A SUAVE showman, whose white hair framed a broad forehead and whose bright eyes gleamed with the enthusiasm of an impresario, announced in true ringmaster style:

"This, Ladies and Gentlemen, concludes the performances of Heckler's original flea circus which must be seen to be believed.  Thank you for your kind attention.  Please give the doortender fifteen cents as you pass out."

The worldly wise New Yorkers, who had clung to a brass rail around the illuminating exhibition while Prof. William Heckler put his trained fleas through their paces, filed out, each depositing fifteen cents with the guardian of the gate before mingling with the throngs in Forty-second street.  It was the only time I'd ever seen an audience in Manhattan's celebrated theater district pay real money after seeing a show.

"Don't your patrons sometimes refuse to pay?" I suggested to the professional gentleman.

"Not when they have beheld the wonders I perform," he declared convincingly.  "I give my public its money's worth.  You see, I've made a scientific study of fleas, My fleas are all skilled professionals.

"The two facts which are featured at the very top of my printed program are,' Every action is visible to the naked eye.'  and 'No danger of desertion.'  The first refers to the brilliantly illuminated white table upon which my stars do their acts.  I do use a small magnifying glass to show some of the finer points of my company, but the juggling, boxing, racing, and other things which add to my circus' popularity, are easily discernible by anyone with ordinary eyes.  And there are no desertions from my company.  Once I have made an actor out of a flea, that actor remains in my service for the rest of its natural life.

"You see this bottle filled with cotton and raw recruits.  Well, after they have been with me a little while I take a few of them and put them in a short glass tube.  Although there is no apparent super development of the legs, a healthy flea can jump what would be to us the equivalent of half a mile.  It is the nature of a flea to jump.  My kindergarten fleas therefore begin to jump as soon as their feet are on something hard and smooth.   But after they have jumped and hit their backs and "Al-though a common animal flea must devour some blood about every six hours to keep in condition, a human flea can get along without sustenance for four or five days.  But I never put my pupils to the test.  I time their feeding largely by the number of performances.  Naturally the more energy consumed in entertaining, the more fuel I must feed them to sustain their strength.  So, on exhibition tours, I usually feed them once each day."

 

 

Suiting the action to the word, Pro. Heckler turned up the cuff of his dinner coat, and with tender solicitude lifted by  its collar and his own small pincers, each member of his troupe gently onto his left arm, where they settled down for dinner.   Although he was inspired by that youthful vision of a trained-flea exhibition in Germany many years ago, the dean of flea-circus ringmasters entered the profession accidentally.  Fate brought him to Coney Island and his mechanical skill led him into the building business.

 

From reconstructing residences he began to manufacture devices carried by traveling carnivals.

Football Players, Soldiers, Acrobats, Cyclists and "So-

ciety People,"  Greatly Magnified from the Flea Circus;

Galaxy of Performers


In the course of time he went on the road as a carnival concessionaire.  One day, in Florida, he found himself possessed of a flea-circus concession among other features designed to gather the dimes while money flowed along the Midway.  But the youth engaged to exploit the trained fleas lacked showmanship.  Business was not good.  So Mr. Heckler took over the exhibit designed to prove that fleas have intelligence.

 

"I won't say this intelligence is unlimited," he admits, "but I will insist that each flea has a pronounced individuality.  I can tell by watching a new candidate whether it will be adept at juggling or do better in a sparring match.  Once I have determined on some new flea's professional activities,  I concentrate on that flea. Hence you find the 'George Hough' one of my stellar performers, will, at the word of command, pick up a large pith ball weighing twenty-five times as much as "George,' and juggle it like a Japanese.  It takes three weeks to train a flea and few of them live in harness more than three months "I found, two months ago, that 'Rudolph Von Hapsburg; was a natural strong man among its kind.  So I hitched it to the tiny merry-go-round which, though only two inches in circumference, weighs 5,000times as much as it.  At first I made 'Rudolph pull that dead weight.  Then I got to figuring that it was doing all the work with its two front feet.  So I contrived a harness by which the merry-go-round could be pushed around.

"Is there money in the flea-circus enterprise?  There is if you study it scientifically.  I took in $250, in dimes, in one day at the Rochester exposition.  Almost any Friday at a good county fair is good for $200 in cold cash.

"A man named 'Mueller' put on the first trained-flea circus in America at the old Stone and Austin Museum in Boston nearly forty years ago.   Another German named 'Auvershleg' had the first traveling flea circus in this country thirty years ago.  In addition to fairs and museums, I get as high as $25 for a private exhibition."
 

 

Article by Earl Chapin May - Popular Mechanics Feb 1928 - Submitted by Jerry Willman

 


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