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MEYER: This is Paul Meyer, speaking for the Wisconsin State Historical Society, and the Sauk Prairie Historical Society. And I am up at the Sauk Prairie Memorial Old Age Home and Retirement Home in Prairie du Sac right now, sitting down and visiting with Mr. Gollmar from Baraboo. Mr. Gollmar, can you give me your first name and your age, where you were born?

GOLLMAR: My first name?


GOLLMAR: My first name is Fred.

MEYER: This is Mr. Fred Gollmar from Baraboo. And Mr. Gollmar, I understand that you're related to the Gollmar Circus family from Baraboo, is that right?

GOLLMAR: I was one of them. You want to know how old I am?


GOLLMAR: Well, I was ninety-four last March 9th.


MEYER: And you're going to be ninety-five this coming March now?

GOLLMAR: If I'm still alive and around here, yeah.

MEYER: And you're in good shape today, you certainly look like you're going to be here for another six years anyway, I think, you're going to see your l00th birthday.

GOLLMAR: Well, I wouldn't want to live that long. That's getting a long way---pretty old--pretty old now.

MEYER: Mr. Gollmar, could you tell me some of your circus experiences, when you and your brothers started the circus and some of your early experiences?

GOLLMAR: Well, I don't know as I can right off the bat tell you anything. We started in the year of 1891, opened in Baraboo in early May with a wagon circus, and we drove down here and Sauk City was the second place that we showed at. We 00:02:00showed that on Monday of course. We opened on Saturday at Baraboo and we drove down here to the--we showed here on Saturday, and as we went by wagon, of course, those days the bridge across here was a toll bridge and we had to pay tolls. And they had to make an arrangement with the people here, the city council I guess it was at that time, I think Mr. Meyer was the, was the bridge tender, toll man, I remember one peculiar little incident. We had some Shetland ponies and I wanted to get them across at the same rate as the colts, but they kinda thought that was a bit different, that they ought to pay the same price. 00:03:00But if my recollection is right, we finally put them through at the same price as colts, because the toll bridges used to cost, and that was in 1891. They was, well, when we started it was five brothers of us, but one of my brothers passed away after we'd been in the business a couple of years, and so we just went on from there on with the four Gollmar brothers. The oldest brother's name was Charles and the next brother's name was Benjamin F., and then mine Fred Z., and my younger brother Walter S. Gollmar, and that made the four Gollmar brothers. And later on, I started out as a manager of the show, but we had kinda bad luck with the agent ahead, and I went to help him out a little to get straightened 00:04:00out and, well, my brothers thought I made a better agent that I did back at the show, so from then on I was always the agent of the show.

MEYER: Can you tell me how you happened to get started in Baraboo, and showed interest in the circus?

GOLLMAR: That I just really don't know, just one of those things. My brother Ben and I were in the furniture and undertaking business there. We got kinda tired of that. We sold that out and then, I don't know, we--it's pretty hard to tell just how we got into it. We just kinda got into it and started out and went after it.

MEYER: Was that about the same time that the Ringling Brothers went into the circus business, or had they been in some years prior to that?

GOLLMAR: No, they'd been in--I think they--I'm not sure, but I believe that they started in eighties, '84, I guess, '82 or '84, I don't know the records would 00:05:00show when they started. No, it had nothing to do with the Ringling Brothers.

MEYER: How about--wasn't there an Adams, Forepaugh and Sells Circus as well that started from Baraboo? Was there an Adams, Forepaugh, and Sells Circus that started from Baraboo?

GOLLMAR: No, as I remember that, years ago, I think Al Ringling--that was, oh, that was a number of years after that, they bought the--I guess they, the Ringlings, bought that show and they run that on the side, and there, I think that they're--I don't know just how long they did run that, I don't know, I was 00:06:00busy with my own circus at that time. But I think that they had the youngest Ringling brother--at that time, he wasn't a partner of the other shows, he was younger, and I think they put him in as manager of that show.

MEYER: I see, and can you tell me something about how your show grew and did you operate your circus in other states besides the state of Wisconsin?

GOLLMAR: Yes, we went all around. Well, we traveled by wagon, as we called it those days. And in the spring of 1903, we transferred and went with the railroad circus. We opened our railroad circus in 1903, stopped the wagon show business.


MEYER: I see, in 1903 that was. And did you have your circus barns located in Baraboo? Did you always come back for your winter quarters in Baraboo?

GOLLMAR: Yes, we had them, there in Baraboo. We were located on Second Avenue, just side of the river on the west end of Second Avenue, and on the south side of that and across the river from the Island Woolen Mill people.

MEYER: Oh yes, where was that in relation to the Ringling Brothers quarters?

GOLLMAR: Well, Ringling Brothers quarters was in the east part of town kind of along the river there, and ours was further up the river. We were, well, we were on the river, and had the circus on the--it was right on the end as you go west 00:08:00from Baraboo on Second Avenue, the location was just before you come to the river on the left hand side, was where we had our winter quarters, and then across the road at the end of a spur that run in there to unload coal to the Island Woolen Mill and stuff, we had out, cars there the first three or four years. And after, later, after Ringlings bought their, changed their location we took the tracks that they used to have over on east side of town, east of where the old roundhouse used to be. We had our tracks there and we sold them.

MEYER: Oh, you moved over to the Ringling Brothers quarters after Ringling 00:09:00Brothers started to move to Florida?

GOLLMAR: No, it was where they used to have their tracks, where they used to keep their cars, And when they left that and went to another place, then we rented that from the railroad company.

MEYER: From the railroad, I understand now, yes. And can you tell me something about what type of a circus did you have, Was it mostly--?

GOLLMAR: We had a regular circus: menagerie, two-ring circus, two-ring and a stage. We sold out our circus in the fall [chuckles] I think 1916, after we showed the season of 1916. We sold out in the fall. We sold our circus.

