Shapers of the New Narrative – Part 2 Bread and Circuses

This is the second part of what is now going to be a 3-part series because there is alway more to find out about how we came to the place where we are now in time related to how the new narrative was shaped.

I have chosen the title for this part of the series based on the remarks attributed in our historical narrative to the first-century Roman poet Juvenal, who said in one of his poems a phrase that is commonly interpreted as: “Two things only the people anxiously desire: bread and circuses.”

The phrase “bread and circuses” has come down to us as meaning the cultural and political practice of providing “superficial appeasement” to people in the form of cheap food and entertainment to keep them happy, and diverting their emotional energy into the absurd and the trivial and the spectacle in order to keep them distracted for the purpose of maintaining power and control over the masses.

I will be demonstrating the relevance of this control mechanism being practiced on us in more modern times through looking into the origins of things like penny candy; dime museums; circuses; some notable events in the founding of the movie industry; and those death-defying stunt performers, and will be looking at these in the context of the United States.

Here are some of the things that I found out about the history of penny candy.

As with everything else, there is much, much more to find out about this subject, so that if I followed every lead, I would never get finished!

Hard stick Candy as we know it has at least been around since 1837, when it at was at the Exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanics Association (MCMA) that year in Boston, Massachusetts.

Is it just a coincidence that the MCMA logo is pretty much identical to the “Arm and Hammer” logo?

At any rate, stick candy became a popular type of hard candy for both children and adults in the United States by the 1860s, and their nostalgia effect is memorialized in this 1909 poem, “The Land of Candy” attributed to Kentucky poet Madison Julius Cawein.

The first place they came to me, why.
Was a wood that reached the sky;
Forest of stick candy. My!
How the little boy made it fly!
Why, the tree trunks were as great,
Big around as our gate
Are the sycamores; the whole
Striped like a barber’s pole.

This brings to mind the game, “Candyland,” which I distinctly remember playing as a child.

This classic board game was first published in December of 1949 by the Milton Bradley Company, and was suitable for young children because there was no reading or strategy involved, and only minimal counting skills.

All you have to do to play the game is follow the directions.

To this day, this popular board game still sells an estimated 1-million copies per year.

Stick candy is made by mixing things like granulated sugar and sometimes corn syrup with water and a small amount of Cream of Tartar,though white vinegar can be used in place of Cream of Tartar.

The chemical name for Cream of Tartar is potassium bitartrate, and in addition to its uses in cooking, when it is combined with other substances like lemon juice, vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide, it is used as a cleaning agent.

A recipe for candy canes, typically a type of peppermint-flavored stick candy, was published in 1844, and the first ones made in 1847.

In 1874, “The Nursery,” a 19th-century magazine “for the Youngest Readers,” made note of candy canes in connection with Christmas…

…and in 1882, an edition of a similar kind of magazine entitled “Babyland,” called “the Babies Own Magazine,” mentioned candy canes being hung on Christmas trees.

In 1957, Father Gregory Keller, a priest of the Diocese of Little Rock in Arkansas, patented his “Keller Machine,” which automated the process of bending candy cane sticks.

Father Keller was the brother-in-law of Robert McCormack, who began making candy canes for local children in 1919 in his Famous Candy Company, and became one of the world’s leading candy cane producers, and the company he started became known as “Bobs Candies.”

Today’s Cotton Candy was first created in 1897…

…by a dentist, named William Morrison, who developed the cotton candy machine…

…and a confectioner named John C. Wharton, and together they created a product they called “Fairy Floss” by heating sugar through a screen that made its debut at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis…

…where it won an award for “Novelty of Invention.”

It received the name “cotton candy” from yet another dentist, Josef Lascaux, who marketed his version of the same treat starting in 1921, and named it after the cotton of his home state of Louisiana and sold it to his dental patients, and which apparently had saccharine in it, according to this reference to it that I found.

Here are some interesting points of information related to the artificial sweetener saccharin that I came across in past reserach.

Saccharin was the first product produced by the Monsanto Chemical Company, starting in 1901.

Monsanto was acquired by the German multinational Bayer Pharmaceutics and Life Sciences Company after gaining United States and EU regulatory approvals on June 7th of 2018 for $66-billion in cash, and Monsanto’s name is no longer used.

Around the same time that cotton candy was first made, the Tootsie Roll entered the scene as the first penny candy that was individually wrapped and sold, starting in 1896.

An Austrian immigrant by the name of Leo Hirshfield invented the candy, which we are told was named after his daughter Clara, who was nicknamed “Tootsie.”

