Reminiscences of a Circus (1810)
Sale of a Menagerie (1854)
Circus Reminiscences of "Long Ago" (1877)
Striking the Circus Tent (1882)
Circus Reformation (1884)
The 3d of May, 1810, the first circus that ever visited Newburyport [Massachusetts] came into town. . . . A board pavilion was erected in an unoccupied lot; this was furnished with seats in the pit, which surrounded the ring; above was a gallery, with boxes, comprising the dress-circle. There was a stand for musicians. The exhibitions were on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The doors opened at half-past three and the performance commenced at half-past four. Tickets to the boxes were one dollar; to the pit, fifty cents; children under ten years of age, half price. The performance commenced by 'Grand Military Manoeuvres by Eight Riders.' . . . The music consisted of half a dozen performers on the bugle, clarionet, bass-viol and violin. As the moment arrived for the performance to commence, at a bugle-call in dashed the eight horsemen, in a showy uniform, in single file; they rushed around the ring; then followed a series of feats of horsemanship and military tactics. . . . The military exercises over, Master Tatnal performed several gymnastic feats. He was followed by Master Dufee, a negro lad, who drew down the house by feats of agility, leaping over a whip and hoop. Mr. Codet signalized himself in feats of horsemanship. Mr. Menial, the clown, amused the audience by buffoonry and horsemanship. Mr. Cayetano executed on two horses the laughable farce of 'The Fisherman, or the Metamorphosis.' With a foot on each horse, he rode forward Habited as an immensely fat fishwoman, in a huge bonnet and uncouth garments. Riding around the ring, he divested himself of this and several other suits, ending in making his final bow as an elegant cavalier. The young African next performed feats of horsemanship and vaulting, danced a hornpipe and other figures, ending by dashing around the ring, standing on the tips of his toes. The trained horese Ocelet postured himself in various attitudes, danced, and took a collation with the clown. Mr. Cayetano performed 'The Canadian Peasant,' and feats of horsemanship with hooks, hat and glove, terminating by the leap of the four ribbons, separated and together. Mr. Cayetano performed the pyramid, with young Duffee on this shoulders as 'Flying Mercury.' Then came the trampoleon exercise by Messrs. Menial, Codet and the young African; somersaults over men's heads, and a leap over six horses. The next scene was 'The Pedestal,' the horse of knowledge posted in different attitudes. Ther performance concluded with the 'tailor riding to Waterford upon the unequaled horse Zebra,' by Mr. Menial, the clown. This was a most laughable farce, Zebra being a donkey, trained to the part. This elicited a storm of applause, the the performance ended with cheer after cheer.
From the New York Clipper, April 2, 1881. The author stated that three years later this circus lost its entire company on their passage from New Orleans to Havana.
John May, the clown, was admitted to the insane department of Blockley Almshouse, Philadelphia, May 13, 1854, where he died June 12th, of the same year. He was struck on the head out West by a stone, from the effects of which he lost his memory and was unable to perform for some time. He was a very worthy man, strictly temperate, and of a very lively wit. His old companions supported him until it was found that he could receive better nursing and attention at Blockley, where he was sent. John was born in Orange County, State of New York, September 7, 1816. When a boy he was apprenticed to a tailor, but having a soul immeasureably buttons, and feeling no desire to become distinguished as a knight of the shears, he soon cut the business, and we soon find him connected with a circus company, for which profession he had always entertained a predilection. From that day his course was one of continued honor and profit, he having amassed quite a competency in his business, and attained a reputation second to none of his rivals. In 1844, he visited Europe professionally, and performed with eclat at all the principal circuses of England, France, Spain, &c. He extended his travels into Africa, and subsequently visited South America. The announcement of Mr. May's name upon the bills was sure to secure a full house. In private life he was highly esteemed for his many virtues, proverbial liberality, and excellence of heart. Having travelled much, he had accumulated a valuable fund of information and anecdote, and was always as pleasing and attractive in private conversation, as in a professional capacity. His first appearance before a Philadelphia audience took place March 19, 1845, at the Old National Theatre, as Johathan in "The Heroic Struggle of 1776."
Mary Ann Cooke, daughter of Wm. Cooke, equestrian, died at Halifax, Yorkshire, England, from the effects of a severe accident. She was thrown from her horse against the side of the ring while performing, and her skull was fractured. She was but eleven years old, but a great favorite.
