“A Few Stickers on a Few Sticks or Running Away with the Circus”
In The Beginning: Bar Acts and the Circus in the Nineteenth Century
An Appreciation. This project was created with the assistance of John A. Picard who carried out research on the circus in Eastern Michigan and presented a set of lectures on the subject in the 1980s and 1990s. Other material here is from the papers of Judge Frank A. Picard and materials from Alex and Vincent Picard. Alex Picard, his brothers, Fred, Phil and Joe and his son Vincent performed on the horizontal bars from the mid-1890s through to 1928. This e-book is dedicated to them.
We start with a question. Why were aerialists, flyers or gymnasts, attracted to Eastern Michigan. This story starts with the original aerials, the bar people. Aerialist were not just the flyers, nor the trapeze artists. The barrists were the original aerialists. Their horizontal bars were suspended from the air; they had no trapeze or high wires to support them. There were five bars: two high and three low. They had to swing from one bar to the other, from the top down and from the lower bar upward. They had great acrobatic skills and great upper body strength.
The originals came in the 1800s. Many were Frenchmen, they were lumber jacks and worked in the lumber mills; they were great climbers, had great agility and they were very strong. But the circus people came to Michigan for two other reasons, the railroads and sawdust. Eastern Michigan had something very natural for young kids to learn how to perform in the air, great piles of sawdust. The sawdust was free the kids had nothing else to do. They could do all of their flips and jump into these great piles of sawdust and not be hurt.
The railway s were important to traveling showmen. Circus people were also vaudeville people and in both summer and winter, since vaudeville and the circus were two halves of the same coin, they were always catching a train. Because of the railroads, vaudeville had great access to the Midwest and Saginaw Michigan was one of the great centers of both the railway and vaudeville. It is also the case that when vaudeville died and the passenger train lost its importance the circus began to die.
 Quote of Vincent Picard about the Picard Brothers and other barists; in an Email from Dr. Louis A. Picard to Marian Matyn, November 14, 2009. Saginaw, Michigan.
What are the horizontal bars? What are barrists? The bars are a series of two, three, or even up to four  horizontal bars, of the same height, or five if uneven, also known as Les Barres Fixes. The bars were constructed of fine wood (sticks) built around a steel core. Bars were set at either the same or various heights and could be mounted on either the floor or from an aerial rigging. Today, the modern ancestor of these bars can be seen in three gymnastic events. The first is the women’s gymnastic uneven bars. These bars are horizontal and made of metal, wood, and other materials which are mounted on the floor. One bar is mounted higher off the ground (eight feet) than the other (approximately five feet). Male gymnasts perform on two types of bars. The first is the parallel bars which are floor mounted bars of mainly wooden construction which are set close together. The bars are about eleven feet long and set about six-and-a-half feet above the ground. The second type of male gymnastic bar is called the horizontal bar. It is made of metal and mounted on the floor with cables. While women and men gymnasts must mount, swing, circle, perform handstands, releases, and dismounts, like the barrists of old, only the women beat (or bounce off) the bar like the barrists once did.
Bar work is more difficult than trapeze work because a trapeze artist uses the swinging trapeze to gain momentum which helps in the performance of certain tricks. A barrist “must generate his own momentum out of his own muscular strength.” A barrist’s speed must also be faster than that of a trapeze artist in order to perform certain positions or moves. Additionally being a barrist “is a painful experience” as you are constantly hitting, curling around, or beating (bouncing off) of the bar. All of us have seen Olympic women gymnasts bouncing off the bars and can relate to this experience. Therefore we can appreciate the tremendous upper body strength and athleticism required by barrist performers. As a barrist aged, the difficulty of continuing with the act must have taken tremendous will power and physical strength. Truthfully it was a young person’s sport.
Barrists referred to themselves as “bar artists” or “stick artists.” At one point, Vincent Picard “described…his troupe as “A few stickers on a few sticks.” Bar acts were so difficult that they were often featured among the first acts in a circus. After the Grand Entry, the first acts were traditionally the lady principal (bareback) until the 1950s, then aerial/horizontal bars, and flying trapeze.
The debate about flyers and the horizontal bars is interesting and the Bill Thomas notwithstanding, there is not much evidence that those working the horizontal bars claimed to be flyers. My family called themselves “The Picard Brothers: French Gymnasts.” They also called themselves bar artists or stick artists. Vince Picard, in writing, described he and his troupe as “A few stickers on a few sticks.” The bars were made of fine wood with a steel core and horizontal bars come in two, three or four bar combinations with different heights. They can be either mounted on the floor or hung from an aerial system. According to my cousin John Picard, the horizontal bars were one of the most difficult acts in the circus and required extreme upper body strength. As such it was very visible and the bar acts often opened the circus.
