Sawdust and Spangles/Chapter 11
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Stories of Old-Time Shows and Showmen.
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STORIES OF OLD-TIME SHOWS AND SHOWMEN
Nothing can afford a better idea of the variety and picturesqueness of a showman’s life than the medley of odd incidents, of strange experiences and homely happenings that crowd the thought of a veteran when in a reminiscent mood. It is under this kind of inspiration that I have jotted down, in this scrappy and haphazard way, the episodes which sufficiently impressed me at the time of their occurrence to claim frequent rehearsal when talking over the "old days" with other pioneers of the tent and the ring. It is the clowns who in one way or another furnish most material for anecdotes, and the greatest clown America ever saw was Dan Rice, who at one time was the most famous circus performer in America, and, with the exception of John Robinson, the most daring. I have never met a more nervy man; he was without an equal in trying emergencies. He would face a mob at any time and under any circumstances. Besides being a natural fighter he was a natural orator. He had a sonorous, penetrating voice, his enunciation was clear and distinct, and he knew the secret of flattering and delighting his auditors. Dan had many competitors for the patronage of the river towns, the most prominent of whom were two veteran showmen who owned a floating palace. The "Palace" was simply a large boat fitted up as an opera house with the most elegant appointments. It would seat several hundred people and was provided with a complete stage and elaborate sets of scenery. This was towed by a tug called the "James Raymond," on which all the performers roomed and took their meals. They had, besides, a steamer called the "Banjo," on which they gave a minstrel performance.
DAN RICE'S ONE-HORSE SHOW
Dan had formerly been "featured" as one of their attractions; but, some trouble arising, he had left them and started in business on his own account. He experienced the usual ups and downs of a showman's life, finally "went broke," and was at last cleaned out to what he boldly announced as "Dan Rice's One-Horse Show." With this little affair he courageously fought his former associates and did a large business. During the performances he was in the habit of singing a song entitled My One-Horse Show, which took the popular fancy and materially helped him. In this song he told how the opposition had placed false buoys in the river, thereby misleading his pilots and throwing him on sand bars where his craft stuck for days.
For the information of those unacquainted with river travel I will say that buoys are placed by the government in dangerous parts of the river to point out the only safe channel. Now, whether or not the opposition was really guilty of this trick, Dan's verses gained him the sympathy of the people, and with that sympathy came their dollars. In fact, to such an extent did Dan work upon the sympathies of the people that, at many points, they actually refused to allow the opposition boats to land. At some of these places the opposition had themselves incurred the displeasure of the people by touching at the landing only long enough to receive their audiences, and then going into the middle of the river to give their performances, thus avoiding the payment of the license fee.
This lasted through the winter, and when summer came both shows took to their tents and traveled toward New York State. There Dan's enemies succeeded on some charge or other in getting him in jail. While in his cell he composed the song "Blue Eagle Jail," in which he described the jailer, whom he disliked, as "Dot-and-Go-One," from the fact of his having a wooden leg. This song made the one-legged jailer notorious all over the country.
One thing I must say for Dan Rice: He was the only original clown I ever heard—with the single exception of Dilly Fay. The latter was an erratic individual who actually became a clown that he might save money to complete his studies in Paris. Fay was educated and original, but lacked the physical power and deep voice of Rice. I never heard of Fay after he started for Paris, but presume he never reëntered the ring.
TAN-BARK ORATORY AND HARLEQUIN PLUCK
Once when I was with Dan Rice on the river circus we showed at Memphis. At this place a certain fellow was loud in his denunciation of Dan and the show. He was a source of great annoyance to the showman and had also made himself very unpopular by declaiming against slavery. In retaliation Dan entered the ring and returned the compliment in kind. He capped the climax by singing a song in which he described his enemy as playing cards with a negro on a log, and so boldly was this done that the people believed it and the fellow became so exasperated that he threatened to shoot Dan. The clown, however, defied him, and continued ridiculing him until the man was actually obliged to leave the city in a hurry.
Dan also had trouble at Yazoo City, Mississippi. He had, it appears, on a former visit, flogged a prominent man there, and the latter had sworn to shoot him on sight. One night when Dan was clowning in the ring the prominent citizen entered and drew his revolver to kill. A plucky bystander, however, knocked the iron from his hand and prevented bloodshed. The scene that followed I shall never forget. Dan stood undaunted in the ring, called the man a coward and dared him to shoot. His audience went into ecstacies over such an exhibition of bravery and applauded to the echo. Whereupon Dan, stimulated to further efforts, poured forth a torrent of the most stinging denunciation of cowards that ever fell from mortal lips. I have often wondered where Dan picked up such a command of language.
