horses
Cilly Fiends - Dressage act, Lipizzaner Pasha
Hippo Walk around
Marjorie Cordell - The Kentons - Kayletta
The Hodginis - Portis Sims - Andens Dogs
Dogs and Ponies - Dogs and Ponies
The Tokayers - Teeterboard Acrobatic Act
The Zavatta Family - Riding Act
Al G. Kelly Bros. Circus Elephants trained and presented by Shirley and Freddie Logan
The Sensational Kays - High Wire Number
Clowns - Bozo Harrell, Joe Geiger, Bill Bentledge, Hopp Green, Gene Warnke, Toy Thomas, Cecil Eddington.
Visitors were: Mr. and Mrs. Howard Suez, Mr. and Mrs. Bob Stevens, D. R. Miller, and Bill Woodcock, "Dad" White, Conley Riding act, Jane Meridith.
Thursday night a reunion party was held back stage by the ladies. Guests were: Hattire Shipley, Mitzie Fein, Mrs. Marks, Bette Leonard, Grace McIntosh, Elly Ardelty, Corrine de Aro, Smethona Anita Olveras, Delorous, Marjorie Cordell, Miss Kenton, Shirley Logan, Miss Kay.
Letter from Sid Baker, C.H.S. Member
Paddington, N. S. W. Australia,
Sept. 17, 1953
I regret to inform you of the passing of Silvers Circus of Australia. This circus was born some seven years ago and rose to fame very rapidly.
The proprietor, Mr. Mervyn King, was, in his heyday, one of Australia's best acrobats. Other than that he become a good all rounder - horseman, wild animal man, tent man and a good business man. But unfortunately, as is the way of this wicked old world, bad health was his portion and he was compelled to take a rest.
Mervyn and I worked together for many years in other circuses and as a friendly gesture he invited me to spend my annual vacation as his guest on Silvers Circus. I gladly took advantage of the offer and spent three weeks every December with his show. Despite the fact that I've been a circus man for the greater part of my life I still love the circus. I like the sight of a circus tent by night, the gleam of light coming from the inside, the festoon lights on the outside. I like the noise and clutter of the pull down and the quiet talk of the caravan folk just before the final good night. I like the hustle of the morning get away and the scenes of meadow and farm, of mountains and streams, of rivers and oceans that are passed enroute to the next town. I like to watch the big top go up and the activities and preparations for the next performance. And more than all I like to see the crowds roll up in large numbers ready and eager to buy the only things we have to sell - tickets.
And so, (to quote a famous movie man) we reluctantly say farewell to Silvers Circus. The show is ended but the memory lingers on.
(Signed) Sid Baker
One day, the summer of 1904, the Geo. W. Sipe Educated Animal & Lilliputian Show played Louisville, Ky. I saw the parade of carved and gilt band wagons, tableau wagons, and cages which were mostly all small size, hence the name "Lilliputian" Show. There was a distinct rumble to those gaudy circus wagons as they rolled along behind clattering hooves of sleek spotted ponies. Several mounted people, mostly young, in spangled costumes were in line and the calliope of course drawn by 10 or 12 more ponies brought up the rear, to the strains of some popular tunes of the day. The parade equipment of this show was built by the well known firm Sullivan & Eagle, Peru, Ind., builders of the elaborate circus wagons for many years. I saw the night performance, and many well trained ponies, dogs, and monks were put through the various routines by competent trainers. A family of four appeared on the elevated stage riding bicycles of various types while doing their gymnastic stunts. This is an act that has entirely disappeared from the circus programs of today. There was a four pole big top, while the menagerie tent contained the ponies, dogs, the small parade wagons, and perhaps some other small animals. I do not recall the show having elephants nor a side show.
I have gathered a few authentic notes that may be of interest to circus fans, the majority whom I know never heard of the Sipe Show. Taylor Coons, who was the first general agent of Gentry Bros. Shows, of Bloomington, Ind., went to Kokomo, Ind., where the Sipe, Dolman & Blake, Dog & Pony Show was just being organized. He perhaps filled that position for a short time with the new show then returned to Gentry Bros. An item in The New York Clipper at the time named the owners as Geo. W. Sipe, E. A. Dolman, and R. J. Blake. A June, 1897, issue of The Clipper stated the show had opened the season April 14, in Kokomo, the show having 50 ponies, 100 dogs, and 25 monks. Geo. W. Sipe, business manager, E. A. Dolman, treasurer, Dan Robinson, general agent. The show moved on one 70-foot flat car and two 60-foot sleeping, dining, and baggage cars. The Clipper of April 9, 1898, carried an advertisement of the show for musicians, the name then, Sipe & Blake's Dog & Pony Show. The band leader was Tom Ogden. The Clipper of June 8, 1901, published the roster of Advertising Car No. 1 of Sipe's Educated Animal & Lilliputian Show. The route of the show was given in the Clipper of June 22, 1901.
The Clipper of December 13, 1902, stated, Prof. R. J. Blake's Dog, Pony & Monkey Circus after a good season of 22 weeks with the Bostock-Ferari carnival had closed at Lafayette, Ind. This show used a 76-foot baggage car. The Clipper of June 11, 1904, mentioned the Sipe, Educated Animal & Lilliputian Show.
SIPE GOES ON BLOCK
The following advertisement was published in three issues of the New York Clipper, the fall of 1908. Public Auction Of The SIPE SHOWS at Kokomo, Ind. 147 head of Shetland ponies, of which 70 are ring stock, presenting a 70 pony pyramid act, two drills of 16 ponies each, one set of ponies that dance a quadrille, manage act ponies, high diving pony, rope-jumping ponies, waltzing ponies, leapfrog ponies, hind-leg ponies, talking ponies, and pick out ponies. 60 dogs, 80 sets of pony harness, 20 pony saddles, 10 baggage wagons, 2 elaborate band wagons, 40 miniature cages, chariots, and parade wagons; 1 ticket wagon; 2 sixty foot Pullman coaches; two 60-foot baggage cars; one 50-foot coach converted into sleeper; 20 educated monkeys, also oscelots, lemurs, argatos, ant-eaters, dwarf kangaroos, armadillos, badgers, wild cats, 20 cockatoos, and parrots, one 14-foot python and one side show outfit. Also listed was the lot of tents, big show canvas down to smaller tents and size of each given. Also the entire lot of lighting equipment which were all gasoline lights used by the shows of that day. As to the outcome of this sale I have no information.
The Sipe title was never used later and it recalls the period when many circuses and wild west shows were touring the country. The grassy lots, the billowing white tents, (not colored canvas like some shows of the present), the blended odor of sawdust, peanuts and lemons, the natural voice of the side show talker calling attention to the line of banners with the old familiar words, "All these strange people and curiosities to be seen for 10 cents; you have plenty of time before the big show starts." These are memories we all hold dear. The fat lady, the sword swallower, the snake enchantress, the fire eater or human salamander, the old London Punch & Judy, the magician, and not forgetting the Ragtime band and Jubilee minstrels amid the exciting strains of "Peaceful Henry;" "St. Louis Tickle;" or "Noisy Bill," a few popular tunes with side show bands of that day. As the side show banners waved in the breeze some of the figures of the strange people pointed on same appeared to really be lifelike.
The spotted ponies with brass studded harness and their waving colored plumes and those small elaborate parade wagons in their gilt and glamour as they rumbled along brought thrills to thousands on circus day when the Sipe Show came to town. Like many other circuses and tent shows of those times, that have come and gone, the Geo. W. Sipe show today is but a memory.
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Last modified December 2005.
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Last modified December 2005.