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I recently acquired a photo from the turn of the century that has a tag on it saying: “Brown and Werner show. Brown in carriage. June 14, 1901.” The pic was taken in Port Chester, NY and depicts various wagons and people travelling down one of the roads in the downtown area. Was this a circus? Do you have any info. about it?

Thank you, Scott, Putnam County NY

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Brown & Werner wasn’t a circus, but another form of tented entertainment that travelled overland by horse and wagon. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was dramatized on stage and also under the tent. There were dozens of such itinerant companies under canvas during the heydey. Harry Birdoff wrote the best general book about UTC shows, World’s Greatest Hit. Some were very modest, others moved by a small set of railroad cars. Many just rolled into town with their wagon train, to announce their presence, others staged a complete street parade like a circus, or had a steam calliope. The proprietor names were important; they signified the quality of the enterprise, as all were generally telling the same well-known story. The names of the leading actors were usually announced, another harbinger of status. In general, their operational methodologies were cloned from the overland and later the railroad circus. There was an interchange between the two forms of entertainment. A knowing look at the train of wagons might indicate the possible origin of the vehicles.

Brown & Werner’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin Co. is mentioned in the New York Clipper, July 13, 1901, 425, as being at South Norwalk, CT. That’s between 15 and 20 miles from where they played on June 14, so they were likely perambulating around the area. If you go to fultonhistory.com, it holds issues of the Port Chester Journal. The issue of June 20 carried a brief article stating Brown & Werner’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin Shows United had been playing to big audiences since they opened the week prior. On the prior Friday night it was claimed that 1200 to 1500 people crowded their tent. The owners were identified as C. C. Brown, of Port Chester and John Werner of Rye. Brown & Werner were still at Port Chester per the June 27 newspaper. The Port Chester Journal of June 20 reported that the Brown & Werner Novelty Co. staged the UTC performance in a tent erected on W. D. Palmer’s open lot located adjacent to the paper factory. UTC may have been just one play in their repertoire.

The name of only one member of the troupe was published. T. F. Kenney left Haney’s UTC at Clinton OH and joined Brown & Werner at Rye, NY, per Clipper, June 29, 1901, 379. He then departed them in favor of another UTC operated by J. L. Warner, spelled with an at then at Rye, NY. The July 27, 1901 issue, 463, advised that Kenney closed with Werner and moved on to the Goodrich circus at Nyack, NY.

Local newspapers may provide advertisements and other information about their appearances. Searching in Port Chester and Rye may reveal more about the lives of the two owners. Other than the coming and going of Kenney, Brown & Werner garnered no attention, it was below the national reporting system. Partnerships were often short lived and the owners may have moved into a more remunerative show activity, such as a pavilion theater, variety show, side show, etc., or returned to enterprises outside of show business.

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

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