"A SPECTATOR JUMPED INTO THE RING AND TRIED TO SHOOT THE CLOWN."
AN IMITATION PATRIOT SHOWN UP
My last experience with Dan Rice when he was in the circus business was at Elkhart, Ind. It was a very stormy day during the war. The weather was too windy to permit the hoisting of the usual flags, and one pompous young fellow, inflated with conceit, appointed himself a committee and visited Dan, demanding that the flags be hoisted. He charged that Dan had made secession speeches in the South. With an ugly mob at his heels the fellow declared that if the flags were not hoisted he would burn the whole outfit. Dan truthfully told the crowd that he had already erected, at Girard, Pa., a monument to the Union soldiers; that he owned more flags than the whole city of Elkhart, and that he would show them if they desired; but he absolutely refused to hoist a stitch of bunting upon such a demand. Threats and arguments were alike powerless to move him from his stand. I thought him rather foolish, in those exciting times, and there appeared to me great danger in his action.
Dan, however, mastered the situation. He publicly announced that at the night show he would give a full history of the leader of the mob, and did so with a vengeance. He had learned by careful inquiries something of the character of this fellow, who was a cashier in a bank, and at the evening performance, and in the actual presence of the man and his associates, Dan mounted a stool and gave his enemy such a verbal castigation as few persons have ever received. As he progressed in his speech he waxed eloquent, and in a marvelously deep, clear and penetrating voice pictured the vices and foibles of this "patriotic" cashier, until the audience was ready to mob the man. Suddenly a rush was made to where he had been sitting. But he was gone and the eloquent showman was a complete victor.
That night I roomed at the hotel where Rice was stopping, and in the morning he accompanied me to the depot, to see me off for my home in the West. While waiting there the cashier appeared and begged Dan to retract his assertions of the night before, declaring that otherwise he would be run out of town. Dan replied that if he did not immediately leave him he would receive the worst thrashing of his life—and Dan would have kept his word, to the letter, had not the fellow beat a quick retreat. I saw Rice but once after that time, but always regarded him as a prince of the circus ring.
At one time we started our show through Kentucky, where we did a splendid business. On this journey through the South our horses were all caught in a fire and so charred and burned that we had to shoot many of them. In Mississippi we were greatly troubled and delayed by the muddy roads. We were three days going a distance of only eighteen miles. At one point, where there was only one house, our tent was delayed on account of the deep mud, and we were forced to show without it, putting up the seats in the form of a circle, thus making a ring in which the performance was given. The people could see the perform-ance without paying, but nearly all of them had principle enough to pay. A few ruffians, however, began abusing the showmen, and a genuine fight ensued, which was a repetition of most of the others, and some of the toughs were badly hurt. Our men had all gone to the farmhouse to bed, and I was alone on the grounds to look after my property, when, after midnight, a crowd began to gather and sud-denly surrounded me, shoving the muzzles of their pistols and guns in my face. This crowd hung about until daylight, and I pleaded so heartily that they did not shoot. The fact that I was then little more than a boy in years was, I think, the only reason I was not instantly shot by the ruffians.
When our company began to gather in the morning these ruffians left, but I shall never forget that night sitting there surrounded by a half-drunken mob, in a drizzling fall of rain. I was completely exhausted and half frozen, and never before nor since was I so glad to see daylight come.
This trip led us through Georgia, Alabama, Florida and North Carolina. In those States we frequently traveled at night, and sometimes all night, illuminating our way by setting fire to the patches of gum on the pine trees at the spots where they had been "blazed" for their sap. In the mountains of North Carolina we encountered the "clay eaters." I was assured that they subsisted to a great extent upon a certain kind of clay which appears to be able to sustain life. The reader can imagine the character and intelligence of these beings. There was also, in a certain region, a strange people who held regular monthly fairs where they met to barter. They were said to be descendants of a certain Scottish clan, who, when they first came to this country, were fairly well civilized, but instead of settling in the fertile soils and lowlands, took up their homes in the mountains, because the latter reminded them of their native country. Here they became more and more isolated until, at length, they were governed solely by their own outlandish laws and customs, knowing nothing of the usages of civilization. Outside of the clay-eating districts these mountain people grew to an enormous stature and possessed great strength. I found them very hospitable, always treating their guests with marked kindness.