Though the horizoantal bar act came from Germany, it was Americans, though often of immigrant background, who most often performed at the top of their “profession.” Even with nets, which functioned like trampolines, it was very dangerous, particularly since the acts were performed as physical comedy. After World War II, the act almost died out though a few Russian and Eastern European performers kept it alive as I understand it from web sites I have read.
 Email from Dr. Louis Picard to Marian Matyn, November 14, 2009.
 Email from Dr. Louis Picard to Marian Matyn, November 14, 2009.
 Couderc, Pierre. Truth or Fiction, Legend or Fact. Bandwagon, Vol. 8, No. 6 (Nov.-Dec. 1964, pp.15-18, 23-24) viewed on Circus History (http://www.circushistoyr.org/Bandwagon/bw-1964 Nov.htm) (April 14, 2008).
 Email from Dr. Louis A. Picard to Marian Matyn, November 14, 2009.
 Fox, Charles Philip and Tom Parkinson. The Circus in America. Country Beautiful: Waukesha, WI, 1969 pp. 216-274.
One of the first performers on the bars from Eastern Michigan was George or “Bill” Hulme; his performing name was the Great Zeno. He was born in Saginaw Michigan on August 23, 1858. He died on November 22, 1933 and is buried in Saginaw. He was one of the pioneer gymnasts and was both a barrist and a flyer (on the trapeze). He and all of the other earlier performers lived near sawdust, near the saw mills. Hulme, like the other gymnasts, was a great all around acrobat. He went from performing on the ground to the horizontal (parallel) bars suspended in the air.
Barists were were physically extremely strong from the waist up. Everything was in their chest and in their arms. They had did all their own projection; they had to provide their own force. They did not have a swing to move them back and forth or a wire to walk on. Hulme ran away and joined the circus at the age of 15 and traveled through Europe and South Africa working with various circuses, (Wicksom, Barnum and Phyllis); eventually he switched to work on the trapeze.
Below is a Horizontal Bars Poster,from the turn of the Twentieth Century.
Fred Jenks and Wilson were a clown team in Hagenbeck & Wallace and Ringling Brothers-and- Barnum & Bailey circuses, among others. The duo supposedly originated the clown band concept, which later became a component of all circuses. Jenks and his wife, Grace Burk, began an act called Jenks and Jenks, whose big hit was imitating a chicken with its head cut off. When the Jenks retired from the circus world they operated roller skating rinks in Saginaw.
After the Jenks married, Watson teamed up with George Bickel portraying German comics. One of their gags was to pretend to play the violin while sharing a music stand. The one clown, intently playing, poked the other clown in the eyeball with his violin bow, oblivious to the discomfort he was causing a fellow musician. Watson and Bickel performed in the Ziegfeld Follies and the Palace Theater in New York. Watson also worked solo, earning $2,000 a week in the 1920s. Eventually, Watson retired to Panatong, Oregon. Bickel retired to Hollywood, but was later buried in Saginaw.
In the Photo:
Phillip Shevette, seated, Claude Newell center and Zenoble Shevette,known as the Orloff Bros. as they appeared in the late 1890s in Europe and the United States. Photo courtesy of Raymond Melzora.
The Brothers (1885-1921)
The Picard Brothers, known also as the Picard Troupe or French Gymnasts, and sometimes mislabeled in the press as the Flying Picards[i], were Saginawians who performed on the horizontal bars in the late 19th and early 20th century in circuses and vaudeville but most notably with Ringling Brothers and Hagenbeck and Wallace. The Brothers Picard were considered “among the best aerialists in the nation.”[ii] Contemporary newspaper reports described the four brothers as “”. . . The clean-limbed, graceful acrobats, flying through space and accomplishing seemingly incredible feats upon the elevated bars . . .”[iii] Vincent Picard performed in vaudeville and the circus from 1991 to 1928.
Though P. T Barnum’s Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome was founded in 1870, the beginning of what we now call Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Baily Circus usually dates from 1884. The Eastern Michigan Picards’ relationship with Ringling Brothers dates from 1895-q928. Eight years after Ringling Brothers was founded Fred Picard (1869-1921) began performing on the horizontal bars (c. 1892) soon there after joined by his brother Phil (c.1893).
