From Rags to Ricketts and Other Essays on Circus History
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William L. Slout, circus historian par excellence, here provides six essays on the development of the American circus. "From Rags to Ricketts: The Roots of Circus in Early Gotham" looks at the beginnings of circus entertainment in old New York City during the eighteenth century. "The Great Roman Hippodrome of 1874: P. T. Barnum's 'Crowning Effort'" describes the great showman's grand experiment: the collection and display in the Big Apple of the "largest collection of living wild animals in the world." "The Recycling of the Dan Rice Paris Pavilion Circus" tells the story of an American circus entrepreneur who took his traveling show to Europe in 1867. "Strange Bedfellows: The Pogey O'Brien Interval, 1874-1875" relates how O'Brien partnered with P. T. Barnum to take the circus master's show on the road while Barnum was creating his "Great Roman Hippodrome." "Two Rings and a Hippodrome Track" demonstrates that the first two-ring circus mounted by Barnum (or anyone else) occurred in 1873, and not 1872, as previously supposed. Finally, "The Adventures of James M. Nixon, Forgotten Impresario," describes the career of a major circus manager who worked between the 1843-75, directly competing with Barnum for the same audience--and eventually losing the struggle. Slout’s vivid accounts, highlighted by contemporaneous newspaper accounts of the excitement generated locally by these traveling shows, help bring a long-forgotten era alive again.
used for heating the pavilion were put to the test on the 17th. A cooling trend made it necessary to warm the place to an average temperature of 65°, rendering the audience “as comfortable as though they were sitting in their own houses.” A family matinee was given on Saturday, November 18th, and again on the following Wednesday. The admissions to all parts of the pavilion were reduced to 50¢ for adults and 25¢ for children. Additional attractions were brought in during this run. On the evening
prefer attending in the daytime. This splendid equestrian troupe comprises all the great living artists in the profession and the entertainments are the most original, novel and refined ever witnessed in this country. Boxes 50¢, orchestra chairs $1, private boxes $5 and $6.”130 Niblo’s Garden! This gracious old venue had its own colorful tradition. Originally the site of the old Bayard farm, located away out of town on Broadway, or what was generally known as the Albany Post Road, it became a
which they are conceived; he is not steady enough; he has too many irons in the fire at once, and frequently burns his fingers in the vain attempt to haul them out and work them up at one and the same time....”155 Hardly before the gates closed on the gardens, Nixon took Carlotta Patti under his managerial wing. The third of three singing Patti daughters, she had made her debut only a year earlier. Although she exhibited a beautiful voice and exquisite style, she was confined by a physical
swept overboard only to be rescued by the U.S.S. South Carolina. Then, at the height of the storm, the ship’s engine gave out, exposing the boat and passengers to the mercy of the tempest for a period of thirty-two hours. On October 28th the steamer went ashore five miles south of Carysfort Reef, Florida. Finally, the brig stopped at Key West for repairs, but for whatever reason may have been towed to New Orleans.174 The circus, too badly bruised to continue to Texas, was sold or leased to Thayer
of the proprietors to preview the well publicized event. The public run-through had been scheduled for Wednesday, April 22nd, but was postponed until Friday because, while Nixon was sitting in a chariot observing an earlier rehearsal, a horse smashed into it, leaving the equestrian director severely injured. But by Friday he was able to conduct his duties with an arm well bandaged and frayed nerves becalmed. However, Dan Castello was home sick with pneumonia. And P. T. Barnum would not return