Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Feline and Omnivore Hitches

 From the "history channel:"

R.F. 'Tody' Hamilton did almost anything to get publicity for Barnum & Bailey, however, I find this piece impossible to even contemplate. Slightly shortened by me, the full item appeared in 'The World,' New York Sunday February 7 1897:-

Fierce Chariot Race between Lions & Tigers - Novel and thrilling Wild Beast Spectacle in the Arena of the Barnum-Bailey Circus.

The chariot race so graphically described by Gen. Lew Wallace in 'Ben Hur,' is to be outdone. Teams of lions & tigers are to engage in a thrilling test of speed while hitched to chariots. And Johanna, the intelligent chimpanzee, is to drive the lions.

All of this will take place in Madison Square Garden, and if the spectacle of four tawny kings of the forest and the same number of striped tigers racing around the arena does not sufficiently stir the blood of the onlookers, there will be a climax that will recall the days of ancient Rome, when Christian martyrs were rended by fierce, half-starved beasts.

Already the plans for the unique race have been completed, and the eight savage beasts that will participate are under training in the show's winter quarters. The first public performance will take place at Madison Square Garden. Afterwards it will be the 'star' feature of the circus on tour.

William McKay is training the tigers and GEorge Conklin has charge of the lions. Each day there have been trial races. Thus far the tigers have developed the most speed. Unless the lions become more swift of foot it will be necessary to handicap the tigers in some way. The teams are hitched up much as are horses, and are guided by reins in the same manner. The preliminary training has progressed admirably, and when the show opens visitors will see for the first time the strongest and most thrilling race ever run in America, a race much as Nero never imagined in the golden days of his reign. The appearance of these wild lions & tigers as they dash around the track, urged to their utmost speed by the drivers' whips, will stir the blood of the most jaded circus-goer.


As a finale to this unique race it is proposed to give an imitation of the form of amusement in vogue in ancient Rome, when early Christian martyrs were fed to hungry wild animals. After the race is finished the tigers & lions will be turned into cages in one of the rings. In these will be dummies of men and women as life-like as they can be made. Inside the dummies will be the fresh meat intended for the dinners of the animals, and in order to get the meat they will have to rend the dummy figures to pieces.... As they will be hungry the way in which they will attack the dummy figures will leave little to be desired by those who want a realistic picture of the 'sports' that were once popular in Rome.

It is altogether possible that Johanna, the chimpanzee, that has been a feature for several years will drive the lions. Conklin has had her as an understudy during the training of the teams, and she has taken a great interest in the work. She sometimes deserts her team when the tigers, driven by Mr McKay, pass her, and jumps into the chariot behind the figure.

Johanna does not like to ride behind. So long as her team is in front she sticks to her post, but when McKay passes her she abandons her tawny charges and goes to ride with him. McKay say he hopes to teach her to remain in her post no matter what....

On several occasions when she has deserted her team the lions have become tangled up, and great confusion ensued. It is necessary to drive the animals carefully or they become involved in a tangle and it takes considerable time to straighten out.

I am far from sure I would have wanted ANYTHING to do with the idea for MANY, MANY reasons! - however, it was published in a big newspaper so must be true [I am sure that Tody spun the text, however the drawings, done on February 3, were by Miss Connard and H. Pruett Share].

Anyone willing to volunteer to harness the lions? untangle their reins? or - even sit in the 1897 tour tent....

Bostock's Animal Show  1901 Pan-American Exposition


By Al Stencell   Al Stencell's latest book, Ballyhoo, can be ordered from our online shop by clicking here.

From Roger Smith:  A photo credited to the late Selig Zoo had lions in harness pulling a vegetable cart along a cageline for feeding time. Joe Arcaris also accomplished this at Benson's.
For readers who don't know who Joe Arcaris was, he sent me the photos from his career, including the years of breaking he did for Clyde Beatty at his Ft. Lauderdale Jungle Zoo, which ran 1939-1945. While there, he was awarded the Carnegie Hero Medal for rescuing Chester Czaja from 5 attacking lions. When Harriett Beatty died in 1950, Beatty couldn't continue the season, and Joe was called in to work the act. The photos of his harness lions at Benson's showed two mature male lions pulling a cart. Sadly enough, before I could get copies of Joe's pictures made, I got the hurry-up call to get to the Castle show, and returned the photos without even xeroxes. No amount of asking has located anyone who knows what happened to Joe's archives, but this would be an ideal time for them to re-surface.

Does anyone have, or know of a source for a picture of Joe Arcaris's lion hitch?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When Bratt and i Bratt intruduce me to a gentman that was late in his years Brat told me that gentman use to brake and put togeather actsthere. hhe was on his 80s or mabybe older . He woud come to talk to Bratt and cut jack puts Also with Albert Rix. so maybe his famiy in New Hampsireand if he had a family he maybe the one with Archives thats if he was Joe or Brat maybe he has info for he was friend with Joe. Cleanraul.