Hirshfield’s first invention was Bromangelon Jelly Powder.

It was the first instant, flavored gelatin powder, and initially came in four flavors – lemon, orange, raspberry, and strawberry.

It was also the first commercially-successful gelatin dessert powder, and was eventually driven off the market by Jell-O.

The invention of Bromangelon Jelly Powder set the stage for both Tootsie Rolls and Jell-O.

Interesting to note is that there are two different possible meanings attributed to the name.

One was what the manufacturer, the Stern and Saalberg Company, said it was, which was “Angel’s Food.

And the other is what the break-down of the Greek etymology is said to mean, which is “a foul spirit,” with bromos meaning stench and “angellus,” a messenger, angel, or spirit.

Or the possibility that it has no meaning at all.

The ingredients of Tootsie Rolls, at least today, are as follows: sugar; corn syrup; palm oil; condensed skim milk; cocoa; whey; soy lecithin; and artificial and natural flavors.

The sugar and corn syrup alone have a bad effect on the body, spiking insulin and sending the body on a roller coaster ride.

All of the sugar and other additives there were introduced into our diets from all of this candy brings the prevalence of Type 2 Diabetes to mind, which is an impairment in the way the body regulates and uses sugar (or glucose) as a fuel, and affects a lot of people, who either have it, or are at risk to develop it as a health condition.

Tootsie Rolls represented a break-through in the candy industry, a chocolate-flavored caramel and taffy but not any one of the three; they didn’t stick together in the bulk containers at the store; didn’t melt and they stayed fresh.

From that modest start, Tootsie Roll Industries has brought us Charms Blow Pops; Mason Dots; Andes; Sugar Daddy; Charleston Chew; Dubble Bubble; Razzles; Caramel Apple Pops; Junior Mints; Cella’s Chocolate Covered Cherries; and Nik-L-Nip, and sold all over in places like: grocery stores; warehouse and membership stores like Sam’s Club and Costco; vending machines; dollar stores; drug stores and convenience stores.

Makes me wonder if we would even need dentists, and doctors for that matter, if we did not have all this junk food at our disposal!

Next I will be looking into historical Dime Museums.

Dime museums were most popular in the United States at the end of the 19th-century and beginning of the 20th-century as institutions which provided cheap entertainment for working-class people, and reached their peak in popularity in the time-period between 1890 and 1920, declining in popularity with the rise of Vaudeville and the film industry.

Phineas T. Barnum purchased Scudder’s Dime Museum in 1841, and turned it into Barnum’s American Museum.

Known more commonly as P. T. Barnum, he was a showman, businessman, and politician.

From its opening at a location in what is now the Financial District of Manhattan in 1841, Barnum’s American Museum was known for its strange attractions and performances.

The attractions were a combination of zoo, museum, lecture hall, wax museum, theater, and freak show.

Apparently it became a central location in the development of American popular culture.

Barnum’s American Museum was filled with things like dioramas; scientific instruments; modern appliances; a flea circus; the “feejee” mermaid; Siamese twins, and other human curiosities…

…which included Charles Sherwood Stratton, better known as “General Tom Thumb,” who was 2-feet, 11-inches, or 89-cm-tall at his full-grown height as an adult.

Stratton was taken under Barnum’s wing as a child, and he started performing for him as an entertainer starting at the age of 5, and this continued throughout his life.

His considerable talent as a performer changed the public perception of “human curiosities” that were part of the freak shows of the era, into something more positive that was previously deemed dishonorable.

On July 13th of 1865, the building which housed Barnum’s American Museum caught fire and burned to the ground.

Apparently there were not any human deaths, but a number of the live animal exhibits, including two whales imported from the coast of Labrador, were burned alive.

This was the second of five major fires connected to P. T. Barnum.

The first major fire associated with P. T. Barnum was the mansion he was said to have had built as his residence in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1848, and named “Iranistan.”

It was said to have been set on fire by workmen in 1857 when Barnum had been away for several months.

We are told Barnum had hired architect Leopold Eidlitz to design Iranistan as his own version of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, said to have been constructed in England between 1787 and 1815.

The architecture of these places looks distinctly like Moorish architecture, though instead of the Brighton Pavilion being called Moorish, it is called Indo-Saracenic Revival-style instead.

The third fire involved the second Barnum’s American Museum that he started after the first one burned down, this time in 1868, at which time a faulty chimney flue was said to have burned down this building as well.

The fourth fire associated with P. T. Barnum was what was called the “Hippotheatron” in New York, which was said to have taken place in 1872 shortly after Barnum purchased it for winter quarters for his travelling show; and a combined circus building and a smaller version, including a menagerie, of his American Museum.

