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Calliopes in Nashville 1859

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    Calliopes in Nashville 1859

    I thought I would share two newspaper articles from a Nashville, TN newspaper on October 20 and 21, 1859 concerning a traveling circus and their calliope.

    October 20, 1859.
    “THAT CALLIOPE – We sympathize with the residents of North Market St., who had to endure the dreadful sounds that proceeded from that arrangement calliope introduced into the city yesterday by a circus company. If all the hand organs in Italy and every Thomas Cat in America were brought together, the music would be sweet in comparison to this harsh, jarring and discordant incentive to dog howling. The instrument, no doubt, might be made to sound very well on a clear moonlight night, provided it was located about ten miles down river, and the wind blowing that way.
    P S- We have just learned that the show within the canvass is so poor that a heavy pressure of steam is necessary to draw attention.”

    October 21, 1859.
    “DISCORD BY STEAM – Yesterday the circus folks again carried around their ponderous steam calliope. In going past the Gazette Building, they made a strenuous but ineffectual effort to give us “Home Sweet Home,” The attempt was truly magnificent, but the failure was vastly more so. Ten thousand cats tied up in bags and beat with hickory withs could not be a greater nuisance than this terrible calliope. Hope it’ll “play out” soon."

    From this description I doubt that Travis, Keith, or even Doc Hawley could have made this infernal machine sound good.

    Thanks for that, Ted! As a certain Tennessee state Senator would say, "That is just D U M B !!!" ;-D

    You know, a lot af people really feel that way about any calliope. Beauty is in the eye (ear) of the beholder, isn't it? I, and I suspect most others on this board love that happy sound. There ain't no acccounting for taste, I guess.



      The comments of your Nashville correspondent are similar to those of several other observers of early calliope performances (the infernal music machine had only been around for about 3-4 years at the time he wrote). Jonathan may be able to elaborate with similar reactions from other early listeners that he has documented in his research files. Another "mitigating" circumstance (with apologies to Alan Bates for trespassing on another thread on this board) may have been the limited range of whistles on the instrument. The fact that this predates the appearance of Thomas J. Nichol Co. into the calliope field, may also account for the adverse reaction, as Nichol instruments produced the sweetest calliope music ever heard. One thing's for sure: you couldn't avoid hearing the thing, and it certainly did its job of drawing attention to whatever it was advertising!

      And Bob is right on the money: beauty IS in the ear of the beholder. How else could amateurs like myself receive such kind and appreciative comments time after time from those listening to our feeble attempts at the keyboard?


        Beauty in the ear of the beholder

        I agree that beauty is in the ear of the beholder. I can never get enough of calliope music even if it is a little out of tune once in a while. I think the writer was a little harsh with the circus operation overall including the calliope player. Maybe they did not advertise their show in his paper enough to suit the editor. Haha. One of the archivists where I work found these articles accidently while searching for something else one day.


          They do still exist!

          That 1859 circus may have been somewhat like the one I saw yesterday in Leadville. One ring, and, as you can tell by the photo, a heavily patched tent. No calliope, but the music was pretty good, all composed, recorded, and accompanied by one lone trumpet player. Not Ringling Brothers, but still fun.

          And Dave, I think you were a pretty good calliope player. Hope you get to play one every now and then.
          Attached Files


            ....At least not to the writer of these two articles! They probably said the same thing about bagpipes.

            I happen to enjoy both the calliope and bagpipes. Growing up in NH I listened to the calliope of the Shriner's Bektash Temple of which my father was a member. The Shriner's parades and football games were always special events, calliope included!

            For pipe bands , here is one of my favorite. I came across them at a CLEARWATER Revival a couple of years ago.

            "Beauty is in the ears of the beholder!"


              Well, ya know why bagpipers march when they play??

              1)They are trying to get away from that noise

              2) It's harder to hit a moving target!

              And yes, I like them too!
              David D.