I’m interested in any information you might provide about a traveling “Gypsy” troupe in the 1930s who went by the name of “Eaglesons Jungleland Show”. They apparently toured all over including Morganton NC and the only other place I’ve found on the Internet, Zaneville Ohio in September 1939. My wife’s family had some interaction with this troupe, who stayed in a boarding house owned by her grandmother in Morganton NC. We have two pictures from the troupe, one of a young woman who appears to be Eastern European, the other is titled “New Born Baby Monkey with Eagleson’s Jungleland Show” (it’s a monkey holding a newborn monkey…). If you have any information at all about this troupe or can point me in the right direction, you will have my upmost appreciation.
Thanks, Greg Morgan
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“Jungle” shows enjoyed a specific era of popularity, but were also part of a long tradition of animal presentation and education in the United States. Residents of the hinterlands, with limited access to zoos and even traveling circus menageries found them of great interest. They provided real experience exposure to animals that were often seen and aggrandized on movie screens of the time, whether “King Kong” or the exploits of Clyde Beatty. Exploration in distant lands, the discovery of new species, etc., all fueled the interest in the natural world. The recent flurry of television shows focusing on ‘wild’ animals is the most recent derivative of the enduring human interest in beasts.
The jungle shows trace an origin back to the exhibition of imported foreign and domestic animals in the late 18th century, followed by the organization of itinerant menageries having three or more beasts that start in the early 19th century. Stuart Thayer chronicled the majority of the early animal caravans in two Bandwagon articles. They reached a zenith with the organization of the Zoological Institute in the 1830s, which collapsed in the Panic of 1837. By then animals were becoming an adjunct of the circus, and eventually the independent beast shows either became an adjunct of the circus, as an accompanying menagerie, or took on aspects of circus activity, like ring demonstrations, while retaining the menagerie title to escape circus-banning laws and anti-ring show rhetoric.
Darwin’s theories and the controversy they provoked gave renewal to animal interest, with a special focus on primates and related species, their exhibition being among the rarest experienced in North America. Chimpanzees, bona fide gorillas and other such animals were often the top attractions in the jungle shows.
The giant 90-car Royal American Shows railroad carnival had a gorilla show in some seasons and the big and enduring James E. Strates Shows also featured a wild animal menagerie in some seasons. Their origins date back to the early 20th century, when wild animal shows were the biggest and best of the carnival back end shows. There were other landed animal shows in larger communities, also on world’s fair midways and in amusement zones and parks, like Coney Island.
There were many small animal outfits framed in the post-WWII era. Some just pulled into a community, secured a license, and opened for business. Others may have signed onto a midway playing a route of still dates and fairs, providing a larger audience. They took many forms, from small motorized outfits, in a car, truck and/or trailer, to others occupying several railroad cars. The animals featured also varied. Most were comprised of smaller beasts, but some had elephants. Proprietors and namesakes included personalities like Frank Buck and Howard Y. Bary, and many more that are unknown to everyone but specialists.
In addition to traveling outfits, there were many roadside animal attractions. These date back to the early 20th century and perhaps somewhat before, when there were alligator and ostrich farms in warmer climate states like Florida and California. Some collections, like those at the Selig zoo and World Jungle Compound in Los Angeles, furnished animals for film production. A few circuses opened their winter quarters to guests as early as the 1880s, facilitating winter time viewing of their menageries. Ringling-Barnum had the best such facility when they opened their Sarasota quarters to the public in the late 1920s.