IN WHICH CUPID WAS MASTER OF THE RING
When we went to New Orleans to close up and pay off a show that had been "flooded out" in one of my earliest ventures, it was our intention to take the New Orleans company to New York, but I found it impracticable. I thereupon called all the members to my rooms at the hotel and explained to them the situation. I proposed to pay them all off and let them remain idle until the opening in the following spring. To this all agreed save two, our principal riders, a woman and a man. These positively refused to make any compromise. The woman snapped her fingers in my face and said: "No, I was engaged for a year and you will have to pay me my salary just the same. You are able to do it, and do it you shall." The man took precisely the same stand, and as they were not only our star riders, but also the best equestrians in America, I was at a loss to know what to do.
I took a little time for deliberation, and learned that both malcontents were very much in love with each other. This immediately helped me to determine what course to pursue. I first sent for the woman and told her to get ready at once to go to my farm in Wisconsin, where I intended to build a ring around a tree, to furnish her with a ringmaster, and to allow her to earn her salary by giving two performances daily to the birds and squirrels. She claimed that her contract did not call for such performances, but a reference to the contract proved that she was to ride in any part of America I might designate. Then I sent for the man and told him that he and his horses must take the next steamer for New York City. He refused to do this, but I quickly proved to him that his contract with us, though calling for transportation for himself and horses, did not specify of what nature that transportation should be; I had a perfect right to send him by sailing vessel if I chose. His refusal to go of course canceled his contract, and I accordingly left him. The woman expressed her willingness to go to Wisconsin, but I knew she could not leave her sweetheart—and I was right. In less than half an hour they proposed a compromise, but I refused. Finally I agreed to take the woman to New York and pay her half salary until the season opened.
Among the many men employed with the Barnum show was one large, handsome fellow who was superintendent of the equestrian department. As showmen are fond of having nicknames, some one called this man "Barnum." The poor fellow was wholly illiterate and tolerably fond of whisky, consequently the name was decidedly inappropriate, but, as a nickname will, it stuck to him hard and fast. One day, while Mr. Barnum was visiting the show, his namesake was lying asleep outside one of the horse tents on a pile of hay, and one of the hands, desiring to waken him, shouted at the top of his voice: "Barnum! Barnum! Wake up!" Mr. Barnum had been a witness to this scene and he came to me in a tremendous rage, saying: "Have you no respect for me at all?"
"What do you mean, Mr. Barnum?"
"What do I mean?" he replied. "Why, I wish to know your intent in calling that drunken, illiterate brute by my name."
Of course, after an explanation, Mr. Barnum's rage cooled, but I think he was never so much annoyed in his life. It well illustrates how thoroughly he hated the vice of drunkenness. After that episode strict injunctions were given to refrain from calling the man "Barnum."
On one occasion when we had run to Joplin, Mo., the train was divided into three sections, the first having been switched on a siding to wait for the other two. I was sitting at the hotel, eating breakfast, when the superintendent of the road came in and announced, "I am afraid you will not show to-day."
"Why not?" I replied.
"Well," said he, "the section of your train that has already pulled out has run wild down a steep grade over an immense trestle with nothing but zigzags and reverse curves. We have to run over them with our passenger trains at a very slow speed, and, as your cars are top-heavy, I can see nothing but complete destruction for them."
"Well," said I, "can't you send an engine after the runaway section?"
He promised to do this and, as there was nothing more I could do, I finished my breakfast at leisure.
BARNUM'S ONE UNCONQUERABLE SUPERSTITION
The locomotive went out and caught the train. It had passed safely over the trestle and had reached a heavy ascending grade. Here it naturally lost its momentum and began to back down the grade toward the city. I was unaware, at that time, that a passenger train was then due and that the superintendent fully expected a collision to take place. I can assure my readers that I drew a long breath when the operator looked up from his key and remarked: "Thank the Lord! Number Six, the passenger, is an hour late!" Thus a dreadful catastrophe was prevented. Two men were asleep on one of the platform cars of the circus train, and one of them, in the stress of excitement, jumped off and was instantly dashed to pieces one hundred feet below. The man who stuck to the train was saved, although nearly frightened to death.
