P.T. Barnum-the Greatest show on earth

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With the musical “the Greatest showman”  starring Hugh Jackman,to hit the cinema soon and in some countries it already is in the movie theaters, it is time to have a look what that greatest show actually was.

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Phineas Taylor Barnum (July 5, 1810 – April 7, 1891) was an American showman, politician, and businessman remembered for promoting celebrated hoaxes and for founding the Barnum & Bailey Circus (1871-2017). Although Barnum was also an author, publisher, philanthropist, and for some time a politician, he said of himself, “I am a showman by profession…and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me,”[2] and his personal aim was “to put money in his own coffers.” Barnum is widely, but erroneously, credited with coining the phrase “There’s a sucker born every minute”

When he was 25, he entered the world of showbusiness, starting with a small sideshow. Though most people associate him with the famous Barnum and Bailey circus, he had an almost 40-year career in sideshows before entering the big top.

In 1841, years before the “Greatest Show on Earth,” Barnum purchased a rundown museum in downtown Manhattan and opened Barnum’s American Museum. In the museum, he displayed a variety of “oddities,” which included historical artifacts, foreign curiosities, animals, and human beings, totaling 500,000 displays in all. The museum was also home to America’s first aquarium and wax-figure.

The museum burned down in 1865, the result of a furnace fire in the basement.

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No humans were harmed, though almost all of the museums’ animals died, and the two beluga whales in the aquarium horrifically boiled alive in their tanks.

Not easily deterred, Barnum rebuilt the museum and promised to fully stock it again. However, before he could, another fire destroyed it again three years later.

At this point, Barnum joined up with James Bailey, and together they formed “Barnum and Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth.” Taking with them the collection of human oddities leftover from the museum, as well as a new trove of animals, Barnum and Bailey traveled the world in the first big top three ring circus.

Below are just some of those human ‘oddities’

The Four Legged Woman

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Myrtle Corbin joined Barnum’s sideshow at 13 years old. She was born with dipygus, a medical condition which resulted in Myrtle being born with two pelvises, and four legs. She performed until she was 19 years old, at which point other sideshow members tried to falsify her condition. None of the attempts at a faux four-legged woman were as popular as Myrtle herself. Circa 1880s.

The Greek Albanian

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George Costentenus was one of Barnum’s oddities who was odd simply for the fact that he was foreign. Originally from Albania, Costentenus was covered from head to toe in tattoos. He claimed to be a descendant of a noble Greek man, who had been kidnapped by Chinese Tartars and tattooed against his will. In reality, they were probably done for show.

Jo-Jo The Dog-Faced Boy

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Fedor Jeftichew signed his contract with Barnum when he was 16 years old. He was born with hypertrichosis, which resulted in his face being almost fully covered in hair. Barnum created a false backstory for him that involved a hunter who tracked and captured him. He claimed that he was an uncivilized savage, and to add to the illusion Fedor would regularly bark and growl like a dog. Circa 1880s

Chang and Eng Bunker

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Chang and Eng Bunker were born outside of Bangkok, in what was then known as Siam. They are the origin of the term “Siamese Twins.” In 1829 the two men joined P.T. Barnum’s circus and were exhibited as an oddity. After they finished their tour, the pair relocated to North Carolina in America and married a pair of sisters. 1865

The Human Skeleton

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Isaac Sprague performed with Barnum at his American Museum, as the “human skeleton.” At the age of 12, Isaac started losing weight despite his healthy appetite, and eventually went down to a weight of 43 pounds. He was often paired with Barnum’s overweight performers, to highlight each of their weights. 1867.

The Bearded Woman

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Annie Jones Elliot toured with Barnum during his circus days. By the age of five, she had a full beard, mustache, and sideburns. She was believed to suffer from hirsutism, a condition that causes excessive body hair growth. Circa 1880s.

Tom Thumb And Lavinia Williams

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Tom Thumb, born Charles Sherwood Stratton, became one of Barnum’s most famous oddities as soon as he joined. By the time he was six years old, he had reached his full height of two feet tall. His fame helped finance the museum’s multiple tours across Europe and brought Queen Victoria to the audience twice. Eventually, he settled down with Barnum’s second “little person” Lavinia Williams. Cira 1860s.

I know in the movie ,P.T Barnum, is portrayed as a great man but I can’t help but feel that in a way he exploited these people.

