Does anyone know if Sells-Floto had wild cat acts (or any wild animal acts) as early as 1915? If so, who were the performers/trainers of that time? Volney Phifer, performed with a number of circuses beginning in 1915. I have photos of Volney performing with Snyder the Elephant with Sells-Floto in 1920. (This must have been shortly before Snyder went rogue and was destroyed.) But probably Volney began as a wild cat trainer/performer. I’m trying to determine whether he might have begun his career with Sells-Floto, or whether he started with Al G. Barnes in 1915. (I know that he did work for Barnes at some point.) Thanks for any illuminating info!
Regards, Diane Rains
Hello Diane, I have no idea if this will get to you but I am giving it a try. I am the new town historian for Long Hill Township (formally Passaic Township-home to Phifer’s Animal Farm). I am doing a small display in town about Volney Phifer and the farm and came across this thread at circushistory.org. I loved your mother’s book and look forward to hearing about the biography you had mentioned. I am always looking for new information for our local historical society and would be honored if you would contact me sometime. I am also going to reach out to Melynda.
Thank you, Kelly Roshto
Melynda, I have just come across your June 2005 reply. I wish I had found your post sooner! I would love to chat or correspond with you about Volney. I, too, am his niece – his grand-niece. My mother’s mother was his sister, Thelma. Though I visited Uncle Volney’s wild animal farm only occasionally, he was a strong influence in my life. (I too am a performer, and I have dabbled in animal training.) For several years, I have been gathering information about Volney’s life, and I’m writing his biography. Are you one of the Page family? I spoke with with Alma several years ago and learned a lot about the Page Family Band and their vaudeville show, and Eloise and Volney’s life together, but I still have many questions! Let’s talk!
Best regards, Diane Rains
Volney Phifer started his act in vaudeville with his wife snookey. She played trumpet in his mouth. His son ellias should have all the info and the many pictures Uncle Volney kept that and the original touring hearst that held leo was kept in the museun at the farm. I am his niece and spent many wonderful summers working on the farm.
Billboard, March 26, 1932, page 123 reports on Phifer’s marriage. He’s characterized as head keeper of the Forest Park Zoo, St. Louis, in the February 7, 1925 issue. I found no other listing for him in the name finding aid. Reviewing Gordon Carver’s series on Sells-Floto in Bandwagon might prove helpful, as would review of Chang Reynolds series on the Al G. Barnes outfit, as well as a scanning of Billboard for the various years in question. The Bandwagon articles should be listed in the website index. There is no existing primary documentation, in the form of employee documentation, for Sells-Floto during the years of interest.
Fred Dahlinger, Jr., Director of Historic Resources and Facilities, Circus World Museum.
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