Al G. Goff – balloon ascension – Golden Gate before bridge was built
I am seeking information on a man named Allen G. Goff. The following information appeared in a biographical sketch published in The Vanished Herd: The History of the Cherokee Strip Cowpunchers’ Association and the Cattlemen and Drovers of Early-day Oklahoma.
“In the early 1870’s, Goff performed in the John Robinson Circus…. The Robinson Circus, founded about 1871, endured through 1929, and while most of its acts involved wild animals, other top-billed attractions included Goff performing as “aeronaut,” or balloon pilot. Goff traveled the United States in an era when manned flight was still a novelty. One of his most publicized performances entailed a balloon ascension “spanning the Golden Gate,” the name of the inlet to San Francisco’s Bay long before the bridge by that name was built in 1937.
I have created an Ancestry.com family tree for Allen G. Goff and would like to cite the source of the above information. The bibliography of the bio sketch provided the following source but it does not appear to be correct. Parkinson, Bob, Bandwagon, Vol. 6, No. 2 (Mar-Apr), 1962, pp. 4-8. Thanks to anyone who can give me a good source.


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The ‘Old’ John Robinson circus was founded in the early 1840s and last toured as a title in the proprietorship of others, the Circus City Zoological Gardens, Inc., in 1930. The Parkinson article you referenced is his version of the founding of the Robinson show, which followed Richard E. Conover�s account in his book, ‘Give ’em a John Robinson’. Both of those have since been augmented by Stuart Thayer’s published writings, in his ‘Annals of the American Circus 1793-1860’, and a Bandwagon article. See: https://circushistory.wpengine.com/Thayer/Thayer3a.htm
Briefly in the 1860s-1870s, like other travelling circuses, the Robinson show possibly featured a balloon ascension as a free act on the lot, to attract a crowd. Such events took the place of a street parade, if it was a reduced scale railroad circus. You can find two articles in Bandwagon about these ascensions, one by Robert L. ‘Bob’ Parkinson (March-April 1961 https://circushistory.wpengine.com/Bandwagon/bw-1961Mar.htm) and another by William L. Slout (Mar-Apr 1996). There are also a couple past queries on this website about balloon ascensions, on this message board, addressing the topic of circus balloon ascensions. They provide additional references.
There are partial performer rosters for the John Robinson show from 1857 to 1893 in the back of Gil Robinson’s book, ‘Old Wagon Show Days’. Goff is not listed therein, nor is anyone listed as an aeronaut. Goff is also not found in Slout’s circus biographical encyclopedia, Olympians of the Sawdust Circle.
Many show aeronauts were not named or were identified by stage names or aliases. You can try various key word searches with the New York Clipper, available online, free, at Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections and search for anyone named Goff along with balloon, ascension, aeronaut, etc.
The John Robinson circus toured California for the first time in 1882 and played San Francisco, site of the Golden Gate, on August 28-Sept 2. The lot was at Seventh and Mission Streets. The local advertisement made no mention of a balloon ascension, nor was Goff or an aeronaut mentioned. The show returned to California in 1883, with a similar situation concerning Goff and balloon—both lacking. You can peruse some San Francisco newspapers online about their appearance. http://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc
There were several other Robinson named circus troupes, including Alex Robinson, James Robinson and Yankee Robinson. ‘Old John’ Robinson, out of the Cincinnati, Ohio area, owned the most famous of these shows and was the longest-enduring of them. You can find bios of these and more showmen on the CHS website.
There was a famous balloon ascension staged in San Francisco in 1873 that seems to fit the description given in the book quotation. The passengers were a young reporter named Edwin H. Clough and William W. Austin, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. Their misadventure over the bridge-less Golden Gate can be read in the Sacramento Daily Union, October 20, 1873, page 3, column 4, on the above website, and elsewhere. Is Goff actually Clough? I think not. Clough passed in 1923, his papers from 1919-1922 are at the California State Library. Here’s a tertiary 1882 biography: http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=simplicity&id=I40236
An extended account of the 1873 ascension event penned and published by Austin is Up in the clouds; down in the Pacific, in The Scrap Book, v.5 (Jan-June 1908), pages 93-99, in Google Books. Austin recalled a mysterious Professor Duret, a no-show. No one named Goff was mentioned. https://books.google.com/books?id=ApVRAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA95&lpg=PA95&dq=%22edwin+h.+clough%22+balloon+ascension&source=bl&ots=ceN6y1hIJU&sig=dNsYk5H-xzQqF8yf-GFp4DgfShY&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjk68HzoavPAhVo3IMKHZuaBsIQ6AEIHDAA#v=onepage&q=%22edwin%20h.%20clough%22%20balloon%20ascension&f=false
A deadly San Francisco ascension took place on October 11, 1874, an account given in the Clippers of October 24 and 31, 1874. The deceased aeronaut was Jos. Gruet billed as Buislay. Another episode was reported on in the Sacramento Daily Union, July 29, 1877, but with different people involved.
An Allen G. Goff, wife Laura E., is in the 1910 census for Guthrie, Oklahoma. He was age 52 (birth c1858, making him a teenager until 1877 and therefore an unlikely aeronaut), born in Ohio of Ohio parents, employed as a deputy marshal. Perhaps he’s the same fellow listed in the Cherokee Strip Cowpunchers Association roster? If this is your man, you need to trace Goff back from that entry. Insofar as the quotation from the 2011 Cherokee Strip book, I recommend that you contact the authors and ask them for the references to their text. Seeing the remainder of the Goff biography might suggest other courses of research.

Fred Dahlinger Jr., Curator of Circus History, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL

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