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The Circus that saved a Jewish family

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I stumbled across this story by accident. I was actually doing research on a Jerry Lewis movie called “The Day the Clown Cried “The film was met with controversy regarding its premise and content, which features a circus clown who is imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp. Lewis has repeatedly insisted that The Day the Clown Cried would never be released because it is an embarrassingly “bad work” that he is ashamed of..

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In Europe, circuses used to travel across national borders, spending weeks moving through forests and little-used trails, and then set up shop in small villages. During the direst parts of World War II, villagers would flock to see the circus–especially in Germany. “Even during the Third Reich, a traveling circus meant a diversion from the daily drudgery of work.

Adolf Althoff, the young heir of the famous Althoff circus, with a family tradition reaching back to the 17th century, directed the circus during the Nazi period. The circus continued its regular activity throughout the war years, traveling from one place to another.

He was born into the family in Sonsbeck, Germany. At age 17 he became publicity director for his families of the circus.

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In his twenties Althoff and his sister formed their own circus, of which he was the ringmaster for 30 years. In 1940, Althoff began five years work in concealing four members of the Danner performing family in his circus. Althoff provided the Danners with false identity papers and had the family working under pseudonyms.

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In the summer of 1941, the circus stopped for a prolonged round of performances at a camp site near Darmstadt in Hesse. One of the visitors at the site was a young girl by the name of Irene Danner. She was a descendant through her mother’s side of the Lorches, a celebrated German-Jewish circus dynasty that had settled in the small town of Eschollbrücken near Darmstadt in the 19th century.

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Although he was well aware of her Jewish descent, Althoff agreed to engage Irene, a gifted acrobat in her own right, in his circus under an assumed name. She soon fell in love with another circus artist, the young Peter Storm-Bento, also a member of a famous family of acrobats and clowns from Belgium. In 1942, the persecution of the Jews of Darmstadt entered a new, lethal phase. On March 20, the first deportation to Lublin in Poland took place, which was followed by the next two deportations in September 1942 and in February 1943.

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Irene Danner’s beloved grandmother was among the deportees, but her mother and sister could still escape in time to make it to Althoff’s circus camp, where they were received with open arms. They were later joined by Irene’s Aryan father, who was granted a temporary release from the army on the pretext of arranging a divorce from his Jewish wife. Harboring four illegals during the war years was at best a high-risk undertaking, although the camp’s relative seclusion did afford some protection from inquisitive eyes.

The Althoff couple had to reckon with the ever-present possibility of a denunciation by one or another disgruntled worker. The threat actually materialized once, but the wily circus director, who had been tipped off in advance by a good friend, knew how to distract the Gestapo officers’ attention with a drink or two, giving the illegals extra time to disappear for a while. The Althoffs also saw to it that Irene received proper medical care during her two births. This was especially complicated because they were both Caesarean sections. The Althoffs assumed this risk as a matter of course, without requesting any material remuneration, even though they had never met either Irene Danner or her family before the war. 

Althoff warned the people he rescued with the code Go Fishing.

On January 2, 1995, Yad Vashem recognized Adolf and Maria Althoff as Righteous Among the Nations.

 

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I am passionate about my site and I know a you all like reading my blogs. I have been doing this at no cost and will continue to do so. All I ask is for a voluntary donation of $2 ,however if you are not in a position to do so I can fully understand, maybe next time then. Thanks To donate click on the credit/debit card icon of the card you will use. If you want to donate more then $2 just add a higher number in the box left from the paypal link. Many thanks

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Mary ,the murderous elephant

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Mary was a five-ton Asian elephant, also known as Murderous Mary, who performed in the Sparks World Famous Shows circus. After killing a trainer in Kingsport, Tennessee, she was hanged in 1916. Her death is sometimes interpreted as a cautionary tale of circus animal abuse during the early 20th century.

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On September 12, 1916, a hobo named Walter Eldridge, nicknamed Red because of his rusty-colored hair, was hired as an assistant elephant trainer by the Sparks World Famous Shows circus. A drifter who had been with the circus only a day, he had no experience of handling elephants, but the only qualification required was the ability to wield an ‘elephant stick’ — a rod with a sharp spear at one end. Eldridge led the elephant parade riding on the top of Mary’s back; Mary was the star of the show, riding at the front. There have been several accounts of his death. One, recounted by W.H. Coleman who claimed to be a witness, is that he prodded her behind the ear with a hook after she reached down to nibble on a watermelon rind. She went into a rage, snatched Eldridge with her trunk, threw him against a drink stand and stepped on his head, crushing it.

