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Posts Tagged ‘Circus

“Damn everything but the circus!”*…


Once she has lowered herself into the mouth of the cannon and slid down to the base of the barrel, Gemma “The Jet” Kirby performs a series of breath-synchronized movements that seem more suited to yoga or lamaze than to one of the deadliest stunts in circus history. This sequence is the culmination of hours of preparation, the final item on a human cannonball’s pre-flight checklist…

A Glimpse Inside The Secretive World Of Human Cannonballs

* e.e. cummings


As we lock and load, we might spare a thought for Charles W. Fish; he died on this date in 1895.  A bareback rider, he was one of the most famous circus performers of his time.

It is eminently fitting that Charles W. Fish, whose death occurred in Chicago on May 5, 1895, should have a place on these pages. For three seasons he was a feature of this show, and had he lived would have been with the show during the season of 1895. [Ringling Bros.] Mr. Fish was one of the most widely known circus performers in the world. He had during his long career visited every civilized country, and his marvelous ability as a somersault equestrian won him the well-deserved title of champion wherever he appeared. He was especially proud of the fact that he had appeared before Queen Victoria and the royal family at Windsor by the Queen’s especial command, and though he was intensely American in spirit, he always recalled his visit to the English sovereign with pleasure. He also appeared before many of the continental crowned heads, and received many marks of royal and imperial favor. He was a fine linguist, and an artist of considerable ability. A number of his sketches appeared in Ringling Brothers’ Route Book for 1894. As a literary man, Mr. Fish would have taken prominence if his life work had not been directed into a more active channel. His clever little poem, “A Light House by the Sea,” which appeared in the Route Book in 1893, was always much admired. Mr. Fish was buried at Troy, New York.

With the Circus. A Route Book of Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Railroad Shows, Seasons of 1895 and 1896, St. Louis: Great Western Printing Co. By Alf T. Ringling.



Written by LW

May 5, 2015 at 1:01 am

Stocking Stuffers for the Sagacious…


In the same spirit as the afore-featured Literary Action Figures, and just in time for the Holidays, The Unemployed Philosophers Guild (“The unexamined gift is not worth giving”) offers finger puppets of the world’s greatest philosophers, authors, artists, leaders, and thinkers…

Mark Twain

Immanuel Kant

Virginia Woolf

Mahatma Gandhi

Marie Curie

Louis Armstrong

Find these and 100 more, from Hannah Arendt and the Buddha to Ulysses S. Grant and Zora Neale Hurston, at The Unemployed Philosophers Guild.

[TotH to Brain Pickings]


As we muse on the money we’ll save on manicures, we might send poignantly amusing birthday wishes to Emmett Kelly, the best-known circus clown of the Twentieth Century; he was born on this date in 1898.

Kelly began his career under the big top in the early 1920s as a trapeze artist; but in 1931, he switched to clowning.  In a move that was revolutionary at the time, Kelly eschewed traditional white-face, darkening his face to become “Weary Willie,” a character based on the hobos of the time.  While he did do gags (famously, “opening” a peanut with a sledgehammer), his act was largely mimed sketches in which his bedraggled character is yet again out of luck.  (Perhaps his best-known bit derived from his regular appearance after other acts, sweeping up:  toward the end of the show he tries– and of course fails– to sweep up the pool of light cast by a spotlight.)

Kelly worked at a number of different circuses through the 20s and 30s until he settled, in 1942, at Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey.  He performed there (with a short break to play “Willie” in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth in 1952) until 1956, when he served a year as the mascot of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  He was an inaugural inductee into the International Clown Hall of Fame and into the International Circus Hall of Fame. And though he was born in Sedan, Kansas, Kelly was inducted into the Hall of Famous Missourians; a bronze bust depicting him is on permanent display in the rotunda of the Missouri State Capitol.



Written by LW

December 9, 2011 at 1:01 am

Mown down…

George C Ballas, Sr, the Houston, Texas, dance studio owner who changed the way America cut its grass when he invented the Weed Eater aka the weed whacker, died [late last month] of natural causes. He was 85. Ballas (seen here with an early prototype) got the idea for the mower while sitting in a car wash wondering if those spinning bristles could be modified to trim grass and weeds in areas a lawnmower couldn’t reach. Turns out they could. He founded his Weed Eater company in 1971, made a bundle, and later sold the invention to Emerson Electric for an undisclosed sum. “A Weed Eater comes along once in a lifetime,” he said. Although he’s known as the Weed King, Ballas’ life was dance. He was an Arthur Murray dance instructor and his own Dance Studio USA was the world’s largest (43,000 square feet); his wife was a noted flamenco dancer; his son Corky is a champion ballroom dancer; and his grandson Mark is a professional dancer, a regular partner on Dancing With the Stars. (AP photo)

Via World of Wonder.

As we dance our way under those inconvenient hedges and into those pesky corners, we might wish a spectacularly happy birthday to Phineas Taylor (“P.T.”) Barnum; he was born on this date in 1810.  Barnum founded and ran a small business, then a weekly newspaper in his native Connecticut before leaving for New York City and the entertainment business.  He parlayed a variety troop and a “curiosities” museum (featuring the ‘”Feejee” mermaid’ and “General Tom Thumb”) into a fortune…  which he lost in a series of legal setbacks.  He replenished his stores by touring as a temperance speaker, then served as a Connecticut State legislator and as Mayor of Bridgeport (a role in which he introduced gas lighting and founded the Bridgeport hospital)… It wasn’t until after his 60th birthday that he turned to endeavor for which he’s best remembered– the circus.

