Scholla: Stabling Circus Animals (In Berks and Lebanon)

Stabling Circus Animals

The response to our request for information about the stabling of Barnum and Bailey’s Circus Menagerie on farms in western Berks has been generous. We are indebted to Mrs. Pearl Sensenig, Lyman G. Schaum and Miss Emma Klee of Womelsdorf; to Mr. and Mrs. Francis Zerbe of Bernville; To Harry F. Ressler of Reading; to Rev. Wellington Leininger of Cleveland, Ohio; to Mrs. Marvin H. Bennetch of Millbach, and to Mrs. Mary Peson of Myerstown for the facts which are assembled here.

All correspondents agree that the animals belonged to the Barnum and Bailey Circus. They differ in fixing the dates when these animals were placed in barns in the Lebanon Valley for winter quarters; these dates vary from 1903 to 1909. Of course it is quite possible that all of them are correct, because the circus people may have continued the practice for a number of years. All of the informants locate the farms on which the animals were stationed at the foot of South Mountain, in the Sheridan-Newmanstown section.

On the farm now owned by Marvin H. Bennetch, near Millbach there still stands a barn known to the community as the “Horse Barn.” The barn was built for the specific purpose of housing circus animals. On a farm, known as the Bucher farm between Schaefferstown and Kleinfeltersville camels were stabled. The floor of the barn was raised so that the stable would be high enough.

One of the camels housed in the Bucher farm died. The hide of the animal was tanned and now covers the davenport in the Marving Bennetch home in Millbach.

Show horses were stabled on the J. Henry Bennetch farm, now owned by Clarence H. Bennetch of Reading. The members of the Bennetch family were the especial guests of Barnum and Bailey during one of the circus visits to Lancaster. Mrs. Marvin Bennetch relates that it was during this entertainment that she ate macaroni for the first time.

ON the S.S. Long farm, south of Newmanstown, horses and camels were cared for by attendants hired by the circus. At Sheridan, on a farm known as the Eckert farm were housed Zebras and “The Sacred Cattle of India,” as Barnum advertised his menagerie.

The Monroe Zimmerman farm near Millbach, later owned by the Ohls of Robesonia, many show horses and cattle were stationed.

Harry F. Ressler writes to tell us that the Amos Hershberger farm near Sheridan housed horses, ponies, llamas, yaks, zebras and zebus.

The Rev. Wellington Leininger describes his surprise when he saw a boy leading a hunch-backed cow to the stream to drink, it was a Burmese cow from the circus menagerie, housed on a farm near Womelsdorf, he recalls.

The well-built barns, the abundance of grains and hay and straw and the excellent animal husbandry of the farmers of the Lebanon Valley must have been the factors which induced Barnum to trust his precious beasts to the care of these Pennsylvania Dutch farmers.

Circus Train in Muhlenberg Township. Circa 1908. Courtesy of the Berks County Historical Society.
Circus Train in Muhlenberg Township. Circa 1908. Courtesy of the Berks County Historical Society.

Scholla: White Elephants

White Elephants

“People will laugh at you,” warned Phineas T. Barnumm in the Berks and Schuykill Journal, of April 19, 1884, “if you don’t wait for Barnum and see a real white elephant, rather than a white washed one …” Barnum himself at Reading, May 14.” No, the construction of that sentence does not mean that Barnum was a white elephant. It implies that the people of Reading were in danger of being imposed upon by paying to see a fake white elephant exhibited by Adam Forepaugh’s Menagerie.

In a full three-column length advertisement the Barnum and London Circus announced that they would be in Reading, May 14, and that they would have the “only sacred white elephant ever landed in a Christian country. In typical Barnum ballyhoo the advertisement abounds in superlatives. There are many such advertisements in the various newspapers of the period and in this respect the 1884 “ad” in a Reading paper is no different. But the unusual feature of the announcement we are describing is the promulgation of a controversy with Adam Forepaugh, an Englishman, who vied with Barnum in presenting living pehnomenas.

