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Did You See The Circus?

If some man had cornered the children market day before yesterday, he could have made a fortune.

Yesterday was circus day, and every deacon and elder and staid business man in Houston who wanted to see Mademoiselle Marie Meers ride barebacked and walk the tight rope, and had no kids of his own, was out offering love and money for somebody’s else to take along as an excuse for going to the circus. In some New England towns large families make a living by renting out their children to church members for this purpose.

When a man tells you that he doesn’t believe in the Old Testament, just ask him what made him follow the band wagon and the steam piano and the animal cages when he was a boy, and what makes him still sneak into the circus and feed the elephant peanuts and stare the monkeys out of countenance. It’s nothing in the world but a feeling we all inherited from Noah when he put on the greatest show on water for a run of forty nights and as many matinees all over the world. The smell of the gas jets and sawdust, the crack of the ring-master’s whip, the ancient jokes of the clown, and the wonderful linguistic performances of the lemonade man are temptations that most of us strive to resist in vain.

For many weeks Houston has been posted with the bills and banners of Barnum and Bailey’s show, and as the time drew nigh the small boy developed insomnia and an unusual affection for indulgent uncles and big brothers with money.

When the day came, the pleasure of anticipation developed into the rapture of attainment.

All men think of their boyhood days with fond remembrance when the circus comes. Even Susan B. Anthony falls into dreamy retrospection when she sees the animals walking in the parade two by two, and she recalls the time long, long ago when she first saw them go in out of the wet during that dreadful forty days and nights’ rain.

*

The street parade at 10 o’clock was the best ever seen in Houston.

The procession was nearly twenty minutes passing a given point. The cages were new, and the horses, especially, were magnificent specimens of their kind. The animals exhibited were in good condition as a rule and some of them assumed to perfection their role of wild beasts. The lions, however, appeared to be old, and were mere wrecks of the king of beasts. The man who was in the cage with them cowing them down with his eagle eye deserves the attention of the S. P. C. A. This show has twenty elephants and but four tigers, but this should not discourage good democrats. It is a long time yet before the election. The pageant of the world’s nations was immense. England, France, Germany, Turkey, Belgium, and other nations were represented by cavalry attired in the national uniform. America was properly represented by a float containing the Goddess of Liberty on a throne, Uncle Sam in front, sailors on the four corners, Jesse James and Richard Croker in the middle. Some Roman chariots came next. We admire the enterprise of Barnum and Bailey in this line, but we think they are carrying realism a little too far when they procure Roman matrons of the time of Marcus Aurelius to drive these chariots in our streets. Is the cigarette girl exhausted or Newport society all engaged, that they cannot furnish us with something better to look upon?

It is estimated by a level citizen that fully 15,000 human beings witnessed the street parade, and probably 800 or 900 populists.

The crowd awaiting the parade was the same old circus crowd. The streets were lined with pretty girls, dudes, merchants, clerks and country folks. The woman chewing gum and dragging around a howling kid was there; the woman with a baby carriage, receiving the curses and reviling of the crowd with her usual complacent smile, was there; the girl who ate popcorn and shrieked at every bite was there; the man who said it was the same old thing he had seen forty years ago was there.

A chilly wind was blowing, and a cold, drizzling rain falling, and one of the shivering Egyptians riding a camel bethought him of his sunny native home and said to one of his countrymen, “Bedad, and Oi wish Oi was in Donnegan’s joint on T’irteenth Street long enough to put about half a point of the craythur under me shirt,” and the sad-eyed Oriental at his left replied, “Py Cott, dot cold vint a man’s pack sdrikes like der teyfel, aindt it?”

The Mr. Bailey of this show is not, as some people think, Mr. George Bailey of the Dallas News. Mr. George Bailey has nothing to do with the circus, except to write their bill posters.

At 1 o’clock the doors of the Ethnological Congress were thrown open, and the surging crowd went down into its pants pocket and drew forth the price. The performance in the circus tent began at 2.

The animal exhibit was first-class, and many of the boys who had had the d.t.’s recognized some old friends. In the center of the tent was an international bargain counter on which were displayed families of Hindus, Singalese dancers, Fiji Islanders, Ratmaliatmas, Samoans, etc.

The Post Man approached an intelligent-looking Samoan and said:

“Lovely and sad-hearted exile from the wave-kissed beach of Pacific’s coral-stranded isle, dost thou not pine for thy beloved far-off home?”

The large Samoan cast a wistful glance at his questioner and said in his sonorous native tongue: “Cut it short, Cully. Yer can’t razzle-dazzle me. Get a movelet on your joblots, or I’ll give yer a wipe wid dis property battle-axe. See?”

