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Looking for information on S.B. Howe’s Menagerie and Circus! Good evening, I am a Toronto, ON Canada based playwright and director currently seeking information on the S.B. Howe circus and their history in particular their organizational structure and any information on the performers from the year 1855. The circus was involved in a riot with a private Toronto Fire Department on July 13th of that year and I would love to gather any background research into their specific history and composition from that period if possible.

Yours very sincerely, Tyrone Savage

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Stuart Thayer’s book ‘Annals of the American Circus 1793-1860’ provides the broadest coverage of the 1855 Howes tour. It is properly spelled Howes, not Howe’s, as the show did so later. His work was based largely on newspaper resources and such business records as survived and were available to him. The Toronto newspapers will have coverage of the fight. Private fire companies, which preceded publicly-funded firefighters, provided identity for members and they were well known for battling each other before they fought the fire. You can supplement Annals coverage with information about the show physical plant in Thayer’s ‘Traveling Showmen’ and the ring show content in his book ‘The Performers’.
Further information can be found in the anthology of his articles compiled by his close friend and co-author William L. Slout, on the CHS website, in the virtual library. Seth Howes had a long and interesting circus career. You’ll find bio information in the CHS website virtual library, Jeanne Howes book about the Howes family and many other places.
Thayer wrote about a “clem” on another show and there’s much coverage of such recreational fighting in period newspapers, and later magazines and books. Academics and scholars have also written and published on the topic. Usually, the locals came out on the short end, battling work-strengthened showmen who had to deal with local toughs nearly every working day. They were also prepared in advance, via strategic placement of tent stakes and other implements of non-lethal hand to hand combat. Some battles turned deadly, especially when liquor and firearms were involved; then people died on both sides. In the majority of cases the locals were the aggressors, though the grift practiced by some shows, or the criminals following in their wake surely sparked numerous confrontations.
Of late there has been a Canadian researcher doing work on circuses traveling through the country. You might search for his online postings. Another great resource is Al Stencell, who resides in Toronto.

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

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