Magicians in Rural Missouri

Recently found myself re-reading “Theatrical Entertainments in Rural Missouri before the Civil War” by Elbert Bowen, published in 1959. You can see how exciting a social life I have. Anyway, this monograph is based on Bowen’s doctoral dissertation and discusses all aspects of popular entertainment from legitimate theater to circus boats to minstrel shows. Our favorite subject gets a quick but interesting mention.

The first magician known to have toured the state was Miss Hayden who performed in Jefferson City, Boonville, Liberty and Columbia in 1847. She was part of Palma’s Panoramas of Jerusalem and Venice. Nothing more is known about Miss Hayden, but she is one of very few female magicians to have toured this early in the 19th century.

Another magician, Professor Barton “Great Wizard of the West”, found himself “down and out” in Hannibal. J. W. Barton spent six months rebuilding his show and successfully premiered it on January 15, 1853, below is the advertisement for the show . He went back on the road and by 1860 was touring the mining towns in the Colorado Territory.

I really like Dr. Bowen’s summary of this period:

“The amusements and entertainments of the pre-Civil War period, then, covered a remarkably wide range, from such socially-destructive pastimes as drunken rowdiness to such culturally-constructive endeavors as lyceums and libraries. They reveal that our forefathers were curious about people and about “scientific” subjects. They demonstrate that early Missourians liked to laugh, sing, dance, argue, and attend to all the arts at their disposal.”

Looks like not much has changed…and thank goodness for that.

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