More than ZIPPO Lighters


Sometimes my wife tells me ….”You’re just a bum in the park, even worse, you’re a Circus Bum”.

Well, maybe so , I was on the Circus for a long time. But even a circus bum gets to rub elbows with the rich and famous sometimes. Let me tell you about  when I was in Show Biz.  In 1962 I was on the Cristiani Wallace Circus, Italian Brothers with a famous riding act and tons of talent. We were playing in Pennsylvania, I was on the Concessions Crew.


The Cristiani Riding Act

bob circus

Yeah that was me, 22 years old and full of testerone.


We were in Bradford , Pennsylvania, A town famous for ZIPPO Lighters, but I ran into something interesting there and this is how it came about. We were setting up the tent and someone yelled at one of the aerial ballet girls, ” Happy Birthday Juanita”. A lady standing nearby said, Oh, is it your birthday darling, I’m going to help you celebrate. Well this lady bought wine and a cake and invited anyone who would like to come to her home.  Between shows I decided I would go and check it out, I caught a cab and went to the adress, it was a huge mansion and I went inside and they were serving wine. I looked around and there were paintings covering the walls, I was looking at one of several mostly blue figures when the lady said to me, My husband collects artwork, those are all Picassos when he was painting his Blue Period.

hsnley4   Mrs. Hanley in her home.HANLEY and the Train

The Hanleys receiving some Art pieces.

The painting looked so fresh I touched it. Later I heard it was painted about 1904.  There were also Manets and Cezannes hanging in the room.

Mrs, Hanley (Tullah) was born in Hungary, Her Twin sister was also at the party, there was a gong in the corner ,I couldnt resist , I rang it. Tullah started doing a belly dance. She laughed and said she and her sister once did a strip tease act. Mr. Hanley came in, he looked very aristocratic. I had another glass of wine and looked at the time. I told Tullak, Thanks for the wine its getting close to show time I have to go. As I walked out the door another guy who had came in with Mr. Hanley was also leaving and said he was passing by the circus and could give me a ride. He got into a brand new Caddilac. As we were going along I asked him What kind of work he was in and he said He was the Director of State Income Tax. And What about Mr. Hanley, I asked?
He said, “He’s an heir to Quaker State Oil”

Then he said something that surprised me and I thought about what he said for years. He said to me, ” You’ve got it made”. I asked , “What do you mean?”

He said, “You work outdoors under open skies, in the fresh air, you meet interesting people, you travel all year to new places and you’re surrounded by beautiful women.”  I thought, well. yes thats true. And I said, “Well, come join us, they’re always looking for help and you have a  talent obviously for book keeping.”

He said, ” Oh no, I have too much invested here to do that”.  Ah heres the Circus, I got out and thanked him. Later I thought about that conversation. He was wealthy and I was a circus bum….but I had something that he would like to have and couldn’t…it was a thing called Freedom.  It’s like the Kris Kristofferson song , Bobby McGee” that says:  Freedom’s just another word for Nothing Left to Lose.

Sometimes even  a circus bum gets to rub elbows with the rich.

I heard years later that a Picasso painting and a Manet was stolen from their home valued at more than a million dollars but were recovered when the thieves abandoned them in an old shack. Mr. Hanley passed away a few years later and his wife passed away in 1992. She donateed many works of art to museums. She said “Out of all my husbands collections I’m the one he likes to brag about”
I can jus imagine Mr. Hanley waiting at the back stage entrance with a bouquet of roses for Tullahs act to finish.


A couple of years later I was in Bradford again and I spotted  someone I thought was Tullah and I said, “Hello Mrs. Hanley”.   She said, No, I’m her twin sister Amy” So I took her in the Big Top and got her a ringside seat.  Some people even if they’re rich still have the courtesy to talk and act decently toward lower classes, something you rarely see anymore.




2 responses »

  1. I loved reading this post. You are such a wonderful writer. So glad you are my friend and that I have had the chance to know you.

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