Monday, December 31, 2012

From Richard Flint

Giuseppe Chiarini (1823-1897) spent his life operating the most traveled circus ever organized—from Europe to North and South America, then to Australia, India, China, and Japan, before returning to the Americas late in his life. His circus was sometimes the first ever seen and spawned the beginnings of circus in the far regions of the earth.
His was an ancient family of traveling acrobats, puppeteers and ropewalkers going back to the late 1500s. Giuseppe’s father was a horseman who worked for the Italian family Franconi who pioneered the French circus following the Revolution there. Giuseppe was born in Rome, performed in eastern Europe and as far north as St. Petersburg, then to London. In 1853 he came to the US with a Franconi troupe and soon partnered with Richard Sands in a show that toured the northeast US. His first solo venture was in Havana in 1856, then Hispaniola, Mexico, and all the West Indies. In 1865 he built a 3000 seat circus building in Mexico City which, after the Revolution there, housed the Mexican Parliament!
He had brief return visits with his show to Havana, New York, and New Orleans while also making forays into Central America, then down to Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. This most traveled of showmen then went to San Francisco, crossed the American continent and sailed to Portugal and Spain to perform. In 1872 he returned to the US and again crossed the continent with a show reaching San Francisco only to prepare to then go to Australia and New Zealand. His was a large show appearing in Sydney, for example, under a 175-foot canopy. His next engagements took him to India, the Philippines, and China but by 1874 he was back in San Francisco, his apparent home base.
South America hosted his elegant circus in the late 1870s—Peru, Brazil, then north through Central America and Mexico to the San Francisco area. It was back to New Zealand and Australia in late 1879 followed by Indonesia and then Calcutta on Jan 1, 1881, for the engagement shown in the broadside posted here. In the following months cities in southeast Asia were visited including Singapore where smallpox and cholera took a calamitous toil on the company, including the death of tiger and bison presenter Charles Warner, seen featured on this broadside, on June 2, 1881. Historians should also note at the bottom the name of the agent, Agrati, whose experience also aided Cooper & Bailey when they were in the region in the late 1870s.
China and Japan were extensively toured twice and other nearby countries hosted Chiarini’s circus including Korea and Ceylon; many performances before royal courts were made including those of the King of Siam and the Japanese emperor. Then, in 1889, the intrepid traveler returned to San Francisco. The 1890s saw his return to South and Central America where, in 1897, he died in Panama at age 74.
Much of what we know of Chiarini comes from a visit made by two circus fans to Chiarini’s second wife before her death in 1932. Their article in an early "White Tops" recorded what they saw in a now-lost family scrapbook and the account has stood the test of time when compared to digitized newspapers only recently available from some of the many countries where Chiarini toured.
So, as the New Year made its way across the hemispheres last night, let it remind us of the world travels of so many circus folk like Chiarini who certainly endured much to entertain the world.
Dick Flint


Jimmy Cole said...

I'll match him with Martin Espana any day!

Dick Flint said...

Many performers have certainly traveled the world but this is a circus owner with his show. And,of course, travel and communication was incredibly more difficult 125-150 years ago when Chiarini toured his show!
Dick Flint