William Harington [Harrington?], equestrian, a native of Boston, died at Milledgeville, Georgia, Nov. 4, 1835, age 31. Some time previous to his death he was in St. Louis with Rockwell's Circus, and having on a certain occasion fallen from his horse, he was considered deranged. While in St. Louis he made several attempts to kill himself by discharging a revolver through his left cheek. He then shot himself through the head, a ball being in the pistol each time. He ran into the entry of the Hotel with the blood streaming down his face. Upon some friends attempting to stop him, he discharged a bullet at them, but missed them. He then invited a friend to see him shoot himself, and seating himself on a pile of wood, deliberately lodged the ball in his brain. At the time of his fall from the horse, he injured his head, and soon after showed signs of irritability.
James McFarland, attached to Spalding & Roger's Circus Company, met with his death while travelling in Western Missouri, at the hands of a Mr. Roberts, landlord of a hotel in Liberty, Missouri. It seems that Spalding & Roger, and North's Company were both to perform in Liberty on the same day. Md'lle Costello, formerly Mrs. McFarland was with North's Company. The landlord had received positive from North, not to allow any one to see the lady, and to keep a strict watch over her. McFarland learning that his wife was there, called and demanded of the landlord permission to see her. He refused, when McFarland proceeded up stairs, and the landlord seizing a bowie knife put after him. Hard words ensued, and drawing their weapons simultaneously a desperate fight occurred. McFarland was stabbed in the neck, separating the jugular vein, and was also cut several times in the body; he died in three minutes. The deceased drew his weapon and fired one load, but missed his antagonist. Every attempt to fire subsequently was ineffectual, from the caps snapping. The burial of the deceased took place the following day adn was attended by all the members of Spaulding & Roger's company.
Sol. J. Lipman died in Cincinnati Nov. 2, aged 44. He was long and favorably known as a clown. Sol was a native of Philadelphia and followed the vocation of clown for upwards of 30 years. He was full of eccentricity and fun, a man of honor and a warm friend.
Jack Whittaker [John S.]. This celebrated equestrian died in April 1847. He was at Vera Cruz, and on the bloody field of Cerro Gordo, where he escaped in safety, though he left his mark on the body of many a greaser. He was afterwards wounded in a skirmish with a Guerrilla party, and taken to the Hospital. He had nearly recovered from his wounds, when he fell a victim to camp fever. His last words were "Boys, I've rode my last act - it was my best engagement, and my last; give always your horse a loose rein, but never desert your flag." Green be the turf about thee, glorious Jack.
James Stokes, slack rope vaulter, was killed by the Cherokee Indians while traveling on foot to Montgomery, Ala., in 1833. He was an Englishman of West's company.
Robert Lowry, for many years a clown, died at Dr. Stone's Hospital, New Orleans of Consumption, in 1840.
Ivan Showeriskey, noted for his slack rope performance, of suspending himself by one heel, and then, while a shriek arose from the females comprising the audience, he would plunge into the air, with "a jerk" sufficient to break the bones of a common man. While he was swinging by his heel in Baltimore, in 1836, the rope affixed to the heel and attached to the large cord, suddenly broke, and he plunged head foremost to the earth, upon which he alighted senseless. He had his leg amputated, and shortly after died.
Frank Brower, clown, was born in Baltimore. The appearance of Frank in the ring is the cue for mirth; and his jests, always chaste and original, are such as would make a stoic hold his sides. I have spent many an hour listening to the laughter provoking jests of Uncle Frank, and must confess that, as a clown, I think he has but few equals. Madame Louise Brower, formerly Louise Howard, maiden name Banks, was born in Baltimore, Md. This celebrated and wonderful female equestrian received a greater amount of sincere, unbought, and enthusiastic applause, than was ever awarded to any other person who has attempted the daring and heroic art which she practised. Her unrivalled grace and astounding daring have been themes of eulogium, astonishment, and admiration, in all of the more populous cities of Europe. She is the only equestrian who ever graced this country who rides with that Grace, Daring and Elegance taught only by the Parisian Schools; and she is acknowledged to have no superior in any part of the World! She is at present living in Philadelphia.
Ira Cole, Circus manager, and a famous wrestler in his day. Born in the state of New York.