And the last fire that was associated P. T. Barnum took place in 1887 at his winter quarters in Bridgeport, Connecticut, which caused the mass destruction of property and of many animals.

And was P. T. Barnum a Freemason?

I could find no reference to Barnum himself being a Freemason.

I did find two interesting freemasonic connections to him though.

One was a reference to his magnificent “Iranistan” residence and the masonic presence in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in an article in an 1851 issue of “The Freemason’s Monthly Magazine…”

…and the other was General Tom Thumb.

Charles Sherwood Stratton became a Master Mason in the same lodge in Bridgeport mentioned in the referenced 1851 Freemasonry Magazine article, St. John’s Lodge No. 3, and he received the Commandery degrees of Masonic Knight Templar in the Hamilton Commandery No. 5 in Bridgeport in 1863.

He was buried with masonic honors in Bridgeport’s Mountain Grove Cemetery when he died of a stroke at the age of 45 in 1883.

Other famous dime museums included:

Kimball’s Boston Museum opened in 1841, the same year P. T. Barnum opened his first one in New York.

Moses Kimball was known as the “Barnum of Boston,” and had exactly the same kind of exhibits as his contemporary in the Dime Museum business…

…including the “Feejee Mermaid” – it was owned by Kimball who in turn leased it to Barnum.

By the way, the original “Feejee Mermaid” is still on display to this day at Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology.

Hagar & Campbell’s Dime Museum opened in Philadelphia in September of 1883, and billed itself as an “…exhibition intended expressly to please the ladies and Children…”

…and had such attractions as the Living Skeleton; Barnum’s original Aztecs; the “Che-mah Chinese Dwarf;” and the “White Moor.

Peale’s Museum in Baltimore, which was first opened by Charles Willson Peale in 1814…

…exhibited the skeleton of a mastodon, along with other natural history exhibits…

…and the artwork of the Peale family of painters.

And apparently Charles Willson Peale was a freemason.

Dime Museums were not only established in large cities, but were even found in smaller communities, like Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia…

…and Harper’s Ferry has a wax museum that opened in 1963 to tell the story of John Brown and his infamous 1859 raid on the federal armory in Harper’s Ferry.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to include the most famous example in recent history of this venue of all -Ripley’s Believe It or Not!

This is the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum that is located in Niagara Falls in Ontario, Canada.

This is the only one I am personally familiar with, as a I well remember the “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” strip in the Sunday comics section of the Washington Post from my childhood, and is in print today, holding the title of the “World’s Longest Running Syndicated Cartoon, which runs in newspapers around the world in many different languages.

Robert Ripley was an American cartoonist, entrepreneur and amateur anthropologist who created the world-famous newspaper series; television show and radio show which featured odd facts from around the world, starting in the 1920s until his death in 1949.

My great uncle and great aunt went to the Believe It or Not! Redwood tree house on the left for their honeymoon back in the early 1940s, when they were both in the Navy during World War II, which is how I knew to look for it.

My grandfather’s brother, my great-Uncle Carl, spent the entirety of the War in the Pacific during World War II as a bombadier in the belly of a navy plane…and survived.

He died in his early 90s in 2008, and my Aunt Margie followed him in 2018.

They were the main reason my husband and I moved to Alaska.

They were both hardy souls who lived in Delta Junction, Alaska from 1964 until their deaths.

I was quite close to them.

And no, I am not the girl on the left. My aunt Margie was a schoolteacher who spent extra time with her students, especially those who really needed it.

And yes, my aunt and uncle could run circles around my husband and I when we moved there in 1994, when I was 30 going on 31.

I can’t find any reference to Robert Ripley being a freemason, but it is interesting to note that his final resting place is the Oddfellows Lawn Cemetery in Santa Rosa, California, and I do believe at this point that the Oddfellows and Freemasons had similar agendas.

Now on to the American Circus.

The Golden Age of the American Circus began in 1870, and ended around 1950.

For almost a century, the circus was the most popular entertainment in America.

At its peak, the day the circus came to town was a reason to close schools and businesses and watch the circus performers parade down main street.

There were acts like trapeze artists, and tight-rope walkers…

…equestrians and lion-tamers….

…and elephant tricks and clowns.

The modern American circus as we know it really got underway in 1869, when Dan Castello took his circus – including two elephants and two camels – from Omaha, Nebraska, to California on the new transcontinental railroad just weeks after its completion.

