This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
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The Day the Circus Came to Town

23 June 2017

"Say kids, if you want to have a good time and excitement enough to beat a dime novel sky high, don’t you miss that Hagenbeck Wild Animal show that’s going to come here next Saturday.

I tell you kids, I was in St. Louis last week and my aunt she took me, at least I went with her, and she lost me, but that crowd coming home after the show wore a smile all right, all right.

You see it was like this. Uncle got up early and that put aunt in a sweet mood and she said we’d go and see the parade and when we saw the parade, gee, it was just the best ever. All the new wagons and cages full of animals what I never did see before and one kid he got so excited running behind a wagon with a tiger in it that the tiger reached out and touched his hand with his teeth and the kid near dropped dead.

Aunt she screamed out. Ain’t women pesky things? I found out afterwards there was no danger as the tiger is quite friendly with the trainer and lets him play all sorts of tricks.

Tulsa OK Daily World
02 September 1906

After I saw the parade I was just stuck on going to see that show but being as father says ‘financially embarrassed’ and as mother says ‘just a little short today,’ I had to depend on aunt taking me and I want to tell you I had the old man’s kind of a time jollying the old soul into it, too.

She said she ‘lowed the shows was great but she though she was too old to go to a circus. Then I had my chance and I laid on the salve about an inch thick and told her she looked better than she did five years ago. We had dinner early and went to the afternoon show.

We got there early so as to see the menagerie but aunt got tired so I got her a reserved seat and then ducked back to the menagerie. I spent five cents for peanuts and gave over two cents worth to the baby elephant that was just as cute as a big pig and then some feller come and stood next to me and I put some peanuts in his pocket and the mother elephant saw me do it and put her trunk in the old guy’s pocket and tore his pocket out. Laugh, I tell you these educated animals are awful wise.

Guthrie OK Daily Leader
11 September 1906

Pretty soon after that the performance started and I found aunt who was terrible worried about me, so she said, but if she was she needn’t be. There were three big rings and a great steel cage in the centre in which they put the awful savage animals they couldn’t trust. Right at the start Aunt said she couldn’t see what was going on because she l had left her glasses at home.

Now if you kids think I’m going to tell you all I saw at that Hagenbeck animal show you are muchly mistaken. If I told you all that I saw there you’d say my first name ought to be Ananias or something of that sort and then there’d be a fight.

No, kids, it was just the best ever and when you see those lions and tigers performing on the backs of horses and elephants and the man laying on top of the lions for a bed and the Polar bear wrestling with his trainer and a whole lot more, I tell you, you won’t forget it as long as you live.

Aunt she felt a bit scared, I could tell that alright, she didn’t say much but she fidgeted something terrible, and every time the trainer got through with one of his big stunts she’d sigh like she’d hurt herself. And kids, see if what I told you about the parade ain’t the candy.”

 * * *

The preceding anonymous "eyewitness account"
was published in the May 2, 1905 edition
of the Fort Wayne IN Daily News
and entitled
Fort Wayne Boy Saw It.

Fort Wayne IN Daily News
02 May 1905

 * * *

These two images of circus wagons were mounted together on black card stock. They are slightly smaller than the old standard postcard format, so I suspect they were taken by an amateur photographer with a box camera, standing at the same position on an unknown city street. The photos are unmarked and the only clue is the lettering on the clown's band wagon – The Carl Hagenbeck Co.- Trained Animal Show, which identifies it as the Hagenbeck Great Shows Circus owned by Carl Hagenbeck (1844–1913). Hagenbeck was a German animal trainer from Hamburg. In the 1870s he became a famed collector and dealer in exotic animals, creating the European fad for zoological gardens and wild animal circuses. In the U.S. he supplied circus animal acts with great success that appeared as the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, IL, and the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis.

In the 1900s a circus was the ultimate of show business productions. Hagenbeck's American circus was an expensive and lavish show with hundreds of animals and acts, but it was not considered a financial success. In 1905 the Ringling Brothers made an offer on the Hagenbeck circus but the deal fell through. In 1907 another major circus impresario, Benjamin Wallace, purchased the Hagenbeck show, including Hagenbeck's illustrious name, and turned it into the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus. This new "combined" show was, for a time, the second largest circus on the American circuit. It folded up the tents in 1938.

Since the band wagons in these photos only have the name Hagenbeck and not Wallace, I believe they date from before 1907. The second wagon with the band perched on top in white pointed hats is a well known wagon called the Lion and Snake or Lion’s Bride Bandwagon. It was built in 1904 for the Hagenbeck Trained Animal Show seasons 1905 and 1906. After the show became the Hagenbeck-Wallace Combined Circus in 1907 it continued as the main band wagon until 1925. After that it was renovated, reused, and finally restored and now resides at the Feld Entertainment complex in Ellenton, Florida. It's original color was likely a red background with carvings painted silver.

In February 1905 Hagenbeck announced plans to make St. Louis the winter quarters for his circus.

St. Louis Mo Post Dispatch
26 February 1905

The 1905 Hagenbeck Circus tour began in St. Louis on April 24-29. The kids of Fort Wayne, Indiana saw the show on May 6. Carl's son, Lorenz Hagenbeck (1882 - 1956), was listed on the Circus Route Book as the Assistant  General Manager. Route books were a popular circus souvenir as they list all the performers, staff, ring crew, and workers who traveled with the show. In 1905 The Hagenbeck circus played in 96 towns and cities in Missouri, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. In total, from its start on April 24 in St. Louis to its finish on October 7 in Lebanon, PA, the circus covered 7918 miles following the railway lines. The longest leg of the tour was 167 miles., but most sections were less than 100 miles, roughly averaging about 30-40 miles between towns. When the circus ended for the season, the animals and trainers traveled 608 miles by train back to the show's winter quarters in Carthage, OH.

