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Archive for the ‘circus’ Category

Ringling Poster

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Side Show Poster. Printed by Erie Litho & Printing Co. Estimate $800- $1,200. Mosby & Co Auction. November 12, 2011

This rare and delightful poster from the 1930s advertising Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s Circus Sideshow is up for bid in Mosby & Company’s Fall Auction. Strange People from the Remote Corners of the Earth? The performers are not ID’d but we think the musicians are Margaret and Mary Gibb, from Holyoke, Massachusetts, who were celebrated as “The Only American-Born Siamese Twins” and the Texas giant is Jack Earle. Both were with Ringling in the 1930s.

Looking into the Gibb girls bio, we discovered that they made their show biz debut at the age of 13 in Dave Rosen’s side show and museum, then located at Bowery and West 15th in Coney Island. The date was April 11, 1926. After a couple of days, the Coney showman was arrested for exhibiting minors and the twins were given into the custody of the Children’s Society over the objections of their father, who said he was with them all the time.

The incident gets a mention in the book “Sodom by the Sea: an affectionate history of Coney Island” (1941):

The side-show successors of Chang and Eng were continually getting into legal hot water at Coney Island. Around the time of the First World War, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children objected to the appearance of eleven-year-old Godino and Lucio Simplicio, Filipino double monsters, and proved them to be without proper guardianship. The SPCC followed up its success in the Simplicio case by raiding David Rosen’s side show on the Coney Island Bowery because of the exhibition of thirteen-year-old Marjorie and Mary Gibb, Siamese twins from Holyoke, Massachusetts. Rosen had studied the law during the previous Coney Island controversy and wriggled out of the trouble by arguing that the girls were still in the custody of their father, by contract, and moreover were not violating the statute by dancing or singing.

However, the Gibb girls returned home for a while, announcing that they had been so shamed by the publicity that they were consulting medical experts as to the possibility of being cut apart. That in turn created more publicity, which made their parents so nervous that the operation was postponed. Several years later the Gibb girls proved to be still on exhibition at Coney Island, when their attorney, Abraham Reiss, raised the roof over the unfair competition furnished by a Cuban pair of Siamese twins who he declared were not genuinely married in gristle.

According to the Gibb Sisters obit in 1967, they went on to become vaudeville and circus stars with an act that featured dancing and piano playing. From 1934 through 1937, and again in 1939, they toured with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

The twins were joined at the base of the spine and despite sensational articles from the 1920’s about proposed operations to separate them, the only direct quote that we could find states they did not wish to be separated: “We are perfectly happy as we are,” said the Gibb Sisters on their 50th birthday. “We never wanted to be separated.”

Mosby’s live auction is on November 11 and 12 in Frederick, Maryland, but the catalogue is online and you can bid now or in real time during the auction.

 

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Ambra Zerbini, Zamperla-Zoppe Riders, Coney Island July 12, 2011. Photo © Kevin C Downs

After a first look at Circus Vidbel on Saturday, photographer Kevin Downs returned over the next few days and took these beautiful portraits of the performers against the backdrop of the Big Top. The photographs have a timeless quality that evokes the classic portraiture of the Golden Age of the Circus. You can see the complete set, including a few candids, on flickr.

Zamperla-Zoppe Riders with Guido, Coney Island. July 12, 2011. Photo © Kevin C Downs

The Altier Archers, Peggy Mills and Nino Murillo. Coney Island, July 11, 2011. Photo © Kevin C Downs

Nino Murillo, Archer. Circus Vidbel, Coney Island. July 10, 2011. Photo © Kevin C Downs

Susan Vidbel-Ashton, Aerialist and Owner, Circus Vidbel. Coney Island, July 12, 2011. Photo © Kevin C Downs

Circus Vidbel’s Big Top is set up at 3100 Stillwell Avenue, just off the Boardwalk in Coney Island. Shows are Tuesday through Sunday. Tickets are $10.00 and are on sale at the ticketbooth one hour before showtime. For more info visit the Coney Island Fun Guide.