“I am a showman by profession…and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me.”

source: Library of Congress

Comrade Pac-Man…

Morskoi Boi

As kids, who among us never dreamed of growing up to be a sailor? After we go to space, naturally. This arcade game was created for those who never forgot their childhood dreams. And so, you are now looking through the periscope of a submarine and the enemy ships are sailing audaciously across the horizon, back and forth. Press “Start” and the green point representing a moving torpedo rushes towards the enemy vessel. The rest depends on the accuracy of the player-sniper.

From the collection of Moscow’s Museum of Soviet Arcade Games— over 40 units, and growing– a sample that one can play online.

[ToTH to Jesse Dylan]


As we limber up our firing fingers, we might recall that it was on this date that the first elephant arrived in America, from India, aboard the ship America. The pachyderm, called “Old Bet,” was paraded around the Northeast for a few years, exhibited to curious punters, until she was acquired by Hackaliah Bailey– the organizer of the first American circus and the “Bailey” in “Barnum and Bailey.”


An advertisement for Old Bet in Boston, 1797

source: Natural History


Nathaniel Hawthorne's father (also "Nathaniel"), an officer aboard the ship America, wrote this entry in the ship’s logbook. His handwriting grew large when he referred to the first elephant ever to come to America.

source: Natural History

Boys and Girls of All Ages!…

With a caveat to sufferers of the previously-explored affliction Coulrophobia, and as a kind of companion to the earlier-featured “Dictionary of Carny, Circus, Sideshow & Vaudeville Lingo ,” a collection of vintage circus and carnival posters and photos– one wonder after another!

These and many more at “Le Cirque” and “Bread and Circuses,” Flickr sets from gifted collector DoubleM2 (whose other groups of similarly fascinating designs from other corners of the human experience are also eminently worthy of a wander).

As we choose between an extra-large and an extra-extra-large popcorn, we might recall that it was on this date in 1992 that SummerSlam was held At Wembly Stadium in London.  With paid admissions of 80,355, it was certainly the largest ever professional wrestling crowd outside the U.S.  It may indeed have been the largest wrestling crowd ever:  the WWF reported that attendance at Wrestlemania III, held in Pontiac Michigan in 1987, had attendance of over 93,000; but many writers present believe that the WWF materially “overstated” the gate (and that the figure was more like 78,000).  In any case, no other pro wrestling event, before or since, has been so well attended.

Promotion for the broadcast, two days later

For video of SummerSlam 1992, click here.

Name that Town!…

One of the most frequently asked questions among new acquaintances (and random encounters) goes to origins: “where are you from?”

Lest one take one’s home for granted, the good folks at Purple Slinky have shared a list of “The Ten Longest Place Names in the World.”

Consider, for example, Number Two:


This place name has 85 letters and is the Maori name of a hill in New Zealand. It translates as: “The place where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, who slid, climbed and swallowed mountains, known as land-eater, played on the flute to his loved one.”

The Longest?  Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit…  Or, as it’s more frequently called thereabouts, Krung Thep…  or in the West, Bangkok.

As we rethink bumper stickers as a marketing tool, we might consider teaching our dogs new tricks, as it was on this date, in 1768, that the first modern circus was staged.  Trick riders, acrobats, clowns, trained animals, and other familiar components of the circus have existed throughout recorded history, but it was not until the late 18th century that the modern spectacle of the circus was born, when Philip Astley, a former British cavalry sergeant major, found that if he galloped in a tight circle, centrifugal force allowed him to perform seemingly impossible feats on a horse’s back. He drew up a,  ring in London and on January 9, 1768, invited the public to see him wave his sword in the air while he rode with one foot on the saddle and one on the horse’s head.

Astley’s trick riding was such a hit that he soon hired other equestrians, a clown, and musicians, and in 1770 built a roof over his ring– calling the structure Astley’s Amphitheatre.  In 1772, Astley went to Versailles to perform his “daring feats of horsemanship” before King Louis XV, and found France ripe for a permanent show of its own, which he founded in 1782.  But 1782 also saw a competitor in London set up shop just down the road from Astley’s Amphitheatre, calling his show the “Royal Circus,” after the Roman name for the circular theaters where chariot races were held.  While Astley, who lived till 1814, prevailed, and eventually established 18 other circuses in cities across Europe,   the term “circus” had,  by the 19th century, been adopted as a generic name for this new form of entertainment.

The circus came later to the western side of the Pond: English equestrian John Bill Ricketts opened the first American circus in Philadelphia in 1792; he later opened others in New York City and Boston.  President George Washington reportedly attended a Ricketts circus– and sold the company a horse.

The original “Big Top” (source: Tracy Chevalier)

Circus Antiquus…

George W. Hall, Jr. (1868)

The circus is a magical place, packed with performers of astounding feats and possessed of a language of its own.

Thanks to the Wisconsin Historical Society, readers can browse a remarkable gallery of circus folk from years past— like the young snake handler above.

As we resist the urge to run away and join up, we might stay tuned, as it was on this date in 1951 that the first long-running soap opera, Search for Tomorrow, premiered on CBS.  The show, which ran for just over 35 years (though on NBC in its last five years), focused on Joanne, a housewife played for the entire run by Mary Stuart, in a midwestern town called “Henderson”; its first head writer was Agnes Nixon, the Grande Dame of Daytime Television, who went on to create and write such stalwarts as One Life to Live and All My Children (the former of which was later written by the remarkable Michael Malone, whose efforts won him an Emmy to go with his Edgar, O. Henry, and Writers Guild awards).

(source: Wikimedia)

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