1903 - 1916
The Seibel Bros. Dog and Pony Show was started by Emil Seibel. Emil was not a direct relation of ours, but maybe somewhere far down the line. Emil’s father, Henry Peter, immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1848 first to Pennsylvania and then to Watertown, Jefferson County, Wisconsin. H.P., as he was called, owned and operated a tavern and grocery store on Main Street in Watertown. This was the enterprise that Emil inherited and grew to a very large and successful department store known as Emil Seibel & Co.
Because of the success of the department store, Emil was able to obtain a considerable amount of property and became a well-known breeder of Shetland ponies and was a member of the American Shetland Pony Club in 1894. He was known to have as many as a couple of hundred ponies at a time.
At first, Emil sold his ponies to Ringling Brothers circus and other dog and pony shows around the country. He had also acquired rigs and carriages for his ponies and showed them in parades. The carriages were pulled by ten and twelve ponies. Dealing with Ringling Bros. and other shows gave Emil an interest in having his own show.
In early 1903, Emil, along with his son Edward, formed their own show and called it The Seibel Bros. Dog and Pony Show. It was called brothers because in the circus world it was believed that the term "Bro." lent an appearance of reliability and respectability. The animals were trained by Edward Seibel, reputed to be the youngest trainer in the world though they never said their animals were "trained" rather they were "educated".
Emil placed the following ad in the "New York Clipper" newspaper for everything from performers to wagons and everything else a show would need. "The New York Clipper" was the entertainment newspaper of the era that covered all aspects of entertainment and became the magazine we know today as "Variety".
On May 14, 1903, the Seibel Bros. show opened in Watertown, Wisconsin with 75 ponies, 35 performing dogs, mules and monkeys, it cost fifteen and twenty five cents to attend. A parade down Main Street would be held before the first performance in each town.
The Seibel Bros. Dog and Pony Show opened each show with 50 ponies representing 50 different countries responding to their names and running into the arena bearing the flags of the countries they represented. Teddy, the high diving dog, gave free exhibitions in front of the tent before each show.
A few of the more popular animal actors were Senator, the only disrobing pony in the world, wrote his name on the hotel register, said his prayers, and went to bed. Snow Cloud and Trixy (story below), McAlester or Kokomo the chimp who had better table manners than most men!
Their first season was very successful and with much optimism, Emil sold one of his farms and purchased two 70 foot railroad cars for the show to travel on. They were refurbished and painted red, white and blue. One car was for the cast and crew and the other was for the animals.
Among the many animal performers there were Shetland ponies performing the Virginia reel, reading from books, counting objects and adding figures, monkeys going to school, playing in an animal band, riding races on the backs of Shetland ponies, men and women on the "slack wire", trapeze and rings, clowns, and in 1912 they added Young Sydow, strong man, Del Fontaine, slack wire artist, the Nero Brothers contortionists and Roy Bush, the elephant trainer.
The more popular animals and their acts are told about in newspaper articles below.
Throughout the years, the show was enlarged and improved upon. In 1906, Emil sold his department store to devote his time and money solely to the show. There were several other shows under the Seibel company which was then named Seibel Bros. Greater Shows or Seibel Bros. United Shows. One was Edward's Animal Show which toured primarily in Canada and Seibel's Animal Comedy Circus.
The Seibel Bros. Dog and Pony Show continued to tour all over the United States until 1917. Interest in the smaller shows had begun to wane when the larger circuses such as Ringling Bros. took over the public's interest. The Seibel Bros. was among the last of the Dog and Pony Shows left.
On March 22, 1917, ads were placed in newspapers and trade magazines announcing that an auction would be held at the Seibel Bros. barn in Watertown and some of the following property would be for sale: 1 Arabian stallion; 14 performing ponies; 2 bucking mules; 10 performing dogs; 1 baboon; 3 spotted stallions; and various other equipment. The Seibel Bros. Show was no more.
Emil and Edward retired and moved from Watertown to Weyauwega, WIsconsin.
Watertown History Annual 1, November, 2006, Inaugural Issue; WIlliam F. JannkeII and Ken Riedl, Annual Co-Editors; pages 92-100
"The Breeder's Gazette a Weekly Journal for Farmers and Stockgrowers" Vol. XXVI; Chicago, Ill; July 4 - December 26, 1894; J.H. Sanders Publishing Co., page 384.
Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections; "The New York Clipper" March 7, 1903
Florida Memory, State Library and Archives of Florida
Newspapers are listed in the captions of the pictures
My name is Vicky, and after researching my family history since 1999, I have found amazing stories that need to be told. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have!