Update, July 17…

Catch the show this weekend! The circus will be here only through Sunday, July 17th and then will be hitting the road again. Discounted tickets are now available online
http://coneyisland.eventbrite.com/

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Related posts on ATZ…

July 10, 2011: Photo Album: Vidbel Old Tyme Circus Opens in Coney Island

June 21, 2011: Zamperla-Zoppe Riders Coming to Zamperla’s Coney Island

May 11, 2011: Coney Island 2011: Summer Photography Workshop

September 2, 2009: Coney Island Baby: Cyclone, the Mini Donkey at the Ringling Circus

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Circus Vidbel

Susan Vidbel-Ashton, Aerial Cloud Swing. Circus Vidbel, Coney Island. July 9, 2011. Photo © Kevin C Downs

Circus Vidbel, a genuine “Old Tyme” family-run circus, has opened in good ol’ Coney Island.  You’ll find their red-and-white striped big top on Stillwell Avenue across the street from Scream Zone’s flying coaster. Susan Vidbel-Ashton grew up traveling with the circus founded by her grandparents in the 1980s. Today, in addition to performing the lyra and aerial cloud swing, she manages the show with husband Mike Ashton, a juggler and musician.

Usually Circus Vidbel moves every day, performing in small towns under the auspices of local sponsors. In New Canaan, Conn., where the circus played an annual three-day stand before coming to Coney Island, the YMCA and Kiwanis Club and a Chevy dealership were the sponsors. This arrangement helps raise money for local non-profits and ensures a full house for the circus. But in Coney Island, where Circus Vidbel plans to spend the summer, they’re on their own as far as drumming up business. And so we’re picking up our megaphone to say: Please come out to see this delightful one-ring circus and help keep the circus arts alive and thriving!

Circus Vidbel

Zamperla-Zoppe Bareback Riders. Circus Vidbel, Coney Island. July 9, 2011. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

ATZ attended a Saturday performance of the Circus Vidbel with photographer Kevin C. Downs, who runs a photography workshop in Coney Island. Here are a few of Kevin’s snapshots as well as some of our own. More photos and video to come! (Update: Check out Kevin’s flickr photostream and website for photos from Sunday’s performance.)

Last month, ATZ wrote about the Zamperla-Zoppe Bareback Riders, whose skill as equestrian acrobats goes back six generations to two Italian circus families. We’re thrilled to see them in Coney Island! The troupe performed with Ringling’s Gold Unit before joining Vidbel a few weeks ago. They’ve also performed individually or as a troupe with the Dixie Stampede, Gilles St. Croix’s Cheval Theatre and Olissio Zamperla-Zoppe’s “Fratelli,” as well as at state fairs and Renaissance festivals.

The Fabulous Darnells & their Poodles. Circus Vidbel, Coney Island. July 9, 2011. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

We’re fond of novelty dog acts, which were a staple at the county fair vaudeville stages of our carny childhood. Somehow we missed seeing the Fabulous Darnells, three sisters who perform a kitschy, glitzy act with their prancing poodles. They were probably playing Vegas! The Darnells and their dogs sport an extraordinary array of matching costumes and their wardrobe includes not only the Stars and Stripes, but a Hawaiian hula skirt and a Scottish kilt.

The first time we saw Chinese vase juggler Guiming Meng’s astonishing performance was with the Big Apple Circus in 2008. His skill at balancing and spinning larger and larger porcelain jars on his head was the surprise hit of the show. According to Circopedia, Guiming Meng’s father was a master jar juggler. He first came to the United States with the Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe before making his way as a solo performer.

Circus Vidbel

Guiming Meng, Vase Juggler. Circus Vidbel, Coney Island. July 9, 2011. Photo © Kevin C Downs

Circus Vidbel’s Coney Island show also features Mike Ashton, foot juggling and live music; Tevin Delmonte, Rolla Bolla and Clowning; and Peggy Mills and Nino Murillo, Archery. Shows are Tuesday through Fri, 6 & 8 pm; Saturday, 4, 6 & 8pm; and Sun, 3 & 6pm. Tickets are available one hour before showtime and cost $10. At the show we attended, children 5 and under were admitted free of charge.

Update, July 17…

Catch the show this weekend! The circus will be here only through Sunday, July 17th. Discounted tickets are now available online
http://coneyisland.eventbrite.com/

Circus Vidbel

Drumming up business at Circus Vidbel Ticketbooth, Coney Island. July 9, 2011. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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Related posts on ATZ…

July 12, 2011: Circus Portraits: Photography by Kevin C Downs

June 21, 2011: Zamperla-Zoppe Riders Coming to Zamperla’s Coney Island

May 11, 2011: Coney Island 2011: Summer Photography Workshop

June 17, 2010: Coney Island Fireworks Show: Every Friday Plus 5 Saturdays

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When Circus Vidbel opens in Coney Island on July 4, one of the featured acts will be the famed Zamperla-Zoppe Bareback Riders, whose skill as equestrian acrobats goes back six generations to two illustrious Italian circus families. The brothers Olissio, 32; Gino, 23; and Ermes, 19, will be performing here all summer in Vidbel’s ring with Ambra Zerbini and their Percheron draft crosses and a Paso Fino.

