IBID, page 4
16. “You are compelled to appear.” The full text of Athol Twainy Esq.’s letter of legal notification (October 17, 1900) follows.
To Mr. Thaddeus Grund
And to all other members of the Board
Of the Grund Traveling Circus and Wild West Show:
I have been retained by Jonathan Blashette to act as counsel on his behalf in the matter of Jonathan Blashette v. Thaddeus Grund et. al. in which the party of the first part hereafter prays nullification of the contract binding said youth to the aforementioned circus entity. I set forth herewith the following reasons for termination of his contract:
1. The Grund Circus has violated the aforementioned contractual agreement through base negligence, careless wardship and rampant malicious cruelty, including but not limited to the showcasing of the boy’s anatomical defects in a manner outside the boundaries of proper decorum and respect for the human condition. The boy was additionally chained among elephants, urinated upon (not by the elephants, but by a mischievous passing monkey), belittled, maligned and forced to endure an egregious assault upon his dignity by the owners and management of the Grund Circus.
2. The Grund Traveling Circus and Wild West Show, is, further, a fraud. While it resembles to some degree, a circus, its wild west show component has not been fully operational for some twelve years, and is, at present, made up of two bronzed Irishmen in frayed Indian headbonnets, a three-legged buffalo with some form of bison mange, one Annie Oakey (make note: Oakey, not Oakley) whose markswoman skills generally leave so much to be desired that audience members are forced to duck for cover when she fires at targets and skeets, one Wild Bill Hiccup (a purveyor of patent medicines), and Buffalo Bill Coby who contributes little more to the evening’s entertainment than stumbling about in a drunken stupor, wantonly spewing invective, and scratching his delicates.
The Plaintiff therefore prays release from said contract and swift return of the boy to his parents.
In their answer, Grund’s attorneys made much of the fact that Mr. Twainy was not an attorney, did not possess a law degree, and had never, in fact, even studied the law beyond a passing glance at his cousin Claude’s case books, (such contact often involving little more than the lazy tracing of his index finger around the embossed lettering on their spines), and was obviously preying on the meager financial resources of Jonathan’s mother and father. The attorneys cited the fact that Twainy had only once actually consulted with Jonathan after being retained to represent him, this conversation taking place over the telegraph wires and unfortunately truncated by a misapprehension of the word “Stop.” Furthermore, the attorneys for Grund called Twainy’s own sanity and credibility into question by reminding the court that Twainy had once vouched for the sound mental faculties of Mary Todd Lincoln even as she was discovered wading in a Washington D.C. duck pond wearing a crown of Christmas garland and telling off-color jokes about Secretary Seward; instigated an ill-founded lawsuit against songstress Jenny Lind for shattering and collapsing the north wing of London’s Crystal Palace; and posited in a recent Chatauquan lecture that the likes of the Tilden/Hayes presidential debacle wasn’t anomalous at all, but would, no doubt, occur again, perhaps early in the twenty-first century, with the Republicans again besting the Democrats through wantonly political, extra-constitutional judicial intervention. JBP.
17. For Jonathan, it was a Christmas without much cheer. In the midst of all the legal wrangling, Jonathan received news that his favorite cousin Tibalt Fluck, a chaplain serving with American soldiers fighting the Philippine insurrection, had been wounded in the throat (and following a laryngectomy would only be able to communicate through compelled belches). Jonathan’s worries didn’t stop here. At a time when most boys his age were welcoming puberty with good-natured youthful insouciance, Jonathan was forced to endure bouts with ptomaine poisoning and ringworm, and fallout from the nearly fatal practical joke he and several members of the Clown Corps played on High Wire Harriet. By the time of Emmaline’s visit, Jonathan was dejected and emotionally frayed.
Emmaline writes home to husband Addicus:
Our son is dejected and emotionally frayed. It is both sad and ironic to see him this way. Sad because he has always been such a happy boy, ironic because he is generally surrounded by clowns.
I will be so relieved when this lawsuit is behind us and we have won the boy’s release.
In the meantime I will try to cheer him as best as I can.