William Myers, a clown of some merit. Born in Baltimore, and died in Philadelphia in 1856.
Robert Williams, brought to this country by Cooke, from England, in 1837. Was still living in 1858.
Geo. Sargent, an excellent equestrian of his day; he was born in New York.
Geo. Sweet, equestrian and tight rope performer, attached to Bowery Amphitheatre, Buffalo, threw himself from the third story of the Eagle Tavern. He had for several days been laboring under a species of insanity, and attempted to make way with himself by taking opium.
Noel E. Waring died at New Orleans, February 1854. He was extensively known as manager of Circuses and Menageries throughout the United States. He was highly esteemed by all who had the pleasure of his acquaintance. He possessed a good heart and had all the fine feelings that characterize the philanthropist and the friend in need. His memory should be held in the highest estimation and cherished with affection and respect.
Pepin's Circus disbanded forever at Nashville in 1829. The only members of that company now living are Peter Cotz [Coty?] and Jas. Burt. Cotz was known at the Walnut street Circus in 1818, as the gay young American rider. He was married to Miss Payne at Charleston, S.C. in 1829. She is now living in Australia. Chas. Durang in his reminiscences says he married a daughter of Manfreds. This is an error. The last accounts of Cotz was that he was a homeless wanderer, old and infirm, but both honest and temperate. Burt is at present living in Philadelphia looking as young and as fresh as a fighting cock, and withal a gentleman.
Mr. James Raymond the well known Circus manager, died at his residence at Carmel, N.Y. in 1854. He left property valued at $1,500,000. Part of it was the Broadway Theatre, N.Y.
Jno. Jackson - right name John McIllway - a slack rope performer, was born in Philadelphia. Died in Columbus, Ga. in 1843.
J. H. Stickney was born in Boston - died at New Orleans.
W. Waterman, born in Rhode Island.
John Conklin was born in Cincinnati, where he died in 1838, from the effects of a fall while riding two horses.
Archibald Madden - clown - born in Williamsburgh, N.Y.
Wm. Langley, son of Langley of Lailson's Circus. He cut his throat at Charleston, S.C.in 1849, during a fit of mania. His mother was quite wealthy, and he had retired from the Circus many years before his death. He was engaged with Sizer's Circus, a wandering troupe through Alabama, Florida, etc., most of his life. Every member of this troupe have retired to the tomb of the Capulets. The last I saw of them was at Clairborn, Ala. in 1836.
Geo. Blythe was born in England - was engaged by Stephen Rice, as director of the Walnut street Theatre and Circus, Philadelphia, where he made his first appearance in America, on the opening night, May 1, 1823. He was formerly director of Astley's Amphitheatre, London. Retired from the profession and opened a porter house on Staten Island, N.Y., where he died in 1836.
W. F. Wallett the unrivalled and celebrated clown, was born in England. He made his first appearance in America in New York. On the 17th of Dec. 1849, he appeared in Philadelphia at the National Circus. First appeared on stage as an actor, Dec. 11, 1853, as "Duke Aranza" at the "Chestnut," Philadelphia, for the benefit of Lysander Thompson.
Miss Sallie Stickney. This beautiful and accomplished equestrienne has attracted a great deal of attention and comment, and the opinion is that she is one of the best female riders we have in the country. Certainly, if her youth and her talents are considered, she is without a rival in the country. In her "Principal Act," her leaping, cutting, pirouetting, and one-foot riding, she is very fine. She bears herself with grace and dignity - a charm of manner - a frank, lady-like, becomeing ease and assurance - that is positively irresistible. She jumps most gracefully, and with great intrepidity - and no woman in the arena can ride on the bare back with the same degree of certainty and ease. She is a Philadelphian by birth, and has been in the "ring" ever since she could walk.
John Grimaldi Wells, the clown, died in Philadelphia, April 1852. Three of his daughters are at present in the profession. Mary Ann is the wife of frank Whittaker, the best ring-master in the country. Amelia was one of the daring "racers" of the Hippodrome. She is at present the wife of Robert Butler, low comedian, and is engaged at one of the saloons on Broadway, New York, as a vocalist. Miss Louisa was the danseuse at the old "National," Phil. She is a thoroughly educated artiste, dances with grace and finish, and has made great progress of late years.
