Sunday, November 22, 2009

Six Shillings A Dozen

How I get from point A to point B is an unsolved mystery, but there sure is a ton of random information out there.

What started out as a simple perusal of recipes ended with a rather strange, yet minutely amusing piece of entertainment: The Flea Circus (See it for yourself, right here)

I've heard of all kinds of sideshow acts, but this one kind of threw me in a loop. Only because I've seen the damn things falling off my cat, which by the way was beyond discusting. However, thanks to modern medicine I had Revolution on him in no time and they all died suddenly a few hours later. Not to mention the fact, that this week I had to personally pull a big fat tick off my cat with tweezers. These have since been sterilized. Bugs belong outside, no? Apparently, it's the time of year when they all want in. I still have night terrors.

So why the hell would I want to see them playing football and hauling heavy shit around?!

Interestingly enough, this has been going on for a while. Since the 1800s. Back then, fleas were common, so tracking them down for shows was quite easy. As hygiene improved over the years - they were harder to come by and cost six shillings a dozen. During shortages, a single flea even cost two shillings! Here I pay to get them the hell out of my cat, and these buggars pay them to put on a show. Nonsense.

Handbills of an exhibition of performing fleas, 1820:

To train the fleas not to jump, they are put in a jar with a lid for three days. After this, they jump no higher than the height of the lid.

The fleas are harnessed, so to not escape and ruin the show...

1891 description of the harnessing procedure:
The flea is taken up gently, and a noose of the finest 'glass-silk' is passed round his neck, and there tied with a peculiar knot. The flea, unfortunately for himself, has a groove or depression between his neck and body, which serves as a capital hold-fast for the bit of silk. (Buckland, 1891, p. 119)

Fleas can also be glued to things to give the illusion of a performance... For instance, to the floor of the circus enclosure. Instruments are then glued to the flea performers and the enclosure is heated. The fleas fight to escape giving the impression of fleas playing musical instruments.

Lucky for performing fleas, they don't live very long. And with cruelty such as this, it's a miracle PETA isn't after them. Or are they? I don't know, do you?


Karina said...

Wow... that is so... weird. And kind of gross, but interesting at the same time. I've never heard of flea performances - one of the reasons I keep coming back to your blog. You write about such unusual things, I love it.

Flea Circus Research Library said...

Even before PETA, people were concerned over the treatment of Fleas, L.Bertolotto reported that his performances complied with Richard Martin's Act