Sunday, September 4, 2011

The menagerie of Artemus Ward

Darian from the Long White Kid blog emailed this to me today:

Ohinemuri Gazette 21 December 1898

But, this exhibition was not what today's reader may think it was, at first sight.

Artemus Ward was the invention and nom de plume of American humorist Charles Farrar Browne (1834-1867). For brief-lived entertainer who has been dead for 144 years, he's left a litter of references all over the internet. In the 19th century, "Artemus Ward, Traveling Showman from Baldwinsville, Injianny," must have been a household name.

His exhibition consisted of: "3 moral Bares, a Kangaroo ('twould make you laff yourself to deth to see the little cuss jump up and squeal), wax figgers of Genl. Washington, Capt. Kidd, Genl. Taylor, Dr. Webster, and other celebrated piruts and murderers"(Stories of Maine website). His "travelling menagerie" was part of his persona as an "old showman" who was also a political satirist of his day.

Come the 1890s, three decades after Browne's death, Auckland biscuit manufacturers James Milne Mennie and his partner William Dey purchased a copy of the Artemus Ward "menagerie" of clockwork figures for the 1898 Auckland Industrial Exhibition.

It is characteristic of Mr Mennie's enterprise that he has spent about £1000 upon the handsome bay that he has fitted np with his goods at the Auckland Exhibition. And one of its most striking features is the menagerie of 'amoosin' little cusses,' consisting of wax models of all sorts of animals, whose clockwork movements are a perpetual source of entertainment to visitors. It seems that Mr Mennie was abroad when the Exhibition was projected, and in his travels he came across this reproduction of Artemus Ward's famous show, and forthwith gave an older to the manufacturer to furnish him with an exact replica of it. There are no flies on Mr J . M. Mennie.

Observer 21 January 1899

By March 1899, the "menagerie" was up for sale.

Auckland Star 6 March 1899

What happened to the replica menagerie of "amoosin' little cusses" after that, is unknown.


  1. That would have been amazing to see. Great post!

  2. Well, who knew what an interesting story would lie behind that little advertisement. So I am glad I found it.

    "His first literary effort was as "showman" to an imaginary travelling menagerie. He travelled over America lecturing, carrying with him a whimsical panorama as affording texts for his numerous jokes, which he took with him to London, and exhibited with the same accompaniment with unbounded success".

    It's also interesting it was still being exhibited somewhere more than thirty years after his death. I wonder what happened to the original collection? You would think that there would be some images of it given it survived and was an attraction for quite a length of time. There don't seem to be any sketches or photos of the menagerie around. I wonder how Charles Farrar Browne came up with the idea, and who designed it? What happened to the clockwork collection after it was auctioned off in Auckland? So many questions which will probably remain unanswered.