George Yeaman was born in Scotland. He came to the States with J. West in 1816. He was well known under the cognomen of "The Flying Horseman." Died, much regretted, at Concord, N.C., November 7, 1827.
Dan Rice, the "humorist," was born in New York, in 1822. He got his first glimpse of the elephant in his native city; and emigrating early in life to Pittsburgh and the far West, had ample chance to study human nature in all its phases. His intellect is fine, his perceptive powers acute, his fancy fertile, his judgment sound, and his imitations great. He is a wonderful example of what a man can effect by determination. He has met with every vicissitude which can befall an adventurer. His triumphs in training animals surpass those of any mortal in the world. His horse "Excelsior" he endowed with intellect; whilst he absolutely taught his elephant to walk a tight rope. His "mules" are gerat comedians. The high tone which has marked Mr. Rice's course, and the unbending determination, with which he conducts his entertainments, reflect upon him great credit.
Tbe wild animnls, which have been shown in almost all parts of the United States for several years under the name of Barnum's menagerie, which were owned by P. T. Barnum, S. B. Howes, S. E. Stratton, (Tom Thumb's father,) and Avery Smith, were sold to close the partnerehip.
The sale was conducted by Hammond, the Tattersalls auctioneer, of New York, and was attended by the partners nnd Messrs. Sands,Titus, Quirk, Cushing, Robinson (of Cincinnati,) and perhaps other celebrated showmen, and some one hundred people. The sale oommenced about 11 A.M.
The two Giraffes, valued at $7,500 each, were bought by Mr. Barnum, and will winter at the Museum. Tbe Rhinoceros found no buyer. Pork is too low.
Seven elephants were put up in one lot. The first bid was $1,000 for the seven; they were sold to S. B. Howes for $2,300. These animals were imported from Ceylon five years ago at a cost, it is said of $3,000 cash. It will cost something to keep them through the winter. They will eat 200 lbs of hay and two bushels of oats each per day, and wash it down with half a barrel of water.
Two lions, and one lioness, trained animals; two Asiatic lions, male and female; a Bengal tiger, a leopard, zebra, black bear, two hyenas, alpaca, prairie wolf, monkeys, &c., with cages, wagons and canvass, were sold in a lamp to S. B. Howes, for $2,500. Mr. Barnum re-purchased one of the elephants to work his farm at Bridgeport. He would have bought the Rhinocros, but he tried him at the musenm, and found tnat he would not draw. Tom Thumb's wagon's sold for $40 and $85 each.
This sale looks like the 'breaking up of a hard winter,' but it it not — it is the commencement of one. It is a 'winter of discontent' with all showmen. Money is tight; feed high, and the wild animals are very 'unprofitable boarders.'
We undentand, however, that Barnum has sent ot Europte for another collection of elephants. He must be either intending to go largely into farming, or else he will be on hand in the spring with antoher menagerie.
"Bill, have the teams ready at five o'clock in the morning. Our route is twelve miles to the next stand."
We retire to sleep. The energetic porter calls us at half past four to eat a sumptuous breakfast, composed of a tough steak, muddy coffee and stale bread. The "Brigade" is ready at the appointed time, and driven to the front of the house. Our bills having been paid the night before, nothing remains but to examine the "trick," to see that we are thoroughly provided with paste to stick up bills on the country barns and out-houses on the route; to see that each wagon has its bucket for watering the teams on the road; to mount the van, and to say good-bye to the sore-eyed landlord, who has risen in time to see us leave. All hands are ready, the lines are taken up, a "chirp" to the lead-horses, and away move the avant couriers of the Great North and South Egypian Caravan, Royal Polytechnic Institute, British Museum, and East Calcutta Circus, Roman Hippodrome, and Recently Captured Modec Troupe. So the bright, new bills read within the recesses of the plethoric boxes secreted beneath the huge tarpauline of the bill-wagons. Day dawns brightly on nature's beautiful fields and man's farm-houses, as the milkmaid repairs to the barnyard to first milk the cows and then drive them to pasture. As we pass the maid's house, a savory smell of broiled ham and boiled coffee regales our olfactories, and we silently wish we were a guest of "the pretty maid milking the cow." Our approach attracts the attention of those in the house, and all hands rush out to see what is coming at so early a time of day. Little ones in nightshirts, with hair uncombed and noses manifestly neglected, run to the front-stoop and watch with artless curiosity until we are past the house.
