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Good morning!

 

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 presence.

 

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 circuses.

 

Warm regards and much appreciation,

Melodye

 

Melodye: this is an article from a 1957 Billboard, Magazine about "Bug Men" I hope you find this helpful?

 

John Robinson

Sideshow World

 



 

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.

 

Hotel Complications

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 violin case.

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 cities.

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 bite customers.

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 class.

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 continue strong.


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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