P. T. Barnum entered the circus business in 1871, when he staged a 100-wagon “Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Circus,” and the following year, his travelling circus started to travel by railroad, and was when it was billed as “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

In 1880, once rivals P. T. Barnum and James A. Bailey joined forces to become the Barnum and Bailey Circus.

Barnum and Bailey’s Circus grew to accommodate three-rings; two stages; an outer track for horse races; and seating capacity for 10,000 people.

In 1897, the Barnum and Bailey Circus, by now a gigantic three-ring circus, travelled by ship to Europe for a 5-year tour, around the same time that the United States was becoming an industrial powerhouse and exporter of mass culture.

We are told that in Germany, the Kaiser’s army followed the circus to learn its efficient methods for moving thousands of people, animals, and supplies.

The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circuses merged in 1919, and operated until 2017, and return in 2023 is in the works.

Next, I would like to focus on Marcus Loew since he was involved in everything, from Penny Arcades; to Nickelodeons and Vaudeville; to trolley parks; to theater chains; and to a major Hollywood movie studio.

Marcus Loew was an American business magnate who was born in 1870 and died in 1927.

He was a pioneer of the motion picture industry, founding Loew’s Theaters in 1904, the oldest theater chain operating in the United States until it merged with AMC Theaters in 2006, and he was the founder Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios in 1924.

A poor young man made good, he was born into a poor Jewish family in New York City.

His parents were immigrants from Austria and Germany. He had to work from a young age and had little formal education.

We are told he was able to save enough money from menial jobs to buy into the penny arcade business as his first business investment.

Interesting side-note that the birth of the viable interactive entertainment industry in 1972 resulted from a coin-operated entertainment business with well-developed manufacturing and distribution channels around the world, and computer technology that had become cheap enough to incorporate into mass market entertainment products.

Magnavox released the world’s first home video game console, the Magnovox Odyssey, in 1972…

…and while there were other less well-known video arcade games released around 1972, the first block-buster video arcade game was “Space Invaders” in 1978, responsible for starting what is called the “Golden Age of Video Arcade Games.”

Thus, there was a direct connection through time between the early penny arcade games and today’s video arcade games.

Not long after buying into the penny arcade business, Loew purchased a nickelodeon in partnership with Adolph Zukor.

A Nickelodeon was a type of indoor exhibition space dedicated to showing projected motion pictures.

Many Nickelodeon’s were set-up in converted storefronts, and charged a nickel for admission.

They flourished between 1905 and 1915, and featured short films and illustrated songs.

Loew’s first nickelodeon partner, Adolph Zukor, was one of the founders of Paramount Pictures, which was formed in 1912.

Marcus Loew formed the People’s Vaudeville Company in 1904, which showcased one-reel films and live variety shows.

Vaudeville was a type of entertainment popular chiefly in the United States early in the 20th-century, featuring a mix of specialty acts such as burlesque comedy, song, and dance.

Burlesque is a style in literature and drama that mocks or imitates a subject by representing it in an ironic or ludicrous way.

In 1910, Marcus Loew expanded to become Loew’s Consolidated Enterprises with Adolph Zukor, Joseph Schenk, and Nicholas Schenk.

In addition to theaters, Marcus Loew and the Schenk brothers expanded the Fort George Amusement Park in Upper Manhattan.

Fort George was located at the end of the Third Avenue Trolley Line, and was said to have been developed as a trolley park around 1894.

Joseph and Nicholas Schenk were said to have been Russian immigrants who opened a beer hall at Fort George Amusement Park in 1905, and they formed a partnership with Marcus Loew to expand rides and vaudeville shows there. The red arrows are pointing to the masonry banks of the Harlem River.

This trolley park suffered extensive damage from a fire in 1913, reportedly from arson. It was not rebuilt, and in 1914, many of the remaining amusements were destroyed, with a few concessionaires still able to hold onto their stands for awhile longer.

By 1913, Marcus Loew operated a large number of theaters in diverse places. Not only in New York, but New Jersey, Washington, D. C., Boston, and Philadelphia.

I first came across Marcus Loew in Jersey City, New Jersey, in the form of the Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theater, said to have opened in 1929. A fully-preserved theater, it is as lavish on the outside…

…as it is on the inside.

Preservationists succeeded in saving the building from demolition after it closed in 1986.

It is used for special events, and is the primary venue of the annual Golden Door Film Festival since 2011.

Here’s the thing.

Most of the historic Loew’s theaters did not survive very long.

Like Loew’s Theater on the far eastern end of Canal Street in Manhattan, said to date from 1927…

…had the fate of abandonment. 

It was only in operation as one of Loew’s Theaters until the 1960s. 