The show toured with 16 four-horse drivers, 6 six-horse drivers, and 2 eight-horse drivers, along with 8 blacksmiths, a Buggy Man, and a Wagon Greaser. The Hagenbeck menagerie required 22 animal handlers with 6 additional unnamed Singaleese Mahouts for the elephants. There were five clowns, the same number atop the first wagon. Morris Davis was the head clown, and his fellow funny mend were Ed. Esberger, Chuck Howard, H. Aldean, and Rube Ryan. 

The bandmaster was Prof. A. V. Cicio. The musicians are not listed, perhaps because the band members changed over the season. The website for the Circus Historical Society  is a treasure trove of information on the golden age of the circus world. I found an article called Circus Windjammers,
by Sverre O. Braathen which appeared in the May-June 1971 edition of the Bandwagon journal. The article quoted descriptions of circus band life from musicians who worked in shows like the Hagenbeck Circus. Here's an excerpt of what a bandsman experienced in a circus.

Edward J. Heney played clarinet and saxophone with both the Sells-Floto and the Al. G. Barnes Circus bands and with the Arthur Pryor band and for some years saxophone soloist with the Sousa Band. In comparing circus and concert work he has written: "So far as circus bands were concerned when I traveled with them, I should say that 'trouping show band experience was mandatory. Endurance, musically as well as physically, speaking was most necessary in circus bands. Without these two a circus musician could not stand up under the daily grind. In those days we were on the bandwagon for the usual two hour morning parade in the towns and cities. The main performance was always preceded by an hour concert in the ring. The big show lasted two to three hours during which time we played constantly, only resting during the clown frolics. In addition, we had to play the 'after show' or wild west performance - and collect tickets for same in the bleachers. All the foregoing twice a day from 8 A. M. to 11:30 P. M. - on the go the entire time.

"Concert band experience plus the ability to stand long transcontinental tours yearly and a general idea of solo work before the public were the 'certain something' a Sousa bandsman had to have. Playing in different towns every day, some times two communities a day (one in the afternoon and one at night) resulted in some strenuous living, playing and traveling.

"To conclude and to answer your pointed question, I should state that considering everything, the most difficult band jobs in those days were the circus bands."

Cleveland Dayton of Ottumwa, Iowa, was a trombone player with the Barnum & Bailey Circus for a number of years and served as assistant director under Edwin H. "Ned" Brill. On leaving the Barnum Circus at the close of the 1915 season, he took over the direction of the Ottumwa Municipal Band and has held this position ever since. His comment regarding the playing in circus bands: "There was no harder work for musicians than a big circus band during my time. Parade at 10:00 A. M., two hours at least. Into the big top at 1:30 for the concert and program until 4:30. Back at 7:00 for the concert and program until 10:30, and very little rest did you get during that time. There were no silent acts. That should explain why it was so hard to hold musicians."

Another musician with both concert and circus experience wrote: "The quality of musicians was good and bad. The old timers were pretty rugged and could hold their own with any one. Most of the one year boys couldn't take it. The grind was terrific. I have seen a number of excellent musicians go to pieces as a result of this tortuous grind. That was one reason why so many musicians remained in the circus business for only one year."

Life on the road with a circus was tough work.
Yet for a ten year old kid from Fort Wayne,
the allure of the Big Top
must have seemed
like the biggest
and bestest adventure ever.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where no one ever lets a parade pass them by.


Little Nell said...

What a wonderful storyteller that Fort Wayne boy was. It reminded me somehow of Huckleberry Finn, though I’m probably way out. I enjoyed the way the account and illustrations were interwoven.

Helen Killeen Bauch McHargue said...

The musician's schedules were grueling. Not only performing almost constantly but then, packing up and moving so often. I too enjoyed the story told from the boy's point of view.

La Nightingail said...

The boy's account of the show was fun to read, but I never liked the circus - not any part of it. I feared for the animal trainers taking such chances, as well as the acrobats and their risky doings. I could never really relax and enjoy the show. And to this day I can't stand clowns. Never have liked them. Funny thing about that - I don't know why??? Oh well.

Kristin said...

I only went to 1 circus and I was grown by that time. I don't remember much except sitting way up and too much going on. It always sounds so interesting in children's books and this article.

Barbara Rogers said...

I personally enjoyed a couple of circuses as a child, then took my boys to a few. The last one I attended I escorted senior citizens to enjoy a matinee along with school children...and loved seeing both sets of faces light up at some of the performance. Good to hear about the tough life of the musicians from you. I always felt sorry for the animals, but was amazed at their training. "Like Water for Elephants" is an excellent book about life in a circus. Thanks for a well penned post, as always!

Postcardy said...

It sounds like the elephants had a better life than the band members.

Jo Featherston said...

That glowing circus story is well written but it sounds very much like an advertorial to me and I'm guessing it was really written by either a reporter or a circus member rather than some anonymous Fort Wayne boy. Running away to join the circus was a childhood dream for many kids.

Wendy said...

I agree with the others that the boy's account of the circus was just great fun to read. It sounds part Huck Finn part Professor Harold Hill.

My opinion of circuses improved after touring the Ringling Museum in Florida. The work of the team getting the circus from here to there was demanding. While many people don't like that animals were on display or performing, what an education it was for those in rural areas to see exotic animals they would never see otherwise.


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