Category Archives: Performers/Athletes/Artists

Circus Brothers update

I saw another CDV of what appears to be the same brothers, with similar outfits and different hairdos (probably a couple years older). This one is labeled “Willie & Freddie O’Brien”. I did a quick google search on their names and it turns out they were well-known circus performers, part of Barnum & Bailey’s circus, among others. A brief bio of their father (from Olympians of the Sawdust Circle):

O’BRIEN, FRED. (1848-April 28, 1881) Champion leaper. Native of Buffalo, NY. Lake’s, 1869; Dan Rice’s, 1870; Rice’s Paris Pavilion Circus, 1871-72; P. T. Barnum’s, 1872-73; John Wilson’s, San Francisco, January 1874; Cooper, Bailey & Co., 1876; Great London, 1875-77; with wife and sons, Freddie and Willie, Orrin Bros.’, Havana, 1878. Wife was a slack wire artist and his 2 children performed on the trapeze. With P. T. Barnum’s, Madison Square Garden, 1881, was injured in a leaping double-somersault over a number of elephants. Died aboard the steamship England en route to Liverpool as a result of those injuries, age 33. Remains were buried at sea.

O’BRIEN, FRED, JR. Acrobat. The son of leaper Fred O’Brien. Three Melville’s & Co., 1889; general superintendent, Price & James, 1897; principal clown, Cooper & Co., 1897.

O’BRIEN, WILLIAM. Acrobat and leaper. Son of Fred O’Brien. Howes’ London, 1877; Cooper & Bailey, 1880; Howard Bros.’, 1888; Charles Andress’, 1888; Robinson-Franklin, 1897.

Circus Brothers by Gurney & Son, New York

A pair of circus performer brothers – perhaps twins – by Gurney & Son, New York. Gurney, like Sarony, was famous for photographing the famous of the day. Gurney was the one who was requested to photograph Abraham Lincoln lying in state when his funeral cortege was passing through New York on the return train trip to Springfield. But enough of the morbid thoughts. I liked this image because it contains several collecting themes in a single card: children, circus performers, and famous photographers. I’ve been fascinated by the Victorian era advertising slogans people used on the verso of their CDVs, and this one does not fail to disappoint – “I have chained the sun to serve me”. I doubt any photographer could make a more arrogant statement!

Circus Siblings, Gurney & Son, New York
Circus Siblings, Gurney & Son, New York

I suspect they were also with Barnum’s circus, but I don’t know. If anyone out there recognizes them and knows their identity, it would be much appreciated!

A Brady CDV from the Washington DC Studio, and a Fredericks CDV from ¿Havana?

Two more CDVs – a Brady from the DC studio, and judging by the backmark style, a later (post Civil War) image. The sitter is reputed to be named John Randolph, one of the FitzRandolphs of Philadelphia (or could it be the FitzRandolphs who gave the original land grant to found Princeton University?). Evidence is unclear, but the picture is very.

John Randolph, by Mathew Brady
John Randolph, by Mathew Brady

The second CD is from the Fredericks studio, of New York, Havana and Paris. As the subject is toreadors, I’m guessing this was taken at either the Paris or Havana studios. Bullfighting has never had any serious following in the United States, so toreadors would be unlikely to come to New York on a performing tour of the US. I thought I had another Fredericks CDV somewhere in my collection, but I’ll be damned if I can find it – I may have just recorded the address on my New York studio map during a scan of studio backmarks on eBay.

Two Toreadors, by Fredericks of New York, Havana and Paris
Two Toreadors, by Fredericks of New York, Havana and Paris

This is another image that could have been marketed as “gay interest”, thankfully it wasn’t. Despite their costumes and matching fey poses, there’s nothing about them that shouts (or whispers) 19th century code for gay. Pure 21st century wishful thinking.