Item #7399 The Best in the World! Stone & Murray’s Circus!…. Stone, Murray.
The Best in the World! Stone & Murray’s Circus!…

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Stone & Murray.

The Best in the World! Stone & Murray’s Circus!…

[New York? ca. 1869.]. Broadsheet, 24.75” x 8.5”, plus margins. Vignette border of circus acts on recto. One engraving on verso signed, “Strong Sc. Ny,” i.e., Thomas W. Strong. The note at the bottom of the verso, “For time of exhibition, see other side of this bill,” is printed only in part. CONDITION: Very good, light wear, a few spots of staining.

A rare broadsheet for Stone & Murray’s Circus, advertising and picturing acts by leading equestrian performers of the day and announcing the unusual inclusion of dances by a “captured” group of Ku-Klux-Klan “members.”

While noting that Stone & Murray’s Circus has a reputation for excellence so well-known that it does not require an elaborate description, this broadsheet nonetheless goes on to provide just that, describing in great detail the “grand array of sensational riders, emotional gymnasts, and phenomenal acrobats…” Highlighted are Mad’lle Emilie Henrietta Cooke—“the graceful and dashing premier equestrian, the most brilliant and daring Lady Rider ever seen”—as well as John Henry Cooke, “the superb defiance champion equestrian and thaumaturgic artiste, from Astley’s Amphitheatre, London and late director of the Cirque Napoleon, Paris. This inimitable performer will display his remarkable talents in his original retrovert juggling feats on a swift running steed, and in his unequaled and dashing act on four naked horses.” Said here to be superior to all other American circuses, Stone & Murray’s featured an equilibrist, grotesque comedian, contortionist, gymnast, acrobat, pantomimist, pancratist, tumbler, humorist, doctor of fun, and a leaper and vaulter. These acts were performed by Ms. Emily Cooke, Ferdinand Sagrino, the Snow Brothers, Sig. Columbus, Talleen Brothers, Mr. George Cooke, Mr. Den Stone, et al.

The circus was rounded out by a “complete force of auxiliary talent,” the whole forming the “most brilliant circus troupe in the world”—“embracing more first-class talent than any three companies in this country possess.” These auxiliaries consisted of Prof. Geo. P. Hutchinson’s Wonderful and Sagacious Acting Dogs; Den Stone’s Jocose Mules (“fixed features” of the circus who are noted for their remarkable portrayals of animal intelligence); and—perhaps most remarkably—“four of the original members of the Ku–Klux-Klan, captured in Alabama,” who, after being introduced into the arena, were to “execute their complex and metamorphosic dances.” Furnishing music for the circus was Prof. Oscar P. Perry’s opera band. Stone & Murray’s grand entree procession was to parade the principal avenues on the morning of exhibition day. Performances were given twice a day, during the afternoon and at night. Admission was 50 cents; children under ten were half-price. Free admission was allowed only for editors of the press. The promoters claim that they “actually pay for the services of M’lle Emilie Henrietta and the great John Henry Cooke, an amount exceeding the entire salaries of any circus troupe in this country.”

An “Extra Notice” on the verso observes that for several years Stone & Murray have been the first to introduce to the public artists who are “unrivaled in their specialities,” and touts the opportunity to witness the feats of “the grandest array of Equestrians, Gymnasts, Acrobats, and other performers ever assembled in one company.” Thirteen vignettes depict equestrian acrobatics as well as performing bears and a comic act involving a bucking mule and a pack of dogs. Testimonials from a number of American and European newspapers are included attesting to the talents of Henrietta and John Cooke. It is noted that Henrietta “has achieved a wide celebrity in Europe as the greatest Equestrienne of the age. Since her first appearance in America, her astonishing feats of equitation have excited universal praise in New York, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and other cities.” Having appeared in Paris the previous season, her talents excited the admiration of Alexandre Dumas, who wrote “she is the paragon of grace and her superb equestrianism is the realization of the ecstacy of delight. What she accomplishes, no mortal ever attempted; what she performs, no one can imitate. To see her is to be enchanted; not to see her is a regret. Her riding is intensely thrilling to witness, and indelible to the memory.”

The partners Stone & Murray were Dennison Stone and John H. Murray. Stone withdrew from the partnership in 1872. All members of the Cooke family were from England, as was the well-known “comic pantomimist” Tom Barry (here simply billed “Barry”), who had a long and interesting career that included being “the second to sail the Thames, from Vauxhall to Westminster, in a wash tub drawn by 4 geese, 1884,” the tub actually drawn by a rowboat some distance ahead. Clown and showman Dennison “Den” W. Stone (1824–1892) hailed from Burlington, Vermont and ran away with the circus (Ira Cole’s Zoological Institute) at age fourteen. He became a clown in 1840 and was involved in circus management (while also performing) from 1842 to 1875.

Based in New York, Thomas W. Strong was a wood engraver and lithographer active from at least 1842 to 1851, and thereafter is listed as a publisher. Strong exhibited wood engravings at the American Institute in the 1840s, and in the mid-1840s he worked for the New York Herald.

OCLC appears to record only one copy, at AAS, dated 29 and 30 April 1869 for performances in Worcester, Mass.

A rare and engaging nineteenth century circus broadsheet.

REFERENCES: Groce, George C. and David H. Wallace. The New-York Historical Society’s Dictionary of Artists in America, 1564–1860 (Yale University Press, 1957), p. 611; Slout, William L. Olympians of the Sawdust Circle: A Biographical Dictionary of the Nineteenth Century American Circus at Circus Historical Society online.

Item #7399


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