When we think about the birthplace of juggling, Egyptian hieroglyphics might be the obvious images that pop into our minds, and with good reason. Certainly the earliest evidence of juggling does indeed date back 4,000 years to the Beni Hassan tombs. However, many of the more recent forms of juggling and juggling tricks come out of Ohio, in the United States of America. Ohio also has been and continues to be the home of many well-known jugglers. Now it has the distinction of being the home of the world’s first juggling museum. This article will examine the rich history of juggling as it relates to the Buckeye State.
The Origins of Club Juggling
Many people are unaware that the first club juggler, James DeWitt Cook, was an Ohioan. In the late 1870s, Cook began performing basic three club juggling. Below is the only known picture of Cook from his performing days.
Club juggling, and soon after club passing, quickly spread across the juggling world. In 1895, another club juggler from Ohio, Edward Van Wyck, who was also known by his stage name, Eddie Evans, decided to go into business as the first retail maker of juggling clubs. His clubs, which were manufactured in his workshop in Cincinnati, Ohio, were the industry standard until he passed his club making mantle off to Harry Lind a few decades later.
The Origins Of Ring / Hoop Juggling
It seems counter intuitive to think that hoop / ring juggling came after club juggling, but that does certainly appear to be the case. Hoop juggling and rolling was invented in the 1880s by William Everhart (1868 – 1948) in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio (USA). At the height of his career, Everhart performed all over Europe and America and was a favorite of European royalty. He commanded $500.00 a week plus expenses at a time when the average American worker made just over $400 a year. His work with hoop rolling and juggling was copied by many others and is still done today. By the 1920s and 1930s, hoops had evolved into rings for toss juggling, but the origins of both can be traced back to Ohio and William Everhart. You can click here to learn more about Everhart and you can watch video of him below.
So Many Tricks From Just One State
Some of the most famous and popular tricks in all of juggling can be traced back to jugglers from Ohio. One of these is Mills Mess, the famous arm crossing and uncrossing pattern invented by Steve Mills of Marion, Ohio. Steve invented this trick around 1974 and it is easily one of the most recognized juggling tricks in existence. Steve also invented the four club scissors trick.
A much older trick that was invented by an Ohio juggler is the kick up. Kick ups with clubs was invented by Ohioan Ollie Young prior to 1900. Young was also one of the first hoop jugglers and might have possibly been the first juggler to use boomerangs in performance. You can read more about Ollie Young by clicking here.
David Cain and Jay Gilligan invented many new patterns and tricks in their work together in the mid 1990s as Crash and Burn, which can be seen by clicking here, here, and here. Jay Gilligan, of Arcadia, Ohio, has been a prolific creator of new juggling tricks for many years as both a solo performer and as a member of various duos and teams. Click here to see a very creative act featuring Jay and his former student and frequent performing partner Wes Peden.
Scott Slesnick of Canton, Ohio is one of the inventors of the now-popular tennis balls and can juggling. Click here to see a video of Scott doing his routine with these props. Erica Kelch-Slesnick, also of Canton, Ohio, is the juggler who coined the word Claymotion to describe the type of multiplex juggling developed by British juggler Richard Clay.
Obviously, William Everhart, discussed above, invented many tricks with hoop juggling and rolling that are still done today. Many, if not most, of the jugglers discussed in the rest of this article, have also invented tricks that have found their way into the general juggling repertoire.
Jugglers, Jugglers Everywhere
Ohio has been the home to many important jugglers who have influenced the art in great ways. Here is just a sampling of these Ohioans, including brief reiterations of those I’ve already mentioned.
James DeWitt Cook – as discussed above, the first person to juggle three clubs
William Everhart – inventor of the entire genre of hoop rolling and hoop juggling
Edward Van Wyck – early club juggler and the first retail manufacturer of juggling clubs and many other juggling props
Ollie Young – early advanced club juggler, hoop roller, and boomerang juggler as well as the inventor of kick ups with clubs
The Tossing Austins – an early juggling team from Dayton, Ohio that specialized in comedy juggling using clubs, lamps, umbrellas, and balls
Bobby May – Bobby May is the most famous and important juggler from Ohio. This native of Cleveland was the greatest American juggler of the first half of the twentieth century and the mentor to many other jugglers. To watch Bobby May in action, click here.
Johnny Lux – Born John Loksa, Johnny Lux (1931 – 1996) was a Cleveland, Ohio native who performed from the 1950s until the early 1990s. He was best known for his bottle clubs, plate spinning, and a very unique balancing trick of his own creation that involved pouring a bottle of wine.
Alan Howard – Another juggler hailing from the Cleveland, Ohio area, Alan Howard was mentored by Bobby May. He’s an accomplished performer, well-known juggling historian, and former editor of Juggle Magazine.
Dick Franco – Another juggler who was mentored by Bobby May. Dick Franco (born Dick Francis in 1950) is a highly successful juggler from Youngstown, Ohio. He has performed over 20,000 professional shows and was the winner of the juggling division of the Circus World Championships in 1979 and 1986.