MEYER: You sold just before the United States entered World War I then?

GOLLMAR: Yeah, that's right.


MEYER: And who did you sell your circus to?

GOLLMAR: Patterson. Patterson, well it was called the Patterson Carnival Company. He was from Paola, Kansas.

METER: And is that circus still in operation today, do you know?


MEYER: Was that circus purchased by some other circus later on?

GOLLMAR: Well, that I couldn't say. We didn't sell the title. We simply sold the stuff, but we retained the title. And we still--the title is still in Gollmar Brothers. We never sold the title of Gollmar Brothers Circus, Some of us still own the title of Gollmar Brothers, but I'm the only one of the Gollmar Brothers left.

MEYER: Well, that's very interesting Mr. Gollmar, and I see right now that we're just about finished with side number two, and I'll just take time out to change over to side number one of this tape. This is Paul Meyer signing off on side two 00:11:00of this tape with an interview of Mr. Fred Gollmar.

[tape ends]

MEYER: This is Paul Meyer, signing back in on side number one of the State of Wisconsin Historical Society tape, and for the Sauk Prairie Historical Society, taking time off now on tape, side #1, as a sample tape.


MEYER: We will now continue our interview with Mr. Fred Gollmar of Baraboo, on tape side number one, for the Wisconsin Historical Society, and participating with the Sauk Prairie Historical Society. Mr. Gollmar has told us something of his circus days and now we'll get back to Mr. Gollmar. Mr. Gollmar, could you tell me some of your interesting acts that you had and some old circus memories?


GOLLMAR: Oh, I don't know what, just exactly what you mean. The acts we had the same as they had in all, riding and all that different aerial acts and all that different stuff. But I was ahead, and see, I was the advance, I wasn't back, with the show so much. Although I used to go back sometimes and I took my wife and my son. My son, when he was small, I took him along with the show and take him ahead with me, but lots of times back to the show and let him--he used to like to spiel in front of the sideshow. And when he was a little fella, eleven, twelve years old, that was quite a job for him. By the way, my son is now Judge Gollmar. Judge Gollmar is my son--county judge here.


MEYER: That's very interesting, I was just going to ask you that. The county judge of Sauk County, is that right?

GOLLMAR: Yes, he's my son. He's the only child that we had.

MEYER: And what is his first name, Mr. Gollmar?

GOLLMAR: Robert Gollmar.

MEYER: Judge Robert Gollmar, now the county judge for Sauk County.

GOLLMAR: Yeah, that's right.

MEYER: That's interesting, Mr. Gollmar. Can you recall any of the names of your early circus performers, some of your headliners?

GOLLMAR: Well, I can recall some of them, but not much, because my part of it was mostly ahead and I don't remember those names, I'm not very good at remembering names anyway, but we had Wirtz and Adair, they were an aerial act. And we had--now, I had the name but I just can't think of it now. They had an aerial act of, I think, seven people in their group. This aerial was up high but 00:14:00in those days of course we always carried a net. We had a net for all aerial acts of that kind. Not for just the common trapeze act or anything like that, but we had this aerial act where there was passing back and forth and stuff, we always had a net below, that was--

MEYER: And what was the name of these aerialists that you were speaking of?

GOLLMAR: There were Wirtz and Adair was one group and there was--I can't think of the other. There was a group--he afterwards started a circus up in Green Bay or near there. Lindemans! The Lindeman group was one of our aerial groups that 00:15:00we had there, and I think that one of them was--at that time he had--I think he's still alive. He's an old man. I think he's still alive yet, Pete Lindeman. I think he's from, I think Green Bay, or somewhere up in there, I don't just remember that.

MEYER: Well, that's very interesting. Can you tell us what types of animals did you have? Did you have lions and tigers and elephants?

GOLLMAR: Yeah, and we had a hippopotamus called Lotus, and Lotus afterwards, after we sold her, the man we sold her to, he used to hitch her up and drive her around the hippodrome. We never bothered with it, but he used to do that around the hippodrome, draw a little two-wheeled cart behind her with a person sitting 00:16:00in it.

MEYER: I see. Well, that's very interesting. Did you have a horse act as well? Did you have trained horses?

GOLLMAR: We had all that in the menagerie, and we had a very good menagerie. We had--when we sold we had, we was up to--well, I've forgotten whether we had twenty-five or thirty double length cars carrying our show. We was one of the third, fourth largest shows that there was on the road at that time that we closed up.

MEYER: That's very interesting. Can you tell me, did you ever have any circus feuds with other circuses? Do you remember any feuds or interesting experiences that you had between rival circuses? Was there anything like that?


GOLLMAR: You mean in the billing?

MEYER: Yes, or out on the road as well.

GOLLMAR: Well, we didn't have--not on the road, we never had any trouble with any other circuses. You mean when we was a wagon show?

MEYER: Yes, uh huh.

GOLLMAR: No, we didn't have any trouble with any other circuses, but we sometimes had trouble with some of the people in the towns that we showed. They had an idea that they wanted to clean up the circus showmen and send them out right, but they generally wound up on the wrong side of it. These show people would go in a bunch, and the others didn't like that the way they handled it. The stakes was a little hard when they hit them over the head--

MEYER: I would imagine the term "hey, Rube" would be a real interesting or applicable in that situation. Is that what you hollered when you ran into a situation like that?

