Unanswered Juggling History Questions: Part 2

To repeat what I said in Part 1 of this series: As a juggling historian and writer, one of my primary goals is to uncover facts, stories, photos, and videos of jugglers that have never been published in the juggling community before. I feel that I’ve accomplished this fairly well in my time writing for eJuggle. Among the most important discoveries I’ve made are the fact that The Price Brothers were the first Restaurant Jugglers, that Gene Adams was the first to juggle 5 hoops and the first to do the blind / scorpion kick, and that Frank Le Dent definitely performed 11 balls. I’ve discovered numerous facts and photos of jugglers such as Ollie Young, Ferry Mader, James DeWitt Cook, and Frank Le Dent and shared many other photos and videos that had never been online before. As a collector and museum curator, I’ve gathered, saved, and displayed thousands of props, photos, books, and videos. I say all of this to make the point that I truly desire to solve the mysteries of juggling history and to preserve that history for future generations. With those goals in mind, I thought about what questions I have that I most desire answers for. I’ve chosen a few of them for this article. If you happen to have any information that might be helpful in answering these, please let me know.

The Vin Carey Collection

Vin Carey (1898 -1975) was a founding member of the IJA and a former president of the organization. In addition to being a professional magician, clown, and juggler, he was an early collector of juggling props and memorabilia. He owned an incredible collection of props from the early days of vaudeville. The February 1952 IJA Newsletter reports the following. “Vin Carey, the West Franklin street juggling collector, just received a very old and revered Indian club from Joe Cook, the veteran comedian, and Vin is particularly impressed by the fact that it weighs 17 ounces. Joe juggled the silver-foiled pin in a number of long-run musical comedies from 1932 on, Vin tells us. Nowadays performers scream for 10-ounce clubs, he says. Vin’s collection of ancient clubs now numbers 20 and most of them are heavier than the effete modern apparatus. Included are a Morris Cronin Troupe club, vintage 1910 – 23 ounces, a Juggling Johnsons club, 1898 – 18 ounces; two Juggling Breen Family basket weave clubs, 1910 – 20 ounces each, and a Juggling Tierney Family club, c. 1930 – 19 ounces.”

Vin’s collection grew greatly from 1947 to 1974 and was on display in the basement of Vin’s home. The April-June 1974 IJA Newsletter reported some important news regarding Vin’s collection. “Several circus and magic museums were contacted with regards to showing this jugglers collection. The first one to show interest in having and showing the collection was the Circus Hall of Fame in Sarasota , Fla. On January 15th, Vin loaded the collection into his car and drove to Sarasota and delivered the collection to the Hall of Fame. He stayed long enough to see it arranged as a permanent display there. The inventory shows that there are 124 pieces in the collection of juggling props plus a number of pictures of greats from the past and present. It occupies a space about ten foot square and is most artistically displayed covering the walls and floor of the special cubicle built for the display… Each prop has a name of the original owner showing the approximate time of its use. The Hall of Fame considers it one of the best displays they have and believe it will be of interest to all visitors especially to those who have an interest in juggling.”

Below you can see two photos of the Vin Carey collection on display in the Circus Hall Of Fame in Sarasota, FL. Although most of the signs are impossible to read, I can make out signs for Bill Talent, Rosani, the Tierney Family, and Vin Carey, himself. Many of the props look extremely interesting and unique. If the Morris Cronin and Breen clubs are represented here as well, it’s definitely one of the most important juggling collections ever assembled.

CareyCollection2

CareyCollection1

So, what’s the mystery regarding the Vin Carey Collection? Well, in 1980, the Circus Hall of Fame in Sarasota closed. This is where the mystery begins. Some sources say that some of the collections, including Vin’s collection, were sold off to private collectors. I’ve been told that a hotel developer in Orlando may have bought the collection. However, there is another possibility. In 1981, the town of Peru, Indiana bought what they claim to be the entire collection from the Sarasota Hall of Fame and opened their own Circus Hall of Fame there. It still remains open to this day. I plan to make a trip there at some point to investigate whether the Vin Carey Collection is indeed there. If it is, I will attempt to take numerous photos and notes and report back to eJuggle readers.

John Breen’s Clubs

As you may have noticed above, the Vin Carey Collection included two Breen Family basket weave clubs. These clubs are of great importance to juggling historians, as they were used by John Breen to juggle 7 clubs. Breen was the very first juggler to accomplish this feat, doing so around 60 years before anyone else. What is mysterious about this is the fact that these clubs are reported by Vin Carey to weigh 20 ounces each. Modern composite clubs usually weigh around 7.5 to 9.5 ounces. So the question is this: How did John Breen juggle 7 clubs, each weighing 1.25 pounds, for 70 catches! Hopefully I’ll be able to find and examine these clubs if they are indeed in Peru, Indiana.

Homer Stack Collection

Homer Stack

Homer Stack was a vaudeville juggler who began his performing career in 1904. In his 80s and 90s, he was a mentor to many young jugglers in the San Francisco Bay Area during the 1970s and 1980s. He was a friend to many of the most famous jugglers of the past 100 years and had even seen Cinquevalli and Rastelli perform. He also was a prop maker in his old age as well, making unique clubs for well known jugglers such as Albert Lucas and Michael Chirrick. One of these clubs can be seen below.

HomerStackClub (1024x338)

Homer owned an enormous collection of juggling photos, memorabilia, and props. His attic was filled with these treasures that he’d collected over 75 years. When he died at the age of 96 in 1987, his housekeeper reported that his entire collection was stolen. Somewhere in the world is this trove of juggling history that may never see the light of day. So the big unanswered question is this; where is Homer Stack’s collection?

Homer Stack in 1985

Early Club Passing Duos

There are a couple of early club passing duos that we know almost nothing about. Tom Breen wrote the following in a Jugglers’ Bulletin from May, 1946. “But they were not the first to do double club juggling, as that honor could be claimed by either the Devine Bros. of Lawrence, Mass. or Rogers and Rourke of Lowell, Mass. They were the first teams to pass six clubs and they were working about the same time and lived in cities only ten miles apart. I met one of the Devine Bros. and explaining, he said, “we did not know if it was possible to pass six clubs, and thought the best way for the audience to get a good view of the throws would be to stand side by side and face the audience (The man on the right side throws a high double to partners left hand; man on left throws a low club to partners left hand).” After getting it down they stood back to back and threw the clubs over their head to the other man. (Both of these tricks are difficult and don’t get as much reaction from the audience as facing each other).” I’m unable to find any other information about either of these two teams. It would be a shame if they originated such an important aspect of juggling just to fade into obscurity. Will we ever learn more about these first club passers?

Another early club passing duo that Breen mentioned were the Murdock Brothers. They were said to be the first club passing duo to perform in Europe, as a variety agent brought them to England in the late 1880s. Tom Breen reported that although they were Americans, he had never heard of them. I’ve very recently discovered that the Murdock Brothers were, like the Devine Brothers and Rogers and Rourke, from Massachusetts. Below is the only known photo of them, from my collection.

MurdockBrothers

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David Cain is a professional juggler, juggling historian, and the owner of the world's only juggling museum, the Museum of Juggling History. He is a Guinness world record holder and 15 time IJA gold medalist. In addition to his juggling pursuits, David is a successful composer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and singer as well as the author of sixteen books. He and his children live in Middletown, OH (USA).

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