It must be remembered that Barnum characterized the gullibility of the public by declaring that there is a “sucker born every minute” and therefore, his printed charges against Forepaugh must be viewed as a publicity trick. But he goes to great lengths to use the columns of a Berks newspaper to convict his competitor of fraud. Under the caption of “Forepaugh’s Futile Folly,” the great showman presents a series of affidavits to prove that Forepaugh painted an elephant white by daubing its body with whitewash and then presented his hoax to the public. The “white” elephant, named “Tiny,” was painted in England and then brough to this country, according to the testimony of the witnesses.

In opposition to this fraud Barnum was presenting a real white elephant, named “Toung Taloung” along with Burmese priests and attendants and “the true symbols of white elephant worship.” In staging the pre-circus parade in Reading, Barnum promised to show one artificially colored elephant free to the public in order that people might see for no cost what forepaugh charged an admission to see, namely a hoax.

The great Phineas T. Barnum, or rather his agents, were not disturbed by the lack of logic in their presentation. In one portion of their condemnation of Forepaugh they upraid him for maltreating a poor dumb beast by subjecting it to the paint brush and then go on merrily to promise to do the same thing in preparing one of their elephants for the parade in Reading.

Note: Der Ewich Yeager has heard older persons mention, in a general way, that Barnum frequently stationed animals that formed part of his menagerie, on farms in western Berks, during the off-season. Does any reader know of actual cases? In answering, please remember the five W’s: Who, When, Where, Why and What.

A normal and albino elephant from Burma, pictured at the London Zoo.
A normal and albino elephant from Burma, pictured at the London Zoo.

Scholla: Race Track at Ryeland

Race Track at Ryeland

Only the oldest residents of western Berks will remember the horse races which once were held under the auspices of the Womelsdorf Park Association. Some time ago we came upon a racing program for the “Grand Opening, October 19 and 20, 1871.” The location of the track was learned by C. Kahler Hackman, of Womelsdorf, in conference with Simon P. Moyer, one of the oldest residents of that borough.

At the bottom of the down-slop, directly across the tracks to the north of the railroad from Womelsdorf station, locally known as Ryeland, is a natural spring. This spring was one of the reasons for locating the park on that spot.

Now that we have determined the location of the track it may be of interest to study the 71-year-old racing form.

The first race, for horses that “have never beaten 2;05.” This race was won by a mare name “Lady Trouble,” owned by E. Barnhold of Lancaster. The time, written into the program in lead pencil, as 2:51 and 3/4.

The second race was open to all pacers. It was won by a sorrel gelding, owned by A. Miller, of Rittersville, “Yankee Tom,” and the time was 2:42.

Race number three was open to all entries. Marcus Behm, of Reading, entered “Topsy,” his black mare and won a purse of $300. The time was 2:43.

“Lady Trouble,” the Barnhold entry, won the fourth race which was open only to horses that had “never beaten 3 minutes.” Presumably the entry was based upon records prior to the Womelsdorf meet.

John A. Sheetz was president of the racing association and W.G. Moore was its secretary. The Seltzer House, in Womelsdorf, was the headquarters of the association. It was then conducted by Levi Oberly. In the course of our investigation we learned an interesting anecdote about Levi Oberly. One of his sons moved to Sinking Spring and changed the spelling of his name to Oberlin.

The father complained:

“So bald das mer sie aus em Dreck hen, welle sei eem ferschtose.” No sooner do you raise the out of the dirt than they seek to disown you.

Simon P. Moyer added another choice bit of folklore. A Mrs. Diehl lived near the town square in Womelsdorf. IN her back yard she kept a flock of geese and then clacking gleefully, the flock paraded downt he slope to the creek which now flows through the Town Park.

The name “Ganz Hiwwel” was derived from this circumstance.

Womelsdorf Park. Source:
Womelsdorf Park. Source:

Scholla: Lincy’s Luck A Camel Caravan January 7, 1943

“O gook a mole, was lange hats weich te cadeary.”

