Thomas and Daniel Wildman (floruerunt 1760-1780): Improving the Shining Hour

“June 20 1772 Exhibition of bees on horseback! At the Jubilee Gardens, Islington, this and every evening until further notice (wet evenings excepted).

The celebrated Daniel Wildman will exhibit several new and amazing experiments, never attempted  by any man in this or any other kingdom before.  The riders standing upright, one foot on the saddle and one on the neck, with a mask of bees on his head and face. He also rides standing upright on the saddle with the bridle in his mouth, and, by firing a pistol makes one part of the bees march over the table, and the other swarm in the air and return to their hive again, with other performances too tedious to insert.”

Imagine only that Lennon had had that poster instead of Pablo Fanque’s! Continue reading

Ira Aldridge, 1807-1867: The African Roscius*

Beatles’ fans are generally hip to the figure of Pablo Fanque, black circus entrepreneur and accomplished acrobat.   It’s all laid out in the song and the poster.

Not a lot of contemporary posters for Ira Aldridge, whose stage career was a bit more upscale.  Certainly in his time he was better known.  Pable Fanque was a star of England.  Aldridge was an international star.

He was a New York native, son of free blacks and beneficiary of a classical education at the African Free School of New York.  He also spent time at the Park Theatre in lower Manhattan and was soon working at African Grove.

In a path that became to all too familiar (think Josephine Baker and Nina Simone among others) , he thought he would find more opportunity in Europe than in America.  He was right.  He attended the University of Glasgow for a period, but was soon back on the stage.  At first assumed to be a novelty – fancy an actor who could play black without burnt cork! – Aldridge tended to be somewhat typecast:  (The Ethiopian, or the Quadroon of the Mango Grove; The Negro’s Curse; The Death of Cristophe, King of Hayti). Continue reading