GOLLMAR: That was the way it would be when they started that, when they started 00:18:00to take over the show after--usually that started after the show. A bunch, they had been laying for that chance, you know, to clean out the show people and they would do it but--well, I don't remember our ever not being able to leave town as usual and everything. Some of our boys might have had the discoloration under their eyes and stuff, but there was a lot of them that remembered the circus boys for quite a few years that lived in the town. But we didn't have much of that. We didn't we never run any gambling devices or anything of that kind. We had nothing that really went over. Just when maybe a few drunks or something, you know, would want to take over and run over the guys, but we didn't have much 00:19:00trouble. You speak of the billing was where we had--that's where the fight was. The fight was always on the advance, the billing, covering each other's paper and tearing it down and stuff, but not the circuses, I never heard of any circuses clash trying to get, you know what I mean, the two circuses clashing, no. It was all handled on the advance. That's when they get it in the newspapers, a big ad and they'd bill the papers, and sometimes there'd be six or seven layers of paper where they covered each other's paper on there. But that was generally done pretty good-natured too. That was all in the way of war, what they call advance war with a circus.

MEYER: I see, that's interesting. Advance war with a circus when one circus covered the other circus's billings and colorful portrayals and announcements of 00:20:00the coming of the circus. One circus would come out and try to cover over the other circus' advance billings. Is that right?

GOLLMAR: Yeah, that's right, and then there'd be another crew watching and when they'd get out of the way and get out of town then they'd go in and cover it again, and cover it back again and that would keep up until sometimes six or seven layers. Frequently that was just a couple of times and that was all they would bother with and stuff. But sometimes they'd go further than that, and sometimes they'd--when using banners and stuff, the opposition would tear down the banners at night and stuff. But that was all part of the business. That was really show business and that's all there was to it.

MEYER: That sounds real interesting. Do you remember any visits with other show people, like the Ringling Brothers? Did you ever get together as sort of a convention with other circus people? It seems to me that Baraboo was kind of, 00:21:00rather the circus capitol of the world, with so many well-known circuses originating from Baraboo.

GOLLMAR: Well, of course, there in the winter we visited back and forth. Of course as far as Ringling Brothers and Gollmar Brothers are concerned--of course, they were first cousins so there never was much to it. They always visited back and forth before they was in show business. So long as it was in show business, it was always very friendly between them. And that was, of course, they were--their mothers were sisters, why wouldn't they be friendly with each other? We never had no arguments that way at all.

MEYER: Well, that's very interesting. I didn't know that there was any relationship. Did some of your brothers perform in the circus, or were they mainly managing the circus?

GOLLMAR: Well, they was managing it. When we first started, my younger brother 00:22:00Wally--he was quite a performer. He did brother act with another young fella there, and stuff, and used to do the trapeze and that, the horizontal bars and that stuff, and then he done, oh, a few sleight of hand acts and concerts, and outside [unintelligible] Now, that was only for a couple of years. After that they was busy. As the way it went on, as the way the thing was, my older brother Charlie was--when we got going right, you know, he was the manager of the circus, and my next older brother Benjamin F. was the treasurer, and I was the advance manager and went ahead of the show, handled the routing and the railroad 00:23:00contracts and all that stuff, and my other younger brother Wally was the equestrian director of the show. So we had all had that--so there was no time for any of us to go in a little bit, there was no time for any of us to take any part in any performance of the show.

MEYER: How many months out of the year were you out on the road showing?

GOLLMAR: Well, we generally opened the latter part of April or very early in May, and then would close in November. Some seasons was a little shorter when we had the wagon show. When we had the railroad show we stayed--opened a little earlier, and closed a little later.

MEYER: And then in your grand golden years when your circus was built up to its finest hour, how far beyond the state borderline did you venture? How far beyond 00:24:00Wisconsin did you go?

GOLLMAR: Oh, we went into all the middle states from up in Canada and down to the Gulf, and went all with the railroad. We made use of five or six different states with the wagon show. When we had the wagon show, we used to show in Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska and Minnesota, but afterwards of course we took all these different states down there. We went and showed east, oh, as far as--showed in Pennsylvania and Ohio and all the way down there, and west out all through Montana and Colorado and all those states down there, and southwest always, of course, Oklahoma and Texas and all those states there. 00:25:00There was a railroad so it didn't make much difference we just--

MEYER: Went wherever you felt like it when you had the railroad, I can understand that. How about, did you ever have any catastrophes, for example, when you were rained out or got stuck in the mud or anything like that?

GOLLMAR: Oh yes, oh yes, with the wagon show we used to get, have trouble of that kind quite often. Even after we had the railroads, oh, sometimes the tracks would wash out. We were washed out one time for--we were showing out in Nebraska, and we went up on the--let's see, I can't remember those things right off the--that Indian reservation up there in Nebraska. They went on the railroad up there; it was a branch line, and we got up in there and the rain come and 00:26:00washed the bridges out, and we were stuck there for a week. The railroad show.

MEYER: What did you do during that week, do you remember? Did you entertain the Indians?

GOLLMAR: I wasn't there, I was trying to get moved and had to change my advertising cards in front, and as soon as the railroad could get these bridges back--no, I said a week, about four days we were stuck up there. But it took about three weeks to get straightened around. I had to redate some of the towns and keep my stuff open that way. Oh, they used it to pass the time. They used to hook up the horses and drive them around to keep the men kinda busy, and it was pretty tough. It was tough on my brothers to keep so-called peace in the family with that bunch all there waiting. We was tied there for about four days till 00:27:00they got the bridges back in. That's the most serious thing of that kind that we ever run into. We had other times that we'd lose a day, or something like that, and had to change around, but all circuses had those things. Then we had a bad wreck out in Dakota, and that we didn't lose. But--we only lost one day. The wreck, was near Mandan, Bismarck, North Dakota you see. Killed a lot of the horses and stuff like that, and blown four or five cars up and I had to send cars in there, get the cars, so I was a pretty busy boy getting that stuff and 00:28:00shooting them out there. Of course, the railroad company put temporary stuff to move us till I could get the other cars there and stuff.