Fred was said to have gotten his start in Vaudeville at the Boardwell Opera House in Saginaw where he played with Marie Dressler. This theater was said to be a place well known at the time for “harlots.” Phil (1877-1912)also worked in Vaudeville with various partners in the 1990s and early part of the twentieth century.
In the late 1990s, Fred Picard worked with Ernest Alvo and Harry Boise and Picard. They were self described “Kings of the Aerial Bars, Performing Fearless Feats of Skill and Daring, Suspended High in Mid-air.”
[i] Email from Dr. Louis A. Picard to Marian Matyn, November 23, 2009.
[ii] Gross, Stuart D. Saginaw: a history of the land and the city. Woodland Hills, Calif: Windsor Publications, 1980, p. 88.
In 1898, Ernest Alvo, Harry Boise and Fred Picard Ringling Brothers. See above their publicity photo .
In 1901 on Stage No. 2, Ringling Brothers and Barnam and Baily Circus. the program described Alvo, Boise & Picard as “Astonishing evolutions, somersaulting, swings, drops and exhibitions of strength and daring upon the aerial bars.”
Fred and Phil Picard, circa, 1900.
Fred and Phil worked together and separately in the 1890s. Phil worked with James Duval (who’s real name was James Murphy), a contortionist. Rather than bars, they performed on a revolving ladder on the stage in Vaudeville.
In 1899, the Picard Brothers were featured in the Forepaugh & Sells Brothers Circus with 3 famous Saginaw clowns, Fred Jenks, George Bickel, and Harry Watson. (Information provided by the Central Michigan University Circus Project). They had their start at Saginaw’s Boardwell Opera House in the early 1890s.
Below is an advertisement for Alex Picard around the turn of the century.
Phil Picard fell, badly broke his leg in a fall in 1901 and again in 1903 and died of the infected wound in 1912. Phil’s accident was notes by the Ringling Brothers. The following comes from the from Ringling Brothers Route Book diary on June 28, 1901. On June 28 the circus arrived in Flint, Mich. by the Grand Trunk Railway. the Trip was only 66 miles. According to the account they arrived early. “Good lot about a mile from town. Weather very hot. The streets are being re-paved here and the parade has to take a somewhat rambling route. Jules Turnour leaves for Chicago, to attend the bedside of his wife, who is dangerously ill and in the hospital there. Lew Sunlin and wife, Baby Jinks and Phil Picard are among the visitors. Phil. met with a serious misfortune last season in breaking a limb, and may never again be able to resume work. His many friends gave him a warm welcome. There is a wonderful fellow feeling among “show folks” in times of affliction.” The reference is to Phil badly breaking his leg in a fall. He would never perform again and an infection from the leg would eventually kill him.
Below is a flyer advertising James Dorval and Phil Picard, Comedy acrobats, circa 1896. The flyer comes from Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Alex (Louis Alexander) Picard performed with his brothers Fred, Phil and later Joe. The brothers referred to themselves as the Flying Picards and the Brothers Picard, French Gymnasts, performing with Ringling Brothers from 1899 to 1908.
Alex Picard started performing in 1895 when he was twelve years old. He was twenty years old in 1903 and 25 years old in 1908 when he retired from show business. Alex, was, along with three of his brothers a star gymnast in the circus. The brothers went under different names and also worked with different people. Alex worked with his life-long friend Fred Jenks and his troupe of comedy skaters, Jenks performed in the Great Wallace Show in 1902; Fred Jenks was a clown with the Hagenbeck-Wallace as late as 1910.
Fort Wayne (IN) Weekly Sentinel, July 30, 1902; Oelwein (IA) Daily Register, June 16, 1910.
The Picard Troupe played again with Ringling Brothers from 1900 through 1906.
Between 1906 and 1908, the Picard brothers, known at that time as the Four Picard Troupe of aerialists performed with the Norris and Rowe circus. Contemporary newspaper reports described the four brothers as “”. . . The clean-limbed, graceful acrobats, flying through space and accomplishing seemingly incredible feats upon the elevated bars . . .” It is likely that one of the four was not a Picard since Phil by then had retired from the circus due to his injury.
 Advocate (Victoria, TX), September 22, 1906; Reno (NV) Evening Gazette April 9, 1908; Ad, Woodland (CA) Daily Democrat, April 17, 1908.
The poster below is from the Ringling brothers, c. 1900 and shows Fred and Phil Picard, “French Gymnasts.”
