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CHS Convention 2005, Baltimore
A Very Strong Finish

By Robert Sabia

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      Our president, Al Stencell, if nothing else (and he is much more than this), is a consummate showman. So none of his many friends and admirers was in the least surprised that the Baltimore convention was the strongest of the strong finishes to his four year reign of excellent conventions - Toronto, Peru, and Nyack. Indeed, the Baltimore convention, with its wonderful array of speakers, excellent location, and superior banquet speaker combined to be of the highest echelon of convention presentations in the history of our esteemed organization.


Al Stencell

      On arrival at the convention hotel, the smiling faces of Al Stencell and Alan Campbell were manning the registration desk, welcoming the attendees with a Ringling donated shopping bag of interesting circus and local items. It was but a minute that the conventioneers located each other for hours of good talk well into the night.

      James Taylor Promptly at 0900 hours on Saturday morning, Al took care of house keeping matters, giving all a comfort level that everything had been provided for. He then introduced the first speaker, James Taylor (Photo right), who took his audience on an adventure of creating a living side show museum and maintaining the same as a business venture in the city of Baltimore. He shared the good and less-good decisions in the development and operation of this most interesting project in a fascinating fashion. Not satisfied with the past, Jim has plans for a similar initiative in Washington. Jim was followe4d by our most productive author, Bill Slout, who talked about the Great Transatlantic Circus and Menagerie of the early 1870s. What should have been a profitable venture turned out to be one of a beleagured enterprise ending in great losses and bankruptcy. Bill captured it all in his most enjoyable presentation. The morning concluded with CHS'er Bob Good telling us what it is like in the world of balancing. His captivating personality riveted the sophisticated audience into "hanging on his very word" as he educated us all in the art of hand balancing.

      Bob Good After lunch Fred Dahlinger presided over the afternoon session and commenced with a perennial favorite, Stuart Thayer, who told all about the legend of Lalla Rookh, its background in a poem, and the glorification of the theme into a most successful circus pageant. He included much discussion on America's first national beauty contest. Reverend Jerry Hogan blessed his audience with the history of the religious side of the circus, commencing so many years ago, and coming to its zenith during the era of Father Ed Sullivan in the late thirties until his death in the early seventies. Jerry took us to the present in discussing in detail his life and assignment as "the circus minister" (in this case priest), aiding and abetting the circus performers life style. Fred D. continued with his afternoon session with Richard Georgian and the Russian Cossacks. I now know that the Don Cossacks were never on the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. They could not have been because the Cossacks or their equivalent were not from the River Don region, but were from the Georgia region of the former USSR. In fact, friend Richard is descended from these performers and his grandfather had much to do with the success of Buffalo Bill's presentations to the masses. The session ended with Bob Good spending his allotted time discussing the photographic work of his father, Robert Good, who in this writer's humble opinion was the finest general photographer of his era, Photo left, Bob Good.

      The day was not complete as President Al had the gathering aligned for an evening's auction. The folks came loaded for bear and engaged in a competitive bidding which contributed almost $1,500 to Al Campbell's closely held coffers. He was a happy man, and it is always a good sign when the treasurer smiles.

      With Richard Reynolds overseeing the process, Ken Kawata opened the Sunday morning session with a paper of the post WWII menagerie activities in Japan. Prime Minister Nehru of India sent an elephant as a goodwill gesture to Japan in response to Japanese children pleading with him for such a beast. What followed was a grand tour of much of Japan to enormous interest and financial success. Thereafter, traveling menageries criss-crossed Japan for the next quarter century to enthusiastic audiences. He also traced the gradual reduction of interest in menageries to the extent that they hardly exist in the Land of the Rising Sun at present. Brian Liddicoat and Richard Georgian

Photo left: Brian Liddicoat, Richard Georgian.
      Ken was followed by Brian Liddicoat's revelations regarding the creation of Barnum's Kaleidoscape. While is involvement with this important Feld's venture into the tented arena began after the formulation period, there was still much of the work yet to be done when he arrived. Work he did and his hard labors delivered a final product that met the demands of Kenneth Feld. It was a very impressive show, but did not succeed in the market place. Colleague Brian let it all hang out and delivered a first-rate presentation. The morning session closed with Dick Flint tracing the wanderings of the first elephant touring Europe since Roman times - 1629 to be exact. One continues to be amazed that there was enough information available for Dick to present a riveting story for all to enjoy.

      Dick was back to monitor the afternoon presentations. It began with Joe Parker telling all the facts and then some about a fist fight between towners and circus folks in Jacksonville, Texas in 1873. The exchange of blows evolved into gun play, fire and cutting into the structural supports of a railroad bridge that resulted in the destruction of a freight train, but not the intended train of the John Robinson Circus. Joe did not establish a clear winner, but Jacksonville, Texas did not see another railroad circus until the 20th century.
      We were left with Fred Dahlinger attempting to bring decorum to the process by talking about fire and its place as a traveling show. Not quite as violent as Joe's paper, but it had excitement of its own. In the first decade of the 20th century, several showmen introduced the traveling fire shows into the lexicon of show business. They morphed into the fine showings on the Forepaugh-Sells Circus during the 1906-1907 seasons. Interest in this form of traveling shows waned shortly thereafter and disappeared from sight around the onset of WWI. Nevertheless, during its relatively short life, it provided a very unusual backdrop of a story with which Fred, as he always does, captured the focus of his audience.
      How else could this wonderful afternoon end but having President Al regaling the attendees about his experiences with horse shows in Canada over the most recent past. It was well worth the price of admission to hear Al discuss how a couple of enterprising showmen make instant wine to be sold during the performances. And we thought that the horse business was dull. Not to hear Al tell it. Great stuff for all to enjoy. Notice that we did not report that it was great grog as well.

John Herriett, David Rawls, Buckles Woodcock
Photo: John Herriott, David Rawls, Buckles Woodcock

      For the banquet, President Stencell arranged for one of the finest examples of premier circus men in America today, David Rawls, to discuss touring throughout our great land with his Kelly-Miller circus. Listening to his thoughts and experiences, there is little doubt why his operation is so successful. His circus gives excellent value and does so with professionalism throughout. A wonderful closer to two days of pleasure.

      The next day a visit to the backyard of Cirque du Soleil was the afternoon activity. The day concluded with the performance of David Rawls Kelley-Miller Circus.

      So there you have it. It was clear to all that President Al Stencell accomplished what he obviously set out to do - A Very Strong Finish. We who attended greatly benefitted from his meeting of this high standard. A job well done.
      At the CHS trustees meeting the following were elected as officers: Robert Sabia, President; Judith Griffin, Vice President; Alan Campbell, Secretary-Treasurer. Nominated as CHS trustees were Alan Campbell, Judith Griffin, Fred D. Pfening III, Richard J. Reynolds III, Al Stencell. Terms to begin January 1, 2006.

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Last modified 2005