On January 14, 1835, a group of 135 young, hard-nosed, blue-blooded, business-minded farmers and menagerie showmen and corporations, almost all from the vicinity of Somers, gathered in the ballroom of the Elephant Hotel. For some time, these men had been involved in an increasing number of circuses and menageries, and they were eager to solidify their positions as America’s premier showmen. By the end of the day, they had formed a powerful “trust” called the Zoölogical Institute, capitalizing a travelling menagerie show by that name. They then controlled at least thirteen menageries and three circuses—literally every show on the road except for six resistant circuses. Shows under their control could then travel on lucrative routes designed for efficient operations and avoiding all competition. Although the Institute itself did not survive the financial panic of 1837, three of its survivors, John J. June, Lewis B. Titus, and Caleb S. Angevine, from nearby North Salem were owners of a joint stock company which continued to thrive. They and their associates, Jesse Smith and Gerard and Thaddeus Crane, formed the core of another group of powerful showmen calling themselves the “Syndicate,” according to Earl Chapin May. N With their relatives and friends, they would maintain a firm monopoly on both the menagerie and circus businesses lasting until 1877. They were able to combine their capital, to launch major expeditions abroad to capture exotic new animals, and to buy out competing shows. They soon earned the somewhat derogatory nickname “The Flatfoots,” allegedly because they thwarted all competition, threatening to “put their foot down flat” on anyone who tried to enter the menagerie business without their permission.
Circuses and menageries originally developed in competition with each other. They sought the same audiences, and they often coordinated their productions so that circuses played in the afternoon and menageries were displayed at night in the same location. In 1832, Joshua Purdy Brown, a cousin of Hachaliah Bailey, toured his circus with a menagerie for the first time. Circuses and menageries prior to that had been known to be mistrustful and jealous, and even stole each other’s livestock on more than one occasion. In the ‘40s, differences between the two kinds of travelling shows grew less distinct. In 1851, Aron Turner, a North Salem shoemaker and an old friend of Hachaliah Bailey, grew tired of putting up with monopolistic control of wild animals by the Syndicate. At the urging of his manager and son-in-law, George Fox Bailey, he leased his animals from them outright for use in his own circus. He thus became another early circus owner to completely combine the menagerie and the ring acts into a unified performance. This Bailey was another one of Hachaliah’s nephews from North Salem, who would go on to become one of the top circus showmen in the country when he later inherited Aron’s circus. He died in 1903, calling himself the last of the Flatfoots. Syndicate shows quickly followed Brown’s, Turner’s and Bailey’s leads, and by the late 1850s menageries were completely absorbed into circuses (Hoh, 1990, p. 57).