Friday, 18 September 2015

1884-09-11 Circus of 1884 and Circus Memories 50 Years Previously

The engagement of the Forepaugh show in Hamilton  on September 11, 1884 was described a little differently by the Spectator representative than the man from the Times. Each described the circus in great detail, but each had a different take on what they saw.

The street procession in the morning was described in the Spectator as follows :



“The city was outdoors and at windows this morning while the public procession of the great Forepaugh show was moving through the streets. The spectacle was well worth seeing.

"All the cages were beautifully decorated, and several were gorgeous in their gilt and paint, and imposing in their magnitude. There were no less than four bands in the procession – and all playing too.

"The long line of elephants, and the strangely-dressed, strange-looking Orientals, the people mounted on camels, the tame lions loose in their cages, the mounted ladies and knights in armor, the trick horses, the funny clown on his pony, and all the other attractions – passed through the streets before the admiring gaze of thousands of spectators.

"The rear of the procession was brought up by the steam calliope, shrieking out its tunes in the most fiendish manner.”1

1 “The Circus : Forepaugh’s Great and Only on the Street and In the Ring”

Hamilton Spectator. September 11, 1884.

Later the Spectator’s young man proceeded the area of Locke and Hannah (now Charlton) where the circus has set up:

“The first department visited was that of the menagerie. Many rare and costly animals were seen here. They evinced the best of care, and appeared to be well-fed, clean and consequently happy.

          "The central attraction, of course, was the much-talked of white elephant of Siam. Through the courtesy of Chas. Fullford, its keeper, a representative of the SPECTATOR was afforded a thorough  examination of his Oriental majesty.

          "The Light of Asia, as it is called, is smaller than the ordinary elephant, but promises to attain massive proportions, being but six years old. It is of a stone gray hue, or can be likened to the ashes of a Havana cigar. The color is of the same shade over the entire body, save between the forelegs, where the flesh is of a pinkish color, soft and velvety.

          "The Light of Asia possesses the talismanic white toe nails, and in addition to these evidences of its genuineness, it has what is termed a third nostril, “something’” Mr. Fullford said, “never before seen on any elephant, either in this country or in Europe, and pronounced by scientists and Eastern travelers to be peculiar to this species only.”

          "The Light of Asia is symmetrically formed, and is a perfect beauty in appearance. He appears very gentle, and Mr. Fullford states that he is very fond of playing with children.

"Several other animals divided the honors with the white elephant. These are the blue-faced mandrill ( a species of the gorilla), a beautiful giraffe, and hippopotamus.
    "The circus proper teemed with novelties. Acts were given simultaneously in two rings and on an elevated stage. The hippodrome track encircled the whole, these races terminating the performance. Where everything was of such a high order of excellence, it would be invidious to particularize, unless the entire bill was mentioned.

"Among the chief attractions, however, were the performing elephants; the clown elephant; the pretty Hindoo girl’s performance with huge python snakes; the Sallion family’s thrilling aerial act; the trained stallions; the fine acrobatic work of the three Elton brothers; Herr Pagendorfer’s marvelous feats of strength; the bareback riding of Madame Agazzi, and Mlle. Humel; Fred Cooke’s challenge jockey act; Desaro, a truly phenomenal contortionist; the Maziltous’ grotesque dancing, and the extraordinary acrobatic performance of a troop of Bedouin Arabs.

"The quartette of clowns, Messrs. Billy Burke, Willy Rollins, Charley McCarty and George Leopold, were intensely funny, being a wide departure from the conventional circus jester.

"The hippodrome races were the most daring and sensational of any ever seen in this city, and were additionally attractive for being fairly and honestly contested. The horses were English and Kentucky thoroughbreds, and the riders professional jockeys.”1

The Spectator’s man also attended the second performance of the day, but as a space was running very low, his comments were less detailed:

“The night performance was of a similar nature to that of the afternoon. The huge tent was crowded. The light was good, and the platform and rings visible to persons sitting in any part of the tent. The audience loudly applauded the several performers. After the close of the circus, a concert was given and the curiosities of the side shows exhibited. “1

The excitement of the circus coming to Hamilton in September 1884 prompted one man to share his memories of circuses of fifty years previous, a time when Hamilton was still a small town, barely larger than a village:

“Things have changed since I was a boy. In nothing is this more apparent than a circus.

“The procession of former times was a real necessity. The circus came a day’s journey from the last town where they exhibited, and about a mile from their next stopping place, a halt was called and thing furnished up a bit. The canvas sides were taken off the gilded band wagon and the musicians took their places.

“Four or five women in long riding habits got on their steeds, and the clown got into a little wagon drawn by the trick mule. The one lion was shown through the bars of the cage with a brave man in tights sitting beside it. The two elephants – no circus in those days aspired to more than two – had their top gear fastened on, and three camels, led by the downcast Yankee Arabs, got into their places. Then the procession was ready to come down to the expectant village.

“All the barns in the county had been rainbowed with the circus announcements for weeks before , and the whole countryside turned out in wagons, democrats and buggies to see the show.  Us boys used to go down the road to form a sort of reception committee to escort the distinguished visitors in.

