Scholla: Sam Dock, Veteran Showman February 14, 1945

Is there anyone who doesn’t thrill to the excitement of a circus? The dashing horses, daring trapeze artists, blaring band, hilarious clowns and all the other symbols of circus life, spell glamour to both young and old alike. Especially during the latter part of the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries, when there were no movies or other such entertainments, would the people of small towns eagerly await the visit of the circus, which was one of their few methods of relaxation.

Many a young country lad dreamed of becoming an actual part in the marvelous life of the circus. The dreams of one such lad, Sam Koller, of Womelsdorf, were realized when, after years of faithful practice, he became a noted artist of the balancing trapeze in a circus of his own.

Sam began performing at an early age when, while journeying to various towns with his father Augustus Koller, a traveling huckster, he would practice tricks on home-made equipment in barns and hotels. After mastering the art of the balancing trapeze, he assumed the professional name of Dock and started his circus career.

At first Sam traveled in shows with his childhood pals, Mart Weidman, John Sallade, John Petree, and Fred Arnold, who had also decided that the circus life was the life for them. But, after a bit of experience in the show business, these boys soon discovered that there is no place like home, so Sam alone was left to represent Womelsdorf’s contribution to show business. Some early shows with which he traveled were “Welsh’s” and “Wheeler & Co.”, in which he was a partner.

In 1887 Sam advertised for a partner with whom he could start a show of his own. His ad was answered by Lew Jordan, of Bellefontaine, O., and thus the “Dock and Jordan Show” was begun. Spangled costumes for the performers were made by Sam’s mother, and his sister (the present Mrs. William Kintzer, of Womelsdorf). Lew Jordan married a local girl Mame Deppen, of Newmanstown, who also became a talented trapeze performer. The Dock and Jordan team gave its first performance in Cuba.

Following the termination of the “Dock and Jordan Show”, the Jordan team performed with various circuses in a European tour, and Sam Dock started his new “Keystone Show.”

Sam gained a new “partner” when he married Sadie Musselman, of Philadelphia, in 1891. Mrs. Dock became a dog trainer and high rope artist, as well as being seamstress. She took over the job of making costumes, and even made the tent under which the show was given. Their daughter, Clare, was trained as a trapeze artist and contortionist and became a featured part of the show.

Clare later married Ray Brison, and their two children, Lee and Ray, also joined the performance, making it a real family show.

After starting his own circus, Same became skilled at training animals, especially dogs, ponies, monkeys, and goats. At first his circus wintered at Fort Louden, in Franklin County. Later winter headquarters have been at Petersburg, VA, and still more recently at Glenburnie, MD.

Today the circus holds a slightly less prominent part in America’s life. Most of the old-time performers who were nationally famous have gone home to their small towns or farms to spend the rest of their lives in well-earned rest.

Since this war, Sam Dock’s show had broken up. He has long already surrendered his title of “America’s Greatest Aerial Artist,” but still travels with small circuses featuring his trained animal act, a veteran performer at age of 81.

By Joan Sallade

27B - Advertising stand for Sam Dock's Keystone Circus 1921

Sam Dock’s Keystone Circus – 1921

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