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Everybody Loves a Parade

Jun 2, 2014 11:08 AM | 0 comments

Born in 1846, William Cody, better known by his stage name Buffalo Bill, was a jack-of-all-trades when it came to the American West. He rode for the Pony Express, scouted for the Union during the Civil War, and rode against various Native American tribes during the period of westward expansion. His stories would eventually find their way to the big top when, in 1882, Cody began his 45-year career as an entertainer and showman by creating a small show that would eventually morph into an extravaganza entitled Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World. He wooed audiences with daring reenactments of famous battles, feats of marksmanship, and buffalo hunts which, by the 1880s, were fast becoming a thing of the past. At its peak, Buffalo Bill's Wild West show included military battalions from across the globe and special appearances by celebrities like markswoman Annie Oakley and Lakota chief Sitting Bill. Cody became a global phenomenon, his show traveling across America and Europe.

Thus, you can imagine how exciting it must have been for Brooklynites in the 1890s, crowded into one of America's fastest growing metropolises, to escape the urban jungle and take refuge in the Wild West.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 16, 1898.

Buffalo Bill's Wild West came through New York many times, staying for periods ranging from weeks to months. Regardless of which borough housed the show, it always arrived with much fanfare. In 1898: "Early this morning a strange cavalcade crossed the bridge from Manhattan. The greater part of it was of a military character. There were some strange uniforms worn in addition to those of the United States cavalry and artillery. There were the red and blue of the Irish Royal Lancers, the white facing and glittering helmet and armor of the German cuirassiers, the long brown flowing coats and cloaks of the Russian Cossacks, the variegated hues of Indian blankets and feathers, the light brown and the shining buttons and enormous sombreros of Mexican vaqueros, the white waving sheets and red fez worn by the Arabians and so on through the entire gamut of garb and color" (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 24, 1898).

In addition to the military battalions, Native Americans in traditional garb were prominently featured. I love the juxtaposition in the photos below, rows of onlookers in black hats and black coats next to the white horses and presumably colorful clothing worn by the tribesmen.

Froger-Doudement, Raoul. Parade of Buffalo Bill. 1898. Brooklyn Collection, Brooklyn Public Library. 

Froger-Doudement, Raoul. Parade of Buffalo Bill. 1898. Brooklyn Collection, Brooklyn Public Library.

The 1898 procession was headed to an open area at the intersection of Knickerbocker and Myrtle Avenue and, although the weather wasn't all that nice, the attendance was high.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 28, 1898.

People poured into the city and waited in long lines to catch sight of the famous cowboy and his entourage and some people went to extreme lengths to secure tickets. A petty thief by the name of Louis Gerner, or Sweet Breads to his friends, stole a stack of tickets to the show in 1886. Gerner pretended to be a shopkeeper and attempted to resell the tickets. He was arrested. I don't know what his punishment was, but considering this next run in with the police, I don't imagine he got off easy.

During that same 1886 show a group of teenagers were arrested for passing around a growler. Katie Dooley (aged 17), Katie Kelly (aged 16), and Annie Callahan (aged 18) were under the "influence of drink" although, upon arrival at the police station, "the two Katies refused to be sworn, but Ann took the stand and swore that she hadn't drunk a drop." Best not to lie to judges in the 1880s -- Annie and Katie Kelly both received six months in the penitentiary (I know, right?!). Katie Dooley escaped with a mere 29 days in jail. "As the girls walked back to the pen, Katie Kelly exclaimed, 'That spoils our racket!' 'No Buffalo Bill show for us to-day!' chimed in Annie' " (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 4 1886).

I sincerely hope that Sweet Breads, the Katies, and Annie Callahan all had a chance to see Buffalo Bill's Wild West, as it sounds like it was quite a sight.