MEYER: I understand. You mentioned something about your circus family. Do you recall offhand, or approximately how many people did your brothers employ in your circus?

GOLLMAR: Well, that I don't remember that so much. I had around forty to fifty, sometimes sixty in the advance, ahead of the show, and back with the circus five, six, seven hundred people there.

MEYER: Five, six hundred people that were involved in the circus?

GOLLMAR: In the circus, yes. That worked for the circus and stuff.

MEYER: Well, that's a tremendous number. Is there any one highlight that stands 00:29:00out in your memory, something of interest?

GOLLMAR: Not with our show, but after we sold, in 1918, my brother Charles was manager of the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus out of Peru, Indiana, and I was the advance manager and handled the railroad contracts and stuff, and that's when we had that big wreck in--going into Hammond, Indiana, you've probably heard about that. That big wreck, it was some--I think there was-- that was the Hagenbeck-Wallace, so we were just working for the Hagenbeck-Wallace, I was advance and he was manager back with the circus, and that was in war time you remember, 1918.

MEYER: Yes, I do.

GOLLMAR: And the circus was going into, from Michigan City over towards Hammond, 00:30:00Indiana, and was going to show there. The first section got through all right, and the second section, they had a head-on collision with the fella that was on the Michigan Central Railroad Company. Had a head-on collision, and it killed, I think, about eighty people, if I remember right. And we had--they're buried there in Chicago now in the--I think it's the Lawndale Cemetery, it's a cemetery in in West Chicago. And then later on, show people got together and they have a great large elephant there.

MEYER: In the cemetery?

GOLLMAR: In the cemetery, yeah, where these people--we buried them all in one 00:31:00grave. My brother and his wife got out of their car. They pulled her through the window when the car was afire, when they struck it. That was at the Hagenbeck-Wallace. That was the worst thing I ever had to happen to me in all these years that I was the head of all the different circuses and stuff.

MEYER: Well, that's interesting. It was a terrible tragedy. Were you there on the site at the time or were you in advance of that?

GOLLMAR: No, I happened to be in Chicago at the time it happened, but my brother Charles was manager of the show, and his wife was traveling with him, and they got out but lost everything. They had to get right out of the car quick and stuff. The only thing, he did manage to pull the safe out that had money in, an iron safe, and he saved that. That had about, if I remember right, about thirty or forty thousand dollars in that night that, that happened there. But we lost 00:32:00that day, but then I had to get real busy getting cars to get them straightened out again and stuff. We had lost only one day, and that was Hammond and then we jumped from there to Beloit, and we put on the show at Beloit, and I had to buy a lot of paraphernalia, riding paraphernalia for the different equipment for the horses and stuff. And that was burned up 'cause the cars burned up there and stuff, and that--I got that to them so that they could give a show at Beloit. And then we went along just the same.

MEYER: Well, that's real interesting. Can you tell me now about some of your equipment? Did your circus, your own Gollmar Brothers Circus have a steam calliope?

GOLLMAR: Yes, we--I note you say calliope [cal-i-ope], and that's what they call 00:33:00it now. In those days we called it a calliope [cal-ee-op].

MEYER: Calliope [cal-ee-op]. You know, I was wondering, what the correct pronunciation was, and as an old circus man, I respect your word and from now on, to me it's going to be the calliope [cal-ee-op].

GOLLMAR: Well, I suppose that the correct pronunciation is calliope [cal-i-ope] as you said it there but as I say, in the old days there we called it the calliope [cal-ee-op]. Yes, we had a very fine steam calliope [cal-i-ope]. Calliope [cal-ee-op].

MEYER: Well, real interesting. Do you recall did you purchase that new or did you purchase that from another circus?

GOLLMAR: No, it was nearly new but it was some--I can't remember the name of the circus, but some circus that went broke and I think it was at Janesville or 00:34:00somewhere, we bought that from them, but it was practically new at the time. It was a wonderful steam calliope, but like all the steam things, 'course afterwards they got these air calliopes and stuff, but they never compared with the steam calliope.

MEYER: Well, that had a lot of real good atmosphere connected with it that these new machines, I know, lacked.

GOLLMAR: Yeah, we had--they had one of our wagons up there that was one of our mirror--we called it the mirror band wagon, but that was before. It's been changed now. It's not as large as we had it. They put the carvings down. We had the carvings up above, and had that for the band. It's at the Circus Museum now.

MEYER: Oh, that is at the Circus World Museum. Yes, I've visited there several 00:35:00times and I have seen some of the wagons up there.

GOLLMAR: Well, they've got a wonderful collection up there at Baraboo, as they're getting along, and they're going to continue to add to it. Really, not in the way of advertising, but it is really a wonderful site for someone to go through there, that hasn't seen the late circuses.

MEYER: I agree, I have gone through there for the past summers that it has been open. I've been up there every summer since they opened up the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, and it certainly is a fine show, and something that is well entitled to be in Baraboo, which I would say is the circus capitol of the world. 00:36:00How many circuses originated out of Baraboo?

GOLLMAR: Well, I don't really--I don't remember. Of course, it was Ringling Brothers and there was Gollmar Brothers, and then there was some other small circus--I don't remember the name--that had come out of Baraboo, and that Dode Fisk Show that was really built in Baraboo, but he was from Wonewoc. That was the Dode Fisk Show. He had, if I remember right, a ten or twelve car show on the road. But Wisconsin was just scattered full of--all around pretty near every place you turned around was different circuses. Evansville, you know, had old Pop Hall, and then afterwards his sons and stuff and--as I say and--I think the oldest circus town in Wisconsin, though, is Delavan. I think Delavan is where 00:37:00they had circuses there long before Ringlings was in the business, if I'm not mistaken. I'm not sure, but I think so. But I know the riders come from Delavan. Delavan was--that was of course a smaller show.