Mr. Barnum, although never particularly nervous about accidents, usually refused to travel in the same train with me, giving as his reason that should we both be killed the show would be without a head. Really he regarded me as something of a "hoodoo." In the course of one trip from New Orleans to New York we were compelled to ride together, and on that occasion the sleeper caught fire and was very nearly destroyed. Fortunately this happened in the daytime.
Not only was Mr. Barnum quick to grasp a situation, but was also ready at repartee. Once, at the hotel at Block Island, the dining-room was crowded with people from all over America. One of the guests was a somewhat notorious Mayor of a well-known Western city. During a partial lull in the conversation, this politician had the temerity to bawl out: "Barnum, what is going to be your next humbug? Your last one, the White Elephant, was a failure!" Mr. Barnum, in a voice equally loud and without a moment's hesitation, replied:
"I think my next humbug will be the present Mayor of your city! I have been twice Senator of my State and three times Mayor of Bridgeport; but from what I have learned of politicians and their methods in the West I have come to the conclusion that I am now in a far more respectable business—that of showman—in which no man is either corrupted or injured."
GULLIBLE PATRONS IN EARLY DAYS
The people who were patrons of the circus in early days were very "gullible." Every showman of ripe years has in his memory incidents from his own experience which fully corroborate this statement. The old-time show was an "event" of large importance in the life of the small village, no matter whether that village were hid among the hills or were a landmark upon the open plains—in either instance it was as effectually separated from the rest of mankind as if it had been an isle at sea. The circus, to the villagers and the farmers, was an unending cause of wonder and curiosity.
Strange reports floated ahead and behind the circus—and, for the most part, were believed. The exact size of the coming wonder was a subject for animated discussion. Of course the people did not believe all that the billboards said; but they believed enough to credit the coming show with being two or three times as large as it really was in fact. When a circus proved to be smaller than the popular estimate, it was said to have split or divided, one section going to some other "small" place. As these rumors were never contradicted by the showmen they spread rapidly and the circus became near kin to some fabulous, hydra-headed sea serpent—a creature which has a habit of taking on more heads and bristling manes every time it is seen. As a matter of fact it would have been exceedingly impracticable to have divided a show and, so far as my knowledge goes this was never done. Showmen did not deny these reports for the simple reason that they had no time to answer questions. Many inquiries had hardened them, and, if they ever relented in this particular it was only to fill their auditors' ears with bigger yarns because that course was the easiest way to get rid of the questioners. In explanation of this I may say that the questions which are "fired" at showmen in every town would go a long way toward filling a volume. Showmen in the early days had a habit of agreeing, without hesitation, to every story advanced by patrons. For example, I remember that, on coming into a certain town we selected our lot and began to pitch our tent. During the process of the work one of our men—a strong, burly Irishman—was approached by an angry countryman who demanded to know what had become of his calf which, it appeared, had been stolen from him during the run of the last circus which had stopped at the town. Of course the countryman had laid the blame at the door of the circus men and, although ours was an entirely different show, it was evident that all circuses looked alike to him, and that he believed them all to belong to a strongly knit brotherhood whose mission was for the accumulation of dollars and, incidentally, the promotion of general deviltry. He threatened our men with many things if they did not disclose the whereabouts of his lost calf. "Well," said big Pat, when the countryman had ceased his tirade; "now you spake av it, Oi balave Oi do remember thot calf. We took her down here to Jonesville and—domn me—she's a foine big cow now."
EXPEDIENTS OF ADVANCE AGENTS
In the days of the wagon shows—particularly before and just after the war—the advance agent of the show usually had many experiences to relate. Sometimes, when the show was traveling in the South, this genius would come upon some old negro who, with ax over his shoulder, was on his way to the woods to cut timber. When the agent came up he would call out to the negro:
"Uncle, where you going?"
"Ise gwine to chop fiah wood, boss," would be the reply.
Then the agent would say: "Did you hear about the fire last night? We had a big fire last night, and all our animals got away from us and took to the woods. They're running wild down there now, elephants, tigers, lions—they all got away."
