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MMD > Archives > January 2009 > 2009.01.24 > 02Prev  Next

Clyde Beatty - Cole Bros. Circus Steam Calliope
By Brad Hunter

Hello MMD readers,  Does anyone know what ever happened to the very
large steam calliope on a circus wagon from the Clyde Beatty - Cole
Brothers Circus?  It was a very large monster!  Does it still exist?

As a small child in the early 1960s I saw this very loud, large,
fantastic calliope still playing on steam from its boiler, also
located on this ornate circus wagon.  What a sight it was with its
pipes loudly sounding and belching steam all around its operator and
wagon in a sight that to a small child resembled the Wizard of Oz!
You could hear this steam calliope miles or more away.

The boiling noise, along with the roar of its burner, added to the
effect.  The burner and boiler looked as if it had been converted from
coal or wood burning many years ago but you could still see the iron
doors of its original firebox.

The wagon was very large and heavy and had very ornate gilded carvings.
There was a high front seat for the wagon driver along with a seat up
top in the rear for the calliope player.  It was still equipped to be
pulled by a team of horses.

The Clyde Beatty - Cole Bros. Circus was the last of the giant three
ring tent circuses.  The tent was very old, dirty and patched, while
the calliope and wagon looked very ancient, possibly 1800s vintage.
The calliope was located between the main circus tent and the sideshow
tent where you entered the circus.  My parents had to drag me away from
the calliope so we could enter the main circus tent.  I still remember
the calliope playing the theme from "Around the World in 80 Days" along
with many familiar circus songs.

Clyde Beatty, possibly the most famous lion and tiger tamer of all time
(long before Gunther Gabel Williams) and at this time a very old man,
was still the star attraction.  He was dressed all in white with a bush
jacket, riding bloomers, high black boots, and a pith helmet with a red
ribbon.  He used a whip and shot blanks from his pistol with a black
cafe chair in his other hand.  He made for quite a sight!

Beatty had a helper who would open the big cat's cage gate outside the
main cage, with a rifle in hand -- just in case.

The Cole Bros. Circus still exists today with shows mostly at inside
venues.  I do not know the fate of that great, large steam calliope
and wagon, but I do not believe it is used today.  Does it still exist?
There is only a brief mention of the calliope found on a web search.

Brad Hunter
Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania

(Message sent Sun 25 Jan 2009, 00:11:39 GMT, from time zone GMT-0800.)

Key Words in Subject:  Beatty, Bros, Calliope, Circus, Clyde, Cole, Steam

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