“A circus thought it did its duty to the public in those days if it lavished all the splendor possible on the band wagon. That glittered with gold and mirrors, and was always the center of an admiring crowd until it was covered up with canvas again.”2

2 “At the Circus”

Hamilton Spectator.  September 11, 1884.

The old stager then recounted the excitement when the big circus tent was set up, and what young boys did to gain admission to the tent without actually purchasing a ticket :

“The putting up of the tent was a great sight, and happy was the boy who was commissioned with a rope, or to help carry something. We all hoped to become circus followers in those days, but, alas ! human ambitions are rarely realized. Many of us are now merely lawyers, doctors, editors and the like.

“It was a very desirable thing to get in under the canvas. The outer canvas walls were well-guarded, however, and to be caught was to be slugged. I knew a boy once who used to take a pail of water and walk brazenly past the doorkeeper with great success. There were always plenty of pails lying around and the doorkeeper apparently thought he belonged to the show.

"The stratagems to gain admittance were many, but unfortunately the ruffians who sauntered around the tent were up to them all.

"A trick that sometimes worked was this: the boy would go with the crowd till he came to the ticket collector and then he would apparently struggle to get out. The ticket taker generally said : ‘Where are you going? What’s the matter with you?’

“ ‘I want to get out.’

“ ‘Well, if you go out, you can’t come in again. Now don’t stand there. Move one way or the other mighty quick.’

“ ‘The boy was nothing loath to move in. If the ticket man did not notice him, he asked for a check and being refused – ‘We don’t give no checks here, young ‘un’ – the boy would growl and drift in with the crowd.

“A very fine scheme came to grief in our village once. A boy bought a ticket that was a much-used red affair that it was supposed could be easily counterfeited. It was thought that most of the boys could be run in with the evening crowd when light was imperfect, but the ticket fiend detected the fraud at once by the mere feel of the ticket, and the unlucky originator of the scheme was flung out and roughly handled.

“He was not so badly damaged but that he planned a more successful raid. The boy who held the good ticket made an attempt at crawling under, and when the man caught him and was about to annihilate him, he showed his ticket and offered the villain ten cents if he would take him to the correct entrance. The man walked part way round the tent with him, and under cover of the discussion, six boys got in by the private entrance.”2

The acts involving horses and mules stood out very clearly for the man recalling circuses of fifty years or more previously:

“The great feature of the show was the drunken man who staggered into the ring from the audience. ‘Take that man out,’ cried the gentlemanly ringmaster, who snapped his pistol whip.

“ ‘He wants to ride,’ said the clown. After protests and all that sort of thing, almost verging on a quarrel, the ragged drunken man was flung on a horse, and away went the brute with him. He hung on, and after many antics threw off his old duds and stood a resplendent circus man. We all knew what was coming, but the transformation was always hailed with keen delight.

“Then we all liked James Melville, the world-renowned bareback rider. In those days, every circus had Melville. All the other Melvilles were frauds, and it was a poor show that didn’t have a standing offer of $25,000 to anyone who could prove that their Melville was not the Melville.

“There was no chariot race in those days, although they did have a splendid conglomeration of stars, who had consented to sing at the concert, just after the performance, which, ladies and gentlemen, is not half over. ‘Courteous persons will now pass through the audience with tickets, which are fixed at the low price of ten cents each,’ so the gentleman standing in the ring informed us.

“Instead of a chariot race, we had a clown in a donkey carriage. The energetic donkey used to kick viciously against the clattering iron dashboard of the carriage – a most entertaining feat. The clown then trotted out the trick mule – that never-to-be-forgotten talented animal. He would lean his elbow on the patient quadruped, who stood sleepily with dejected head in the ring.

“ ‘Would any young gentleman from the audience like to ride the mule?’  

“ ‘Generally a very small boy went over and was placed on the docile brute, who walked around the ring most innocently. The clown would pat the very small boy on the head and say, ‘Well done, sonny; you’ll be a man before your mother yet.’ Then he would kindly ask : ‘Any other young gentleman? A little larger this time.’ The man was flung on the sawdust before he was fairly on the mule’s back.

“ I shall never forget the first time I rode a trick mule. I clinched my feet under him and clasped my arms round his neck. Ye powers, how that mule bumped itself! I stuck to it like a burr – like a brother, my enemies said. The vicious bucking of the brute nearly knocked the life out of me, but I gritted my teeth and hung on. The cheers of the audience encouraged me. At last it dawned on the clown and the mule that they had met their match.

“ ‘Well done, my man, said the clown, “you’ve beat him. Now you can get off.’

I relaxed my hold a second and next instant was pitched into the next county. I have always wondered since why I didn’t break my neck.  I had every opportunity.

“You needn’t have been in such a hurry,” said the clown as he helped me up.”2

As the Forepaugh show tents, animals and performers prepared to move away from Hamilton, the old man ended his article by claiming that although the circus of his youth may have been different, it was still very good:

“The railroad, three-ringed circuses of the present day are more gorgeous, but it seems to me we had more fun to the square inch in the olden time. “2




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