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John Robinson Steam Calliope

Mugivan and Bowers’ John Robinson Circus Steam Calliope

by Joseph Bradbury

(1) The wagon was built by the Bode Wagon Works of Cincinnati for Mugivan and Bowers for use on their John Robinson Circus. I understand it was delivered in time to appear on that show for the 1917 season. The show that year was on 45 cars, with 2 advertising, 11 stocks, 20 flats, and 12 coaches, and was the largest show Mugivan and Bowers ever put out under the John Robinson title.

A good bit of the 1916 Howes Great London show that had toured on 21 cars that season was combined with the John Robinson property to put out the huge show. Many observers say that the 1917 John Robinson show was a whopper and a whale of a good show. The calliope remained on the show for the 1918, 1919, 1920, 1921, and 1922 seasons. After the 1922 season the calliope was stored in Peru, the Howes 1921 steamer went out on John Robinson Circus for the 1923, 1924, and 1925 seasons.

John Robinson Steam calliope( 1921 – Conover Set # 827 – photo # 227 taken on Sept. 12, 1921 in Memphis, TN by Ralph Miller )

In the winter of 1924-25 the calliope was sold to Floyd and Howard King who put it on their new 10 car Walter L. Main Circus in 1925. It remained on the Walter L. Main Circus through the 1927 season and in 1928 and 1929 it was on the King brothers’ Gentry Bros. Circus. After the Gentry show went broke in Paris, Tenn. in the fall of 1929 the property was taken over by the Donaldson Lithographing Company and shipped to the old Hagenbeck-Wallace quarters in West Baden, Ind. where it was finally disposed of. In 1930 Andrew Donaldson presented the calliope to the Ford Museum as an exhibit to perpetuate the memory of the American circus. One interesting thing about the wagon, note that the whistles have been moved to the top portion of the wagon. I assume this was done after the wagon got to the museum.

John Robinson Steam Calliope( 1950 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 15 – photo # 60A – Joseph Bradbury photo taken in June of 1950 )

This wagon is currently in the possession of the Henry Ford Museums in Dearborn, Michigan although it may not be on public display anymore.

(1) Excerpts from the Circus Wagon History Files, Bandwagon, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Jan-Feb), 1959, pp. 10-12

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