Having finished relating this alarming bit of news the agent would reach under the seat of his buggy, take up the halter and say: "Here, Uncle, take this halter and if you see any of those animals catch them and take them to the tent—we will pay you a good reward for each and every animal. By this time the whites of the negro's eyes were the most prominent parts of his countenance.
"No, sah," he always managed to say as he backed off; "Ise not gwine t' dem woods dis day."
"All right," the agent would respond, and, taking the reins, would start on his way. One of our agents had reached this point in the program when he heard the negro calling to him. He immediately reined in his horse and looked back.
"Say, boss," called the old uncle, "what animal have de mos' preference fo' a colored man—a lion or a tiger?"
Whenever our advance wagons came upon a field in which the negroes were picking cotton the negroes would immediately be observed to edge toward the fence so that they could see the show go by. Then our men would advance on horseback and cry out lustily:
"Look out boys, de elephants am comin'; climb yore trees—dem elephants get you shore!" The cotton-pickers seldom needed a second warning, but, as one man, they would turn and make for the other end of the field as if they were possessed of demons. They were a very superstitious and impressionable race. The managers of our show had great difficulty in preventing the candy boys from filling the negroes up with ghost stories, hoodoo stories and the like, a course that tended to scare them away and reduce our receipts. One day a young fellow, an attaché of our show, went up to a group of plantation negroes and commenced to go through a series of outlandish contortions and crazy antics. Finally one of the negroes asked:
"What you all doin'?"
"Now keep still," he replied, "I'm hoo-dooin' that girl there." Finally the girl herself thought she was hoodooed and fell to the ground kicking and screaming. The rest of the negroes did not care to linger in so dangerous a quarter.
In the early days in the South the country was so sparsely settled that we did not content ourselves with showing in the towns, but were in the habit of putting our tents up on any large plantation which appeared to be centrally located for a region in which we believed we could make a good "stand. " It was invariably our custom to show in the afternoon. In the evening the attachés of the show were quite apt to be invited to a plantation dance or "hoe-down." The "acting" at these impromptu gatherings was of no mean order. The negroes would bring out all their finery and there was sure to be a "Miss Sue" or a "Miss Lucinda" to carry off the honors.
Many people—and this was particularly true in the South—entertained the notion that circuses secured most of their performers by stealing children. One time when we were showing down in Texas an incident occurred which will illustrate under what strong suspicion we were held in certain localities. It so happened that at the time we were showing in a certain Texas town, a little colored chap named "Josh" became lost. Of course there was a great hubbub over this incident, and we were immediately blamed for having a hand in the matter. A thorough search of all our belongings, however, failed to reveal to the angry inhabitants the whereabouts of the missing boy. At intervals during the excitement the boy's mother, a great negro "Mammy," went about among her people moaning and wailing:
"Ain't dat horrible, ain't dat sorrowful, the old showman done stole little Josh away from his paw an' his maw." This incensed the crowd and for the time being we were in imminent danger of being torn limb from limb by the enraged crowd. Finally, however, the missing boy turned up, and, to make amends, the old negress went about exclaiming: "Little Josh done got home; little Josh done got home!"
EXHIBITING "YANKEES" IN THE SOUTH
Just after the war many of the Southern people regarded a "Yankee" as an unending wonder. They had heard so much of Yankee ingenuity that they came to regard a Northerner as a curiosity. We conceived the scheme of utilizing our knowledge of this fact to swell our receipts. We advertised that we had with our show a number of Yankees from various States. The crier dilated upon the wonderful ingenuity of the Yankee and told the people that if they had any old clocks or other things which needed fixing that they might bring them and watch the Yankees fix them. Our first attempt to put this scheme into operation turned out somewhat disastrously. It was Saturday and the people flocked to see the Yankees. When they saw, however, that Yankees are a good deal like other people we narrowly escaped a riot. The attachés of our show got into trouble with the quarrelsome element of the crowd and ended by boasting that they were all Yankees. Only by the exercise of great diplomacy was a combat avoided.
SLEEPING IN STRANGE ATTITUDES
As I stated in the beginning of this chapter, our patrons at this early day were very gullible. At one place the people had a great curiosity to know how the circus performers slept at night. After filling these questioners up with outlandish stories the attachés of the show decided to have a little fun at their expense. To bring this about they bribed the hotel keeper to let them have for a sleeping room one of the front rooms which faced the streets. When it became rumored about the town that the circus men would occupy this room a crowd composed of the curious assembled on the sidewalk outside. When night came each and every showman stood on his head. They ranged themselves in rows and the countrymen who caught glimpses of them were told that this was the way all showmen slept.
