No "big top" for the Flea
Circus! This is the way spectators watch.
Prof. William Heckler's Trained Flea Circus at
Hubert's Museum on West 42nd St., New York City,
proves a great spectacle for the skeptical to marvel
at, and at the same time the professor shows that he
has bridged one of the gaps between science and
Recently, in the throes of irresistible curiosity, I
stood before the emblazoned billboards of Hubert's
Museum, which proclaimed the astounding feats of the
flea, better known for its annoying qualities.
This tiny flea pulls a
merry-go-round several hundred times its own weight.
A ballyhoo gentleman roared through a megaphone that
there was a flea hotel inside. That fleas would
engage in a chariot race. That they could be seen
playing football. Prince Henry, a blueblood among
fleas, would juggle a ball. Flea Rudolph would
operate a merry-go-round. Paddy, caring a flag,
would jump through a hoop.
The program ended with the Dance of the Fleas, in
costume. Greatest show on earth! Well, from one
observer's point of view Prof. Heckler can do
anything with a flea he trains, and the chances are
he could even send one down to the corner for a
newspaper, if he had a mind to. At any rate, he has
done almost as much.
For over eighteen years
Prof. Heckler has been making capital of the recent
discoveries made by J. J. Ward, the famous English
entomologist. The British scholar announced the
other day that the earwig, a Samson among insects,
is able to pull a toy railway car 530 times its own
weight or to drag a load of pins twenty-seven times
Scientists went further. They made computations and
adduced that the average man, proportionately as
strong as the earwig, would be able to haul two
freight cars along the street, these weighting
nearly twenty tons apiece.
The fleas in this photo have
been enlarged 700 times as compared with the human
figure. They are shown in action poses from several
of the stunts they perform in the circus.
Prof. Heckler has
studied all of the flea's habits until he has been
able to recruit a troupe for a circus, as it is
called. This creation of his goes back to the days
when he ran away from home, from his native
Switzerland, to follow the adventures of the sea.
"My first meeting with the fleas," he related to me,
"was while I was traveling on the Mediterranean.
Many of the boats on which I shipped were infested
with these tiny demons. To the amusement of the
crew, I captured some of these fleas and had them
doing stunts for them. As I had much leisure time in
those days, I thought up various freak performances
for the fleas. In time I gave up the life of the
sailor for the flea as a career and opened my first
Flea Circus at the St. Louis World's Fair. Since
then my company of trained flea artists has toured
the globe, playing fairs and expositions
He explained that of the 134 or more species, only
the human flea, the so-called pulex irritans,
getting its sustenance from human blood, is
intelligent enough to be trained. He takes the
insect at a very tender age and it is put through a
rigid training for its life work.
The performing flea is found in Europe. But those
which have been imported by Prof. Heckler and bred
become easily acclimated. They make their home in
chambers inlaid in mother-of-pearl, with white downy
cot-ton as their sleeping quarters. Everything quite
Captive flea being trained.
Training fleas is very
difficult and Prof. Heckler guards his secret
conscientiously. For the first lesson the neophyte
flea is put into a bottle which is almost airtight.
This is quite possible as he requires little oxygen.
In this small vessel, the flea, true to his nature,
gets rambunctious and hits off to a jumping spree.
And every time he jumps he bumps his head. Soon he
learns that by ceasing to jump he avoids the bumps,
and thereby he passes his first test.
Next in his training course the flea is attached to
an instrument which looks very much like a gibbet.
Here he can hop or do any form of motion, but he is
under restraint, of course. The shackles keep him in
tow. It is in this section that the professor
selects the dancers from the strong men, and
classifies them. In turn they are garbed in
miniature costumes, befitting their particular bit.
by Alfred Albelli - Modern
Mechanics - March 1930