Two arch cage – had various numbers, now carries # 50
There is a large group of cages that have been over the years commonly been referred to as the Corporation cages. This cage would be one of this group. For historical purposes, the Corporation cages moniker doesn’t apply to all of them as some of them were made in the West Baden, Indiana winter quarters of the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus before the American Circus Corporation was ever formed.
Stuart Thayer thought this wagon was made around 1924 in the Peru, Indiana winter quarters.
The style of this cage with the sunburst wheels still on the outside of the cage follows the pattern of the cages that had the arches on them coming out of the West Baden shops. Cap Curtis was in charge in West Baden’s wagon shops and then in the Peru Wagon shops later. Interesting to note is the fact that the carvings were not the same on both sides leading some historians to think they were looking at two different cages.
( 1927 – Joseph Bradbury Album #48 – 21A – Pigmy Hippo on Sells-Floto Circus – Harry Atwell photo )
This 1927 photo is the earliest photo we know of. It shows incredible detail. You’ll note the half round molding on the front covering the joining of each board. This is another trait of the arched cages that were being brought out of the West Baden shops. The generis molded furniture carvings would also become a huge tie in to all the other cages being assembled in the arched opening pattern.
The wagon moved from show to show as needed.
1924 to 1926 – Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus ( # 50 in 1924 )
1927 to 1928 – Sells-Floto Circus
1929 to 1930 – John Robinson Circus ( cage # 12 )
1931 to 1932 – Sells-Floto Circus ( white body cage # 28 )
1934 – Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus ( cage # 9 )
( 1934 – Conover collection Set # 926, Photo # 705 – P.M.McClintock )
The wagon remained in the Peru, Indiana winter quarters until it was sold to the Cole Bros. Circus in the spring of 1940 following the horrible Rochester winter quarters fire of the Cole Bros. Circus. Ultimately, this sale saved this cage from the wagon burnings at the Peru winter quarters in November of 1941. Jess Adkins passed away in 1940, leaving Zach Terrell as the surviving owner.
( 1940 – Joseph Bradbury Album #7 – 77E – Cole Bros – #18 – F.A. Norton photo )
While on the Cole Bros. Circus until it closed in 1950, this wagon went through a number of changes. In 1940, the cage carried the number 18. By 1941, the wagon had been repainted with lettering added to the sideboards. The number was changed to # 15.
( 1941 – Steve Flint collection )
In 1942, the cage had the sunburst wheels removed and a hard rubber spoked wheel applied to it. the wagon was repainted white again. The carvings down the center also changed in 1942.
( 1942 – Bob Cline collection )
1943, saw the cage being painted again. The body remained white but the trim was painted and the sideboards were now both dark accented with white painted scrolls. The cage number was also changed to # 9.
( 1943 – loose negative in the Conover Photographic collection )
As the years went by, the equipment on the Cole Bros. Circus was getting worse and worse. In this 1947 photo we can see the cages loaded on the flatcars with nothing more than a coat of paint on them. All the carvings are gone.
( 1947 – Conover Album # 15, Set # 508, Photo # 3206 by George Hubler )
Zach Terrell sold the Cole Bros. Circus to Jack Tavlin in 1949. Mr. Tavlin then sold the show to Arthur Wirtz in 1950. The Cole Bros. Circus ceased operations in 1950 and all the equipment was brought to the Arthur Wirtz farm outside of Peru, Indiana. Wirtz had acquired the farm from Terrell Jacobs. Eventually, Paul Kelly would buy the farm and the Cole Bros. Circus equipment that was left there including this cage. Thus you had several ownership changes in this wagon’s history.
( 1955 – Joseph Bradbury Album #80 – 24A – Kelly farm )
While at the Kelly farm, this cage was rolled inside the ring barn were it was at least protected from the weather for many years. Paul and Dorothy Kelly had a huge auction at their circus farm in 1995 when this wagon was sold to Peter Gorman, who had it restored by Bill Gresham to it’s original condition. The wagon was then taken out to the International Circus Hall of Fame on the other side of Peru. Ironically, this cage wagon is now resting comfortably in the same place that it was built back around 1924.
( 2012 – International Circus Hall of Fame in Peru, Indiana – Bob Cline photo )
Once the Hall of Fame had the wagon, they restored it to it’s original look with the sunburst wheels put back on it and a red body with all the carvings added once again. The original number 50 was put back on the wagon. Tom Dunwoody recorded this wagon as being 12’0” long, 6’0” wide and was 6’8” tall.
The wagon can be seen in person at the International Circus Hall of Fame in Peru, Indiana
(1) “The Corporation Cages,” Bandwagon, Vol. 15, No. 6 (Nov-Dec), 1971, pp. 20-24.
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