Flea Circus

The earliest recorded instances of fleas being “trained” was in 1578 when Monsieur Mark Scalliot, a watchmaker, chained fleas with gold and silver wire.

The Surgeon, John Knyveton wrote in his diary of 1751 of seeing a booth in Durham Yard, London, where fleas pulled a “chaise” and performed like little soldiers. In 1764 John Mauclerc wrote of seeing an ivory chaise with four wheels being pulled by a flea. In 1857 Charles Manby Smith, the social investigator, wrote of paying a penny to see the spectacle of a flea, harnessed to a brass cannon on wheels, which it dragged along.

In 1892 Professor England’s Royal Exhibition of Performing Fleas came to Nottingham Goose Fair. The most notable flea circus trainer was Signor Bertolloto whos “Extraordinary Exhibition” of industrious fleas toured London, New York and Canada from 1834 to 1876. Bertolloto’s Flea Circus was destroyed in a fire in 1895.

Many flea circuses were sold as museum curios or closed down altogether in the 1900’s as fleas became hard to find owing to improved domestic hygiene and with the advent of the vacuum cleaner.

“Big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ’em. And little fleas have lesser fleas – and so ad infinitum.”

May I thank you for your kind indulgence in this brief expose of the Noble Flea. I hope that this discourse may encourage you to scratch around and do more research of your own.

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