Saturday, June 21, 2008

Sells 7 Elephant March (From Richard Flint)

Sells 7 Elephant March, originally uploaded by bucklesw1.

Tuesday's set of Sells Bros. photos reminded me of the famous sheet
music cover for "The Seven Elephant March" used as part of their
advertising campaign in 1878. It was the Sells brothers' boast that
helped to accelerate the competition among circuses for big herds of
elephants as this was the most ever carried by a show since Barnum's
Asiatic Caravan of the early 1850s. What is odd and perhaps little
known is that the Sells herd almost never performed in the ring. An
act of "nursing baby elephants" was presented in 1878, three elephants
were used in 1891 when hippodrome races were introduced, and a baby
clown elephant act was seen in 1886 and 1891 (and quite possibly for
the intervening years) but a big bull act apparently was never seen on
Sells. Based upon their printed programs and detailed route books,
the following enumeration emerges about the numbers of animals carried
and their handlers:

1878 – Had an act of "nursing baby elephants" by Willis Cobb (who also
presented separate acts of trained dogs, mules, and a goat and monkey
routine and who also was the show press agent!). This is the first
year of the 7 elephant show; also carried were 8 camels and 18 cages.
This was the Sells show first season by rail and they moved on 34 cars
painted white.
1879 - Cobb is now the equestrian director and a couple of cages plus
another camel were added. Six of the seven elephants paraded.
1881 - Cobb continues as both equestrian director and special press
agent but is also presenting trained cattle. Both William Jinks and
Pearl Souder are now in the animal department. Menagerie up to 23
cages; some of the elephants pulled racing chariots in the parade and
another 8 preceded the calliope in the daily march.
1882 - Dave Gilliam replaces Cobb for several of the animal acts;
Jinks is now Assistant Master of the animal department.
1883 - Jinks is now listed as in charge of the elephants, the first
person ever on Sells so designated.
1884 – Show now carries 10 elephants (Jenks [now so spelled] with 15
men in the elephant dept!) with 51 cages featured in the menagerie;
show moves on 38 60-foot rail cars.
1885 - Jenks is listed as assistant master of animals.
1886 - Billie Burke and his clown elephant Sid appear in the
performance; show now down to 7 elephants
1887-90 – no data
1891 - Jinks is now menagerie superintendent and Jerry Ward head of
elephant men; clown elephant Sid again presented by Billie Burke;
concluding races included an elephant race between Queen, Duchess and
Topsy; show moves on a 32 car train; end of season went to Australia.
1893 - William Badger head of the elephant dept with John Gibson as
assistant; elephants listed as Dutch, Queen, Topsy, Mack, and Sid;
show has act with leaps over the elephants; no elephants in the
concluding races; 29 cages carried.
1895 - William W. "Star Kid" Chambers is boss of the animal dept. with
William Badger in charge of the elephants.

Despite a bitter advertising rivalry during the season of 1891-92 with
personal attacks made against James A. Bailey (who had acquired an
interest in the Forepaugh show following the old man's death in 1890),
Bailey enters into a partnership with the Sells brothers enabling them
to add the Forepaugh name to their title. While the descriptive
portions of a title were altered over time (as John Goodall noted for
most of the years they toured), for clarity and simplicity it is best
to say Sells Bros. as a show toured annually from 1871-1895 (but not
as early as 1847). Over time, they had much the same show and the
same established performers traveling to, essentially, the same
Midwest/central states area, finally reaching the west coast by the
early 1890s to embark on an Australian tour. Rarely did they play the
eastern seaboard states and they avoided New England entirely.

Dick Flint


Buckles said...

I wonder if the 7 Elephant March would still be available?
It would fit in perfectly with today's Ken & Nicole offerings.

Anonymous said...

Dick, thanks for your sharing this with the blog readers.

Anonymous said...

The Sells brothers apparently failed to hire Stewart Craven or Eph Thompson to train their "herds."

The Sells brothers operated a second railroad circus through much of the 1880s and it may be purposeful to include it in any analyses. It was operated under several different titles before "S. H. Barrett" became the fixed identity. A disastrous tour of Texas spelled an end to their two circus empire.

Anonymous said...

The "Seven Elephant March" might be a "pot boiler" like the similar vintage "Forepaugh Zoological March." Charles Schlarbaum included the "Sells Bros. Galop" of 1880, from his archive of Merrick manuscripts, on his LP of circus music "Toby Tyles Circus Concert Band; Circus Music 1880 to Present." Hopefully Charles Conrad's writings about circus music will enlighten us on the character of circus performance music in the era before the composers with memorable names started to contribute their great selections.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Buckles, but at least K&N have the elephants work in the show--that's better than what the Sells Bros. did!!

Bob Cline said...

What a nice piece of History to start the day with. Thanks Dick!

Anonymous said...

The Sells once owned six African elephants. They offered them for sale in Clipper on December 24, 1887.

This was when the Sells were getting rid of a lot of properties associated with their circus and their subsidiary Barrett show. I can identify four of these Africans, to wit:

(1) and (2) Mike and Topsy, the well known and often photographed African pair. They seem to have joined Sells about 1878. What may be a clue to their acquisition may be this squib in Clipper for Feb 16, 1878 (p.375) . . “ Sells Bros bought 5 elephants last week and sent them west.” This was at a time when the German animal collectors were bringing out a lot of African elephants.

Mike and Topsy lasted into the 20th century with Forepaugh-Sells. Mike died on December 19,1907 at Bridgeport from burns suffered in a train wreck, apparently as he was being shipped to Bridgeport. He was set to become a B&B feature for 1908. Topsy madeit to B&B OK and saw service on that show at least through the 1909 season.

(3) Fannie was another of the six Sells Africans. She was one of two elephants sold in 1888 by Sells to the Ringlings to become the Baraboo brothers’ first two elephants. The other was an old Asian named Babe. The story about the Ringlings getting their first two elephants from a show in distress down in Missouri is just so much bunk. The Baraboo Republic for March 4, 1888 (p.5.) plainly said they were bought by Al Ringling from Sells Brothers in Columbus Ohio. Walter L. Main also wrote the same. He had once owned Babe and recommended to Al Ringling that he buy her in Columbus.

(4) A fourth African was a male named Zip. He was sold to the Shelby Circus which was auctioned in Richmond, VA at the end of the 1889 season. Charles Andress bought him and put him on his show in 1890. Andress in turn sold him to Ringling in late 1890. He died in Baraboo winter quarters on Jan 2, 1893.

There was a young animal (called a mate to Zip) which died while the Sells show was en route to Baraboo on Sunday May, 30, 1880, but it is not known for sure if she was an African.