30 October 2017

Fred DeIvey, Lion Tamer

I haven't located him in any Rose Hill Cemetery database, but there is reason to believe Fred DeIvey is there.


It hasn't been easy tracking down someone who lived the Circus Star life, but what follows is what I've been able to find so far.

Fred DeIvey, according to his entry in the Social Security Applications and Claims Index, was born 21 June 1860 in Dayton, Marengo County, Alabama to John F. DeIvey and Susan Tarrant.  Other sources offer Fred's birth as being four to six years later.  I have precious little information about his early years in life, but an obituary suggests Fred joined the circus about the age of 15.

Fred was into his 30s before I find reference of him with an act providing entertainment at a Retail Grocers' Association picnic held the summer of 1896 in St. Louis, Missouri.  He was part of a "trapeze performance by the three Nonpareils – Mr. Fred De Ivey, Miss Blanche De Ivey and Sig. Frisco."

After a gap of about seven years, I find Fred had joined the staff of the Great Pan-American Shows.  According to the official route book of 1903 transcribed at CircusHistory.org, Fred was a superintendent of the cookhouse.  No doubt he was an entertainer, as well.  On May 19th of that year, at an evening performance in Logansport, Indiana, "Fred De Ivey fell from his stilts receiving a painful injury to one of his hands, which was dressed by a local physician."

Some time over the next five years, Fred began traveling with Haag's Mighty Shows.  He was advertised as a "Haag's Hustler" in the 5 December 1908 Billboard [from Google Books] -


I find Fred next in Jewella, Caddo Parish, Louisiana for the 1910 U.S. census, though I wonder if his and his lodger's occupations should be reversed:

DeIvey, Fred (hoh) age 44 / widowed / KY-US-US / Farmer, General
Davenport, I. (lodger) age 55 / widowed / Ireland x 3 / Trainer, Wild Animals

By January of 1915, Fred was still performing with The Mighty Haag Shows.  The outfit had been "playing Louisiana" since the prior November.  After breaking for the winter, The Mighty Haag Show opened their new season on March 10th, with Fred as side show manager.  According to the 17 July 1915 Billboard, "Fred DeIvey, who has seen service with the Barnum Show, Gollmar Bros., Lemen Bros., and other shows, [is?] ringmaster, announcer and superintendent of stock with the Haag Shows." Two months later, Fred had "severed his connection with the Haag Shows."

Fred must have left the Haag Shows to join the Metropolitan Shows.  A 26 November 1916 Pensacola Journal (Florida) newspaper article speaks to this operation closing its season and going into winter quarters.  It further stated, "Many features are planned for the stay here and Fred Deivey the French tamer promises the training of a new lion."

In 1920, Fred was stationary long enough to be counted in the North Augusta, Aiken County, South Carolina U.S. Federal census.  He was one of at least seventeen individuals with the occupation industry of "show business." It's possible, maybe even likely, Fred was in another winter headquarters.

A Greensboro Daily (North Carolina) newspaper article dated 10 April 1921 put Fred with the J. F. Murphy Shows, providing entertainment for a carnival hosted by the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks:

The Murphy Shows will present a very large and diversified line of entertainments, all of which are said to be strictly high class, moral and refined:  featured among which are Capt. De Ivey's Trained Wild Animals...

Another decade went by in Fred's life, and I presume he was traveling around performing with one entertainment group or another.  Then, finally, I find Fred DeIvey in Macon, Bibb County, Georgia.

An article by Joseph Bradbury written in 1976 for the Bandwagon periodical (vol. 20, no. 1) provided information about the 1930 and 1931 seasons of the Downie Bros. Wild Animal Circus: The Largest Motor Circus in the World.  Fred DeIvey was on the staff roster for 1931, but not as an entertainer.  Instead, he was now "boss carpenter."  In the spring, "final news before the opening said that the new cages turned out of the shops by Fred De Ivey had been elaborately decorated as had all parade vehicles."

Citing the 26 December 1931 Billboard, Mr. Bradbury included a description of the Downie winter headquarters in Central City Park at Macon:

"Upon entering the park one first comes to the office building and here can be found Charles Sparks, Clint Shuford, secy-treas; Charles Katz, asst. manager, also supt. of quarters. In rear are wardrobe rooms in charge of Mrs. Sparks. Next to the office are modern living quarters for the men. It has twenty 14 x 14 outside rooms which are completely furnished. In these quarters is a radio with loud speaker. Cookhouse and dining room are under personal direction of Jack Fitzgerald and meals are of the best. Dining room seats 48 at one time and meals are served hotel style. Next is horse barn, in charge of Melvin Arnold. It contains 20 head of trained horses and ring stock, 10 head of ponies, and 2 mules each in separate box stalls.

Main ring barn is an all brick building, 70 ft. in diameter, with no posts or obstructions. Merritt Belew has a regulation ring in the center where he spends 6 hours each day, improving the old and breaking in new stock. Domestic animal ring barn is 50 x 100 ft. with 2 rings, in charge of Jerome O'Hanlon. Elephant barn, 70 x 50, one ring, is in charge of Larry Davis. At present he is breaking the herd of 5 in a new routine.

Animal house, 60 x 50, is in charge of George Palmer. There are comfortable permanent cages. Paint shop, 100 x 50, is in charge of Irving Goseh. Mechanical dept., 100 x 75, in charge of Mr. McNeil, is a busy place, as every motor with the show is thoroughly overhauled and tested before opening of the season.

Fred Delvey has charge of building and repair shop and during the winter will build a number of large dens and grand stand. Blacksmith shop is in charge of Joe (Scotty) Nobel; carpenter and wagon shop, George Ingolls. At this writing 2 cages and 2 semitrailers are being built. Teddie Premont is supt. of the electrical department."

Fred DeIvey died at the Macon Hospital 17 May 1939.  His death was due to "myocardial degeneration and pulmonary congestion." His death certificate, which included information based on hospital records, showed Fred's address as "Central City Park," his occupation as "Retired Lion Tamer," and burial at Rose Hill Cemetery.


Two obituaries were published for Fred in the local newspaper, the Macon Telegraph.  The first appeared the day after his death, and incorrectly named him Fred B. Ivey.  The second article, published the day after his burial at Rose Hill, had a headline of Last Rites Held for Fred DeIvey: Former Circus Star and Lion Tamer Buried.  This article confirmed Fred was indeed laid to rest at Rose Hill.  Furthermore, it read (in part):

After 60 years in the circus business Mrs. [sic] DeIvey declined in health when he lost an arm in an encounter with a lion.  He had lived here in comparative obscurity for some time.

During the last 10 years he had devoted his time to construction of animal cages and other circus equipment.  For nine years he had charge of construction at winter quarters here for Downie Brothers Circus.

He left the show last summer to join the Barfield Cosmopolitan troupe with which he was traveling in Kentucky when he suffered a heart attack.

Mr. DeIvey returned to Macon several months ago…He had no near relatives and his scattered friends did not know his whereabouts.  He was saved from a pauper's grave by the generosity of his former employe[r] Charles Sparks, for several years owner of the Downie show…

Fred DeIvey possibly lost his arm during or after his time with the J. F. Murphy Shows described above.  And though Fred was granted a "proper" burial due to the generosity of his former employer, it appears no headstone was included.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blog Widget by LinkWithin