Olaf Petursson, 8
feet 8 inches tall, bidding farewell to Stewardess Linda Locking
at La Guardia
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?"
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
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
Article by Irving
Spiegel - The New York Times - Thursday, March 25, 1948
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