"Hold up, Bill! There's a place to water." And we haul up at the pump in the pasture-field near the barn. It's now "the cool of the morning," and our horses are in condition to drink a bucketful apiece. The buckets are unstrapped beneath the huge wagons and quickly filled. How often I think that if "Ned Buntline" were on a paste wagon he would deliver his celebrated temperance lecture to the horses as they enjoy their refreshing beverage. But Ned is employed in a better cause.
"Bill, you must get that paste tank mended at the first tin-shop, it leaks dreadfully. Here, slap up some bills on that barn. Put up Andy Gaffney's cut, a descriptive Madame Lemoine and two dates -- what's the matter with that brush? All the hair coming out! Haven't had it two weeks. Careful there -- don't slop paste so freely. Just put on these pants this morning and don't propose to change before night. Straighten out the top of Andy's cut and don't tear it. There, that's all right. Get aboard, and let's be off. Hold on, there! Don't never strike a wheel-horse when you first start; and, another thing, 'Jim' don't need a whip."
We are now halfway to the town. Every barn we have passed is covered with flaming posters, and dates telling the people when the big show will visit them. Market men are making quick time to reach the town in advance of their competitors, and the result is a perfect cloud of dust kicked up by their big-feet "mules." Young women gaily dressed, and old women hanging on to the stakes of a lumber-wagon, "stare their eyes out" at our mirror-sided bill-wagon, and wonder what the plumes in our horses' head-gear mean. They don't get by us quite so easily as they imagined they would; for Bill has chirruped to "Jim," who starts the whole team in motion, and away we go, leaving the "haybinders" to swallow some of that dust they had circulated for our benefit.
Here comes the town, the first indication being the church-spires, termed by some wicked shomen "show-killers." The bridge across the river now looms up, and then the people who inhabit the town -- some going to their daily work with their dinner-buckets on their arm, while shopkeepers are turning their stores out-doors (the only time their goods have any rest is at night when they lock up). This is something to look about. Our advent attracts great attention; and as our "trick" is not lettered, leaving its mirrored sides to reflect the sun's rays upon the passers-by, they imagine it to be the coming of a quack doctor, and expect him to give a free concert on the streets. But in this they are doomed to disappointment. We "steer" for the nearest hotel where they keep stock, and at once commence to make contracts for the town. The next you shall know all in good time.
Note: In his career, Claude De Haven was an advance, advertising or press agent on various circuses.
By W. H. Neave, written for the New York Clipper, August 24, 1877.
Prior to the opening of the circus traveling season of 1849, the proprietors formed a combination whose objects were the reduction of salaries and the restraining of the volition of performers and musicians. Only one, Aaron Turner, held aloof from this combination. He was always odd. Before this epoch he was notable for closeness and exacting shrewdness. He adoped the opposite course in his old age, and at this time, whether from policy of liverality, it gave him his choice of performers and musicians. He engaged myself and brother, at liberal salaries, as leader and director of his music, with orders to secure the best possible material for the band, making no stipulations regarding salaries other than to keep his interests in view as far as compatible with the excellence of the band; consequently we got the flower of traveling musicians in Philadelphia and New York. The stock and "boys" had wintered in Danbury, Ct., where the whole company was to assemble and start from. There we found his sons, Nap and Tim, Jem Meyers, H. Gardener, H. Magilton, Mike Lipman, et. al., in Turner's Hotel! - for Aaron, though owning half of Danbury, having farms in all directions, and "wads" of bank stock, kept a hotel. HIs part in the management of it, however, was simple enough, consisting maily in beating all of his guests at chequers, pipe-smoking and story-telling.
The band did not all get together until the morning of the day prior to starting out. Turner had had posters put up all over town and the adjoining country stating that, after much research by efficient agents and great outlay of money, he was proud to say that he had got together the finest band ever heard on this continent, and they they would give a grand concert on the afternoon of April 10 in the circus tent, the company to leave for New York State next day. In view of this, the band assembled promptly after breakfast in the hotel ball-room for a preparatory rehearsal of a suitable programme for said concert. After the first piece, Aasron called me out and said sotto voce:
"You just rehearse the band in a programme of brass-band and orchestra music suitable for a regular circus performance, as that is what will really be given this afternoon; but tell no one that I said so."
