Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Circus comes to Town

A story, some ads and a bear on a bicycle!

From the October 26, 1915 Charlotte Daily Observer.

'Circus Day today!'
   'The Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth is again in Charlotte, 'for this day and date only', true to its lithographed promises.  Four long railroad trains brought the picturesque invaders last night and half the city is watching the making of the canvas encampment on the show grounds at South Tryon street and Tremont avenue, and is no more impressed with the vastness and efficient organization of vast enterprise than with the atmosphere of courtesy, the elimination of old-time circus coarseness and the richness and solidity of the multitudinous equipment.'  






October 26, 1915

October 25, 1915


Anonymous said...

Have you seen the gravestone of John King in Elmwood Cemetery, a circus worker who was stomped to death in 1888 when the circus was in Charlotte?

Maria David said...

Anon - yes, how cool!

Here's a photo:

And here's an excerpt from a 2011 Mark Washburn story: (can't find a link)

Chief's sad saga

At two tons, our biggest elephant celebrity was Chief. His was not a happy story.

Chief was an Asian elephant captured in the wild in 1872. He was sold to the John Robinson circus and apparently never warmed to his indenture. He already had a surly reputation when the circus arrived in Charlotte on Sept. 27, 1880.

Reported the Observer:

"Just after the elephants were unloaded, one of them, called The Chief, became enraged at its keeper, John King, and turned upon him and crushed him against the car. The man sank down without a groan, and the elephant turned and started up the railroad track, the excited crowd fleeing in every direction. The loose elephant got into the main streets of the city, and a crowd was being formed to hunt him down and shoot him when it was learned that the circus people were after the truant beast."

King, his skull crushed, didn't last the night. His funeral the next day was a spectacle of its own. Four white horses pulled the hearse. King's two other elephants, Mary and The Boy, trod behind in a solemn pace, each footfall in time to the Chopin dirge played by the circus band.

Chief wound up at the Cincinnati zoo but stayed cantankerous the rest of his days. In late December 1890, he was euthanized by the convention of the era, four shots to the heart, administered by soldiers.

Loin of elephant suddenly appeared on the menu served at the Palace restaurant in Cincinnati. An item Jan. 4, 1891, in The New York Times: "It was, in fact, a part of Chief, the vicious elephant who was shot in the Cincinnati Zoological Garden, and was not bad eating, as some of the force of this office can testify. It was without exception the best roast elephant that any of us had ever tasted."

Even in death, Chief couldn't escape show business. His skeleton was displayed for years at the University of Cincinnati.

Chief lives on today in a weathered carving on the marble monument at John King's grave in Charlotte's Elmwood Cemetery. I paid them a visit this week.

With the growl of uptown softly audible in the distance, Chief appears to be enjoying repose in a peaceful citadel of stone.

His trunk is elegantly curled and he is shaded by a palm tree. A blanket of green lichen coats his great belly, completing the tropical motif, even in the midst of winter.

It's an eternal memory, fitting for an elephant, of better days.