It became an “indie” film theater until it closed for good by 1980 and was abandoned. An “indie” is a feature film or short film produced outside of a major film studio.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, also known as MGM, was founded in 1924, when Marcus Loew gained control of Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures, and Louis B. Mayer Pictures.

It was the dominant motion picture studio in Hollywood from the end of the silent film era in the late 1920s to the 1950s, and was one of the first studios to experiment filming in technicolor.

Besides having big name stars of the day for more sophisticated feature films, like Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Spencer Tracy, and Clark Gable, MGM Studios also released the shorts and features produced by the Hal Roach Company, like Laurel and Hardy…

…and Our Gang, a series of short films following a group of poor neighborhood children and their adventures.

I remember watching re-runs of “Our Gang” and “Little Rascals” a lot as a kid in the 1960s and 1970s when I stayed home from church on Sundays, when it was the only thing to watch on television besides televangelists.

So instead of movie studios using the powerful medium of film for the upliftment and improvement of Humanity, generations of adults and children had their brains filled with things like slapstick and burlesque-style comedy.

My last area of focus for this post is the subject of daredevil stuntmen.

Sam Patch was the first American daredevil.

Nicknamed among other things the “Jersey Jumper,” he got his start in the jumping business in New Jersey, where he jumped from such places as bridges, factory walls, and ships’ masts.

Then, on October 17th of 1829, he successfully jumped from a raised platform into the Niagara River near the base of the Niagara Falls.

Buoyed by his success, his next stunt was to jump into the Genesee River at High Falls in Rochester, New York, on November 6th of 1829, and this jump was successful as well.

Unfortunately for Sam, his luck ran out, and he did not survive his second jump into the Genessee River at High Falls, and was killed by his famed leaping act.

Harry Houdini was the most famous death-defying daredevil of his era.

A Hungarian-born immigrant by the name of Eric Weisz, Harry Houdini who was a magician particularly well-known for his escape acts.

His career started in Dime Museums in the 1890s, where he performed your typical magician- and card-tricks, something which he was good at but not great.

So he began experimenting with escape acts.

He became known as Handcuff Harry Houdini for his expertise in escaping from handcuffs…lots of handcuffs…and he was soon booked on the Orpheum Vaudeville circuit.

Within months of this happening, he was performing at the top Vaudeville houses in the country.

In 1900, he went to Europe for a tour, and stayed in London for six-months performing his act at the Alhambra Theater after he was said to successfully escape from Scotland Yard’s handcuffs in a demonstration with them.

The Alhambra Theater opened in London in 1854…

…and was demolished in 1936.

Houdini’s reputation and fame continued to grow, as he toured Europe and the United States, as in particular, he challenged local police to restrain him with handcuffs and shackles, and lock him in their jails.

He eventually graduated, if you will, to escaping from strait-jackets while hanging upside-down from a great height in sight of street audiences…

…to escaping from locked, water-filled milk cans.

In the end, it wasn’t Harry Houdini’s proclivity for escaping from the most restrictive circumstances that could be devised for him that killed him.

What we are told is that his legendary life was cut short by peritonitis secondary to a ruptured appendix, when he was punched in the gut by an inquisitive student.

There are many more examples.

Our history is packed with dozens of death-defying daredevils, out-doing themselves with ever more outlandish stunts, and keeping the eyes on the ground glued upwards.

Distraction, distraction, distraction?!

I am going to end “Shapers of the New Narrative – Part 2 Bread and Circuses” here, and in the next part of this series will be taking a look into “Shapers of the New Narrative – Part 3 Early Radio and Television Shows.”

Before I do that, however, I will be working on the research for “Short & Sweet #13,” and in addition to places in New England, that include, but are not limited to, Fall River in Massachusetts; Newport in Rhode Island; Candlewood Lake and Meriden in Connecticut; and Atlantic City in New Jersey (and many thanks to everyone who has sent photos of several of these places for me), I am going to do some follow-up on cemeteries based on comments and information I received from you all.

Author: Michelle Gibson

I firmly believe there would be no mysteries in history if we had been told the true history. I intend to provide compelling evidence to support this. I have been fascinated by megaliths most of my life, and my journey has led me to uncovering the key to the truth. I found a star tetrahedron on the North American continent by connecting the dots of major cities, and extended the lines out. Then I wrote down the cities that lined lined up primarily in circular fashion, and got an amazing tour of the world of places I had never heard of with remarkable similarities across countries. This whole process, and other pieces of the puzzle that fell into place, brought up information that needs to be brought back into collective awareness.

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