Friday, June 8, 2018

The swinging sisters from Port Huron or, more Madame Sanyeah …

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My cry for help on Phoebe the trapezist from Carlisle, and her alter egos, Ada and Maud, brought some immediate results! Betsy Miller from California (who has helped me with American delvings so many times before) wrote back…

‘I decided to look for that marriage. Didn't find it, but I did find John Conklin and M'lle Senyeah in San Francisco in January 1873. The 26 Oct., 1873, issue of the San Francisco Chronicle had an article about Sanyeah's Spangles. It begins, "In Justice Joachimsen's Court, yesterday morning, the suit of Phoebe Conklin and John Conklin against Thomas Quackenbush and Leander Sawyer was called. Mr. Conklin was proprietor of the circus which exhibited on Stockton street last Fall. The suit was brought to recover $200, the value of six red and green horse-cloths..." A long list of horse decoration and costumes for people follows and concludes with "one set of silver tights and one whip, which are alleged to be the separate property of Mrs. Conklin, acquired before her marriage." The article mentions that Mrs. Conklin is known on the bills as M'lle Sanyeah. It goes on to say that many of the items had been made by her "crossing the plains" from material purchased in London, Paris, NY, and other places. "Part of the articles she had made, thinking to play Mazeppa and St. George and the Dragon in this city (San Francisco)". She won return of the clothes or $200.’

So we have proof of Phoebe indeed, for a while, being ‘Mrs Conklin’. But, better, Betsy continues …

‘Another article entitled Romance of the Trapeze was picked up by several papers. I saw it in the Chicago Inter Ocean of Sept 26, 1874. It was bylined Port Huron (Mich) Commercial. Reportedly, a young woman who was appearing with the Washburn Variety Troupe came to the paper to say that she was the youngest of 3 girls who had left Port Huron 8 years earlier. Their father was a painter and photographer who gave up his art to enter the Methodist ministry which he imposed on his family with ‘stern vigor.’ She was 9 years old at the time she left Port Huron. She said the sister ‘next older to herself was the Madame Sanyeah we had heard of, and that she was legally married to the man whose name she bore ... He had taught her to join with him in the perilous flying trapeze performance, and she had shared his dangers, until one day in one of the most thrilling feats her nerves failed her and she fell. Her arm was shattered and when she left the doctor's care her career as a gymnast was ended, for one arm was stiffened so that she might never use it again. Then the younger sister had taken her place.... This younger sister said she had only 4 months experience and had had one fall that laid her up for a while, but ‘she liked the business after all’.

And, sure enough The Evening Star of Washington D. C. reported on May 4, 1874: ‘Maud Sanyeah, while performing at Mahanoy City, Pa., on Wednesday evening, last, fell from a trapeze bar, breaking her left arm. She was taken to Philadelphia and admitted to the Pennsylvania hospital.’ This fall would have occurred after baby Aurelia died 21 March, 1874.’

And here is an advertisement from December 1870 … ‘Samuel Sanyeah brought to this country for the opening of Tammany Hall .. in no way connected with his first Madame Ada Sanyeah (Mrs George Holland) he having separated from her (not she from him) on 6thAugust 1869’. Sam goes on to say that the famous ‘Leap for Life’ was not original to them, ‘we copied it from ‘Perrier’ the Spanish lady gymnast then performing at the Bridge Street Amphitheatre, Manchester England, December 1867’. And he’s performing with Maude. 


Well, Sam and Ada were in Manchester in December 1867, and there were two circuses -- Franconi's one featuring Azella , but no advertisements for the Spanish lady or the third-rate Amphitheatre



So, Ada did come to America. Did perform at Tammany and with Yankee Robinson .. and there she is advertising that she has ‘dispensed with male assistance’ and looking for work. There she is playing Mazeppa and The French Spy in Chicago, while Sam and Maude .. or Sam and ‘Mdlle’ are elsewhere … So where does Phoebe fit in? Phoebe Frost professionally known as Mme Sanyeah who ‘married’ 1872 in San Francisco …

And ach! another Madame S! Samuel advertises that due to Maude’s ‘illness’ he will perform 1873-4 with Mlle Leola. Little sister.? So who are Maud and James Sanyeah with Washburns in March 1874? A typo I think. And here is a Madame S – surely Phoebe -- touring with Conklin and arriving back from South America 1 April 1875.


And 20 January 1876, in Indianapolis, Maud has another son, in 1879 yet another, this time in Grand Rapids…

Now I’m in even more of a muddle than I was … and it seems I have far too many real or putative Madame Ss! I’m afraid I’m going to have to spend some more time on these ladies…

PS the 1900 census of the Kankakee asylum tells us that Sam was born in England in 1842, is 57 years of age, a printer and divorced … really?


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