A Parody Juggling Act From 1896

Occasionally, I am introduced to an old book or other literature about juggling of which I was completely unaware. This is the case for the 1896 book Bunkum Entertainments, written by Robert Ganthony. Ganthony wrote several books on variety arts, but this is the one that includes a chapter on juggling. The act that he describes in the book is a parody of a standard juggling act of the time and includes quite a bit of faked juggling stunts and a few that are actually legitimate. The word “bunkum” means “nonsense,” so the ridiculous nature of the following act was intentional.

I have included the chapter below and will include some additional commentary afterward.

Using the numbers that the author ascribed to the routines, let’s discuss the act. 1. This routine with the reveal would probably get a good laugh today as it did over 120 years ago. 2. The method used here is to have a stick (“wand”) with a string coming out both ends, running the length of the stick. The ball is balanced between the stick and the invisible string, which is hidden behind the stick and is held an inch or two from the stick by the fingers. This is a classic faked juggling trick. 3. This is the art of handkerchief spinning, which you can read about by clicking here. The unspoken addition to the wand is a pin that barely pierces the handkerchief. 4. This complicated faking of a three ball cascade seems ludicrous in the extreme, which was apparently the point. The author may have to attempt to make this set up for his Juggling History Show. 5. This method of faking the ball and parasol trick was very common at the time, which seems odd considering that the real trick is not very tough to learn. 6. This plate spinning at least doesn’t use any hidden trickery. To read about the history of plate spinning, click here. 7. The hoop and glass routine appears to have been done without any trickery as well. You can read about the history of this trick by clicking here.

In summary, this very odd act may have been well received as a parody act. I wonder what a modern parody of a juggling act would look like. Maybe one or more readers will take on that challenge. If you do, please send me a video.

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 twenty three books. He and his children live in Middletown, OH (USA).

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