The advertising agents for a large circus of the present day would, no doubt, get a good deal of amusement from the tales of the experiences of the advertising men who traveled in advance of the old-time wagon show. One time when I was traveling with a show owned by a man named Yankee Robinson we discovered that we were almost entirely out of showbills. We were for a time in a serious quandary—but we were not to be downed in this manner. We finally hired a "democrat" wagon and with a single bill in our possession started out to bill the country from which we hoped to draw our patrons. At the gate of every farmer we stopped and called loudly. When the king of the soil appeared we would hand him the bill and allow him to read it; then we would take the bill and ride on to the next house. It was tedious work, but we succeeded in drawing our crowd and felt repaid for our efforts.
THE CIRCUS "CRIER"
It is doubtful if there was to be found a more interesting character than the circus crier in the days of the wagon shows. He was often a man of ability—many men who were circus criers have attained substantial success in the world of affairs. They were chosen for this position largely on account of their good "talking" qualities, and were, as a rule, resourceful and given to witty jests. The show once had a "Little Man" whom they exhibited as Tom Thumb. He was in reality a boy of about eleven years of age. But he was fitted out with a little carriage and ponies, and filled the bill very well. When the crier took his stand in front of the tent he would call out:
"Ladies and gentlemen; we have little Tom Thumb inside. More than this, we have the carriage which was presented to him by her Majesty, Queen Victoria of England. Ladies and gentlemen, Queen Victoria gave this superb outfit to him with the words: 'Here, Tom Thumb, is the little carriage, together with the horses, together with the harness—here, Thomas, take it. Take these to America; show it to your countrymen. Tell the people of America that it cost three thousand pounds in our money or $15,000 in their money. Take it, Thomas, take it.'"
Showmen were often given names for the city or county in which they were hired. Thus "Cincinnati Bill" or "Chicago Jim" would not only serve as well as any other name, but they possessed this advantage, that they indicated in a breath where Bill or Jim had been picked up by the circus. When the show was touring Texas we chanced to hire a man in Bastrop county. Of course we called him Bastrop. He proved to be an "all around" handy man, and, while he had no professional training for any particular feat or "turn," he proved a capable man in whatever position he was placed. One of his early duties was that of driving; but there came a time when he was given a chance to distinguish himself. After we had "opened our doors" for business in a certain town our crier was taken sick and we could think of no better man to take his place than Bastrop. Our position was particularly trying from the fact that an opposition show had started up soon after we had got under way, and there promised to be some lively music between us before we left the town. For some reason or other the opposition show seemed to be doing the biggest business and we were unable to account for it save by the fact that they had a big snake which seemed to attract the crowds. In every crowd of countrymen visiting a circus there is sure to be some sympathetic chap who is quick to catch the pathos of a thing of this kind and try to console the one that is being worsted. There was such an one in this crowd. This man came over to Bastrop, stood watching the latter's lips and drinking in the marvelous flow of words that proceeded therefrom. Finally he blurted out: "Wall, you don't appear to be gettin' em as fast as that young man over there."
"No," replied Bastrop, "I don't because I'm no d—— Yankee liar. But I've got the best show. I am from Bastrop, Bastrop County, Texas. I have got a human family—Master Eastwood of Ohio, the lonely star that is now shining for you. If I had the merits and qualifications of Master Eastwood [Eastwood could write and Bastrop couldn't] I would now fill the President's chair. Then I have the "Little Man" with the chariot and horses presented by Queen Victoria. Then I have the tall man. The great curiosity is why one should grow so small and the other remain so large. Why, ever since Adam, people have beer; of the human family, and if it were not for the human family where would the show be?" This sort of talk given out with a showman's gusto would be sure to draw a crowd.
