ARLAN F. "DOC" RANDLE of Omaha
first bumped into P. T. Barnum, the greatest showman
of them all, more than 40 years ago.
Thereafter, Mr. Barnum bumped into Doc several
times, spanked him something" he told me to do. For
instance, I was supposed to go to bed when I was
through but I would hang around the freight yards
watching the men load up the cars. Barnum would pick
up a board and paddle me. It stung, too."
Everybody around a circus had his particular job.
The following is in reference to the
lady in front is Mrs. Harlan F. Randle as Princess
Marjah, when she and her husband ran an educational
snake exhibition. . . . Behind the princess
you see one or Barnum's most highly paid snake
charmers, a college graduate and aesthetic dancer to
P. T. Barnum used to paddle "Doc" Randle for not
going to bed when his acrobatic day was done. .
. . Above is a glimpse of the old Barnum show as
it appeared when the menagerie had to be out in the
open on one Midwestern tour because of damages to
"Doc" Randle . . . now custodian of an Omaha
apartment house, looks back pensively to when he
earned $300 a week as catcher in a flying trapeze
act. . . . He fell in a Hamburg, Germany, performance
of the Barnum shows and broke both ankles. That let
him out as an acrobat.).
Looking the Papers Over . . . with Erick
When still in his teens, Randle joined the
Greatest Show on Earth as an acrobat. His first day
on the lot, he was stopped on the way to the
dressing tent by a short,
chunky man with a florid, smooth shaven, smiling
face. The man was well dressed and seemed to be
somebody of importance.
"What's your name?" he demanded.
The man held out his hand. "I'm P. T. Barnum;
anything you want, just come and tell me."
That was the way with Barnum, says his old-time
employee. He would get acquainted with every new
man. He called everyone by his first name,
addressing Randle as Doc, as the others did, after
his appointment to the employees' sick committee.
"We all took our troubles to Barnum and he would sit
and talk to us by the hour," recalls Doc Randle, now
a heavy-set, affable man.
"He was just as common as any of the rest of us,
nothing high hat about him. He was a great kidder
and always had a smile on his face.
"Why, I have been paddled by him a dozen times. You
know I was only a kid. Either I would do something
he had told me not to, or I wouldn't do something he
ask me to. He Could Spank Hard, Too.
Painting the Elephant.
One thing Barnum wouldn't tolerate was tattling. If
somebody would come with a story about somebody else
the big boss would keep the talebearer and send for
the other person involved.
"Somebody's been lying," he would say, "and the one
who has is going to get a punch in the nose." The
liar got it, too, and P. T. Barnum delivered it
"As a publicity man Barnum never had a peer,"
pronounces Doc Randle. "He could think up more crazy
stunts than anybody and when he couldn't think of
any himself he'd take a competitor's ideas and
improve on them.
"Another circus advertised it was importing a white
elephant from Africa. Barnum saw the poster and ordered a crew of painters to
work painting some of his elephants white, and
pretty soon he was showing them."
He was always making cracks like his famous:
"There's a sucker born every minute." But some of
the publicity didn't square with the verities,
Randle admits. He advertised his Jumbo elephant as
biggest elephant in captivity though there were many
bigger elephants used as beasts of burden.
Mrs. Randle remembers going to a circus, years
before she met her husband, at which she was
informed by a poster that Jumbo had sacrificed his
own life to save his baby elephant. He pushed the
"child" out of the way of a train and was killed
himself, said the poster, and his place in the
menagerie had been taken by the youngster, Jumbo was
killed by a train, avers Randle, but not in any
heroic attempt to save his baby's life.
Though Barnum made money as a showman, he wasn't a
good financier and it was only after he took on
Bailey that the money really began to roll in.
"Barnum was no business man; he couldn't say no,"
As a Flier and Catcher.
Doc Randle went to work for a circus in Lincoln for
$50 a week when he was 8 years old. That seemed like
big money to him then and it still does. He's a
janitor now in an Omaha apartment house.
He was one of the outstanding circus trapeze artists
of his time being an acrobat with Barnum for 18
years and later he filled managerial, promotional
and publicity positions in the carnival field.
"For 20 years I never made less than $250 a week and
for years I pulled down three hundred dollars," he
says, adding a little sadly, "but in the show
business you work only six months out of a year and
you don't save much money."
As a circus performer, Randle was first a "flier"
and later a "catcher" in a trapeze act. There were
usually six in the act, two catchers and four
fliers, frequently two of the fliers were women.
