Monday, 31 August 2015

1884-09-10 Circus Comes to Town (Part 2)

As the posters for the upcoming Forepaugh Show were being posted all around the city, Hamiltonians were particularly intrigued that there was to a “a quarter of 100” elephants as part of the circus. One elephant, probably not included in “quarter of 100” elephants was pictured prominently in the ads, “The White Elephant” or “Light of Asia” or “The Pearl of the Temple.”

Interest in elephants, especially “The White Elephant” became intense in Hamilton. So intense that a Spectator column about this interest began as follows :

“A Mutual Protective Society, having for its object the suppression of debate upon the white elephant question, was formed in the city yesterday.

Half a hundred sufferers joined immediately and the meanest man in the organization was made President and referee. Any member broaching the question is subject to a fine of drinks and cigars for the others who are present.”1

1      “A New Society : An Effort to Suppress the White Elephant Question”

Hamilton Times. September 10, 1884.

While the exact location of the inaugural meeting of this “protective society” was not revealed in that Times article was not revealed, an educated guess would be that the meeting was held in a downtown drinking establishment.

The Times reporter may or may not have been a member of the society, but he was certainly close enough to record the events which took place during that meeting :

“Fifteen minutes after he was installed, the President said : “I saw a daisy picture of Forepaugh’s white elephant this –“

“First blood,” interrupted a listener, and the crowd faced the bar.

With a glass in his hand, one of the members remarked that he had seen and felt Light of Asia and was convinced he was genuine. The remark cost him a dollar and six bits.

A third member paid ten shillings for saying that Light of Asia’s ears were pink.

Ten minutes later, another man paid forfeit for innocently remarking that a fat man in a light suit of clothes on the opposite side of the street looked like a white elephant.

Then the President came down for wondering how Forepaugh would keep his white elephant warm in winter.

During the next half hour, two members paid for referring to Forepaugh’s white elephant signs on the street, and a third was muleted for doubting the report that Light of Asia travelled in a car lined and carpeted with Persian rugs.

So it went on.

Three hours after the society was organized, more than half its members were tipsy, most of them were broke and the pockets of all bulged with cigars.

The President resigned penniless after serving two hours, his treasurer had no money when he entered the office, and was unable to pay the first fine, and the members are now considering whether it will be best to elect a new presiding officer or disband and admit that the suppression of the white elephant question is impossible. “1

While the protective society was seemingly defunct after just one meeting, interest in the elephants, especially the white one coming to Hamilton the next day remained high.

(To Be continued)

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