Thursday, November 10, 2011

Theodore Schroder--Animal Trainer and Zoo Curator

Clyde Beatty and Theodore Schroder at the Detroit Zoo. Wow, I bet these two gentlemen had a lot of interesting stories to tell. I would give anything to have been able to sit in on a jackpot with them. - Lima News, The - 1938-08-29 - Search ...

Theodore Schroders take on a lion fight at the Detroit Zoo.

Theodore Schroder with Mike and Ike, two of the polar bears with John Robinson Circus.

Theodore Schroder Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus winter quarters in Bridgeport, Conn. in 1922


Richard Reynolds said...

His name was spelled “Schroeder.”

These pics are not from Bridgeport. Rather they were taken out of the road. 1922 sounds right because Schroeder joined RBBB that year. The one showing the open air arena was likely taken by Atwell in Chicago, on the Grant Park lakefront lot. Note the tall buildings along Michigan Blvd. in the background.

The show always spent a week or so on that lot. In 1922 they were there for nine days. This gave ample opportunity to set up a big cage outdoors so that trainers and their animals could be photographed. A number of well circulated photos of Mable Stark and her cats were shot that way in Grant Park.

There are also outdoor movies, filmed in Chicago, of Lillian Leitzel doing her world famous aerial act.

The top photo is a rare. It shows one of the large cage-wagons used to haul the animals for the big cage numbers. This one is numbered in the 140s (maybe 142). It was built for the 1921 show when, at long last, the Ringlings finally added wild animal acts. They rode the train in cages like these. On the lot they were spotted in the back yard (as shown here). Smaller shifting cage-wagons were used to take them into the big top for positioning up against the arenas.

There are nine polar bears in the wagon which should equate to the 9 brought over from Germany for 1922. There was another group of 7 or 8 polar bears which were put in a similar wagon built new for 1922.

As information Schroeder died on January 20, 1950 at age 68.

Wade G. Burck said...

Thank you for the information. He(Schroder) must have changed the spelling of his name permanently after coming to America, because it is even spelled Schroder on his tombstone. It's a shame because it is just a small nondescript stone, not one of those grand, look at me Bostock deals.
I hope you are well. I have been concerned as I had not heard from you in a while. Your learned, insightful comments are always welcome. We are here to learn. I assumed if I threw out a piece of old circus cage wagon meat, you might come out of your lair and have a go at it. I guess I assumed right. :)


Richard Reynolds said...

The “e” was used in his surname in many publications during his days at Detroit zoo. His obituary in Billboard has it that way.

The name without the “e” is an Americanization of the German. I am not conversant in German (beyond the recognition of some words and phrases). I wish I were because so much fine circus and animal literature is in German.

I do know that there is a practice in northern and western Germany, where in family names and place names, the e lengthens the preceding vowel, as in Straelen, which is pronounced with a long a. So, I assume that is what we have in Schroeder.

Wade G. Burck said...

You are correct in your statement that some of the finest animal and circus literature is in German. I have spent many an hour typing and then google translating to get at least a gist of the material. Odd that his tombstone would be the "Americanized" version. The family must have approved, and they use the "Shroder" spelling to this day.


Tom said...

My Great-Grandparents had always spelled their last name Schroder, even after arriving from Germany in 1922 and until his death in 1950. I believe the newspapers, Billboard and the Detroit Zoo were incorrect in how to spell their last name.
The information you have on my Great-Grandfather is very interesting. I had always thought the location was Bridgeport. I will need to change the information on the back of the photograph.

Anonymous said...

Hi Wade,

I am currently working on a cultural history of the polar bear (for the University of Washington Press) and would really love to include the photo of Schroeder and the polar bear wagon as an illustration in the book.

Could you perhaps help me in location the original and obtaining permission to use it?

You can contact me at

I'd really appreciate you help in this matter.

Michael (in Nome, Alaska)