A trapeze performer was all right so long as he kept
his suppleness, his iron nerve, his eyesight and
didn't begin to slow up. After working well up into
middle age as a flier, Doc found his eyesight not
quite so good and became a catcher.
Forty feet up in the air, anchored to the rigging,
he would catch the young-fliers as they came
hurtling through the void at him. A safety net was
His Confidence Waning.
He wanted to quit, fearing he would drop somebody.
But his friends laughed, saying he was good for 10
years more. He already has broken over 20 bones,
both his arms, both legs, collar bone and jawbone
most of the breaks resulting from jumping over
elephants but always his bones had knitted together
Then one day in Hamburg on the show's European tour
the setup broke. Down Randle went to the net. He
struck it with such force that it broke, too.
He hit the ground feet first, and cracked both
ankles. His performing days were over. But anyway,
he had not dropped a fellow acrobat.
the accident, Randle went into the carnival business
as a manager and press agent. A couple of years ago
the carnival trade folded up and Doc was out of the
In his circus and carnival days Randle knew
intimately hundreds and thousands of performers,
giants, midgets, fat people, strong men, barkers,
snake charmers, and all, and he came to be familiar
with all kinds of animals and snakes. He took a
particular interest in snakes, but he could never
learn anything scientific about them from snake
eaters and snake charmers. Whenever he asked for
some educational facts about a snake, the charmers
would spin a lot of fairy tales. He got to thinking
he would like to run a snake show at which the
public would be given the bare snake facts and not
His Wife's Scholarship.
The opportunity came in a way he didn't expect. He
came down with the flu in wartime. He recovered but
his vocal cords, weakened by his occasional labors
as a barker, wouldn't come back. So his wife took
him to San Antonio where show people congregated in
winter and where the ozone would help restore his
As spring approached he felt the lure of the road.
The only opening was with a carnival snake show.
Snakes didn't appeal to Mrs. Randle, but she agreed
to the proposition. And she fell in heartily with
her husband's plan to make this a genuinely
educational and scientific snake exhibition.
She went to the library and day after day read the
best snake literature, taking copious notes, which
she and her husband proceeded to absorb until they
were familiar with the subject from one end to the
From "Snake" King, who raises reptiles by the
millions on his farm near Brownville and supplies
them to shows and educational institutions all over,
the land, the Randles obtained about a thousand
snakes, mostly North American kinds. For some
snakes, they paid as high as $10 a foot.
Mrs. Randle became Princess Marjah Doc
and the princess were too good business people for
that. Marjah, a Hindu name that fitted the role of
snake charmer. She would discuss the points of snake
after snake while her husband handed them to her
from their cages, kept in trunks with holes to admit
air. College professors and public men showed as
much interest as the hoi polloi. For a couple
seasons the Randles cleared over a hundred dollars a
week with their snakes.
Exercise, Baths and Food.
Doc Randle, who acted as hostler to the reptiles,
learned many things about snakes not down in the
books. They need exercise, he discovered. When he
had time he would take the snakes out of their cages
and walk them around a bit.
need baths, too. Let a snake go without his tub for
over a week and he develops a pronounced B. O.
Non-poisonous reptiles don't object to baths taut
the poisonous ones do, fearing the water may be
cold. Randle would take each rattler by the neck and
dip his resisting body in the water. Once in the
water and finding it warm, the reptile would enjoy
Rattlers had to be fed forcibly and Randle would
pour milk down their unwilling throats once a month,
which is as often as a snake's regular mealtime
comes around. Some show people don't feed
rattlesnakes. It is easier to let them die
A Joke on the Python.
Once "Snake" King visited the Randle exhibition and
grew excited to see a nice fat rattlesnake in a
corner. He had a contract to supply Doc with all
snakes. "Where did you get that?" he demanded. "From
you," said Randle. who had quite a time convincing
King the reptile came from his farm. King, who had
sold the rattler for $5, bought him back for $25.
"Snake" King was a fine man to do business with,
Randle relates. When he shipped a customer a box of
rattlesnakes he would put a sign on the box: "Open
Carefully as Baby Rattlesnake May Have Been Born En
Otessa, a 16-foot python, was the star of the
Randles' show. She traveled in state in a trunk all
her own. One hot afternoon the Randles left the
trunk open in their hotel room and proceeded to take
a short nap before their train came along.
They awoke to find the python wedged inside the
spring under the bed. With the two persons' weight
off the springs the coils contracted and Otessa was
in a tight and painful fix. She was furious, but
couldn't do anything about it. The Randles labored
long and strenuously to get Otessa out, finally
succeeding, but not until after their train had
for this story from the 1932 Sunday