Do not forget to repair that hole in the roof of the chicken coop. And don’t eat up all my preserves. And don’t forget to snuff out the candles on the Christmas tree when you retire each evening. We have lost our home once to fire, and I will not have it happen again!
18. The fire was quickly contained. Emmaline pretended not to notice the smell upon her return. Addicus, had, after all, patched the hole in the roof to the chicken coop and left all of her preserves untouched.
19. It was Twainy who first introduced Jonathan to the doctor. Dr. Meemo’s claim that he had surgically detached a third leg very similar to Jonathan’s is hard to confirm in the medical literature of the day. The Journal of American Amputation (February, 1892) does report an operation in which Meemo successfully removed an extraneous nipple from equestrian Kip Von Arnsburg in 1897, and another performed apparently with equal success in which Meemo skillfully excised a full tuft of superfluous eyebrow from the wife of an unnamed United States senator. Neither Twainy nor young Jonathan had any reason not to believe that Meemo could remove the extra leg with equal aplomb, and while they waited for the resolution of the lawsuit, Toby launched a fundraising campaign among circus employees to pay for his friend’s surgery.
20. Winter quarters were anything but accommodating. Oronwaggee was originally a shipbuilding center. It flourished for approximately six months in 1877. Situated nearly 150 miles from the nearest navigable waterway, the town’s location quickly became problematic for its numerous ship construction outfits, lured to the area by cheap labor and a surfeit of whores. Upon the completion of each new ship, attempts would be made to transport the vessel overland, each craft ultimately left to die a slow, weather-assaulted death in one of the area’s corn and wheat fields, except for those few upon which salvage rights by local farmers were successfully exercised. One such former “land” ship, the Persian She-Ghost, became home to Jonathan and Toby when their circus trailer was overrun by field mice. Oronwaggee Public Library Historical Clipping File.
21. It was a long winter. 1900 Farmer’s Almanac.
22. The raffle put Jonathan a few dollars closer. Some sources say the raffle raised a little over $60. Other sources put the figure closer to $70. A third source inexplicably converts this amount to yen.
23. The circus troop was never at a loss for entertainment. Performers all, Jonathan’s circus family found imaginative ways to entertain one another during the long, dark nights of their Midwestern winter encampment. (Grund discouraged his performers and roustabouts from venturing into town for their diversions due to the risk of altercations with local rubes.) For many of Jonathan’s colleagues these vaudeville-like romps offered the opportunity to exercise talents that weren’t being tapped by Grund who preferred to pigeonhole his performers by their physical defects and/or bigtop performance skills. A sample “programme,” which I discovered among Jonathan’s papers, follows. Apparently, the boy played the role of mere audience member that night.
Flora Dora Galora Our very own Gibsonian delights will entertain you with a high-kicking, toe-tapping musical medley of madcap merriment. This will be followed by a heart-stopping bottle-washing competition.
Lee and Lipner Move aside Weber and Fields! Lee and Lipner are rip-roaringly funny and gay. They throw barbs while folding newspaper into oriental oragami, then engage in a madcap bottle-washing competition.
The Man of 1000 Responses Jinks Nyberg wil
Our Pint-sized Sarah Bernhardt Wee Clarissa McGill will play Lady Macbeth as we have never seen her before—only 27 inches tall! Miss McGill will then weave a small bath mat.
Husky Henry Holton delights and confounds with his perorations on the excesses of capitalism while whittling wooden fruit.
The Norwegian Songbird Who needs Jenny Lind when our very own Jean Norvist will stand before you and sing your tear ducts dry with her heart-wrenching ballads of love and loss and incontinence. She will then circulate through the audience, sniffing proffered objects and telling where they have been.
The Goony Goofballs will pound your funny bones with verbal ballpeen hammers, they are that funny. A madcap diversion that will have you howling, but then weeping your tear ducts dry over tales of personal loss through government-sanctioned deprivation.
The evening will close with a Sousa march in a high-flying patriotic tribute to our fallen American heroes in the War to Suppress Arrogant Philippine Self-determination.