Asked if the Zamperla-Zoppe brothers were related to the ride manufacturing Zamperlas from Vicenza who operate Luna Park, Olissio said they were third cousins, but have never met. “I very much look forward to meeting them,” he added, and was delighted when we told him that Alberto and his son Antonio were frequently seen in Coney Island.

ATZ spoke with Olissio by phone from Louisiana, where the Zamperla-Zoppes were winding up a three-month tour with Ringling’s Gold Unit, which played Coney Island for the past two summers, but bowed out this year. Earlier this month, we confirmed with Valerio Ferrari, CEO of Zamperla’s Central Amusement International, the operators of Luna Park and Scream Zone, that CAI would be bringing in the Circus Vidbel for a one-year deal.

Zamperla-Zoppe Riders. Photo via Cavallo Equestrian Arts - Ma'Ceo

“I’m terrifically excited to be coming to Coney Island, I’ve done some shows with Vidbel before,” Olissio Zoppe told ATZ. The brothers have also performed either individually or as a troupe with Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, Gilles St. Croix’s Cheval Theatre, Olissio’s equestrian extravaganza “Fratelli,” Orlando’s Arabian Nights Show and at numerous state fairs and Renaissance festivals.

According to Olissio, the Zamperla family began to branch out a couple of generations ago when Alberto Zamperla’s grandfather, also named Alberto, built the family’s first ride.  Said Ollisio, “Way back, his father Antonio had a circus and they also had a traveling movie theatre inside the tent.” Olissio recalled that his late grandfather, Napoleone Zamperla, was visited in Florida by Alberto Zamperla’s father Antonio, the founder of the ride company. They were first cousins, Olissio said. Now the circus equestrian side and the amusement ride manufacturing side of the Zamperla family will be reintroduced to each other this summer in Coney Island.

The video above shows the Zamperla-Zoppe Riders’ bravura reunion performance before an audience of fans and friends in Sarasota, the home of the American circus and the brothers’ hometown.  They perform somersaults from one galloping horse to another and other daring feats with passion and authenticity that truly seem to come from another century. Their website speaks of “celebrating a tradition that stems from the Golden Age of the Roman Empire. A tradition as grand as the Coliseum that was built to contain it. An eternity ago it thrived, but for centuries since, it was but an empty shell. However, that which once left spectators breathless and amazed, the very Heart of Rome, lives on today.”

Napoleone Zamperla (1926-2009) and his family performed the Roman Bareback Riding Act. Photo via Cavallo Equestrian Arts

The Circus Vidbel will also feature Susan Vidbel-Ashton, aerial cloud swing and lyra acts; Mike Ashton, foot juggling and live music; The Fabulous Darnells Magic and Dog Acts; Tevin Delmonte, Rolla Bolla and Clowning; Peggy Mills and Nino Murillo, Archery; and Guiming Meng, Vase Juggler.

The Big Top will  set up on the City’s Stillwell parcel across from the new Scream Zone. According to the press release on the Circus Fans of America website, performances are scheduled from July 4 through Labor Day. Shows are Tuesday through Friday at 4, 6, and 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 3 and 6 pm. The circus has Monday off. Tickets cost $10 and will be available for purchase before showtime.

Update, July 17…

The circus will be here only through Sunday, July 17th and then will be hitting the road again. Discounted tickets are now available online
http://coneyisland.eventbrite.com/

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Related posts on ATZ…

July 10, 2011: Photo Album: Vidbel Old Tyme Circus Opens in Coney Island

June 3, 2011: Vidbel Circus Coming to Coney Island in One-Year Deal

August 31, 2010: Snapshots of the Coney Island Illuscination

June 17, 2010: Coney Island Fireworks Show: Every Friday Plus 5 Saturdays

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vidbel

Since Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus bowed out of Coney Island after two seasons, ATZ has been hearing that efforts were underway to bring another circus to Coney this summer. Names of a few circuses were mentioned, but didn’t pan out. This morning, the following press release from Robert W Connor Marketing landed in our inbox. Though we don’t usually post press releases, this is very good news for Coney Island’s amusement area and we’re happy to share it with our readers…

Bob Connor announced today that he has booked the Vidbel Circus into Coney Island this summer from July 4 thru Labor Day. This will be the first summer of a multi year deal. So the people of New York City will have a circus at Coney Island this summer and many years to come. The circus will be centrally located in Coney Island–Connor says–“If you walk out the front door of the subway station at Coney Island–cross Surf Ave. heading straight for the boardwalk and the beach–Nathans will be on your right and just past that will be the circus. It is a perfect location.”