The Picard Brothers Poster, circa 1900
Fred and Phil Picard are shown in both pictures, on the Vaudeville Stage, circa. 1898.
Fred Picard and Ernest Alvo, of the Ernest Alvo Troupe of comedy acrobats, horizontal bar gymnasts. circa. 1910.
Phil Picard badly broke his leg in 1900 and it never properly healed. He died in Washington State in 1912.
Below: Hagenbeck and Wallace Circus posters, 1908. From Alex and Vince Picard’s circus trunk.
The event (Alex Picard and the dog) was recently fictionalized. In the Fictionalized version Alex had become a Ringmaster.
Fred Picard broke off relationships with his father before his death. In February of 1909, when his father died Fred was in Houston. He wired back that he was not able to return to Michigan for the funeral. He kept contact with his brothers. In 1910, while traveling with the Ringling show, Fred had a visit from Alex when they played in Eastern Michigan. Beyond this, we had little information from Fred other than from his 1921 obituary. Recently, information from a 1924 passport application from his wife Marie brings us up to date.
In 1910, following his father’s death, Fred Picard moved out of Saginaw first to Chicago, then Houston and finally to New York City. He continued to perform and be involved in Show Business for the rest of his life.
On June 26, 1919 he married Anna Marie of New York City. Anna Marie was born in Flanaget France on March 11, 1877. From 1907 she lived in New York City.
Fred and Marie Picard and 1919 (New York City)
Fred and Marie lived at 405 West 53rd Street in Manhattan during the short time they were married. Anna Marie had been married before and had children and grandchildren in France. Fred died on May 16, 1921 after a vaudeville performance in New York City.
“Vince Picard- Running Away to the Circus?” (1918-1923
The Early Years, 1918-192
Vince Picard’s decade in show business ran from 1917 through 1927. A postcard, dated 1917, and addressed to “To Pic” from Stewart, says “best wishes to your first season in show business.” The card (perhaps misaddressed to “Joe,” Vince’s Uncle, was possibly G.Y. Stewart, booking agenct for Honest Bill (Newton)’s circus. If this is correct, he started performing when he was 13 years old. This makes sense since his father started in show business when he was 12.
Vince, Alex Picard’s son, was a protégé of his father and uncles, and was trained by Phil Shevette. He practiced and performed on the horizontal bars in vaudeville and with the circus through high school (performing with Hagenbeck and Wallace from 1924-1927). By 1928 his career in show business was over. He “retired” at 24.
Vince and his father were very close and I suppose it it was natural that he would follow his father into show business. Alex kept the horizontal bars at his house in Saginaw, at 407 Holland Avenue. The boy probably started practicing on the bars when he was young, perhaps ten years old. That would have been in 1914, the year the war started in Europe.
It is hard to imagine how Vince Picard developed himself physically to perform at the level he did and guess that he stopped as he got older and was simply not able to keep himself physically at such a peak. He did enjoy the good life and all that this suggests and, though he missed it greatly, could never get back what he lost after 1928.
Jeffers Theater Poster, Saginaw Michigan. c. 1912.
Masker and Picard played at the Jeffers Theater, in Saginaw Michigan on New Years Eve, 1921. Vince was 17 years old in August of that year.
“Charley Eugene has a felon (inflammation of the tip of the finger or fingers) on his right hand and has not worked all wee. He says no one knows how lucky he is when he has his right health.”
Bob Eugene and Joe Masker, 1924
Cecil Lowande says in the note, “A Mistake.” “An Old Timer.”
Fred Crandell, “My home town.” “Billboardian.” September 15, 1924. “Just the Boss gambler, that’s all?
Chester E. Barnett “Chinny,” My home town.” 1115 Highland Ave, Shreveport, Louisiana. “A Wite face mortal.” (Barnett was a “white faced” clown).
Wallace A. Cobb, “My home town.” 815 Lake Shore Drive, Escanaba Mich. September 15, 1924. “May your troubles all be small. With plenty of little ones to come. A Fourth?
Joe Kawana, “My home town.” 1931 George, Chicago, Ill. [in Japanese characters].
Joe Kawana on stacks of Elephant Hay.
George Tetsuwari, “My home town.” 1931 George St., Chicago, Illinois. “I write this line to a friend of mine and trust you are feeling fine.”
Frank Konopka, “My home town.” 40 “C” Street, Evansville, Indiana. “Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, the Pollock is in a draft and so are you.”