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As the terrified spectators screamed and fled, a local blacksmith shot Mary with a pistol, unloading five rounds of ammunition into her thick hide to little effect. She stood still, suddenly calm again and seemingly oblivious both to the bullets and the commotion as the townsfolk encircled her with chants of “Kill the elephant, kill the elephant!”.

The circus owner, Charlie Sparks, reluctantly decided that the only way to quickly resolve the potentially ruinous situation was to kill the elephant in public. It was decided to hang the elephant by the neck from a railcar-mounted industrial crane. On the following day, a foggy and rainy September 13, 1916, Mary was transported by rail to Unicoi County, Tennessee, where a crowd of over 2,500 people (including most of the town’s children) assembled in the Clinchfield Railroad yard.

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As she was led to the railway yard, Mary was followed by the circus’s other four elephants, each entwining their trunk in the tail of the animal in front just as they had done on countless parades. Charlie Sparks hoped that their presence would keep her compliant but, as a chain was placed around her neck at the “scaffold”, they trumpeted mournfully to her and he feared that she might try to run away. To stop this happening, one of her legs was tethered to a rail. No one thought to release it as the derrick whirred into action and, as she was hoisted into the air, there was an awful cracking noise, the sound of her bones and ligaments snapping under the strain. She had been raised no more than five feet when the chain around her neck broke, dropping her to the ground and breaking her hip.

The industrial crane was powered up again and this time Mary was raised high in the air, her thick legs thrashing and her agonized shrieks and grunts audible even over the laughter and cheers of those watching below. Finally she fell silent and hung there for half an hour before a local vet declared her dead. Her gruesome end is recorded in a photograph so horrifically surreal that some have suggested it must be a fake — but, all too sadly, its authenticity has been confirmed by other reports and photographs taken at the time.

The Hammond circus train wreck.

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In a quiet cemetery outside Chicago lies a mass grave of clowns, strongmen, and acrobats who died in one of the worst circus tragedies in history.

In the early morning hours of June 22, 1918, the members of the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus were fast asleep in the wooden cars at the back of their train.

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The Hammond Circus Train Wreck occurred on June 22, 1918 during World War 1 and was one of the worst train wrecks in US history. Eighty-six people were reported to have died and another 127 were injured when a locomotive engineer fell asleep and ran his train into the rear of another near Hammond, Indiana.

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In the early morning hours of June 22, 1918, Alonzo Sargent was operating a Michigan Central Railroad troop train pulling 20 empty Pullman cars. He was aware that his train was closely following a slower circus train. Sargent, an experienced man at the throttle, had slept little if at all in the preceding twenty-four hours. The effects of a lack of sleep, several heavy meals, some kidney pills, and the gentle rolling of his locomotive are thought to have caused him to fall asleep at the controls.

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At approximately 4:00 am, he missed at least two automatic signals and warnings posted by a brakeman of the 26-car circus train, which had made an emergency stop to check a hot box on one of the flatcars. The second train plowed into the caboose and four rear wooden sleeping cars of the circus train at a rail crossing known as Ivanhoe Interlocking (5½ miles east of Hammond, Indiana) at an estimated speed of 35 miles per hour.

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The circus train held 400 performers and roustabouts of the Hagenbeck-Wallace circus. Most of the 86 who were killed in the train wreck perished in the first 35 seconds after the collision. Then, the wreckage caught on fire. Among the dead were Arthur Dierckx and Max Nietzborn of the Great Dierckx Brothers, a strongman act, and Jennie Ward Todd of The Flying Wards. There were also 127 injuries.

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Five days later, most of those killed, burned beyond recognition, were buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, at the intersection of Cermak Road and Des Plaines Avenue in Forest Park, Illinois, in a section set aside as Showmen’s Rest, which had been purchased by the Showmen’s League of America only a few months earlier. Few of those buried were formally identified, and so the graves of most of the casualties are marked “Unknown Male” or “Unknown Female.” One grave is marked “Smiley”, one “Baldy”, and another “4 Horse Driver”. The section is surrounded by statues of elephants in a symbolic mourning posture.

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