We’ll update this post as more details become available..

Update, June 3rd, 11:30 am…

The location mentioned in the booking agent’s press release, which is Thor-owned land currently occupied by the BK Festival, is incorrect. The circus is actually coming to City-owned Parcel C, the empty lot across from the Scream Zone (Parcel B). It is also not a multi-year deal, as claimed in the release. ATZ has confirmed with Valerio Ferrari, CEO of Zamperla’s Central Amusement International, the operators of Luna Park and Scream Zone, that they are bringing in the circus for a one-year deal. Also, Ferrari says the deal is not signed yet.

Update, July 10…

Photo Album: Vidbel Old Tyme Circus Opens in Coney Island
Shows are Tuesday through Fri, 6 & 8pm; Saturday, 4, 6 & 8pm; and Sun, 3 & 6pm. Tickets are available one hour before showtime and cost $10. At the show we attended, children 5 and under were admitted free of charge.

Update, July 17…

Catch the show this weekend! The circus will be here only through Sunday, July 17th and then will be hitting the road again. Discounted tickets are now available online
http://coneyisland.eventbrite.com/

Parcels A, B & C Are Up for Bid. Detail of the CIDC’s Map of the Coney Island Amusement Operator RFP Sites.  Credit: Coney Island Development Corporation

Credit: Coney Island Development Corporation

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June 21, 2011: Zamperla-Zoppe Riders Coming to Zamperla’s Coney Island

April 27, 2011: Coney Island 2011: Free Movie Screenings on the Beach

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Grand Finale of The Coney Island Illuscination. Photo © Jim McDonnell via smugmug

You get a lot of entertainment for the price of a ticket to the Coney Island Illuscination–a “thrillusionist” and his beautiful assistant, Kung Fu masters diving through flaming swords, hair-hanging aerialists, Salsa dancing acrobats, tightrope-walking kitty cats, an educated toucan and more. The circus, which is in a tent on the Boardwalk, is here for 12 more performances–Wednesday through Labor Day. Our selection of photos by Bruce Handy, Jim McDonnell and me-myself-i provides a glimpse of what you’ve missed seeing this summer if you haven’t been to the circus in Coney.

Jamieleigh with Blue-Throated Macaw at Pre-Show. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i

At the interactive pre-show, which starts 90 minutes before showtime, we met Jamieleigh and a blue-throated macaw, one of the rare and pampered birds in David DaVinci and Jamieleigh’s traveling aviary. On his blog thethrillusionist.com, DaVinci says one of his favorite things to do is take trips to remote locations to freefly their parrots. He also takes in and trains rescued birds that haven’t flown in decades. You might enjoy watching this YouTube video of Jamieleigh and a “hilarious parrot.” More than 23,000 have viewed it so far! In the Coney Island Illuscination, DaVinci, Jamieleigh and a few of their birds perform a variety of Houdiniesque illusions.

Hair-hanging aerialists Viktoriya Medeiros and Widny Neves

Hair-hanging aerialists Viktoriya Medeiros and Widny Neves. Photo © Bruce Handy

Hair hanging?!!! Watching Viktoriya Medeiros and Widny Neves spin by their ponytails is fearsome and sublime. Their act reminds us of the antique Barnum & Bailey poster showing a Chinese troupe nonchalantly sipping tea as they hang by their topknots. Hair hanging is something we’ve seen performed live only once before. Even among extraordinary circus folk, there aren’t a lot of hair hangers. One of our sideshow friends who tried to learn the act tells us a special technique of braiding the hair is what makes it possible, but it’s still excruciatingly painful. Not for the faint of scalp!

Mayya Panfilova with one of her 12 trained house cats in the Coney Island Illuscination. Photo © Bruce Handy

If we were a little girl, we’d want to be Mayya Panfilova when we grow up. Then we would never be cat lonely. According to the Illuscination website, ten of the twelve performing housecats were handpicked and trained by Panfilova, while the other two were born in her care. The cats balance on top of balls, jump through hoops and walk across a low wire using their front paws. Dear Ms. Panfilova, we suggest you write a book: “How to Train Your Cat to Be a Circus Star.” We predict it will be a bestseller!

Mayya Panfilova with one of her 12 trained house cats in the Coney Island Illuscination Photo © Jim McDonnell via smugmug

Mayya Panfilova with one of her 12 trained house cats in the Coney Island Illuscination Photo © Jim McDonnell via smugmug

The theatrical buffoonery of the Trio Caveagna from Italy calls to mind the rich tradition of commedia dell’arte. Artidoro Caveagna and sons Steve and Jones combine music and clowning in a uniquely entertaining way.

