Saturday, October 15, 2011

Isaac Van Amburgh Paper--The Second GGW




Excerpt from "The Circus In America:"

The introduction of wild animals to the circus dates from about 1819 when the French trainer Henri Martin (1793-1882) performing in Nuremburg, Germany entered a cage with a tiger. However, an American, Isaac A. Van Amburgh (1801-1865) was the first “modern” wild animal trainer who captured the public’s imagination and gained notoriety as a zoologist. The New York Mirror in July 7, 1838 said this about Van Amburgh.

“His fearless acts of placing his bare arm moist with blood, in the lion’s mouth and thrusting his head into the distended jaws of the tiger—the playful tenderness of the lion and the tiger toward the infant and the pet lamb, who are put into the same cage with them—are all attended with the most thrilling and dramatic interest.”

Later in July, Van Amburgh took his act to England and Europe for seven years. While in England, he performed before Queen Victoria. The Queen was so fascinated with him that she commissioned the artist Edwin Landseer to paint a portrait of him in the cage with his cats.

When Van Amburgh returned from Europe, his fame preceded him. A menagerie was named Van Amburgh and Company and his name continued was used in circus and menagerie titles until 1921.

Stuart Thayer in his Band Wagon article, “The keeper Will Enter The Cage: Early American Wild Animal Trainers,” November-December 1982 suggests that many writers credit Van Amburgh with being the first American trainer, however there may have been as many as nine men in the profession prior to his appearance. Thayer points out that these predecessors had a different style than that of Van Amburgh. These men, as Thayer mentions, were humane, as opposed to Van Amburgh’s style in the cage. Several sources note that Van Amburgh used a crowbar to apparently beat his cats into submission.

Although wild animal acts were popular, there were protestations against the use of wild animals in the circus—specifically cats elephants and bears. The objections, coming as early as the first decade of the twentieth century, were raised because of the suspected use of inhumane methods of training.

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