Recently the Vermont Journal/Shopper editor Brandy Todt was contacted by Black River Good Neighbors in Ludlow, regarding a discovery they made in the old Ludlow firehouse on Main Street in Ludlow.
The old firehouse is very cold and drafty in the winter so they decided to insulate the walls. When workers removed an interior wall upstairs to insulate they discovered the remnants of an old circus poster pasted on the inside of the outer wall sheathing.
Brandy was going down to investigate and invited me to join her. I examined the poster and determined it was a lithograph dating to the 1870s-1880s. It was made in smaller sheets, which would have been numbered so they could be pasted down in the proper order.
These colorful and graphic circus posters were made with individual sheets of the same size. When pasted on the side of a building they were traffic stoppers. They used monkeys, lions, elephants and female aerial trapeze artists to entice the public. They were designed to capture the viewer’s imagination and they did.
On the Ludlow poster there are scenes of monkeys in the jungle and young women wearing skimpy costumes performing aerial acts. Over-pasted on one section is, “Saturday, Aug 21” but no year. These stock posters were produced in volume without a date. This way the same poster could be used in any town or city by simply over-pasting the date that it would arrive in your area.
I searched old calendars from the 1870s and found Saturday, August 21, only occurred in 1875. A visit to Ludlow Town Hall and Town Clerk, Ulla Cook helped me search records. The Ludlow firehouse was built in 1875 so we have a match.
Of interest, what is now the interior of the sheathing boards of the firehouse were once an exterior wall of another building, probably an old barn. This circus poster was huge when new, perhaps 20’ x 10’ or larger.
It was common in those days to recycle an old building’s components to another building. The Chester Hearse House would be one example of such recycling. The hearse house was built about 1830 but some of the components date to 1800 or earlier.
Ludlow firehouse while undoubtedly comprised of new building materials of the day also used recycled components. The sheathing with the circus poster is proof of this. There are nail holes where there are no studs.
Now, a question I was unable to answer. Where did the recycled building come from? It could have been in Ludlow or brought to Ludlow dismantled on the railroad from miles away. Does a reader have any knowledge on this mystery?
P. T. Barnum’s circus would have had posters spread far and wide along railroad routes so travelers would see them. One source I found said these posters would be spread as far as a 50-mile radius. Today we have billboards along major highways. The same business practice was true in 1875.
While I still have questions I didn’t find answers for, I can give my conclusions. On Saturday, August 21, 1875, P.T. Barnum’s circus was in Troy, New York, not that far away. I should note that in 1875 there were a number of circuses in this country, many travelling by railroad. Just because I found Barnum’s for Saturday, August 21, 1871, does not mean the Ludlow poster is from Barnum’s Troy, N.Y. circus. But it is the closest I could come.
Here I give some history on the Ludlow firehouse. This firehouse was built in 1875 at a cost of $2,000. In 1880, 40 men were enlisted by the town to form a fire company and each man was paid $2 per year. Prior to this agreement, firemen were all volunteers but were exempt from paying poll taxes.
It was decided at a public meeting to purchase a steam engine. John Warner, William Stickney and Benoni Fullam were chosen for a committee to purchase an engine. In December of 1882, they purchased the ‘Rescue, No. 1.” This was a five-inch rotary machine from Silsby Manufacturing Company of Seneca Falls, N.Y.
This story does leave a couple questions unanswered but sometimes I go with what I have. Every now and then a reader after reading my article will contact me with more information. Let’s hope that happens with this story. I should also mention that only a very small section of this poster is present today. It cannot be saved.
This week’s old saying my mother often used. It refers to something that is 50-50. “It’s six of one and half a dozen of another.”
Man with mustache. Photo by Brandy Todt