John Phillips Thomas – Mysterious Early Numbers Juggler

John P. Thomas

 

John P. Thomas was born in 1876 in Salt Lake City, Utah (USA). He was a self-taught juggler, as well as being a competitive boxer. In 1895, he opened an athletic school to train others in juggling and boxing. In 1898, John was offered a contract to tour with Ringling Brothers Circus as a juggler. While waiting for the contract term to begin, he worked part-time for the Royal Crystal Salt Co., a firm that extracted salt from the Great Salt Lake. On what was to be his last day of employment there, he assisted a crew that was assembling a train of salt cars. As John stepped between two cars to pull the coupling pin, the engineer did not see him and backed the train over his right leg, which had to be amputated below the knee.

His recovery took months, by which time the circus was long gone. John learned to walk again with an artificial leg and foot. John then took a full-time job with the salt company as compensation for the loss of his limb. He worked as a packer for the next fifty years before retiring in 1948. To supplement his income, he returned to juggling and boxing and his best performances in both fields were given after he lost his leg. John also performed under the stage names of Johnny Thomas and Jack Thomas.

According to John’s daughter, Lenore, he was able to juggle five clubs and stop them in his hands, and could juggle seven clubs, catching five and letting two fall to the stage. His family believes John did this around 1904 and accomplished it by having his brother toss two of the clubs into the pattern. If true, this predates John Breen’s seven club juggling, which occurred around 1910. While the nature of the start and the unknown length of the juggle might not make this “official,” it is, nevertheless, quite impressive, especially if he used Van Wyck clubs to do so.

John’s daughters Lenora (born 1901) and Edrie (born 1904) joined him in performing starting around 1914. The trio was very popular on the vaudeville circuit in Utah and Nevada.

Lenora and Edrie

John retired from performing as a juggler in 1920 and passed away in 1956.

John with some of his props

Below are some of John Thomas’ props that are on display in the Museum of Juggling History. They were made by Edward Van Wyck.

 

 

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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