Afterwards Mr. & Mrs. Grund will offer punch and pastry in the foyer.
24. Jinks Nyberg’s career was long and varied. Among the many stops made by Jinks in his peripatetic performing career was a brief stint on the vaudeville stage as half of the comic duo of Jinks & Skinks. The two comedians were best known for their send-up of one of the first transcontinental telephone conversations—a party line involving Alexander Graham Bell from the New York City offices of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, his assistant Thomas A. Watson from San Francisco, and others, held on January 25, 1915. One of the more sanitized versions of the sketch survives. Nyberg Collection, Mid South Community College Theatre Archives.
BELL: Mr. Watson, come here, I want you.
WATSON: I cannot do that, Professor Graham Bell.
BELL: And why is that, Mr. Watson?
WATSON: Because you are in New York City and I am in San Francisco. We are 2,572 miles apart.
BELL: And yet we are talking to one another by way of this miracle of science and industry at this very moment, and with no delay whatsoever.
WATSON: Yes! Yes! It is a wonder and a miracle!
(At this point the conversation is joined by Theodore Vail, president of American Telephone and Telegraph, speaking via a spur line to Jekyll Island, Georgia.)
VAIL: Hello! Hello!
BELL: Mr. Watson, your voice has changed.
VAIL: It is not Mr. Watson. It is I, Theodore Vail, speaking to you from the Goober State.
BELL: And what has happened to Mr. Watson?
WATSON: I am still here. I understand there is someone else who wishes to join the conversation.
BELL: Ahoy! Who is there?
O. W. HOLMES: It is I, Oliver Wendell Holmes. Junior. In our nation’s capital. I have President Woodrow Wilson seated next to me. He is eager to speak to all of you.
BELL: By all means, ask him to join us.
O. W. HOLMES: (muffled) Take the mouthpiece from your ear, Mr. President. You have reversed the apparatus in a comical manner.
WILSON: (muffled) Dear me. Yes, I see.
O. W. HOLMES: One moment, gentlemen. It appears that the president is having another little stroke.
(Momentarily, President Woodrow Wilson joins the conversation.)
PRESIDENT WILSON: Good afternoon, good afternoon. What a miracle of science to be having a conversation from points far flung!
BELL: Ahoy, Mr. President! It is indeed an honor and a privilege to be speaking to you across such a distance.
PRESIDENT WILSON: May I say it?
BELL: Say what, Mr. President?
PRESIDENT WILSON: Tee hee. Come here, Watson, I need you.
BELL: Not need you, Mr. President. I want you.
PRESIDENT WILSON: Well, I want you too, sugar. Tee hee. Oh dear, I just made a monkey of myself there, didn’t I?
WATSON: It’s all the same to me.
VAIL: Mr. Watson! Come here! I want you! Ho ho!
PRESIDENT WILSON: Yes, come here this instant, you servile little man. Tee hee.
WATSON: I’m hanging up.
BELL: I believe we have offended Mr. Watson. (Another moment of silence.) This, gentlemen, concludes our demonstration of long distance communication. Please help yourselves to wine and cucumber sandwiches. What a day. What a day.
25. Jonathan’s legal fees were paid by a mysterious benefactor. There is a difference of opinion as to the true identity of this benefactor. Some say that it was Pettiville merchant J.P. Morgen. Morgen was occasionally confused with millionaire financier J.P. Morgan. The two did resemble one another, even down to their bulbous noses and rosaceous complexions. However, Morgen rarely left Pettiville, and Morgan rarely came to Arkansas. Additionally, Morgen hailed from the rural Ozarks and took no pains to change his accent or retire his overalls or fix his teeth or divorce his sister.