The Eagleson jungle operation seems to be part of traveling carnival history more than anything else. The 1939 engagement was on the Roger Bros. carnival midway. In 1940 they may have been with the Florida Exposition [more below]. There was an Eagleson’s Monkey Circus out of Allendale, SC mentioned in 1943. It had been part of the Crescent Amusement Company midway out of Gastonia, NC. [Billboard, November 27, 1943, 44.] During a 1944 engagement on Crescent the Eagleson’s Side Show was destroyed by a hurricane at Union, SC and returned to Allendale quarters to recover. [Billboard, November 11, 1944, 36.] Crescent Shows again had “Eagleson’s Jungle Circus” in 1945. [Clipper, May 19, 1945, 41.] Eagleson’s Jungleland Show joined the W. C. Kaus Show, a carnival midway, at the McHenry County Fair in Martinsville, WV in September 16-21, 1946. The proprietor was named as George S. Eagleson, with the initials G. S. appearing in some ads. [Billboard, October 5, 1946, 58.] Troy E. Williams, proprietor of Williams Southern Shows of Morganton, NC, sought to gain a response from “Eagleson Jungle Circus” in early 1947, likely wanting to book them for the season. [Billboard, February 8, 1947, 64.] The Eaglesons, quartered in Allendale, SC, visited the Hoxie Bros. circus in 1949, which had the Noells of gorilla fame with them. [Billboard, April 23, 1949, 69.] Eagleson offered to sell a complete monkey, chimpanzee and bird show, in all or part, with a plan to retire from the business in early 1949 and pursue other opportunities. [Billboard, February 5, 1949, 78.] There was a second offering of a dozen monkeys, including two nursing babies, Ringtails, Java and Rhesus for $450. [Billboard, September 10, 1949, 82.] A profile of the new Eagleson Ape Show in the spring of 1951 originated from their quarters in Allendale, SC. The tour was to start May 1 in New England and then take off for the west coast. He had new equipment, a semi-trailer truck that contained all of the cages, along with a working cage space. Featured were four chimpanzees worked by Eagleson and his wife, with a pair of mandrills being added. [Billboard, May 5, 1951, 65.] John Keeler, or Modernistic Shows, sought to hear from Eagleson’s Jungle Circus in 1952. [Billboard, June 2, 1959, 59.] Identifying himself as Eagleson’s Ape Show, he had a snake, reptile and “Big Rat” show framed on a bus, with living quarters in the aft portion in late 1953. [Billboard, November 14, 1953, 67.] A 4-1/2 year old well-trained male chimpanzee, with a large repertoire of acts and capable of being handled by anyone was for sale in early 1956. [Billboard, February 18, 1956, 98.] It appears that the Eaglesons retired from the road sometime in the early 1950s, perhaps retaining or keeping a few animals at their residence thereafter.
Edith Eagleson, of the “Eagleson Ape Show,” was identified as the daughter of W. S. M[e?]yers and his wife, the latter who passed away at age 76 in 1959 and was buried in Stoneboro, PA. [Billboard, November 23, 1959, 70.] Edith was the spouse of “George S.” Eagleson. The 1940 census gives her age as 27, born about 1913 in Statsboro [presumably Stoneboro], Pennsylvania. Her husband was given as Glomer Sparks Eagleson, age 39. Her gravestone in the Swallow Savannah Cemetery, Allendale, SC provides a birth date of September 28, 1914 and a date of death of May 29, 1981. Her parents were cited as William and Catheryn Meyers.
Glomer Sparks Eagleson, the apparent real name of George S., is interred in the same cemetery. Date of birth is given as April 25, 1900, and death as August 10, 1992. He’s given as the son of Charles Bertie Eagleson (1877-1962) and Lillie Jane Sparks Eagleson (1881-1945). An old newspaper was quoted as saying: “In his younger day, Glomer managed to outrun the Feds whenever they found the moonshine still that he and some of his friends had operated in North Carolina. But he can feel proud – as it was the same type of thing that got NASCAR started.” The 1940 census gives his name as Glenn G. Eagleson, age as 39, born about 1901 in Gray, Ohio. They were resident in Allendale, in the Allendale Hotel. His occupation was given as merchant, but the entries for he and Edith were initially made as part of the canvas of the Florida Exposition, a carnival that may have been their employer and was apparently wintering in the community.
How early he may have picked up in the animal trade is unknown. 1930s and early 1940s issues of Billboard magazine can be key-word checked at ProQuest’s Entertainment Industry Magazine Archive, for a fee. It’s possible that residents of Allendale remember him, or there may be clippings in the local Regional and County Libraries, in Allendale. A Glomer Eagleson is listed as a motorcycle racer at Piedmont Park in 1919. [Western Sentinel (Winston-Salem, NC) June 13, 1919) There’s no immediate way to confirm it is the animal man. Some further searching of census records might yield 1920 and 1930 entries for him and/or Edith.
Unless the Eaglesons were bonafide gypsies, the casual pejorative use of ‘Gypsy’ is inappropriate. You can see from the above that they were part of a long heritage of animal exhibition that educated many Americans in the ways and wonders of animal existence and life.
Fred Dahlinger Jr., Curator of Circus History, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL
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