They’d get up and swing around on the trapeze

Posted by | July 12, 2017

“Well, I’ll tell you, I came from up in Washington County. Washington County, Ohio. Lived up in the country there with my grandmother. My mother died when I was a little fellow and I lived with my grandmother. Lived up there in the country and all you could see was the steamboats. There was nothing else up there to look at except the trees and the farms, and one thing and another. So I lived there until I got to be sixteen years old. Watched the boats and went down when the boats landed. I got acquainted with some of the fellows on the boat and after awhile I got a job on the boat …

“… The man never made any money out of [the water circus]. Well, I’ll tell you, he went down the river, we followed the river down here, made all the river towns aware, that there were any justified to stop at. Got out of Paducah and after he got to Paducah he decided he didn’t want to go down the river any farther, he wanted to come back. He lived at Ironton and he didn’t want to get too far away from home.

“His name was Newman. So he came back up the same way he came down, what they called backtracking, and he didn’t do much business. He lost his shirt. He had a few [animals], but not very many. He managed to sort of get along without them because they was too hard to handle and too hard to acquire. They’d be liable to get loose and eat up some of the audience.

Adam Forepaugh & Sells Bros. Circus, circa 1898
“He had a lot of performers. He had trapeze performers and he had the fellows that’d do these cartwheels and all that kind of stuff. They’d get up and swing around on the trapeze and turn flip flops in the air. Oh they had a lot of things there. Had a couple of fellows under a great big old blanket and get them up in a certain way and made kind of an animal at of it they called a jocko. It was a kind of ridiculous looking thing but it sure did bring the house down. They made a hit every time they put it on. Didn’t mean anything.

“You’ve seen two men under a blanket I expect. That’s about all it was, but it made a hit. Another thing he had was an imitation of an automobile. At that time there was no such thing as an automobile, hardly. People had heard of them, but nobody had ever seen them hardly. He had a thing there on the boat that had four wheels on it and it was supposed to represent an automobile and boy there was a crowd around that thing all the time looking at it. It wouldn’t run. They had to pull it around when they wanted to move it and there wasn’t an engine or anything of that kind but it made a hit. Just goes to show how things were changed since that time.”

Captain Jesse Hughes
of the riverboat “The Cricket”
which he piloted 1900-1903 along the Ohio & Big Sandy Rivers
1957 interview


Related post: “Last of the Packet Boats”

Jesse+Hughes water+circus the+Cricket Washington+County+OH Ohio+River Big+Sandy+River appalachia appalachian+culture appalachian+history history+of+appalachia

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