Artidoro and Steve Caveagna of the Trio Caveagna. Photo © Bruce Handy

According to the group’s bio: “Artidoro acquired this one-of-a-kind art form from his father Elicio, who was not only an accomplished musician but also a revered clown in Italy. Elicio performed this act for several years in a prominent Italian circus, Circo Nando Orfei, where his performances were legendary.”

Artidoro Caveagna performing with the Coney Island Illuscination. Photo © Bruce Handy

Steve Caveagna, an 18-year-old clown with the zaniest hairdo in New York City, joined the family act when he was 10. With his elastic body and quirky poses, he’s a natural at physical comedy. While Steve’s father and brother play trumpet and saxophone, he cheerfully drowns them out with his boom-box antics and wins over the audience with hip hop dance moves.

Steve Caveagna of the Trio Caveagna with the Coney Island Illuscination. Photo © Tricia Vita//me-myself-i via flickr

Steve Caveagna of the Trio Caveagna with the Coney Island Illuscination. Photo © Tricia Vita//me-myself-i via flickr

Coney Island Illuscination, Surf Ave at W 21 St, Coney Island, 800-745-3000, through Sept 6, 2010.

The Illuscination’s “Gold Tour” runs through March 2011 and includes stops in upstate New York, Massachusetts, Maine, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Indiana, Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee and Florida.

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June 5, 2010: Ringling Circus Back in Coney Island, Congrats to Trivia Contest Winners!

December 23, 2009: Coney Island School Bus Lot Has Gotta Go! The Circus Is Coming

September 3, 2009: Coney Island Baby: Cyclone, the Mini Donkey at the Ringling Circus

August 20, 2009: Q & A with Coney Island Boom A Ring Circus Star Justin Case

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Coney Island Illuscination & Deno's Wonder Wheel posters in Stillwell Station. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i

Coney Island Illuscination & Deno's Wonder Wheel posters in Stillwell Station. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i

Stillwell Terminal is lined with vivid posters for Ringling’s Coney Island Illuscination, which opens on June 17, and for Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, whose landmark Wonder Wheel celebrates its 90th birthday this year! On Friday, Ringling’s sleek blue-and-yellow striped circus tent was raised for its second season in Coney Island. Photos of the tent raising from start to finish can be found in Ringling’s photo album on Facebook as well as Amanda Stevens’ flickr set.

In 2009, the Coney Island circus made history by bringing “The Greatest Show On Earth” back under “The Big Top” for the first time since 1954. Justin Case, who rode a tiny bicycle through a ring of fire, was our favorite performer in last year’s Coney Island Boom-A-Ring. This season’s all new show features illusionist David DaVinci, a trio of Italian clowns, Russian acrobats, Chinese Kung Fu masters and more!

Coney Island Illuscination's Empresses of the Air, Widny Neves and Viktoriya Medeiros. Photo via Ringling Coney Island's Facebook

Coney Island Illuscination's Empresses of the Air, Widny Neves and Viktoriya Medeiros. Photo via Ringling Coney Island's Facebook

Last month ATZ had a history trivia contest to give away two Family Four Paks for opening weekend of Coney Island Illuscination. Readers who sent in correct answers were eligible for a drawing for the circus tickets. Congrats to our two winners –Bill F. of Old Bethpage, NY, and Jim A. of Smithtown, NY. Enjoy the show!

Bill and Jim were among several people who correctly answered question # 2: “Tell us the name of a Coney Island attraction that was named after a member of the inventor’s family! Name of inventor and relationship to family member also required!” One correct answer is Luna Park–the original Luna Park, of course– which opened in 1903 and was named after park co-owner Elmer “Skip” Dundy’s sister Luna. Another correct answer is the Virginia Reel, a popular ride that made its debut in 1908 at Luna Park. It was designed by Henry E. Riehl, who named the ride after his daughter, Luna Virginia Riehl. With the rebirth of Luna Park Coney Island, will Luna become a popular girl’s name once again?

The Virginia Reel at Luna Park, 1910. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division via flickr

The Virginia Reel at Luna Park, 1910. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division via flickr

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August 31, 2010: Snapshots of the Coney Island Illuscination

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May 20, 2010: Trivia Contest! Win VIP Circus Tickets to Coney Island Illuscination

December 23, 2009: Coney Island School Bus Lot Has Gotta Go! The Circus Is Coming

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