Olaf Petursson, 8 feet 8 inches tall, bidding farewell to Stewardess Linda Locking at La  Guardia Field yesterday.

 

JOHAN OLAF PETURSSON

 

Circus of 1948 Rises Triumphant from Lavender and Old Lace Past

 

New Press Agent Invokes the Ancient Lore, Dating Back to 1800,

but the Show of Today Puts It in the Shade

 

The signs around town called attention to it.  A portly but erudite fellow made it official.  Without any fanfare, he said yesterday.  "We'll be at Madison Square Garden on April 7 until May 9.  The circus I mean.  You've heard of Ringling Brother and Barnum & Bailey?"

 

This Sarasota.  Fla., native by the name of Roland Butler - out from retirement in a swivel chair - got off on a new tack.  He has been delving deep into the circus history of New York.

 

"Know something, young fellow."  he said, "this metropolis had its first circus around 1800 on wasteland located on the northeast corner of Prince Street and Broadway.  They passed the hat around for the entertainers.  When they had enough in the till, they built a high wall to keep the non-paying customers out."

 

For authority, he yanked out a book, entitled, "Watson's Annals of New York," and thumbed fast through the pages: "Listen to this:  "The performance consisted of leaps, tumbles, flip-flaps and summersets, enlivened by the occasional grins and practical jokes of the clowns."

 

"The good people." said Mr. Butler, (reading from Watson) "were struck dumb with amazement by the approach of a band of splendidly clad horsemen, in the midst of whom rode a princess, as we supposed, gaily attired in habits of very unclean satin, bedizened with tinsel; a tiara of damaged plumes upon her head, and her cheeks glowing with rouge of the meat brilliant intensity."

 

Mr. Butler paused:  "I must remember to paraphrase that some time."

 

Suddenly, Mr. Butler's method became clear.  The comparative note became evident with this: "The 1948 edition of the Greatest Show on Earth has $500,000 worth of new-look lavish costumes.  We've come a long way from the makeshift stand of the original circus.  By the way, just what is this new looks?"

 

The string section was alerted: "We present the Circus Ball, a swirling rainbow-hued panorama of fantastically garbed stag-line, high-hatted dancing elephants, enchanting debutantes and chaperoning, careening clowns, so imaginatively and humorously conceived that it will live forever in the mind of a child."

 

The brasses began a muted accompaniment: "Dixie, another enchanting spectacle, a dashing antebellum sortie of bewitching belles, blue grass, blooded horses and gallant riders - with cavalcades of smart equipages and spanking teams at gay rendezvous in Stephen Foster mood and melody."  Nostalgically added Mr. Butler.  "The scholarly Mr. Watson would have much to record today."

 

The crescendo began lifting:  :For the first time in America such headliners as Francis Brunn the greatest juggler of all time; Unus upside down. gravity defying, equilibristic wonder of the world,  the Italian Zoeppes, earth's foremost, daredevil stop a lofty swaying reed: the Mandos Sisters, aerial thrillers; the Zavattas, comedy typhoons on wheels; Los Onas, high perch breath-takers; the Romanas, acrobatic halls of fire."

 

Who was this man Watson to write about the original circus?  The band was in full swing: "Rose Gould, lovely aerial star of stars, sultry, soaring swallow of the big top; the Alzanas, world-acclaimed high wire daredevil; the Goetchis, unicycle sensationalists."

 

And lo!  "Display No. 1 brings forth implacable mankillers from jungle and arctic wilds, trained but untamed, fear not, little one they're presented in three new-type steel mesh arenas but packed with savage maniacal fury."

 

Mr. Watson's "Annals of New York: came across the finish line, dead last.  "That original circus was okay.  I suppose, when this town was just a hamlet, but it's the greatest commercial emporium in the world today - it calls for the greatest show on earth."

 

But Butler sounded off with this final declaration" "John Ringling North is again producing the show; John Murray Anderson is staging the great spectacles, the red wagons and gold-leafed floats are flashing in the Florida sun, we're heading north on April 1."

 

Before leaving Watson behind him, Mr. Butler whispered: "We've got an 8-foot, 8-inch fellow by the name of Olaf, don't know his second name, but he's the tallest man since the beginning of time, wait till you get a gander at him, he can pick up a horse, run around a mile track and not be winded."

 

His full name is Olaf Petursson, 35 years old, of Iceland.  He arrived at La Guardia Field late in the afternoon, with the hope that he might find a hat, size 10, to fit him, some comfortable shoes, size 20, "and a girl more than six feet tall."  Between circus season - this is his first visit here - he plays the saxophone in a band, and finds time to eat twice the normal amount of the "average individual."

 

Article by Irving Spiegel - The New York Times - Thursday, March 25, 1948

 


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