Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
In another week and a half, folks will gather at the Depot in Olive Hill for another Fall Y’all event. It’s a wonderful annual tradition. The Depot area has always been a draw for entertainment and celebrations. Once upon a time, though, that meant the circus coming to town.
A September, 1906 item from the Olive Hill Times explains that the Sun Brothers Railroad Shows would soon be in town, complete with elephants, clowns, trained dogs, acrobats, contortionists, and more.
After the parade through town, the show offered two daily performances. And lest you think this might be an excuse to get up to mischief, the Sun Brothers were adamant that their shows were legitimate and family friendly, with no gambling or games of chance allowed.
While it’s interesting to see that travelling shows used to target Carter County audiences – and some might even be envious of the kind of shows that used to pass through our towns – it’s equally as interesting to note that top billing was once given to an act known as “Orrin Hollis, champion of champions (and) principal somersault rider.”
Somersault riding, apparently, relating to acrobatics performed on horseback. We use the term “dog and pony show” today to indicate performances or events that are overblown, or where the promoters are trying to sell you something other than the entertainment. But it’s good to remember that this slang was born because of acts exactly like the Sun Brothers show, with their heavy reliance on horse and pony riders, like “Master George Sun,” as well as trained animal acts such as, “Mlle Fernandez and her school of educated dogs.”
It’s hard to imagine modern audiences getting excited for such shows, but you never know – everyone loves cute critters, and acrobatics are always impressive. Especially on horseback.
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