THE ESCAPE OF A LEOPARD
In the days when one large tent answered for both the circus and menagerie we once met with an experience that seemed to reverse all the laws relative to the handling of animals. We were stopping at a small place in Indiana. The crowd which we had managed to get under the canvas was a large one, and they were taking in the show with all the eyes they had. Suddenly one of our leopards, made uneasy by something or other, managed to make his escape from the cage. With a snarling cry the creature ran into the ring where the ponies were doing their "turn." The presence of this ferocious animal almost threw the crowd into hysterics—women screamed and men shouted; some of them made a hasty exit under the canvas wall. Meanwhile the leopard had crouched for a spring. All the wildness of the jungles seemed to have returned to his veins and shone out in the flashes from his cat-like eyes in a way to send terror to the heart of the veteran trainer. The crowd seemed to hold its breath for an instant as the critical moment came. With a peculiar scream the creature leaped into the air and landed squarely upon the back of the nearest pony. At this exciting juncture a drunken countryman was seen making his way toward the ring. People shouted to him, but to no avail; the fellow swaggered on into the ring and made straight for the leopard. The pony was rearing frantically and crying piteously. As the madman ran he grabbed up a whip which had been lying in the ring and approached the leopard with upraised hand. The creature was too busily engaged with the pony to take notice of its new enemy. Soon the air was filled with the sound of resounding blows, that fell upon the back of the leopard. Soon the creature was compelled to loosen its hold; but the man did not stop. With an awful frenzy he rained the blows upon the creature until the animal whined with terror. By this time the trainers had arrived on the scene and the creature was driven back to its cage thoroughly cowed. But the madman was not satisfied. He continued to prance about in the ring, kicked up his heels and shouted: "Turn yer elephants and lions loose!" Of course he was the hero of the hour.
We used to have many amusing experiences with hotel proprietors, particularly when we were showing in regions in which the Irish or Germans comprised the greater part of the population. For policy we made a practice of humoring these peoples and made it a rule always to be friendly with them.
One of our showmen once had an educated pig that he had named Bismarck. The pig was carried in a sort of box cage on the side of which was printed "Hotel de Bismarck." Coming into one town the population of which was largely German we found that we had pulled a storm over our heads. The German residents were insulted that a pig should be named after the beloved founder of their empire, and threatened summary vengeance. It was only by making many promises that we escaped with whole skins. But speaking of hotels: In billing a town in which there were several hotels run by Irishmen our advance agent usually promised each hotel proprietor that his particular hotel should be patronized by the show. As a result of this I usually found myself in an extremely embarrassing position when the show arrived at the town. Of course I could not patronize all of the hotels, and, at the same time, it was necessary for us to keep the good will of the proprietors. I usually went around to all of the disappointed ones, gave them free tickets, praised their children, their wives; berated our advance agent and promised better things for next time. In the end I managed to make friends with them and left them with no bad tastes in their mouths. I have always found them a jovial and reasonable people. Of course the hotel that did secure our patronage always had something to look back upon. It was a day of hustling, of real business, that came only once or twice in a lifetime. In those days napkins were entirely unknown. At one place some of our showmen asked the waitress to bring them napkins, and she answered: "I am sorry, sirs, but the last show that was here ate them all up."
It was often necessary for the showmen to have their breakfast at three o'clock in the morning, and this, as the reader may well imagine, made it impracticable for the keeper of the little country hotel to go to bed at all. He usually stayed up all night on a "star" occasion of this kind and cooked for his deluge of boarders. The following little incident may illustrate the situation better, perhaps, than I can tell it: We had just hired a man to travel with our wagons. He was a "green" hand; but he felt it necessary, of course, to fill the proprietor of the little hotel where we stopped with an appreciation of a showman's importance. He got up about two o'clock to attend to the horses. As he passed out he came upon the hotel keeper who, with sleeves rolled up, was working for all he was worth.
The new attaché stretched himself, yawned and said: "I'll tell you what, this is the last season that I'm goin' to travel with a show." "Yes," replied the other, "I guess—next to keeping a tavern—the circus business is about the hardest goin'."
We once had with our show a woman whom we were exhibiting for her immense size. To enhance her value as a feature in the eyes of the countrymen she wore a gorgeous crown set with cheap but flashy stones. The crier would tell the people that the crown had been presented to the woman by the Prince of Wales and that it cost, in England, 5,000 pounds. Then the people would go in, examine it, and exclaim: "See the green diamonds and the blue diamonds and the red diamonds!" Once, when I was in a hotel in Wisconsin, I heard two waitresses talking about the show. One said she did not believe the crown cost such an amount. The other said:
"Well; we can't tell, of course; we only know what we hear but—wasn't it beautiful!"