"But," I replied, greatly alarmed, "I and every one aiding in a circus performance in this State are liable to a fine of five hundred dollars."
"Don't I know it?" he rejoined comtemptuously, "and aint I, as proprietor, liable for a fine of twenty thousand dollars? Your facial knob obstructs your vision in such matters. The people in this section are eager and crazy to see a circus performance; and it has somehow got around that there will be something of the sort this afternoon. There will be as big a crowd as you ever saw, and lots of sharp lawyers from all parts of the Statae, on the lay for me and my boys. Themiserable pack! they would rob me of money I have made by tact, hard work and risk, to enrich the treasury of a State that cruelly denounces the business I made it in. But they can't do it. The coon's not up the tree they're watching."
"But," said I, comforted by the confident tone of this shrewd long-head, "how can it be done with impunity?"
"Never you mind, my boy; that's my business. Trust me; it will be alright. If not, I will make it right with you and the rest of the aiders and abettors. I don't care for the money I may make; I only want to beat them and laugh at them. Now go and attend to your band rehearsal.
Before dinner the town was thronged with swarms of people. After dinner we (the band) went to the canvas, not wholy free from misgivings. The dense crowd round the ticket wagon and entrance was impenetrable; so we have to go round by the dressing room. This spectacle of real old fashioned circus "doings" in the then "blue belly" State utterly dumbfounded me. After the canvas was packed clear up to the ring, it was found that the filling of our one-centre-pole tent had not perceptibly lessened the great crowd outside; but all New Englanders are quite, orderly and philosophic, so the "outs" stood around to listen to the music inside. After the ususal three opening pieces had been played, old man Aaron "stepped to the front." All who remember him cannot have forgotten how inimitably his tongue filliped his whole voice through his nose. With his head bent forward and "leit oblique," he raised his eyes, peering around with a cunning exultant twinkle in them, and, in an exceedingly mater-of-course and rich nasal tone of voice, he said:
"Ladies and gentlemen: The concert is now over. The company go to York State to-morrow morning to begin their summer tour. It is necessary that the boys practice theri acts with the music so that they and the band may fully understand each other; and as the band did not convene till this morning, there is only this afternoon left to do it in; and as the concert is now ended, they will commence at once as soon as you all go out."
And he turned and went out, but at once came back again and said:
"Ladies and gentlemen: If any of you care to remain and see my boys practice their acts with the band, you are at liberty to do so; but, as I said before, the concert, for which you paid your money, is now over."
Well! the agony was now over. We now saw through the millstone and smelt a very large "mice." Not a soul budged. The circus "went on in the usual way," omitting only the grandoise announcements of names and acts by the ringmaster. The sharp lawyers wer egregiously sold nonsuited by "the old man," and left without a peg to hang a cross-question on, except their own head, which, at that particular juncture, were useful to them only as hatpegs. But having bought their tickets for the concert, they staid, like good boys, and enjoyed the circus.
As the various colossal shows which will be perambulate our land during the Summer months are now busy with preparations for their tour, it may interest our readers to glace backward some thirty-three years, and see what kind of entertainment the circus managers of that period furnished the public. The New York Circus was considered a first-class show in those days, and its managers bore a high reputation. Yet, if we campare it with the shows of the present day, it appears a one-horse affair. It was the custom then, as now, to enter the villages and towns in which they were to exhibit in procession. First came the bandwagon, quite an ordinary affair, and nothing like the gilded and gaudily-painted chariots of the present day; then the members of the company, attired in ring costume and mounted on piebald horses, and followed by a few vans containing the baggage and properties and the tent and pole wagons. A halt was made just outside the village for the band to don their uniforms and the performers their ring attire, and to afford the "artist" of the concern an opportunity to give such of their steeds as were not piebald by nature that appearance, buy means of the paint-pots and brush, for no show could then hope for success that did not possess a large number of parti-colored horses. There was quite as much talent and skill displayed by the performers then as now; but a single round top tent for exhibiting purposes, a small one for the sideshow, and another which served for dressing rooms for the company and temporary quarters for the horses, which were generally put up in some livery stable, comprised the entire canvas outfit. The voices of the candy-butchers and the peanut and lemonade venders where then heard in the land; but they had not then learned the trick of putting polished glass in the lemonade in the place of ice. Of those connected with the circus which exhibited May 13, 1845, Henry Rockwell died of cholera in Cincinnati, O. in 1849; Otto Motty and Mons. Cassimer returned to Europe; Oscar R. Stone is dead; G. W. Sergeant retired some years ago; John Gossin died of yellow fever in Natchez, Miss.; Mrs. Gossin retired several years ago; Dan Minnich is in retirement in Bedford Springs, Pa.; Victor Piquet died of cholera in New Orleans, La. in 1848; Ben Stevens is still before the public.
