As the IJA prepares to bring its festival to the state of Ohio, we look back on an Ohio native who single handedly invented a form of juggling well over a hundred years ago that is still being performed today.
William Everhart was born in 1868 in Columbus, Ohio (USA). At the height of his career, he 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. This allowed him to buy a large home in Columbus, OH and real estate in suburban NYC. Growing up just outside of Columbus, OH, he was a precocious boy who taught himself to juggle with marbles at a very young age. He devoted countless hours to practicing and could supposedly juggle five slate pencils by the age of 7. He continued practicing juggling and began developing tricks with hoops after seeing someone accidentally step on a hoop of a broken barrel, which instantly jumped up and rolled away. As a young teen to was offered a chance to work as a juggler in a minstrel show but was thwarted in this endeavor by his parents, who instead started him as a blacksmith’s apprentice at the Columbus Buggy Company. During this time he continued to perform in local shows and discovered that wooden bicycle rims worked especially well for the hoop tricks he was developing. At the age of 19, he began performing professionally as a juggler, although he had trouble selling his “trained hoops” act to agents. They wanted a more traditional juggling act, which Everhart grudgingly performed while continuing to develop his hoop tricks. It wasn’t until minstrel show owner Al G. Field saw William’s hoop act that anyone in charge recognized the novelty of this new art form. Field made Everhart the star of his minstrel shows, where his highly original act was very well received. Meanwhile, William dreamed of performing on the vaudeville stages of New York City. Much to his dismay, this goal eluded him for two years while working with Field. Finally well-known vaudeville manager B. F. Keith saw Everhart’s show and made him an offer to perform on the circuit. William accepted the offer, at a sizable raise of salary, and headed for greener pastures.
From his opening performance with Keith’s in New York City, Everhart was an instant hit with critics and audiences alike. He was compared very favorably by critics to Kara and Cinquevalli, the two juggling stars of the day, and was praised for the originality of his hoop rolling act. When Everhart’s contract with Keith expired, there was a war among promoters to book him. The end result of this was a very unique arrangement overseen by his new agent, Ted D. Marks, who had brought Kara and Cinquevalli to America a few years earlier. Everhart was booked for seventeen weeks at two competing Broadway theaters, appearing at one each night at 10pm and the other each night at 11:30pm.
After those seventeen weeks of doing two shows a day, Everhart took long engagements in Chicago and San Francisco before heading to Europe. Before he even left to go overseas, others began to copy his act, or at least attempted to. Several of these were former assistants who knew his act very well and had studied and learned his technique as part of their assisting duties. Everhart once complained that three assistants who were barely more than dressers for him and whom he had paid 2 pounds a week were now making 800 pounds a year copying his tricks. Another was a female pupil of Everhart, an orphan on whom he took pity, who apparently did quite well. This was the start of what eventually became a very popular form of juggling for quite some time.
In 1900, Everhart traveled to Berlin to perform at the Wintergarden Theater. This was followed by engagements in Paris and London. In all three cities, Everhart was a sensation and commanded almost unheard of salaries. He followed up these contracts with a three year tour of Germany, France, and England, playing off his initial success in their capitals. He was often billed as the “World’s Wonder” and was known as the Great Everhart rather than William.
Everhart then returned to New York City for a contract before heading back to Europe for an extend tour. William was always looking to boost his image and very large ego and never missed an opportunity to promote himself. He would give away miniature wooden hoops to children attending special matinees intended just for them. In 1902 he played the Hippodrome in London and was involved in the coronation celebrations of King Edward VII. Everhart continued to travel the world, usually spending a few years in Europe followed by a few years in the United States, with excursions to other parts of the world scheduled from time to time.
The hoops used by Everhart ranged in size from the size of modern juggling rings to those tall enough to stand inside of, but his standard hoops were 18 inches in diameter, one and one eighth inches wide, with a concave outside, similar to wooden bicycle rims, and made of hickory wood. Everhart invented a huge number of tricks with his hoops, many of which are now lost. He described his most difficult trick in the following way. “Two hoops are thrown in the usual way, with reverse motion (back spin), but in different (opposite) directions. They slide along until a distance of ten feet separates them and then roll toward each other. At the moment they are passing parallel, their edges almost grazing, another hoop, half an inch less in diameter, which in the meantime has been thrown after the others, but at right angles to their course, passes through its larger brethren, the three continuing to roll to their respective points.” Such a trick must have taken an incredible amount of practice to learn, let alone master well enough to be performed on a daily basis. Everhart also invented most of the general types of tricks that those that followed him were known for, including rolling them across his arms and back in various ways, rolling them in circles on the stage using back spin and torque, bounce juggling them, rolling them in straight lines using back spin, catching them on strings and having them return to him, toss juggling them, spinning them, balancing them, and many combinations of these techniques. To aid in his creation of new tricks, Everhart had a standing offer of $500.00 (an enormous amount at the time) cash to anyone who could suggest to him a new trick that he felt was worthy of adding to his act. He paid up on his offer at least once.
Everhart complained to one reporter about some of the difficulties of being a hoop rolling juggler. He traveled with 60 hoops of varying size and weight, using different sets for different tricks. The hoops wore out over time to the point where they were very thin and one sided. Therefore, he was constantly replacing them and having to relearn all of his tricks with new hoops. One difficulty that would never occur to most is the fact that the hoops would wear out Everhart’s costumes very quickly, leaving tracks in the clothes down his back and across his shoulders from where the hoops would roll. This necessitated Everhart traveling with five identical costumes that he would continually rotate wearing on stage. The hoops also caused William to develop blisters on his hands and corns on his fingers. Nevertheless, Everhart loved the limelight that his skills afforded him.
Although William Everhart lived until 1948, not much is known about his later life and career. What we do know is gleaned from his 1904 autobiography, “Facts, Fame, and Fortune”, and from the many interviews he did at the height of his fame at the start of the 20th century. Fortunately, numerous pictures and some film of his act still exists. With the retirement of Bob Bramson and Carter Brown, “old school” hoop rolling acts using wooden or fiberglass bicycle rims have disappeared. However, a new generation of jugglers have discovered the art and are developing acts that use many of the techniques invented by William Everhart.
If you want to learn more about William Everhart and other jugglers from Ohio, such as Bobby May, Edward Van Wyck, Johnny Lux, Dick Franco, Steve Mills, Jay Gilligan, and many others, please stop by the Ohio Jugglers display in the History Lounge at the IJA Festival in Bowling Green, Ohio, July 15-21, 2013.