MEYER: I see. How about--did your circus have a traveling circus band? Did you have a circus band with musicians to play at your circuses?

GOLLMAR: Oh, yes, we had--I think we had two. We had the one big Band, and then a smaller band; I think we had either two or three bands. We carried a big band. We didn't use the calliope for anything with the show, that was just on the parade. 'Course in those days, everything went out on parade and come back from the parade, and that's where you put your money. It would cost you a lot of 00:38:00money to get your wagons fixed up for the parade and get your horses and your horses' strappings, uniforms for the drivers and the riders on the different ones and stuff. And so that was the way--that, of course, was more on the parade. Inside, of course, we had the, as I say, the two rings and platform, and then we had the hippodrome around that, and we had the hippodrome races and all that stuff that. We had--well, it was considered when of course Ringlings was the biggest circus, Ringling and Barnum-Bailey and stuff was the biggest circus, and then there was the Hagenbeck-Wallace, and oh, different ones, different circuses along there, but ours was one of the larger ones after the Ringling 00:39:00Brothers. Of course, Ringling Brothers and Barnum-Bailey, I mean. And then Forepaugh, Sells, and stuff, but those kind of quit, they merged with Ringlings then.

MEYER: I see. Some of those circuses did merge with the Ringling Brothers Circus then?

GOLLMAR: Well, they bought them, you know they bought, I think--I know they bought the Barnum and Bailey, and it seemed to me that they did the Sells-Forepaugh, as I stated earlier that they had that circus. Oh, of course there was different circuses at the time, but we was on--if I remember right, the year we sold out, there was twenty-five or twenty-six circuses on the road. I don't just remember, what had there was one or two circuses, all had small shows. Wintermute Brothers had the show. Lehman Brothers had a railroad show--I don't know, Lehman Brothers, I guess quit though before we sold out, but along in there they had that, and there was the Sells-Forepaugh and John Robinson. 00:40:00John Robinson was a big show and that, as I say, in those days there was competition in the circus business then. Of course, handling all the railroads and stuff, why it was--you had to be right up and coming to get your show moving, to not be showing in the same town as one following the other show and starving to death.

MEYER: I've heard the word mentioned, the word "chautauqua." Does that mean anything to you as far as a chautauqua show? Are you familiar with that term, "chautauqua?" It seemed to me that that had some early show term. That had nothing to do with the circus at all?

GOLLMAR: No, not that I know of.

MEYER: Uh huh, I understand. Is there anything else in the way of circus life that was interesting to you, or would be interesting to the circus public? For 00:41:00example, where were the circus wagons made? Were they made in Baraboo?

GOLLMAR: Well, of course it was--no, they were not all made in Baraboo, but Moeller Brothers had a big shop there, and made circus wagons and stuff for Ringling Brothers, and made some for Gollmar Brothers, although we had a workshop of our own and built a number of our own wagons, there. But they made 'em, made it even for the Sparks Show, and they made it for different shows. But their real big work, of course, was for the Ringling Brothers. And as I say, they built some wagons for us, but we built a good many of our own wagons 00:42:00ourselves. Some, of course, we bought, pick up a bargain where you could somewhere, you know, and buy one and stuff like that. But the Moeller Brothers that built those wagons, they were also cousins of Gollmars and Ringling Brothers. The three mothers, Mrs. Gollmar and Mrs. Ringling and Mrs. Moeller--that's spelled m-o-e-l-l-e-r--were sisters. That's how they were related.

MEYER: Well, that's very interesting. So there certainly was some circus blood in those three fine ladies.

GOLLMAR: Yes, there was.

MEYER: Now I had in mind some other circus lore here--just a minute. Now, you 00:43:00were saying that they built wagons in Baraboo. You were saying also--were circus wagons built in Stoughton, Wisconsin?

GOLLMAR: No, that's when we had the wagon show. They were the ordinary wagons but we got them, we bought some that they built at the wagon factory in Stoughton, Wisconsin.

MEYER: I see. Oh, that's very interesting. Now, can you think of anything in the way of circus history that should be preserved in Baraboo that has been overlooked so far, something that may still be there that hasn't been touched yet that could be included in the circus museum up at Baraboo?

GOLLMAR: No, right off hand I wouldn't think of any--I don't exactly know what you mean but I--

MEYER: Well, I was wondering if you knew of any old circus artifacts like wagons or circus paraphernalia that is still in somebody's barn that would do well to 00:44:00be displayed at the Circus World Museum?

GOLLMAR: Not that there is any of that around there. Baraboo River might give up a few things, if it was dismantled and kind of put and filled over there and stuff, but no, I think they have combed it pretty close there. You see, that was a good many years ago since our show, for instance, was on the road, and so it's hard to tell. People used to swap sometimes, circuses swapped same as those, you know, and then they sometimes would buy certain cars or wagons from them and stuff.

MEYER: I see. Well, that's very interesting. You've given us some view of the 00:45:00circus performers that you had. Do you remember any names of any animal trainers that you had?

GOLLMAR: Well, they was just ordinary names, like-- No, I don't. At first, our first animal act, we hired the animals and the trainers, but I don't remember those, I was handling the advance, I don't remember--now, I think my son--judge--has quite a few records of a lot of that stuff like--you would find some of those names and that kind of stuff in the route cards. And I think he has a certain amount of that stuff with those names, but you mean the different 00:46:00actresses and the different--yeah. But no, they--I don't remember the trainers. Afterwards, we had some there, but I don't remember their names.

MEYER: Were they local Baraboo people or were they from the outside?

