Circus Night. 1933. Drypoint and sandground. McCarron 103. 11 1/8 x 14 7/8 (sheet 12 x 15 1/2). Edition 43 recorded impressions, some unsigned. Illustrated: Fine Prints of the Year, 1934. A rich, tonal impression printed on [S]WEDEN wove paper. Signed in pencil. Housed in a 20 1/4 x 24 1/4-inch period gold leaf frame. $40,000.
The drypoint shows the illuminated main entrance of Hunt's 3-ring circus. This is perhaps Lewis' most famous Connecticut images.
An Interview With Charles Hunt of Hunt's Circus:
By L. P. Fennelly. Circus Scrap Book, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Oct), 1929, pp. 16-19. Back in the hot summer of 1893 a strange cavalcade wound its way along the rough, dusty highway leading west from Kingston, N. Y. It was Hunt's One-Ring Circus, probably the smallest and the most oddly assorted collection of performers ever to take to the road, on its way to fight for fame and financial gain, carrying to the innumerable crossroad settlements of the eastern part of the country the sort of entertainment that Barnum & Bailey, Forepaugh & Sells and the Ringling Brothers were giving to the larger centers of population.
Today Hunt's Circus is on the road. For thirty-six years It has been traveling up and down the Atlantic seaboard, going inland as far west as the Ohio river, and during all that time the same manager, Charles Hunt, has seen that everything was in readiness for the two daily performances. While larger circuses have been merging, or going out of business, the name of Hunt has been carried to practically every hamlet of any consequence in the east.
The caravan that started out in 1893 had no more than half a dozen small, rickety wagons, three performers and a few trained ponies. Today the circus has 18 performers, a working force of 70 men, a score or more of trained ponies, an elephant and a monkey. A few years back there was a hyena, but he came to grief in Baltimore, Md.
Charles Hunt was lured into circus life when, as a boy, he watched the rehearsals of the famous Barnum and Forepaugh performers, Dick Rivers, the first performer ever to turn a complete somersault on a horse, and his daughter, Viola, champion bareback rider of a generation ago. Father and daughter trained in a barn near Hunt's home on the outskirts of Kingston, and it was there that Charles, then in his teens, came to the realization that there was a place for him in circus life.
Hunt's Circus came into being in 1893, when Hunt and three performers entered into partnership. Hunt furnished two teams of horses and his associates provided a tent. Those were the days when the farmer loaded his family into the buckboard wagon and took them to the nearest large village or city on circus day. Hunt and his companions came to the conclusion that if the circus was taken to the farmer, back in the "sticks" to the small settlements, they could make a good living. To have competed with the larger outfits in more populated districts would have been folly. While they were unable to appear in the cities, so also were the large circuses prevented from going to the backwoods hamlets.
When he informed his friends of his determination to start out with a circus, Hunt became the butt of their jokes, and for years afterward "Hunt's Circus" was a by-word in every household in Hunt's home town. Last June he returned to Kingston, his first appearance there since 1913, and he made his friends admit that his venture had turned out well.
At least one of Mr. Hunt's associates became famous as a performer. George Bernard, who later became Hunt's brother-in-law, in after years made every circus in the country and toured every civilized country in the world with a contortionist and acrobatic team known as Bunth, Rudd & Bernard. Then there was Eugene Ferralto who, in Mr. Hunt's opinion, was a "happy combination" - a skeleton-giant and strong man. The third member of the trio was Ned West, who performed on the ground. Returning to Kingston for the winter of 1893, Hunt found the circus "bug" had bitten his father, John Hunt, a cooper by trade, born in the Golden Hill section of Kingston in 1850, but who had in later life abandoned his trade and conducted several hotels in Kingston and a 50-horse livery at the Overlook Mountain House at Woodstock; N. Y., now a famed artists' colony. John Hunt believed there was more money to be made in the circus business, so he sold his hotel and livery and, in 1894, joined his son. John Hunt took his wife, now 75 years of age, and traveled with the circus. He died in Poughkeepsie, N. Y., on June 23, 1928. He had been active up to three weeks before his death.
Mrs. Hunt, despite her advanced age, still goes about with the circus, holding the job she held for 35 years. Countless thousands have seen her as they entered the main tent, for she stands at the entrance taking the tickets. She hides those 75 years well. Some of those first few years were lean ones for the circus. Charles Hunt tells of one particularly bad season back in 1898. The troupe was traveling to Cornwall Bridge, Conn., and the treasury consisted of one lone fifty cent piece. As the dejected caravan proceeded along the road, a blind man approached and asked for help. He was given the treasury. The show left Cornwall Bridge with net receipts of $180. Mr. Hunt believed he had made a good investment.
Today Hunt's Circus is no joke. Traveling about the country in 31 large motor trucks and smaller cars, the company has played in countless towns. It is one of the very few motorized circuses. Mr. Hunt believes that traveling by motor is costlier than by railroad or wagon, but he must go to places miles from the railroad, and at a pace much faster than horses could take his troupe.
There are now four generations of the Hunt family in the circus business. Mrs. John Hunt, her son, Charles Hunt, manager, and his wife, head of the purchasing department, and their three sons, Charles, Jr., Harry and Edward, all musicians and performers, are associated with the Hunt Circus, and a daughter, Mrs. Charlotte Levine, is co-starring with her husband in the Silvan-Drew Circus. Mrs. Levine's two children, the eldest a boy of 9 years, perform also.
For years Charles Hunt was an aerial performer, on the wire and trapeze. He quit work in the ring two years ago, but this year was forced back to take charge of the stock, working three horses and the elephant act.
Mr. Hunt never has believed in menageries and 15 years ago abandoned the street parade practice. He declares menageries, large and small, are scattered all over the country, and since wild animals were used chiefly to ballyhoo a show there is now no need for them, for the people see all the animals they wish at the zoo. As for street parades, he contends that unless a circus has something worthwhile to show the people there is no use of parading closed wagons.
"We never have had a large show, but we always had a good show," is Mr. Hunt's slogan.
Interest in the circus is not waning, according to Mr. Hunt. On the contrary, he believes the public in general is more interested today than it was thirty years ago.
Charley Hunt is a strict disciplinarian. In fact, he is a sort of czar on the lot. He rules with an iron hand, and the least infraction of the management's mandates means immediate dismissal - with the loss of a week's pay for the hostlers and roustabouts. Prohibition was rigidly enforced in Hunt's Circus long before Volstead ever was known outside his home town. Intoxicants are not tolerated on the lot and woe betide the employee who goes to town on a spree, protracted or otherwise. If he does, "down the river" he goes.
Gambling devices, immorality and short-change artists are taboo.
"Every dollar we have made in the circus business has been clean money," Mr. Hunt proudly declares.
It is true that Hunt's Circus is clean, and what it lacks in size, it has in quality.
Hunt's One Ring Circus is now Hunt's Three Ring Circus. Starting out 36 years ago with a tent that would accommodate not more than 150 persons, two performances daily are now witnessed by 1,300. The outfit has grown with age.
Hunt's winter quarters are located in the Pikesville section of Baltimore, Maryland.
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