26. The lawsuit was finally settled. Box 17, Legal Documents, JBP.
27. The ether had already been administered. The heroics as described by Nurse Monette (New England Medical Union Oral History Collection) were only slightly exaggerated in the yellow press. Jonathan’s “rescue” by a motley band of side show performers and irate Blashette family members was the stuff of the “mellerdrama” or some heart-stopping Kinetoscopic short. What we know to be true is that the rescue party did indeed storm the operating room just as Dr. Meemo was positioning the amputation saw, not, in fact, over the tertiary leg—nor any leg, for that matter—but over Blashette’s right arm. Numerous eyewitness accounts attest to Meemo’s advanced state of inebriation at the time and the subsequent Keystone Cops-like arrest of both Meemo (for public intoxication and potential malpractice) and several of the more anatomically intriguing members of the sideshow brigade who mistakenly entered the children’s ward and frightened the youngsters into eating not only everything on their dinner plates but their paper napkins as well.
28. “I, Jonathan Blashette, make these solemn vows.” JBP. In addition to vowing never again to seek removal of the extraneous leg, Jonathan made a number of other promises to his thirteen-year-old self. Below is the full text of Jonathan’s “Promissory Note to Myself.”
On this day, February 12, 1901, I, Jonathan Blashette, vow the following:
1. Given the grave risk of accidental removal of a non-designated appendage, I will never again seek to dispatch any part of my body with which I have been either blessed or inconvenienced by the good Lord, nor will I ever again complain of my lot on this earth.
2. I will apply myself to diligent study and mold myself into a man to make my mother and father exceedingly proud.
3. I will marry a woman with large and exciting breasts, like those on Batanya Batavia, the hatchetman’s assistant.
4. I will seek a career in either the ministry or as a fitter in women’s foundation furnishings.
5. I will serve my country and my fellow man through whatever means are offered to me but will never—regardless of financial incentive—dress up like a clown because some people find clowns scary or at the very least comically unengaging.
6. I will buy my mother an emerald choker, one size too large as a margin of safety.
7. I will transport myself thirty years into the future as did the gentleman in Mr. Wells’s novel The Time Machine and I will find out where my future self will be stationed at that particular moment, and I will hide behind a hedge with the intention of jumping out and startling him but because my intended victim will remember being the me of thirty years previous, he will be prepared for this prank and will not be in the least bit frightened but will wag a finger at me, and say, “I’ve been waiting for you, rascal!” and invite me to sup with him and he will let me drink beer because he will know how much he wanted to but was prevented from doing so when he was thirteen, and it will be a very droll evening indeed.
8. I will become one of Governor Theodore Roosevelt’s
HOME AGAIN, HOME AGAIN, JIGGITY JIG
1. The homecoming was bliss. Jonathan’s Diary, JBP.
2. The next morning he entered Pettiville High School. Some say through the north door, others the south door; there is also a small camp that believes that Jonathan entered the school through the kitchen and nipped a egg cream cup as he passed. Obviously, this is inconsequential. (It is also becoming obvious that this book has been seriously over-researched.) The most salient fact here is that Jonathan was home safe and sound, and back in school. His circus days were over. Life for young Jonathan Blashette had finally taken a promising turn.
3. Even at this early age, Jonathan had become a crusader. Always a compassionate child, Jonathan’s concern for others less fortunate than himself and especially for the maltreated and oppressed of society only grew stronger as he matured into late adolescence. Living with side show performers whose physical defects had left them open to abuse and societal marginalizing only strengthened the boy’s resolve to fight for the rights of all those who were similarly relegated. This group included Native Americans as well. I discovered among Jonathan’s papers a very telling letter from author L. Frank Baum, dated January 27, 1904. It was apparently written in response to one that Jonathan had sent him. (Jonathan’s letter no longer exists. According to Baum, the drawing that accompanied it was immediately destroyed; one suspects that the letter itself quickly met the same end.) Nonetheless, the beacon of Jonathan’s courage shines through by inference.
Dear Master Blashette,
Thank you for your letter of January 22. For a young man of fifteen you express yourself quite well. If you were to choose a career as a writer you would be well served by your talent.
While I commend your command of the language, the content and thrust of your missive was most unwelcome. Your anger is curiously misdirected, or shall I say, microscopically directed. Is my position not one shared by hundreds of thousands of other white Americans? Will you write vituperative letters to all of these good people as well? You will be a busy lad. I suggest you get to work without delay!