SOURCE: 1987 Vol. 17-2 Circus Fanfare
On November 16, 1911, the John Robinson 10 Big Shows closed the season of seven months tour in New Albany, Mississippi. I had been with the circus the full season and a few days previous I had word from Dick Masters, bandmaster of The Mighty Haag Shows, that he could place me for the balance of the season that would run up into December. I joined the Mighty Haag Show in Columbia, Alabama, Saturday, November 18. This being my first time with this show, I arrived on the lot that morning in time to enjoy a fine breakfast. I regret I do not have a complete list of all acts and these named I recall from memory.
Performance opened with the regular grand entry, to the strains of “Caesar’s Triumphal March,” which was published in 1898 and composed by G. F. Mitchell, clarinet player with the Ringling Show. This march has been played with many of the best shows for the tournament, over a long period of years, and cannot be excelled. Fred Jewell used the same march for the grand entry when he was bandmaster of the Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth 1909-10.
Frank Miller was equestrian director and did his gents principal bareback riding number, and Clara Miller was premier equestrienne. The old time leaps came in the early part of the program, preceded by a song, a tuneful march melody, “I’m The Leader of the German Band.”
Chas. (Bounding) Johnson did a bounding rope act being one of the best in his line. This act has entirely disappeared from the circus in recent years. Agnes DeEspa and Bill Johnson did double trapeze and other aerial numbers. Birdie Martino, rolling globe and club juggler. John Smith, now with Cole Bros., was on the list with his trained ponies and dogs. Miller and Smith also rode some nice menage horses along with lady performers. The Woods trio did a tight wire act and Helen Leach, who also came from the John Robinson show, did an iron-jaw aerial butterfly number.
Shorty Sylvester was a dwarf clown. Roy Fortune did his comedy slack wire number with a peg leg and played trombone in the clown band. Other clowns were Mardello, Henry, Gail Boyd, and McCammon. Mardello in his unparalleled contortions, came later in the program. Del Fuego was leader of the clown band.
Rudy Gonzallas performed the three well-trained elephants. The three Millers did a nice flying return act. Also the Si Kitchie Japanese troupe did a fine exhibition of foot juggling and difficult balancing. Jimmie O’Neil was a hand balancer and equilibrist. Performance closed with races including a camel race with riders, which no other show had, to my knowledge.
Doc Coates, a typical Texan with his western hat, was official announcer in big show, also rode aside the driver of the No. l elaborate bandwagon with heavy carvings of “Columbus Discovering America” and drawn by 10 sleek dapple grays. Along the route Doc would call out those old familiar words: “Hold your hosses . . . the elephants are coming.”
Those warning words, with the other parade features of carved tableau wagons, open gilded dens, gaily costumed mounted people on spotted horses, the elephants, camels, and finally the steam calliope, are all a pleasant memory to circus fans of today and something the younger generation has entirely missed.
The Big Top was 110 foot round with three 40 foot middles, and 4 center poles. Performance presented In 2 rings and on center stage. Menagerie had 3 elephants, 9 camels and 6 or 8 elaborate carved cages. Nellie King played the steam calliope in parade and on the lot of evenings, also did a clever musical act in the side show.
George Oram was manager of the side show, also did his “Punch and Magic.” Del Fuego, “the human salamander” and fire eater, was another attraction, also the Eskimo midgets, Chief DeBro and wife (no they were not from Alaska, but from Kendallville, Ind.) Eva McGuyre was an oriental dancer; her husband, Frank, was the Ernest Haag for many years in an official position. Fritz (Dutch) Myers was boss canvassman and Jim Finnigan train master. ”Shorty” Rhodes was superintendent of stock and had been with the circus from the 1890’s. Wm. Kellogg was legal adjuster and his wife a clever trapeze performer. Eddie Van Camp was boss of the light department. The type in use then were those with gas mantels. Many shows including John Robinson’s, used the same type for illumination.
Following Columbia, Alabama, is the route from my Billboard date book. Hartford, Florala, Evergreen, Mobile, then into Mississippi playing Lucedale, Hattiesburg, Taylorsville, Magee, Collins, Lumberton and Columbia.
Show entered Louisiana December 2 at Franklinton, and next day was at Bogalusa, which was Sunday, then followed Slidell, Covington, Hammond, Baton Rouge, Opelousas, De Quincy, and closing stand was DeRidder Monday, December 11.
The show spent some time in the Eastern provinces of Canada that summer. Quite a number of the Haag troupers, including myself, remained In Shreveport, and some or us were at the Antler Hotel right downtown. The manager was a Mr. Schroder, who made things pleasant for us show folks. Dick Masters, leader of the band, was there all winter and eight others or the band. Frank McGuyre promoted a job or two for us during the layoff.
Every Wednesday morning, the Billboard (10 cents the copy then) came in at Sanger’s Drug store, and we were on hand for our copy. I enjoyed the layoff as Shreveport was an ideal place during the winter months. A nice meal could be had at the California Restaurant for 25 cents. (In 1911, remember.) I met “Shorty” Rhodes there often and we had many long talks. The Haag folks were made to feel at home there. I was one of the troupe again in 1912 when the season opened in Shreveport March 21 – “The 18th Transcontinental Tour,” an account of which appeared in The Bandwagon issue of April 1943.
Charles E. Duble (1884 – 1960) was a trombonist and composer from Jeffersonville, Ind. He toured in numerous troupes over a playing career of 23 years. This article, originally written for Bandwagon, describes the acts and itinerary on The Mighty Haag Show railroad tour 109 years ago.