“The circus never gets stale”
Hamilton Spectator September 11, 1886.
So began a lengthy Spectator account of the appearance of Forepaugh’s Circus in Hamilton on September 10, 1886:
“It is as new today as when we first stared at the marvelous feats of the trapeze actors and bareback riders, loved the heavenly faces of the divinities in pink tights, and tinsel and laughed immoderately at the excruciating jokes and gaudy painted face of the clown. It was all as bright and fresh as it ever has been, and though life may have lost some of its youthful glamor, we can never find it in our hearts to like the circus the less.”1
1 “Forepaugh’s Circus : A Fine Show Attended By Thousands of People”
Hamilton Spectator September 11, 1886.
As always, the canny managers of the circus combined the need of advertising and the need of transporting all the necessaries to the location seleted (presently that street intersection of that site is Locke Street South and Charlton Avenue West) by having a parade through the city’s major thoroughfares :
“The procession started at an early hour from the ground where tents were pitched, for the performance, at the corner of Hannah and Locke streets. It wound its glittering length through the principal streets of the city, and thousands upon thousands of people were content to be baked beneath the broiling sun for the sake of seeing it.
“The procession was headed by an immense chariot drawn by eight horses, and in which was seated Prof. Menter’s excellent military band. Then came a number of heavy vehicles containing animals, followed by a cavalcade of gaily-caparisoned ladies and gentlemen.
“The clowns, each seated in a small wagon drawn by a pair of ponies, were well-supported by a crowd of admiring small boys, who cheered lustily at different points. The cowboy band attracted a good deal of attention, but not more than the swarthy sons of the Western plains, who assist the cowboys in their wild west show, deserved.
“The fine herd of elephants which Mr. Forepaugh possesses came in for well-merited praise, and the other animals in the parade, camels, dromedaries, lions, bears, all had their particular supporters. Not the least admired was the vision of a beautiful, dark-eyed, voluptuous-looking woman who sat in state in a chariot, fashioned after Cleopatra’s barge. The rich trimmings of the chariot set off its luxurious occupant to advantage, and it needed but slight imagination to conceive her a true daughter of the Nile.
“Taken on the whole, the street parade of Forepaugh’s circus was fully up to what it is represented to be, and was well worth seeing.”1
The location where the circus tents was well-chosen for the convenience of the paying customers, particularly as it was located on a line of the Hamilton Street Railway :
“The free show on the streets doubtless acted a stimulus to many to see the whole of it., as by 2 o’clock, a vast crowd surged around the main entrance, and gorged cars and hacks discharged an additional quota every minute.”
The Spectator reporter in attendance at the matinee and evening performances was hard-pressed to describe it, in the space allotted for his article:
“The collection of animals was exceptionally good. The performance in the main tent, as usual, was the most attractive feature to the thousands in attendance. A grand spectacular entrée and Oriental pageant procession on the hippodrome track gave a faint idea of the number of employees and the amount of stock involved in the successful management of the show.
“Then followed what to many was probably the most interesting feature of the program – the wonderful shooting of Captain Bogardus and his four sons. The boys, in every imaginable position, fired at a bell target with unerring aim, hardly a shot missing.
“The cowboys made their appearance on the track, and gave an exhibition of lasso throwing, a band of Indians at the same time amusing the spectators with a war dance on the stage to the music of a tom-tom. After they had withdrawn, the Overland main rumbled by. Presently, the ‘whoops’ were heard and Indians, mounted on swift ponies, appeared and dashed after the stage coach. Numerous shots were exchanged, and just as it seemed that the occupants of the stage would have to succumb to attack, the cowboys appeared on the scene, engaged the Indians, drove them off and rescued the occupants of the coach. The performance was a very realistic one, and afforded a capital idea of a not infrequent incident on the plains years ago.
“To do justice to all the admirable feats performed in Forepaugh’s circus would require more space than the limits of this notice will permit. Suffice it to say, that for two hours, without intermission, the spectators had presented to them a succession of circus marvels such as are rarely to be met with.
“The training of the animals is evidently young Mr. Forepaugh’s forte, as his handling of the troupe of performing elephants clearly showed. One of the best features of the show is the boxing exhibition between the small elephant Sullivan and one of the clowns. It kept the vast audience in roars of laughter.
“William Showles and Sam Watson carry off the honors in the equestrian performance. Showles is a daring bareback rider and his work is venturesome and, in many instances, really dangerous.
“Debar Bros. are magnificent contortionists and Fisher Bros. do many trapeze acts. The show closed with exciting chariot races, double team standing races, etc., and gave unqualified satisfaction to the thousands of people that attended it.
“In the evening, an immense crowd gathered under the canvas. It was a much larger audience than the one which attended the afternoon performance. On the whole, the show gave very good satisfaction.
“The events were numerous and varied enough to keep the people well-entertained throughout, and nearly everything that was done was first-rate in its own line.
“There was one disappointment, however. Most people who went to the show expected to see Blondin, the horse trained by Adam Forepaugh, Jr, walk a tight rope. Well, Blondin did walk a tight rope, technically speaking, but not in reality. The ‘rope’ was apparently not less than sixteen inches wide and had a flat surface; it was stretched some twenty-five or thirty feet from the ground and had a net stretched under it. It strongly resembled a plank. Young Forepaugh led the horse over and backed him back.
“Probably the best features of the show were the elephant acts, in which young Adam Forepaugh’s great ability as an animal trainer was shown to much better advantage than in the Blondin feat.
“The races of various kinds, which closed the performance, were quite exciting, and so well-managed as almost to make people believe the assurance of the manager, that they were run on their merits.
“The ‘concert’ given after the main performance was of the conventional kind.”1