Monday, December 16, 2019

Nixon's Parisian Hippodrome and Nixon's Amphitheatre in Chicago. (1872-1873)

James M. Nixon (1820-1899) worked his way from a mere horse groomer around 1836 to performing with various troupes in the 1840s and 1850s as an acrobat, ringmaster, and equestrian director. 

In December of 1871, he leased a lot on Clinton Street between Randolph and Washington Streets in the unburned west side just after the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, and in 1872, erected Nixon’s Parisian Hippodrome and Nixon's Amphitheatre, which was planned and erected within a fortnight (two weeks), opening on May 18, 1872. Hundreds of people were turned away on opening day because of overcrowding.
Nixon’s Amphitheater Clinton Street, Looking South from Randolph Street.
"There was a very large crowd in attendance upon the initial performance," the Inter-Ocean Newspaper reported, "large enough to test the strength of the house, the hasty construction of which had raised some doubts as to its safety. The performances were not of a very novel character, but good of their kind, and those of the audience who were able to endure the suffocating atmosphere of the interior ought to have been pretty well satisfied."

The front of the edifice (a large, imposing building) presented an attractive appearance, with gas jets extending the entire length and an elegant arch over the entrance. The auditorium is circular in shape and has ten tiers of seats descending to the ring. The interior was arranged with chairs from the ring to the canvas top, and a commodious promenade was adorned by panels elaborately illustrated with scenes from the sports and pastimes of former years, rendered by the well-known Chicago artist R.W. Wallis.

The Amphitheater was lighted with gas, thoroughly ventilated, and could comfortably accommodate 2,500 people. Admission to the show was 50¢ for the parquet (main seating area in a theater closest to the orchestra or stage) and dress circle (a curved section or tier of seats, usually the first tier above the orchestra), 75¢ for the reserved chairs, and 25¢ for children under ten.

Under this headline should be classed the pedestal gymnastics of Master F. Runnells, whose movements were so rapid as to literally shake the clothes off his body, resulting in an awkward predicament. Signor Francis’ juggling was an artistic performance, and Mr. H. Wambold introduced some striking feats in trapeze balancing. The dancing horse “Blind Tom,” under the skillful guidance of Miss Ella Stokes, was a gem in its line, and the posturing and contortion act or Mr. G. Wambold, the horizontal bar by the Laisesli Brothers, Kline and Murtz, the trapeze business of the Laiseli Brothers, and the show by Masters Fred and Barney, were all received with great applause. But the finest feature of the evening, indeed, the finest thing of Mr. George Wambold’s trained dogs and monkeys, which alone would repay a visit to the amphitheater. There was manifest on the part of the management a determination to cater only to the very best class of patrons with careful regard for delicacy and refinement. Mr. Nixon gives assurance that such will be the rigid rule of the establishment, and he also promises to bring out from time to time novelties and varieties of the highest order of excellence.
Chicago Tribune, May 20, 1872

Prairie Farmer, June 22, 1872
As proof of this, he announces for this evening the famous Yeido Japanese Troupe, who are said to be altogether superior to all the Japanese troupe's who have preceded them.
Chicago Tribune, July 27, 1873
In 1879, Nixon was said to be running a "Dime Museum" in downtown Chicago. During this time, he teamed with Oliver P. Myers in an attempt to establish a zoological garden at the Hippodrome's location, which went nowhere. Still in Chicago in 1882, when on June 22 he appeared at W.C. Coup’s circus during an engagement. In 1886, it was announced that Nixon had traveled to England to make arrangements for Cody’s Wild West Show’s first trip abroad.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

1 comment:

  1. I always like to hear circus stories and that color poster is excellent.


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