GOLLMAR: They was from mostly away, most of them, most of them. Sometimes some of the riders we had were Baraboo people; like we had some of the Rooneys and different ones of those days that was from Baraboo. In fact, we had--a nephew of mine was a rider there from Baraboo. Afterwards, he quit and went on the railroad business. But no, they were generally from out, more from the city than they were from the little towns.

MEYER: Did you notice were any of these people foreigners like from Germany or 00:47:00from Italy or some other foreign countries?

GOLLMAR: No, I wouldn't remember that. In fact, they didn't have so many foreign groups those days as they have now.

MEYER: I see. Something that would be interesting to discuss now would be your very early pioneer days in your early circus days. You had mentioned when you first came to Sauk City, and you crossed the bridge, and how you had tried to and successfully, did I understand, get your little circus ponies--they went across the bridge for the price of a colt. Now, where did you set up in Sauk City? When you came to Sauk City to perform, where did you set up and how did the circus go then?

GOLLMAR: Well, I think it was--his name was either Hahn or Kahn--k-a-h-n or something--and he had a pasture, and we used to set up in his pasture.


MEYER: I see, and did you have a tent at that time, or was that an open show?

GOLLMAR: Oh no, everything was always in the tents. We carried the seats and that and all that stuff.

MEYER: Now, in your early wagon days before the train, did you have a menagerie along with the big tent at that time too?

GOLLMAR: Yes, we had a menagerie. We had a menagerie with--we started out first--like, it seems to me the first year we had a bear and something and a few monkeys and some birds and stuff, but afterwards we had it with--when we quit the wagon show and turned to the railroad show, we was running at three ring and two platform stage show with the wagons, when we travelled by wagon. And yes, we had quite a large menagerie. Of course, the wagons weren't quite so big and heavy as afterwards when we went on rail. The cages were smaller and stuff, but 00:49:00we had a menagerie, and the sideshows of course, and then the menagerie tent, and from the menagerie tent went into the other, into the main tent.

MEYER: How about, what did your menagerie consist of--a sword swallower and the flame--what did your menagerie consist of, what did you have for attraction? 

GOLLMAR: Oh, lions and tigers, elephants, camels, and a nice place to keep the Shetland ponies and the elephants travelled--from those days the elephants had to travel the same as everybody else with the overland show. They all had to travel just the same. And they used to go with, the--they'd trail along with the ponies. We had a little bell wagon with the wagon show that had thirty-two bells 00:50:00on. They were small bells, they were kind of like little chime bells, and they had a keyboard in that in the back end and you sat and played that like you play a piano, and of course no steam or anything of that kind. That was all wired with that, with the hammer, you know what I mean. We had the small bells. And I remember one incident that--of course, we used to drive across, and sometimes there'd be a little culvert of something that was out and would hold up the wagons for a little while. And I remember one time the boys was telling me--this little bell wagon was a small wagon with open sides and stuff, and we used to draw that from town to town with four little Shetland ponies and the elephants we had. That was when we only had one or two elephants at that time--and we 00:51:00stopped at one place to fix a culvert, and they held it up, and there was a field of oats cut and shucked on the side of it there. And the elephants always hungry and he had a great big trunk and he had a great big nose for going out. So he went over to one of those shucks right near there and he began eating some of the oats. And the little ponies began to holler and squeal and holler and squeal, and the boys tell this for an absolute fact: they said that the elephant turned around and looked, and he picked up a couple of bundles of the oats, and he brought it over and set one bundle in front of the leaders, and another bundle in front of the head of the little Shetlands, and then he went back taking it, and everybody was all happy and so the Gollmar Brothers had to pay the farmer for the oats. That actually took place.


MEYER: That was real interesting. Do you remember what part of the country that happened?

GOLLMAR: Oh, I think that happened in Iowa; if I remember right, that happened in Iowa. Yeah, I'm pretty sure it did, but I don't remember just where. But, oh, there was so many of those little incidents like that that happened.

MEYER: How about in the early days, what did you charge per head for admission to your circus?

GOLLMAR: Well, in the early days when we started out, twenty-five cents, ten cents for reserved seats, ten cents for the concert and ten cents for the side show.

MEYER: Well, that was a good buy. Today, it costs about four dollars at 1960 due prices.

GOLLMAR: Well, of course twenty-five cents in those days was a quarter of a dollar, and it bought something. I can remember buying beef right here in Sauk City. I remember I bought a quarter of a beef for the wagon circus for our 00:53:00cookout. Of course, we always done our own cooking. And I bought it--what was that old man at that market,

MEYER: Kirschner?

GOLLMAR: Kirschner, and that was from the old man, and I paid him three dollars, or three and a quarter cents a pound for the quarter of beef, and his son, the one that afterwards run the market so many years, he wheeled it up there on a wheelbarrow, and delivered it for three cents and a quarter, and his father was very glad to get that for that.

MEYER: That would have been Ernie Kirschner that wheeled it up there, now. He's dead now.

GOLLMAR: Yeah, he wheeled it up, and he always claimed that when he went to 00:54:00raise the sidewall or something, one of the men kinda boosted him along in and says, "If you want to go in, go in that way." [unintelligible] That was Ernie's story.

MEYER: Well, that's real interesting.

GOLLMAR: That just goes to show you that, those days, you know, now--those days, you see in feeding the animals, we only fed six days in the week you know.

MEYER: Oh, I see.

GOLLMAR: And on Sundays we didn't feed them, but we used to feed them liver and stuff. In those days, when we'd go in and buy our order of meat from the local butcher, he usually would throw in a bunch of the liver, because they didn't sell liver in those days. Nobody thought of buying liver, if anyone wanted some they'd take it home. But that was--of course, we bought other meat with it, but 00:55:00he often times would throw it in and if he had it there extra, he'd throw in the liver and wouldn't make any charge for that. And bologna, when people had to pay ten cents a pound for bologna, they hollered their heads off. Ten cents a pound and three for a quarter. They thought that was too much money.

