Friday, December 01, 2006

Circus Pigs

Here's a great 1898 Barnum & Bailey circus poster promoting the feats of a "Troupe of Very Remarkable Trained Pigs." I find it unlikely that pigs could play the xylophone with any degree of precision (although I'm constantly surprised by what pigs can do, so maybe I'm wrong about this), but the other feats depicted were quite common in the American circus. William Frederick Pinchbeck popularized the "Pig of Knowledge" in the late 18th century, explaining how to train and perform with a pig in his 1805 book Expositor. Prior to the Civil War, the performer Dan Rice was famous for performing with his learned pig named "Sybil." Pigs were also central to the performances of the famous clown Felix Adler. He trained over 350 pigs during his career. Pigs were not just a component of the American circus, of course. I've recently seen a vintage postcard for sale depicting Vladislava Variakoene working with her pigs in a Russian or Lithuanian circus. Having not attended a circus in a while, I'm not sure whether pigs are still being trained to perform these type of feats. There are, however, several independent performing pig acts still out there that I'll have to blog about later...


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