As I mentioned in my article on The Tennis Trio back in September 2016, which can be found here, researching information on jugglers from the Vaudeville era can be quite challenging. At least with The Tennis Trio, I was able to find several photos and the names of the performers. My latest project, which I’ll outline here, proved even more challenging, and produced less in the way of results.
It all began when I saw a program from a vaudeville show from 1907 on eBay. Specifically, it was for Battle Creek, Michigan (USA) at the Bijou Theater. In it, three juggling teams were mentioned – The Juggling Burkes, The Four Juggling Mortons, and The Three Juggling Jordans. The inquisitive nature in me as a juggling historian got the better of me. I had a curiosity to find out more about these groups from over 100 years ago. So, I started my research journey.
Researching obscure juggling groups from that long ago is difficult. It’s not only that it was pre-internet – it was before almost all technologies. Before World War I. It isn’t surprising that very little information remains about some of these groups.
In the program from Battle Creek, The Juggling Burkes were shown as performing. What else could I find on this group?
In the manager’s report from Keith’s Theatre, October 2, 1911, W.W. Prosser states that… The Juggling Burkes are best described as two young men in a club juggling act of excellent value. Their work is quick and showman-like throughout and their various stunts were well received, applause being frequent and a very strong finish was scored. The act is 9 minutes in length.
The Sunday Oregonian (Portland, OR) from January 7, 1912 states: The Juggling Burkes complete the roster for the week at the Orpheum. They are known as the lads with a thousand hands.
The Morning Oregonian (Portland, OR) from January 9, 1912 states: The Juggling Burkes open the bill with an unusually entertaining comedy. In club passing, an act that shows not only skill, but attention to artistic detail. The applause of the first-performance audience at the Empress Theater yesterday afternoon was that normally reserved for the “headliner” and “feature” acts, although these were received with no lack of enthusiasm. – The new bill is rich throughout for its appeal.
The Duluth Herald (Duluth, MN) from March 23, 1912 stated: The seventh act on the bill is by the Juggling Burkes, who are manipulators of Indian clubs. Speed is a feature of their act, and is the quality which distinguishes it from the ordinary juggling turn.
I was able to find out, by piecing together some obituaries and other mentions in articles, that the Juggling Burkes typically consisted of brothers William and John Burke, from Pittsburgh. At times, a third brother, Eddie, joined them and were advertised as The Three Juggling Burkes.
The only other things I could find were that they played in Australia in 1916, and that they were on the bill at the Orpheum in Ogden, Utah when the esteemed actor Eugene O’Neill made his theatrical debut in his father’s acting company with their 40-minute version of Monte Cristo.
The Four Juggling Mortons
In the Battle Creek program, a listing of The Four Juggling Mortons, along with the above photograph, is shown, but it isn’t apparent whether they were on the bill, or if this was just an advertisement for the group. Some additional research found several mentions of the group.
According to reports, the group consisted of four siblings (last name Morton). In the Victoria Colonist (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada) on April 8, 1906, it states that…The three male members of the troupe are all accomplished club jugglers and manipulators, but little Jennie Morton, a diminutive little miss, is the star of the team. In her Mandy Hawkins make-up, she manages to introduce more comedy in the act than would be believed possible in that class of entertainment. The whirlwind quadruple juggling of the team is so difficult that it must be seen to be appreciated.
Oregon Daily Journal (Portland, OR) from August 21, 1904 – The Comedy Jugglers, The Four Juggling Mortons, are the greatest jugglers ever at Portland.
The Des Moines Register (Des Moines, IA) from June 18, 1905 – The Four Juggling Mortons will introduce a number of new feats.
The Oregon Daily Journal (Portland, OR) from March 9, 1906 – The headline act that is offered by The Four Juggling Mortons at the Grand is a subdued juggling act.
Numerous articles from the period state that the team was successful, and often played return engagements on their circuits.
The Four Juggling Mortons must have lasted for a while as a performing group, for I found another eBay item featuring them – a poster from 1920 at the Washington Theatre (probably New York City).
The Three Juggling Jordans
The last juggling troupe mentioned in the Battle Creek program is The 3 Juggling Jordans (misspelled as “Jordons” in the program). They are listed in the list of acts that will be seen during the coming season at the theater. I found the least amount on this group.
Reno Gazette-Journal (Reno, NV) from April 26, 1905 – The 3 Juggling Jordans offer a great novelty club swinging act.
Portsmouth Daily Times (Portsmouth, OH) from November 5, 1910 – The 3 Juggling Jordans is one of the big time acts and will be hugely enjoyed by those interested in the art of juggling. The Jordans, by the way, put over a few tricks that no one before has been able to copy. The club shower executed by them toward the close of their act is by far the cleverest bit of juggling ever seen in any vaudeville stage.
As you might have noticed, I had some names (Burkes, one member of Mortons), but not all of them. Information on specific performers from the period associated with groups is hard to find. So, part of the mystery of these groups continues. If you know of any additional information about them, have additional photographs, or can help fill in details about them, send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll report back in a future update.