The experiences of any great show bring to it one more great trial, constantly recurring under all sorts of circumstances of locality, weather and weariness. There is one hour which, more than any other, tests to the uttermost the temper, skill, and discipline of the force under the command of the circus manager. It is the hour when the tents must be “struck,” or taken down, and the vast establishment packed up for removal to its next stopping place.
Slowly the audience has leaked away through the narrow entrance, though some of its younger members linger until it is necessary to scare them out. The preparations for departure began long ago. Every article of dress taken off was instantly packed for travel. Every animal has been fed and cared for. Every tool is in its place, for present use or transportation, as the case may be. There are miles and hours of traveling to be done, and every minute is precious. The least confusion or mismanagement would surely bear bad fruit on the morrow.
The experts of all sorts - acrobats, animal trainers, keepers - are caring for their wardrobes or for themselves, or for the precious beasts in their charge. The horses in their canvas stables know that their time is up, and meet their grooms as if prepared to go. The cook and his assistants have fed their last “boarder,” and have already packed their pots and crockery, and the fire is dead in the portable range. Every man who has not completed his task is working at it with all his might, but the center of interest is the great tent and its appliances. There is comparatively little shouting or orders, but scores of men are taking their positions by stakes and ropes, knowing exactly what to do and where and when to do it. There are, perhaps (to give the exact size of one big tent), 168,000 square yards of canvas to come down, with all that held it up. The huge hollow interior is empty at last, with the exception of a few loiterers who hurry out in great alarm, as they hear a loud shout of “let go!” from the manager. The shout was meant to scare them out, and not a man loses his hold upon a rope. It is a plan which always clears away the loiterers.
The immense space is clear, but vaguely shadowy and dim, for the lights are out and there is nothing there to “show.”
Another order, another, another, follow in quick succession; ropes are hauled upon or let go; the canvas steadily pulls away, and the center poles and stays, all the airy skeleton of the tent, stand as bare as when they were first lifted there. These, too, come down in regular order, rapidly and without a sign of hesitation or confusion. Thus every peg and pole and board is removed from the tent-arena to its proper place on its own wagon.
More than a quarter of a million square yards of “duck” and every flag, rope, pole and pennon are neatly folded and packed away in the wagons. And all this has been done in less than twenty minutes! Not a rope is mislaid, nor a tool lost sight of, and the secret of it is that some one person has been made personally responsible for each of all those numberless items of duty. Not too much has been laid upon any one, but mercilessly strict will be the inquiry concerning the least shortcoming.
The general crowd of spectators hurries home at once, all the sooner if the night is dark or rainy, or if it be the last performance and the tents are coming down. The latest to depart are invariably the boys, to whom the show presents a world of weird, strange fascination. It is almost hard upon them that their attachment is not reciprocated. Neither the manager nor the corps of trained workers has any use for boys. The former “does not want ‘em around.” He would not have them at any price, although hundreds are sure to offer, continually, with their heads full of dime novel ideas of circus life, its “adventures,” and its “glories.” They know nothing at all of the hard work, the patient training beforehand, neither do they think of the experience and through knowledge of at least some one trade required by every member of the manager’s army of helpers. Even the “bill-stickers” must know how to do their work, and work hard in doing it, but boys with the circus fever are after something which will enable them to wear tights and spangles. They seldom if ever think of the hard work, severe training, wearying repetitions, and terrible risk of injury and lifelong maiming that must be undergone before a manager will allow a performer to appear in public. For instance in learning circus feats of but one kind - riding on bareback horses - several falls are always likely to happen. To lessen the danger, however, almost every large circus school has a derrick with a long arm. Through a pulley in the end of this arm is passed a rope which is fastened to the learner’s belt, the other end being held by a watchful attendant, who secures it whenever the rider loses his balance. A second man keeps the arm revolving just above the pupil as he rides around the ring, and the instructor leads the horse by a lariat. Thus three men are needed in teaching one to ride bareback, and each new lesson has to be repeated a great many times in the same wearisome round.
