I love your
Sideshow website, which I just discovered this morning. On
behalf of circus lovers everywhere, I want to say thanks for
all youíve done, in order to create & maintain your online
Iím wondering if
you ever talked with someone who sold chameleon brooches? I
remember hearing about them from my older brothers, and could
have sworn they said women bought them from traveling
Warm regards and
Melodye: this is
an article from a 1957 Billboard, Magazine about "Bug Men" I
hope you find this helpful?
LIFE AMONG LIZARDS NOT ALWAYS ROSY!
Bug Men, or Sellers of Chameleons, Etc., Pack Their Stock
for Big Winter Season
CHICAGO - New Year's pink elephant season is
out of the way, and now the bug men are getting ready for
their winter season.
Bug men are neither from Mars nor hallucinations but the
unique cadre of men who sell chameleons. With the season at
hand for indoor circuses and sports shows, the lizard
merchants are packing their stock in trade, and hotel men
can be alerted.
Visitors at certain winter attractions will find the bug men
busy with big green display boards on which are pinned a
couple of dozen small lizards. Nowadays, these so-called
chameleons bring 75 cents and sales are brisk.
Leader of the business is Joe Trocey, quick-talking fellow
with a sense of humor about the business he is in. Working
with him is Mike Healy, probably the dean of bug men.
Mainstay of the Healy-Trocey combine has been the
Ringling-Barnum combine, and they say that summer circus
weather is just right for the chameleons. But Trocey also
was taking his bug boards to buildings long before Ringling
decided to try the same locations.
Usual procedure is for the salesman to wire orders to a
source of supply in Louisiana or elsewhere along the Gulf.
There, the lizards are found in abundance and suppliers pick
them up by the dozen and night. Air mail parcel post brings
the five-inch bugs to Trocey and his crew on the second day,
and by that night or the next they have been pinned to the
lapels of youngsters at the rodeo or circus.
But sometimes there are complications and that is where
hotels often enter the picture. It seems that boxes of bugs
have a way of breaking, ripping, tearing or otherwise
allowing leakage of their animated contents. Sure as
chameleons break loose in a hotel room, a maid enters,
screams and runs rampant with reports of anything from
dragons to bed bugs, Any way you look at it, the management
frowns on chameleons at that point. Mike Healy used to find
it so hard to get a hotel room as a bug man that he posed as
a musician and carried his stock thru the lobbies in a
Trocey's travelers always make the same hotel in Boston,
where they have worked for years during the Ringling spring
stand. Invariably, some chameleons get loose, since bug men
must open the containers and put leashes on the live-stock
as well as transfer them to individual boxes. And the hotel
manager insists that each year he gets complaints until the
next January that there are bugs roaming the room.
The escapees, however,
are infinitesimal compared to the 70,000 or 80,000 that
Trocey says his crew sells each year. He estimates that
combined sales of all bug men totals 200,000. His own best
day was at the Indiana State Fair once when he had four
agents working and they sold 2,200 at 75 cents each. They
could have sold more but they couldn't fit bugs with a
string and safety pin and put them in boxes fast enough.
Trocey reports that the wholesale price has increased over
the years from 3 cents to 15 cents, and he points out that
there is some loss in transit. For that reason his retail
prices has increased from 25 cents in 1924 to 50 cents in
1940 and 75 cents since 1942. At the same time, the price
he pays to show owners or concessionaires for the sales
rights have multiplied even more. This "privilege" is now
more per day than it was for a week when he started.
Feeding a Problem
Feeding a stock of a thousand chameleons is a problem. Most
bug men buy worms from fish bait dealers, and they would
shoo flies toward their bug boxes. But temperature is a
greater problem in some cases.
Once a shipment to a winter circus at Milwaukee arrived in
eight below weather. Upon opening the box, Trocey found the
chameleons all in a ball, and he gave them up for dead. But
the bugs were left in the warm hotel room and they thawed
out. When he returned there were chameleons everywhere.
In their native haunts, these lizards want it warn but they
also need shade. So Trocey finds that July scorchers are
too much for bugs unless the agents can keep their boards in
the shade. In San Bernardino, Calif., about 10 years ago,
the Trocey team worked a circus date in 110-degree heat.
Chameleons were dropping lick flies until Trocey's men could
rescue them with ice and water.
Buffalo was the scene of some otherwise forgotten episode in
which a medicine show got into a jam about how it was
handling snakes. This resulted in an ordinance which
prohibits sale of reptiles. Since this includes lizards, no
one has sold chameleons there in 40 years. But Trocey was
with the Ringling circus when it played suburban North
Tonawanda, and his bug boards were all up and down the
midway. Chameleons were a true novelty to the Buffalo
residents that crowded around, and business was big.
Trocey reports that while
Boston is by far the best spot for chameleon sales, they
also go well in other big cities such as Washington,
Baltimore, Chicago and Los Angeles. Sales drop in smaller
But New York is a puzzler for bug men. Three weeks' sales
at Madison Square Garden will barely total a single day's
business in Boston.
There also are varieties of lizards in Cuba and Puerto Rico
that Trocey investigated; they are too big and worse, they
Reason for looking into these side lines was an embargo
placed on chameleon shipments from Louisiana. Only those
required for science were to be available. That's when Joe
formed a biological supply company and stayed in business.
Bug men trace their calling back to a 1905 convention of the
Elks Lodge. That is where Mike Healy is believed to have
seen his first chameleons and it wasn't long after that he
was trailing circuses. Trailing is that status in which
concessionaires follow a show and work the crowds it draws
but have no connection with the show and pay no percentage
to it. Trailing is counted as not quite cricket, but
nevertheless something in the pioneering and enterprising
Healy trailed such shows as Forepaugh Sells, Barnum & Bailey
and Ringling Bros. Big show concession managers spotted bug
as a coming thing and invited Mike to join out at a price.
Subsequently, he has been with Sells-Floto, Hagenbeck-Wallace,
Polack Bros., and several other circuses, as well as
Ringling-Barnum. Trocey joined Healy on Sells-Floto in
1924. By that time, there were bug men with nearly every
important circus. Benny Levin trailed Sparks Circus.
Willie Moon worked the Wallace show. Bugs Foster was with
the Wallace and Floto shows. Darbey Hicks quit circuses long
enough to sell bugs at A Century of Progress. In recent
years, Roy Bowen has been with Clyde Beatty Circus.
Rosenberg makes indoor dates, including Chicago's Golden
Spurs Rodeo, while Trocey and company appear at the New York
Madison Square Garden Rodeo, Sports shows are a relatively
new outlet for bugs, and the many indoor circus dates
Article by Tom Parkinson Billboard January 5, 1957
Ad from a 1947
Billboard selling to Jewelry & Chameleon Workers!
Bug box that contained Chameleon
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