The above quotation is extracted from Hugh Lindsay’s autobiography. It is a sample of the clown’s effort to write in the dialect. We challenge our readers to translate it. Scholla will publish the best translation received through the mails. The following account will provide a number of clues, but honestly,  we confess that we are completely at a loss, ourselves, to make out the three words in the middle of the sentence.

The first camels ever exhibited in Berks County formed a part of Miller’s Allentown Circus and Menagerie in 1824. At that time Hugh Lindsay, the subject of a series of sketches in previous Scholla, was employed by Miller as a clown, a roustabout and camel driver. As clown he was on duty from the opening of the show at noon to its close near midnight; as roustabout he worked in the forenoon driving stakes to raise the ten. The intervening hours, from midnight to dawn he drove the camels over country roads. The other animals in the menagerie were carried in cages on wagons but the camels were forced to hoof it from place to place. The trek had to be made in darkness lest the public be treated to a free exhibition of the living wonders. Poor Lindsay got very little sleep and no chance to participate in the frolics which usually followed the closing of the show. “I often had a chance to go home with the gals,” he writes, “poor I had to go off with the camels.”

He rode on a horse while the camels trudged on ahead through the darkness. In the black of night, through thunderstorms and fog he swam his beasts across rivers and tried to prevent dogs from yapping at the legs of the queer creatures. One of the great dangers encountered was the chance meeting of a horse and buggy on the narrow rutted roads. Horses were frightened at the sight of the desert beasts and the mere scent of the approaching caravan frequently resulted in having the horse stage a runaway.

One night the camel train met a farmer who was returning from the mill on horse back. The camels were chained together and the clanking of the chains combined with the odd shapes in the moonlight convinced the farmer that he was seeing an apparition. Joe Brouse, the farmer, had imbibed too heavily while at the mill. He abandoned his horse and ran home. He told his wife that the devils had appeared to him as a warning to mend his ways.

On another occasion Lindsay and his odd charges met a four horse team pulling a wagon on which a large number of women and children were seated. He warned them to pay attention to their horses but the people merely gazed at the camels and said:

“O gook a mole, was lange hats weich to cadeary.”

When the horses came along side the caravan they gave a snort, wheeled about and threw the wagon box from the wheel frame and the people sprawled on the ground.

In Frost Town, Lycoming County one of the camels poked his head through a window while the farmer and his family were eating their evening meal. The frightened family fell to the floor fearing that the devil had paid them a visit. Lindsay jumped from his horse and ran to the rear door of the house to explain the incident. His words served to allay the fears of the prostrated family and they soon forgot their fright when Lindsay ordered the camels to lie down and the family lit pine knots to see a free exhibition on their own lawn.

One night the camels were stabled in a livery stable which there were a number of horses. Bedlam  broke loose, the teamsters came running out of the barroom of the hotel.

“Wo! Hoof!” The teamsters were nearly all Dutchmen. They called to one another, “Cumm Rouse Buver, Eppis ish hinter de Gile. Vas der Dival iss lose.”

Lindsay finally managed to separate the camels from the horses but for his thanks he received the abuse of the teamsters. They charged him with bringing elephants to eat their horses’ food and at a “Dutch justice of the peace” they brought charges for broken wagon tongues and injuries to their horses. The justice consulted his “Purdons Digest” but could rfind no laws against driving camels on the public highways. The manager of the menagerie was summoned and after “a long Dutch talk” the circus paid fine of $20 for damages. Unlucky Lindsay.

Circus Parade Penn Square in 1910. Courtesy of the Berks County Historical Society.
Circus Parade Penn Square in 1910. Courtesy of the Berks County Historical Society.
P.T. Barnum Circus Parade at 5th and Penn Streets. Courtesy of the Berks County Historical Society.
P.T. Barnum Circus Parade at 5th and Penn Streets. Courtesy of the Berks County Historical Society.