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Circus Historical Society

2003 Convention

Al Stencell Friday, July 18th, was more of the same good news. Diverse papers, all very well presented, all very interesting. Robert Sugarman, Vermonter Extraordinaire, addressed his favorite subject: America Youth Circus, Past, Present and Possible Future. He said so many positive things about the current state of the sundry youth circuses across these United States that this writer had to be restrained from lying about my age and attempting to enroll in such a school. He thinks that an incredible figure of over 2,000 young folks are enrolled annually in one youth circus or another, all benefiting greatly from the experience. A revelation to be sure. Fate then stepped into the program. Howard Jones, who was scheduled to present a paper on Clyde Beatty, took ill the previous week and was unable to attend (where is Dave Price when you need him). Did this untoward event cause consternation in the kitchen of Chef Al? Not hardly, it was like dropping a noodle on the floor--you just pick it up and go on with the servings. He opened his recipe book on Instant Speakers and pulled out a winner by any definition. Photo: Presenter and CHS President Al Stencell, The Life and Times of Bill English

Head Trainer Bill Anderson of the Peru Youth Circus spoke for the better part of an hour discussing his background, his involvement with the Peru Youth Circus over the years, and some of the goals and accomplishments of the performers. Being recognized by the Monte Carlo annual circus competition on several occasions is certainly a demonstration of the Peru Circus performer's success story. But there is so much more than just that. It seems that almost every one who partakes in the program grows in confidence and bearing in very significant ways. This growth is often reflected in their achieving difficult goals throughout their adult lives. Few youth programs accomplish so much, so rapidly, as this organization. As an example of skills achieved, Mr. Anderson, presented Miss Kerri Gillespie, who as lyre performer of significance, was recognized for her artistry at this year's Monte Carlo competition. Miss Gillespie talked about her training program, her feelings when she was selected to go to Monte Carlo, and her delight when she won the competition. Her CHS audience collectively had no doubt that she will go far at Florida State in achieving her circus goals.

Wrapping up the morning session was Rick Pfening's paper on African Americans in the Circus. He prefaced his remarks by stating his study was in the early stages of formulation and much more had to be researched and written. He then proceeded to present material in rapid fire fashion that was strangely reminiscent to this writer's listening as a youth to Harry Wisner, and the fastest 5 minutes in sports. Mr. Wisner, a New York sports writer of 50 or more years ago, could cover in exacting detail the first 6 days of creation and the day's activities in sports, all in less than 5 minutes. Rick did even better. He covered an enormous amount of material in the hour or so that he had allotted, all on point, all fascinating. I am not sure he had an opportunity for a single breath during this time, but we were all much more informed because of it.

Charles Conrad With the afternoon session it was clear that Chef Al was holding his piece de resistance to the precise moment of glory and the moment moment of glory and the moment arrived. Upon our return from the noontime break, there sat a 35 piece band, prepared to serve the varied needs of the conductor, Charles Conrad. Mr. Conrad had written and presented the life story of famous circus band leader, Fred Jewel, and he did so in a most remarkable fashion. As Fred Jewel's music life evolved as a musician, a conductor, and a writer of circus compositions, this evolution was reflected by the assembled musicians playing the compositions with the number and types of bandsmen contemplated at the time of the writing. For instance, the 1899 Gentry Bros. Dog and Pony presentation included 11 musicians, the number used on that Show. As Mr. Jewel grew in demand, so did his cadre of musicians until the 1917 Hagenbeck-Wallace ensemble reflected the 35 pieces present this day. Resounding music filled the auditorium as testament to the skills of circus music man Fred Jewel. Photo left: Presenter Charles Conrad, Fred Jewel (1875-1936)

Cliff Watkins As if this wasn't enough, Charles Conrad was followed by Professor Cliff Watkins, who has written and is currently writing more about the black side show bandleader George Perry Lowery. It seems that Mr. Lowery had a wonderful reputation as a bandleader. The many overhead pictures depicted not the small, ragtime group of black musicians that many of us recall in the side shows of the forties. Rather, Mr. Lowery's bandsmen were uniformed as professionally as the big show band and represented a dozen or more pieces. As we understood it, these side show bands frequently played contemporary compositions to the delight of the audience. Once again, the 35 piece aggregation pleasured the CHSers with samples of such music. It could not have been better. Chef Al closed the session with a heartfelt, passionate review of the life of the recently departed Bill English. Many personal reminisces of Al were reflected in his remarks. A very powerful presentation. Photo right: Presenter Cliff Watkins, Perry George Lowery


Band Concert As evening approached there was a street concert wherein the band that played for us was augmented by a host of additional musicians. They played a variety of pieces for the locals who thoroughly enjoyed this treat. It was then off to the nearby Elks Club for the banquet. The featured speaker was none other than Doug Terranova, a well known showman. Doug had his elephants in town for the circus festival. He also had his very skilled speaking voice in gear which he used to great advantage at the banquet. He had many humorous stories to share and share he did. He gave a wonderful talk which closed a wonderful day. Photo left: Band Concert in downtown Peru

Chief Al closed the evening with a "candy pitch." Distributing candy bars to all. Each piece of candy was in a special wrapper on which was printed a copy of the Fred J. Mack Circus letterhead, as well as a color photo of Fred D. Pfening, Jr., who owned the show in 1955.

Fred J. Mack candy bar

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