This show has the distinction of carrying the most remarkable dwarf in the world. The owners offer a considerable reward for his equal. He is the largest dwarf now before the public, being nearly six feet in height.

*

The pious and stately man who takes the children to see the animals was very much in evidence. One of them, very sour-looking, with his coat buttoned up high, said to a small boy he was leading by the hand: “That animal you see, Willie, is the leopard, of which, as you know the Good Book says, ‘he cannot change his spots.’ ”

“But he can, though, papa,” said Willie. “A minute ago he was way over in that corner of the cage, and now he’s up here in front.”

“Do not be sacrilegious, my son,” said the sour-looking man. “Come, let us go into the tent where Mademoiselle Meers is riding eight horses while in her famous Trilby pose. I wish you to study that noble animal, the horse.”

Another starchy-looking man, with a plug hat and white tie, had four or five children with him. All paused a moment in the animal tent, and he said rapidly: “My dear children, these are lions, tigers, monkeys, elephants, hippopotamuses and camels. You are all familiar with them from the pictures in your story books. Let us now go into the other tent and view the human form, the noblest work of God, as Mademoiselle Matthews does her act upon the flying trapeze.”

In the circus tent there were three performances taking place in as many rings at once. The acrobatic acts, tumbling and balancing were good. The “refined contortion act” by Miss Maude Allington and Mr. H. Wentworth was a revelation. Ladies and gentlemen who had heretofore regarded the contortion act as something low and vulgar were surprised and delighted with delicacy, tact and exquisite diplomatic finesse with which these thorough artists tied their legs behind their necks and did the split.

“Europe’s greatest rider,” Mr. William Wallett, was fine, and divided honors with Rider Haggard, the assistant author of the programme and show bills.

The ladies who were advertised to ride bareback more than fulfilled their promised feats. They were barebacked, and also bare—that is, were dressed something like surf bathers in Galveston.

Evetta, the only lady clown on earth, came into the ring and caused roars of laughter by putting her hands in her bloomer pockets and standing on one foot. She then did the excruciatingly funny thing of sticking out her tongue at the crowd. Then, after convulsing the audience by standing on the other foot, she retired. For that tired feeling, see Evetta, the only lady clown.

*

A man who had evidently come up the street on the saloon side went into the side show and seemed fascinated with the tattooed man from Borneo, who exhibited upon his person a great variety of ornamental designs, such as roses, landscapes, ballet girls, ships, etc. “Ladies ’n gent’l’men,” he said, “come ’n shee zhis great phenomenon. Always wanted see livin’ picshers. Zis fus’ livin’ picsher ever shee. Set ’em up all round; z’my treat.”

The tattooed man leaned down and hissed in a low tone: “Say, stop dat song and dance and git a move on you, Cully, or I’ll tump you one on de smeller. See?”

*

It must be said of Barnum and Bailey’s show that it is orderly and well conducted. The gang of swindlers, toughs and confidence men who generally follow circuses are not allowed to annoy the crowd. The tents are large and the accommodations good. Their immense business is conducted with perfect system and each man in the aggregation fills his place in producing the harmonious working of the whole.

*

The performance itself was only the average circus performance, with a great deal that was neither new nor remarkable, but with a feature here and there that was far above the ordinary even in that line. The trouble is in attempting to do too much. Had the programme been executed in the old style, in one ring, it might have been too long; but it would have impressed the public far more than when distributed among three rings. The spectator becomes bewildered and catches a good thing only now and then, while he misses possibly two or three other brilliant acts. There could have been no complaint for want of variety. There was a little of everything and all done at least with the usual skill of the circus performer.

Several innovations were introduced, among them a female ring master and a female clown. Trilby on horseback, a skirt dance on horseback, and a serpentine dance on horseback are others. The water carnival, an exhibition of high diving, somersaults into water and other aquatic sports is perhaps the newest circus idea. It is given in a lake of water, to use the fertile press agent’s phrase, forty-two feet across and six feet deep. In the menagerie are a number of new animals, notably several new elephants, making the herd now number twenty-four. The Ethnological Congress is all new, and those who have seen the Midway Plaisances at the big fairs will be especially interested in this peripatetic plaisance, which contains a curious assortment of curious peoples. In its acrobatic department, the aerial swinging and leaping and high trapeze work were very fine indeed; and with the equestrian accomplishments of the Meeks sisters, particularly, when the two rode one horse, constituted the most meritorious parts of the performance. A notable feature also was the performance in the ring of a herd of elephants, among other things going through a quadrille. It is such a performance and, to quote the voluble agent again, such an aggregation of panoramic novelties, with much that is old, that the public generally will leave the big tents fully satisfied that they have received their money’s worth.

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