MEYER: How many people could you house in your tent in the early days when you first began?

GOLLMAR: Well, that--I guess five hundred would have been awful crowded in, but later on, of course, we had the big tent, we could handle four or five thousand without any trouble.

MEYER: Were the tents made in Baraboo?

GOLLMAR: No, they were made in Chicago, and that we got some at Kansas City.

MEYER: I see. Well, that's real interesting. Is there anything else you can think of that we haven't covered in the way of circus lore?

GOLLMAR: No, I don't just remember of anything. Of course, we had our blowdowns 00:56:00with the Gollmar Brothers Circus. In, I think it was June the 12th, in 1899, we were showing in New Richmond, Wisconsin, and that is the time they had the cyclone in New Richmond and lots of people were killed and stuff. But, it tore our tent up pretty bad and tipped over some of the smaller cages, but we happened to be clear out on the edge of town. That was peculiar circumstances. They had a lot in New Richmond, just across the river from the stores there that I used to get, but when I went there to contract it that year, the man wasn't home and his wife said she knew it would be all right, but she wouldn't sign the 00:57:00contract. I wanted the contract signed solid, so I went and dug up another lot. It was clear across town on the other side of town, which was a wonderful fine thing, because that--the stores there were blowed down, and that house and farm, that whole thing, all their buildings, was blowed to pieces, was blown down in the storm, but where we was, we was off on the edge of it and we only, we lost--we got our tent tore up and we had to get a new tent. But aside from that we didn't lose anything. My three brothers were eating in a hotel down at--right near the stores there, and the cyclone come and had warning, and they went down in the cellar. And then after that it blew over. One of them had a cut, was hurt 00:58:00a little bit, but not bad; but he discovered that he had a grip that had about six, seven hundred dollars in silver in it, and that was gone. And they went looking around for that. These buildings was--the hotel was all blown away, you know, different stuff. And, funny, a block from there they found his valise that had the money in intact.

MEYER: Well, that's wonderful.

GOLLMAR: Got it all back. That was one of the most wonderful things. But that was terrible, I don't remember how many was killed, but I remember they had 'em, opened up the churches and they had the cadavers laying on the seats there and stuff, and they opened the houses and different stuff for hospitals for there and stuff. But we had one man from Portage that was killed there in that, but he was the only one. The rest of us we didn't get any.


MEYER: You were mentioning that you were an undertaker; did you then have to help with, the losses of lives at that time, because of your undertaking experience, or weren't you in New Richmond at that time?

GOLLMAR: I wasn't in New Richmond: I was out in Dakota.

MEYER: Seeing that you were the advance man, you happened to be ahead of the circus at all times?

GOLLMAR: I was out there in Dakota looking over territory. Those days, we used to go and look over the territory with the wagon circus to see. And it was a good thing we did, because sometimes these hail storms would come along and they would they'd just mow a field down, and you couldn't tell if it was cut or whether a hail storm mowed it down and stuff. And I was out there, but I didn't get back to New Richmond, but they was out of there, and I had forgot just where 01:00:00we did go from there, but we crossed over into Minnesota there.

MEYER: When the wind storm hit at New Richmond, did any of the animals in your show get away or were they all kept within bars?

GOLLMAR: No, see our circus happened to be on the edge. It didn't blow any buildings down. It tipped some of our wagons over and tipped some of our cages and animals, just tipped them over, but it didn't hurt them. And none of the men that was back with us over on the lot got hurt at all. And it happened, oh, between five and six, I think it was, in the afternoon, and the afternoon show was out, which was a good thing, because we'd had a packed house that afternoon. But it was a lucky thing for me as ever happened to us, as I couldn't get the lot I wanted and went out on the other lot.

MEYER: How about, now can you tell us some of your experiences with some of the 01:01:00other circus people like your cousins, the Ringlings, or with Mr. Bailey, or did you ever meet Barnum, P, T. Barnum in your days of the circus?

GOLLMAR: I never met P. T. Barnum, no.

MEYER: How about Bailey, did you ever meet Bailey?


MEYER: It was still all Ringling at the time it was Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey?

GOLLMAR: But we used to meet in Chicago in the winter quite often, some of the different show people like Walter Main, and Buffalo Bill, and Pawnee Bill and all those different people would meet there. And then we had our printing, some printing done in Milwaukee and then we had some in Covington, Kentucky, that's 01:02:00right across the river from Cincinnati, you know, and some from Erie, Pennsylvania, and of course [microphone drops] to get to have the printing done. We had that always. We had to contract all that in the early winter so they could print that up, and get that ahead in the winter.

MEYER: I see, this sounded very interesting. In other words, you had sort of a circus fraternity or a circus convention in Chicago?

GOLLMAR: In the old days, the big circus paper was the old Billboard, that was the big--that was the news and all that stuff, I remember we had one old fella--he stayed in Chicago. His name was John White. We had him for a ticket taker on the front door for a great many years, and we were showing a little town out in Dakota one day, and he was all bald-headed, and a couple of ladles 01:03:00come up, and one of them lived there and was going in to the show, and one of them didn't. And the one that was visiting her, the other lady there, she said, "My Lord," she says, "the wind you've got here--just look at my hair, the way it's blown all over." And old John, he was kind of an illiterate old guy, he picked off his hat and he says, "Lady, I've only been two weeks but look at my head." He didn't have a hair on his head. They got a big laugh out of that.

MEYER: You had quite a performer in the ticket taker. Can you tell me now about some meetings at this convention or fraternal meeting place that you had in Chicago. You were saying that you had met Pawnee Bill and Buffalo Bill?


