Industrious Fleas

flea broadside

Monsieur Auguste Reinham’s Curious and Amusing exhibition of industrious fleas (broadside), [London, 1852]. Graphic Arts Collection GA 2014- in process.

Reinham’s flea circus on Leicester Square was one of many such entertainments in the mid-19th century. This rare broadside announces a troop of 100 fleas, which have been “taught to go through a variety of Performances truly wonderful…”

The program featured two fleas enacting a duel with swords “deciding an affair of honour”; a sybil or fortune-teller flea who promised to answer the visitor’s questions in six different languages; and California fleas digging, washing, and sifting for gold. A railway train of ten carriages (along with flea passengers and their luggage) was pulled by a single flea weighing 5000 times less than the train. Unfortunately, there are no pictures of the acts.

Here is a video of a 1950 flea circus from Birmingham:

hubertsfleacircusIn the United States, Professor Roy Heckler was the sole trainer, keeper, and curator of Hubert’s Museum on 42nd Street where he ran a flea circus from 1925 to 1956. After that, he packed the circus into one suitcase and moved to Sarasota, Florida.

For another view, borrow the video Midnight Cowboy. Located at Mendel Music Library (MUS) (DVD 208 ). The museum appears briefly.