It is likely that most of the youngsters who so eagerly volunteer are in a kind of mental fog. They could hardly say, if they were asked, whether they prefer to be hired as owner, manager, clow, “king of the ring,” or to train and handle the elephants.
From St. Nicholas,, reprinted in the Jersey County (IL) Democrat, March 16, 1882.
A society has lately been organized in the old and conservative city of Utica, New York, for the reformation of the circus and the revival of the clown. Circulars have been sent out stating the object of the society, and calling a convention to meet at Utica in September next. In the meantime public opinion will be aroused by articles in the papers, by an historical sketch of the old and authentic circus, to be published in pamphlet form, and by other legitmate means; and it is hoped that, as a result of these, such pressure will be brought to bear upon Mr. Barnum and the rest of the "profession," that the present unwieldly system will be abandoned, and that next year, instead of one huge circus, there will be several smaller circi, so that the public attendance will be divided among them, and consequently a comparatively small tent and one ring will suffice, and thus the return of the clown and the ringmaster will become possible. The promoters of this society believe that for once Mr. Barnum has failed to detect the real sentiments of that great public, the amusement of which has been the labor of his life, and that he does not perceive what is really the chief attraction of the circus.
The truth is that, in New England at least, a large part of the inhabitants, who fear to indulge in any amusement which has not the veil of instruction or the gloom of discomfort cast over it, have been hard pressed to find a good reason for attending the circus. The real attractions all along have been the clown and the ringmaster, but something else has always been put forward as the excuse. It used to be the children, and the adult members of the family would represent that they went to the circus with great reluctance in order to take them. This, however, was overdone, for when (as an estemed contemporary found on investigation some years ago) it got to be the case that three or four able-bodied adults were thought necessary to conduct one weak child to and from the circus, and children were begged, borrowed, and, in some cases, actually stolen for this purpose, the fiction became a hopeless one, and had to be given up. Then the menagerie connected with the circus furnished the excuse, and church people of "good and regular standing," who went to see the animals, would stray into the circus proper, in an absent-minded manner, and would be unable to find their way out until the conclusion of the performance. And so the deception has gone on, and even Mr. Barnum has been mystified, knowing that people would go to his circus, but not knowing the reason why; and so, led away by his own passion for the tremendous, he has developed the circus into a monstrosity, and the true aroma of the ring has disappeared. No personality can make itself felt in the present colossal circus, and the clown and the ringmaster linger in it but as spectres. They squeak and gibber somewhere in the dead vast and middle of that huge tent, but no man hears them. No jokes or crushing repartees come from the lips of the spectral clown; or, if they do, they perish in the great void, unheard and unapplauded long before they can reach the benches. And yet, were it only for the education of our youth, we cannot afford to lose these exemplars of courtliness and wit. If the "grand manner" of the last century is preserved by any but the ringmaster, we have not observed it; if there are any repartees more delicious than the clown's, we have not heard them. How quick and distinct, like pistol shots, were the question and answer - with what verve were they spoken! "I say; Mr. Howard," said the clown. "Well sir, what do you say, sir?" "Did you ever own a zebra, sir?" "No, sir. I did not, sir. Why do you ask, sir?" Then the repartee, then the crack of the whip; the clown limps off, and Madame Estelle comes in followed by a gray horse, and is gallantly helped to mount by the ringmaster.
We call on Mr. Barnum to give us back these delicious scenes, to contract his tent, to bring down his benches to the ring. Let us sit once more where we can smell the sawdust, hear the lightest whisper of the clown, see the gllimmer on those wonderful long boots of the ringmaster, catch the sheen of his white waistcoat, and observe the lustre of the oil upon his hair. And if Mr. Barnum still thinks that the clown and the ringmaster are beneath the intellectual level of the age, let him turn to his Thackeray, and there he will read (if he can find the place, as we cannot at this moment) how that great humorist found more amusement in the antics of a clown than in the writings of any wit of ancient or modern times.
From Boston Daily Advertiser, June 28, 1884, p. 4 (editorial page).
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