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Memories of a Life in the Circus – Odds and Ends from the Big Top

by Larry Kellogg (02/02/10).

In two previous articles, I shared experiences in the life of Charlotte (Shive) Maxwell, who spent 20 years performing with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. She was an accomplished aerialist, but like most circus artists, she appeared several times in different acts throughout the performance. In her early days, when the circus still paraded through town, she rode horseback in the procession. As with all performers, she appeared in every “spec,” an elaborate production number, sometimes riding atop an elephant.

For a number of years she was in charge of the living statue act in one of the rings. In this act performers posed in various groupings. Some were covered in clown white makeup so they appeared as alabaster statues. Others resembled solid gold statues. Charlotte explained that those covered in gold used a gold-colored power mixed with glycerin. Because the act was discontinued, when Charlotte left the show in the late 1930s, she took with her a half-gallon jug of the gold power.

The gold power was just one of the many keepsakes Charlotte had to remember her years with the circus. Because she knew of my passionate love for the circus she gave many of these items to me. In the previous articles (see links at the end of this article) I related the story of a sunburst circus wagon wheel and a Ubangi bracelet. Among the many items Charlotte passed on to me, a few others stand out.

The Living Statues was a popular act during the 1920s and 1930s. Charlotte Shive is the Golden Indian in this tableau. This photo was taken by Harry A. Atwell and is valued at $75 to $100.

The Living Statues was a popular act during the 1920s and 1930s. Charlotte Shive is the Golden Indian in this tableau. This photo was taken by Harry A. Atwell and is valued at $75 to $100.

Gold-colored dust fills this half-gallon jug that Charlotte kept after the act was discontinued. It’s difficult to value this one-of-a-kind item because there are no comparable sales records.

Gold-colored dust fills this half-gallon jug that Charlotte kept after the act was discontinued. It’s difficult to value this one-of-a-kind item because there are no comparable sales records.

One day when I was helping Charlotte pack to move to a new apartment, I noticed a bucket, in the corner of her garage. On the side of the bucket were the words A. Concello. When the circus was still under canvas, each performer was given two buckets of water each day. I immediately thought this bucket was from Antoinette Concello, who was billed as “… the only lady in the world to accomplish a triple mid-air somersault.” When I asked Charlotte she said, “Oh no, that was Art Concello’s bucket.” Art was Antoinette’s husband and the head of The Flying Concellos. He later went on to become general manager of the show. Charlotte said her husband Bill Maxwell, who worked at the front door taking tickets, was a good friend of Art’s and the two of them were always playing tricks on each other. When they left the show, Bill “stole” Art’s bucket.

Two buckets of water were delivered to each performer in the dressing tent. This bucket was used by Art Concello when he was head of the Flying Concellos. Performer buckets have sold in the past for $25-$50, but because Art Concello was so well known, both as a performer and circus executive, this one would probably bring $100 or more.

Two buckets of water were delivered to each performer in the dressing tent. This bucket was used by Art Concello when he was head of the Flying Concellos. Performer buckets have sold in the past for $25-$50, but because Art Concello was so well known, both as a performer and circus executive, this one would probably bring $100 or more.

Since Charlotte frequently rode elephants in various displays, she was well known by the men in the elephant department. Before she left the show, she asked if she could have an ankus or elephant hook. She wanted one that was large and asked if the hook could be cut off so she could use it as a cane.

An elephant hook hanging on an elephant harness.

An elephant hook hanging on an elephant harness.

An elephant hook handle.

An elephant hook handle.

An elephant hook tip.

An elephant hook tip.

I hang Charlotte’s cane on an elephant harness I acquired at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus World theme park in Central Florida. I was Communications Manager at the park in 1982. The close-up view of the tip shows were the hook was removed from this ankus, so she could use it as a cane. Elephant hooks have sold in the past for $150-$200. The Greatest Show On Earth elephant harness is valued at $500-$750.

During the off-season, circus performers frequently took jobs with other circuses, performing winter dates. In 1929, Alfredo Codona took Circo Codona to Mexico. The show featured Codona and his wife Lillian Leitzel, both world famous aerialists. They were also very good friends of Charlotte’s so they asked her to appear with them on the show. Her act with another performer was billed as the “Charlotte Sisters.”

Cico Codona in Mexico, 1929.

Circo Codona was in Mexico in 1929 and featured Alfredo Codona and Lillian Leitzel. This broadside is valued at more than $100.

Charlotte’s act in the show was billed as the Charlotte Sisters – Mariposas Aereas (Spanish for Aerial Butterflies)

Charlotte’s act in the show was billed as the Charlotte Sisters – Mariposas Aereas (Spanish for Aerial Butterflies)

To read more about Charlotte and her life in the circus go to these WorthPoint articles:

Fascinating Story Behind Antique Circus Wagon Wheel.
The Circus Fraternity: My Friend Charlotte and the Ubangis.

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Larry Kellogg is a WorthPoint Worthologist specializing in circus memorabilia.

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One Response to “Memories of a Life in the Circus – Odds and Ends from the Big Top”

  1. Brandon says:

    Hello,

    is the ringling elephant head piece for sale??

    thanks!

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