Steve Mills – Steve Mills (born 1957) is a juggler and unicyclist from Marion, Ohio. He is best known as the creator of the Mills Mess juggling pattern and the four club scissor trick. He worked as the halftime entertainment for the Harlem Globetrotters early in his career. Steve won several IJA championships in the late 1970s.
Michael Kass – Michael Kass was the 1980 IJA Individual Champion. He grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. Michael is best known in the juggling world for his amazing work with kick ups with clubs. Outside of juggling, Dr. Kass is a 2006 Academy Award winner for his technical and scientific achievements with Pixar in developing software to realistically animate cloth, hair, and fur.
David Cain – A lifetime resident of Middletown, Ohio, David Cain is a professional juggler who has achieved multiple Guinness World Records and has won 15 IJA gold medals in the Stage Championships and Numbers Championships. He is also a juggling historian and owner of the world’s only juggling museum (discussed later).
Scott Cain – Scott Cain lives in Cincinnati, Ohio and is best known as one half of Raising Cain, the juggling duo he forms with his twin brother David. Together they have won five IJA gold medals in the Numbers Championships, have placed second in the Teams Championship, and have won the title of America’s Most Talented Twins. Scott has been the co-director of the IJA Numbers Championship for several years.
Charles Peachock – Charles Peachock (born 1976) is a juggler from Kent, Ohio who is best known for his work on cruise ships and his appearances on America’s Got Talent. He and his brother Mark won the IJA Teams Championships in 1997.
Mark Peachock – Mark Peachock (born 1974) is a Guinness World Record holding juggler from Hudson, Ohio who is best known for his work on cruise ships under the stage name of Mark Angelo. He and his brother Charles won the IJA Teams Championships in 1997. He now performs as a comedy juggler along with his wife, Marlo Silver.
Scott Sorensen – Scott Sorensen, who now lives in Texas, was an Ohio resident throughout the 1990s. Scott is a 14 time gold medalist in the IJA Numbers Championship over an impressive 21 year span. Besides his numbers juggling prowess, he is also known for his skill at doing difficult juggling while doing head balancing or bouncing a ball on his head.
Sean Blue – Famous for his ball spinning and ring juggling skills, Sean Blue grew up and developed as a juggler in Dayton, Ohio. Among other achievements, Sean was the first person to ever flash nine objects in the IJA Stage Championships in 1992.
Rick Rubenstein – One half of the famous juggling duo Clockwork, Rick Rubenstein is a native Cincinnati, Ohio. Clockwork started their career performing at Kings Island Amusement Park, located near Cincinnati.
Redefining Gravity – 2000 IJA Teams Champions and frequent Numbers Championship gold medalists, Redefining Gravity was the duo of Darin Marriott and Heather Hackett Marriott, who lived in Columbus, Ohio. They formerly held a variety of passing world records.
Merry Spahr – Merry Spahr, from Xenia, Ohio, has the distinction of being the first woman to ever win a gold medal in the IJA Numbers Champsionship, doing so in 1995. She has been the co-director of the IJA Numbers Championships for a number of years.
Brian Koenig – Brian Koenig is a 2014 IJA Numbers Championship gold medalist in the balls division and was the youngest juggler to have ever flashed 12 balls, doing so at the age of 16 years and one month old. He is from Cincinnati, Ohio. Watch a hilarious and creative video by Brian below.
Bob Whitcomb – Strongman and comedy juggler Bob Whitcomb hails from Columbus, Ohio and is known for his work juggling bowling balls, which earned him a Guinness World Record.
Ohio has produced or been the home to many other talented jugglers, such as Joe Sullivan, Tom Sparough, Bill Hart-Davidson, Jon Stadler, Matt Jergens, Mike Heidtman, Joel Heidtman, Max Poff, Danielle Tilk, and Aaron Bonk. Well known juggler and 1989 IJA Individuals Champion Cindy Marvell went to college in Ohio and worked at Kings Island Amusement Park for one summer.
The state is also home to quite a number of active juggling clubs. It seems that something must be in the water, producing so many talented jugglers. Popular prop maker Todd Smith is based out of Cleveland, Ohio, further contributing to the art of juggling.
In addition to being the home to so many IJA gold medalists, Ohio has also hosted the IJA Convention or Festival six times, starting with Norwalk, Ohio in 1956. Other years and locations are Ashtabula, Ohio in 1958, Youngstown, Ohio in 1975, Cleveland, Ohio in 1981, Akron, Ohio in 1987, and Bowling Green, Ohio in 2013.
Ohio is now the home to the world’s first museum devoted to the art of juggling. David Cain’s Historical Juggling Props Museum, located in Middletown, Ohio, houses the largest and most extensive collection of performers’ props, innovative and rare juggling clubs, and vintage mass-marketed juggling items in the world. David’s collection also contains over 100 books on juggling, many hundreds of rare juggling photographs, and an enormous video library. Many jugglers visit this private museum every year, and David presents exhibitions of portions of the collection at juggling festivals every year. Below you can watch a video tour of part of the collection as it was in December of 2014. The collection has added many wonderful items since the video was taken. To see detailed pictures and descriptions of everything in the collection, click here.