Kami Tetsuwari, (Boy), My home town. 1931 George Street. Chicago, Illinois.
The Joe Taketa Troupe consisted of five people, two high perch acts, one lady single wire act, a big tub act, a three people Risley act, two single tub kicking act, an aerial head balancing act, one man to work in double barrel kicking act, all in to parade and tournament. The act consisted J. Teramoi, Kame (George) Tetsuwari, Kame Ueyda –and in the Risley act, foot ladder balancing, double barrel kicking, screen door kicking, one more act, all parade and tournament. Mrs. I. Teramae was to do swing ladder, parade and tournament.
The Joe Taketa Troupe
The inscription says ”To my Dancing Partner ‘Pick’ from Yuki.”
According to Earl Shipley, “My home town.” The Billboard, Chicago, Illinois, “Only a Clown, anywhere U.S.A.” Earl Shipley,” A Tramp on and Off” says the comment on the page.
Vic Shepherd, “My home town is Toronto Canada. “Just a forlorn accident of birth.” (September 15, 1924). My tricks on bars are few. In fact there are only three kinds. I’m a wonder to the folks back home- to keep this rep. (reputation) I’m content to some.”
Vic Shepard to the Left and Earl Shipley with Vic to the right.
The Back Lot. “Vic (Shepherd), Fred (Crandell) and Pic Bar Actors, 1924.
Jimmy (James) Dugger was a Contortionist with the Hagenbeck Wallace Circus. He left the circus, after 5 years and married a local girl in Detroit in 1927. He owned a China shop for many years. He died at age 93 in 1988.
Jimmy Dugger, Contortionist
A Part of the Men’s Dressing Room in the Tent on the
Hagenbeck and Wallace Circus called “The Bar Actors Alley”
September 17, 1924.
“I had two calons (severe calluses) torn off my both hands; they bothered my quite a bit when working.” [The picture shows calons from performing].
September 18, 1924. Charley Eugene just came in the dressing room after losing all his salary in a crap game. The only comment he made was “its hell to be broke” and him not knowing or thinking he would lose it. Bob his brother coaxed him out of sending for money.
Written this day, September 18, 1924 at Paola, Kansas on the Hagenbeck and Wallace Circus, Season of ’24. “All of these people, I call a friend. If they are not I’ll know in the end.” No doubt a bit lonely on a Fall Day in Kansas.
Miss Marion Theobold
Miss Jane Stewart
Miss Marion Eddy
Miss Marie Neagely
Miss Margaret Penoyar
“And last but not least, my old bunch of Fraternity Pals!”
October 4, 1924. Hagenbeck and Wallace Circus Amarillo Texas.
Got in here at ten o’clock this Saturday morning. No parade and the matinee started at four thirty. All the performers had to help put up the big top. This takes all the joy out of Life.
The Hagenbeck and Wallace Circus, 1924
“Inside the Big Top”
October 7. Gallop New Mexico
The thought for the day: “Five different kinds of weather in thirty minutes. Sun, rain, hail sleet and snow. Gave only one show and that at nite.”
October 9. Flagstaff, Arizona.
This city is right in the heart of the mountains. While there I went to see the residences of the Cliff Dwellers, long since passed away. They are wonderful houses built in a solid mountain of rock. It is called Walnut Canyon and is the place where a big part of the motion picture “Riders of the Purple Stage) was taken. It is a wonderful sight of Nature.
October 15. Nogales, Arizona
Right on the border of Mexico. You can stand one foot in U.S. and one foot in Mexico. You can drink beer and whiskey right in front of a U.S. officer and he can’t do a think, that is if you are across the line in Mexico. Ate in the Cave Café, a restaurant hewn out of a mountain. A wonderful place to eat and drink. The beer certainly was fine. Ask anybody in the Hagenbeck and Wallace dressing room. After you crossed the line [into Mexico], it was just like stepping into a country, far from civilization. I’ll never forget it.
Out with the Boys, Vaughn, New Mexico, September 1924
A Legal Bar, Juarez, Mexico, 1924!
And Mexico was different for these 1920’s Americans. Not only the drinks were legal.
Lining Up at the Booths for Ladies, Nogales, Mexico
1926 to 1928 were Vince’s last two years on the road
Long Memories, 1928-1947
June 8, 1934
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Bob Eugene’s Troupe of Horizontal Bar Experts opened at Kennywood.
The Bob Eugene Troupe Rigging, circa 1934.
The Picard Family and the Entertainment Industry