GOLLMAR: We'd meet more around hotels, not at meetings. We'd meet them at hotels and then in the summer, why, I used to visit the different circuses, and meet those different ones. And then you would, they would be in Chicago looking over different stuff and we would. Some of them bought their tents made in Chicago, but we didn't.

MEYER: That's real interesting. What type of a person was Buffalo Bill?

GOLLMAR: Well, I thought he was--

MEYER: Was he quite a showman?

GOLLMAR: Yes, he was a nice fella, and I was, at one time I was out in Colorado, in Denver, we were showing Denver, and one Sunday I went up on that lookout mountain at Buffalo Bill's name there and stuff. 'Course those days I was, in the early days when I met those old timers while they were still alive, we were 01:05:00a small show and they were a bigger one, so I didn't know them so well. Of course--but they--there was a lot of those people that were very nice to meet.

MEYER: I imagine it was a real interesting life. Did your family usually accompany you when you were out as the advance man?

GOLLMAR: No, not very often, just once in a while I could get them and take them when I could. I just had the wife and the one child, and I used to get to take my wife with me at first some, but afterwards--then after, when Bob was a little bigger, but two, three days and that's all they wanted. Sometimes later on, when Bob got a little bit bigger and was a big Boy Scout like a lot of others, I used 01:06:00to take him along and he, as I say, he used to like to get up and spiel in front of the show and different ones.

MEYER: He was the barker, he advertised the show, was that it?

GOLLMAR: Yeah, to sell tickets, you know, he'd get up, and that used to make a big hit with him. He used to do that a few days and so--but I was--my headquarters really during that time when we had the railroad show, my headquarters was Chicago. My headquarters was Chicago, I made my headquarters, although I always lived right there in Baraboo.

MEYER: What year did you retire from the circus then? What was your last year that you were actively engaged in some circus life, whether it was the Gollmar Brothers Circus or--

GOLLMAR: Do you mean myself personally?

MEYER: Yes, uh huh.

GOLLMAR: Well, I quit in the last of 1920.


MEYER: In the last of 1920? And who were you employed by at that time? Who were you employed by at that time, what circus was that?

GOLLMAR: At that time it was American Circus Corporation. We had our offices in the Quiller Building in Chicago. That was the last year; that was in 1920. And then I had a number of chances to go out to others, but I thought I'd stay home and because I'd been on--I started on the road when I was nineteen--eighteen years old. I started selling upholstered furniture for a furniture company in Milwaukee, and then afterwards then we, my brother and I, went into the furniture and undertaking. Before I went into the furniture and undertaking business with my brother, I worked for a man named Carlos Bacon. He had a 01:08:00furniture and undertaking store there in Baraboo, and I went down to Milwaukee. In those days it took us one week to get an embalmers certificate, an embalmers diploma. And I went down to Milwaukee, and when I was sixteen years old, I got my embalmers certificate. And then I came back, and I stayed with him. And afterwards my brother and I bought out a store, and we stayed in the furniture and undertaking business until we sold and we went in the circus business.

MEYER: I see, and how many wagons did you start with when you started with the circus?

GOLLMAR: That I knew you'd ask me, and that I can't remember, but I imagine that probably, oh, maybe a couple of dozen. You know they--of course now, the band they traveled in the band wagon, the performers traveled in three- seated rigs 01:09:00and stuff, and then back with the show--I guess probably about twenty-five all told, everything.

MEYER: The nights that you weren't performing, when you were traveling nights on the road between circuses acts, would you generally always stop at a hotel or would you just camp out someplace along the road?

GOLLMAR: What do you mean?

MEYER: When the circus was traveling from one showplace to the other.

GOLLMAR: When we traveled by wagon?

MEYER: That's right.

GOLLMAR: Well, the performers, the musicians and performers stayed at hotels. And they would stay at the hotel where they showed that night, and then they get up nice and late, about 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning, and drive to the next town. But the circus, as soon as they was loaded, they started and they went that night, and they traveled, and to get to the next town, of course, in time to get 01:10:00something, to pitch up the tent and get something to eat and put the tent up and have that so they could get there, we figured to have our parade out when we--oh, at first we used to have the parade later, around twelve o'clock, but later, as we got larger, we had the parade at ten-thirty.

MEYER: And now in summary, again, we're just about at the end of our interview here, Mr. Gollmar, in summary, what year was it again that you started your circus?


MEYER: What year was it that you started your circus?

GOLLMAR: We opened up in Baraboo the first part of May in 1891.

MEYER: In 1891. That's very interesting. And you closed your circus, or you sold your circus in what year?

GOLLMAR: We sold our circus after the season was over in 1916 or '17, I don't remember which, and sold it to Patterson of the Patterson Carnival Company. Then 01:11:00he run the circus for a year or so and I don't know. But we never sold, never sold our name or any right to put up our pictures with. We used pictures, but after we sold it we never allowed--we rented the name to Patterson for one year, but didn't allow any pictures on the paper or anything.

MEYER: I see. Well, that's real interesting. I certainly enjoyed interviewing you, Mr. Fred Gollmar, and I hope that you have many more years of lively living and enjoyment and many happy memories of your old circus days; and the Sauk Prairie Historical Society and the Wisconsin State Historical Society certainly thank you for this fine interview, and for your explanation and memories of your early circus days. Thank you much, Mr. Gollmar.


GOLLMAR: Yeah, well, you're entirely welcome. Of course, when you get to crowding, putting in ninety-five years of age, there are a few things that do slip your mind that didn't when you were younger, for instance the names and that stuff--that's hard for you to remember.

MEYER: I realize that, I think we've pretty well covered in this short space of time the main interesting points. And now, this is Paul Meyer, signing off for the historical society, from the Sauk Prairie Historical Society and the Wisconsin State Historical Society. This is Paul Meyer, signing off on side one.