Red Cross League Amateur Circus at Eaton Stone Wonder Pavilion

By David Wilson

Many charity events have been held in Nutley over the past decades including the well documented Nutley Amateur Circus benefitting the Red Cross League in 1894.

Amateur Circus at Nutley, March 20, 1894, PS Newell illustrator

Eaton Stone owned quarry property on Kingsland Street where On3 is currently being developed and was famous for being able to throw a somersault from a bare-back horse. His love for the circus led to construction of a wooden pavilion with a sawdust floor and electric lights supplied by the Nichols power plant across the street.

The Red Cross was fresh off Johnstown Flood relief and was expanding their disaster and medical supplies services. Nutley’s talented residents formed a committee to hold a one-day, one-ring circus utilizing local amateur and professional show people.

March 20th would be the date for an afternoon children’s show and a three-hour nighttime adult event. People would sit on the soft side of pine boards that chilly day. Three hundred children accompanied by bona-fide nannies would be shuttled in stage coaches and carriages.

Publicity was by H.C. Bunner, editor of Puck Magazine, whose reputation ensured press releases appeared verbatim in New York publications and wealthy neighborhoods. Stockbroker Conrad H. Ray was called upon as a lightning fast ticket-seller, skills not needed when six hundred tickets sold out in advance. A special train ran from NYC and Newark to meet up with Montclair’s society people.

Eaton Stone home, 1886, Kingsland St, Franklin NJ, Nutley NJ

Nutleyites could be seen practicing acts on their front yards and attending daily meetings at the now white-washed and festooned tent. With Red Cross founder Clara Barton in attendance, organizers insisted the one-thousand-dollar goal be met, so no free passes. Peanuts, pink lemonade, and candy were sold by vendors using long sticks with baskets.

1894 Amateur Circus, Nutley NJ, Ringmaster James H. Bailey

The show began with Professor Robinson’s Original Circus Band leading a cavalcade of horses, acrobats, clowns, animal acts, trick riders, and performers.

The lady and gentlemen riders were Nutleyites, proud to show off their steeds and outfits. The New York and Orange Athletic Clubs performed ladder and trapeze acts. National Turnverein of Newark provided tumblers. Dr. Savage’s gym sent hand balancers.

Nonstop action included bareback riders displaying their prowess with Robert Whittaker, the best in the country. Marah Young appeared atop Magic and Monte Carlo driving them in tandem and performing acts of Haute ‘Ecole (dressage movements).

Eaton Stone, The Wonder, Amateur Circus, 1894, Nutley NJ

Clowns kept people laughing with antics and jokes. Local children dressed in animal outfits. A fencing exhibition wowed the audience. Al Geer and instructor Mike Donovan boxed a few rounds. Prof. Hugh Leonard wrestled a well-known citizen billed as “The Unknown.” Al Stirrat showed off his trained dog Sing Boo.

1894 Amateur Circus, Nutley NJ, Annie Oakley, HC Bunner, Nutley Historical Society

Famous Nutleyite Annie Oakley displayed her world-renowned shooting abilities atop Lady Surefoot, one of the all-time top circus horses. Annie showered the crowd with glass particles and gunpowder soot as she performed trick shots using glass balls.

The performance ended with the introduction of Prof. Ducrow’s trick mules, Nip and Tuck. He challenged anyone in the world to ride them.

Eaton Stone home, Brown Stone Quarry, Franklin NJ, Nutley NJ

These accounts and pictures are taken from the files of Town Historian John Demmer that include articles from Harper’s Weekly, New York Times, The Evening World, and uncredited sources. Nutley continues to be an eclectic collection of personalities and talents coming together to create a community. 

By David A. Wilson

Reprinted from Nutley Neighbors; Best Version Media, A community magazine serving the residents of Nutley, N.J.

David Wilson is the author of Fire in Our Lives, a book containing stories, experiences, and advice from his forty-year career in public safety. Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Google Play.

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NUTLEY Yesterday - Today, edited by Ann A. Troy

NUTLEY Yesterday - Today

Ann Troy & Vivian Noyes Fikus

Eaton Stone

Eaton Stone, who in his day was one of the best-known circus men in the country died Aug. 6, 1903, at his home on Kingsland Road in Nutley.

Eaton Stone, 1818-1903,© A Buccino, Red Cross

His reputation extended from one end of the country to the other.

Stone was born in New Hampshire, January 9, 1817, and began his circus career when a boy. He had travelled all over the civilized world and during his professional life was associated with many circuses.

Stone’s last public appearance in the sawdust ring was with the late H. C. Bunner’s amateur circus at Stone’s amphitheater, adjoining his home. The show involved Annie Oakley who had moved to Nutley after visiting Stone at his home.

After his retirement, his place was made the winter headquarters of the circus fraternity, and many a performer made himself famous as the result of the instructions received from the veteran circus man.

Stone took an active part in the affairs of Nutley some years ago when it was known as Franklin Township, and favored improvements and the advertisement of the place. His property became the site of Hoffman La-Roche.

Sources: Nutley Notables Vol. 1; Gravestone photo by Anthony Buccino.

The circus that inspired a town

 Annie Oakley, Eaton Stone, Henry Bunner, and the Red Cross

On March 27, 1894, a unique fundraiser was held in Franklin Township [Nutley], New Jersey, to start a local Red Cross chapter. The Nutley Amateur Circus was staged in an old training pavilion on horseman Eaton Stone's 40-acre farm on the outskirts of town. Sharpshooter Annie Oakley, Stone, and HC Bunner were among the performers. Nutley Museum Director John Simko presents the history of the where, when, how, and who's who of this event. Nutley Senior Librarian Nick Van Dorn moderated the presentation.

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