The James M. Cole Circus, Part Two

December 29th, 2014

By Alice Askins, Education Coordinator at Rose Hill Mansion

The Cole Family
 In November 1943, the Geneva Daily Times reported
 Cole, Circus Owner, Inducted Into Army

Penn Yan, Nov. 9—James M. Cole, Penn Yan’s 37-year-old circus owner and proprietor, passed his physical examination for induction into the U. S. armed forces in Rochester yesterday leaving Penn Yan with a group of inductees Monday morning.

Cole closed his circus several weeks early this Fall to come home and place his equipment in storage for the duration. He had previously been placed in Class 1A.

Married, Cole has a 3 1-2 year old son.

You might wonder what the army saw fit to do with Mr. Cole, and in fact it used his experience well.
Circus Teaches Army Says Penn Yan Soldier In Radio Interview

Penn Yan, Jan. 17 [1944]—Pvt. James Cole . . . now with a Transportation Corps in New Orleans, Louisiana, recently was featured on a radio program presented by soldiers  . . . over a New Orleans station January 8th[.]  Pvt. Cole told of the highlights of his career as owner and manager of the James M. Cole Circus  . . . He compared his training methods employed by men of the circus with those of the Army . . .  “In both outfits,” he said, [“]it is a matter of drill, drill and more drill until each man or animal learns to do a certain job in split second precision.”  Pvt. Cole also made mention of the problem of transportation—that of moving an army of entertainers as well as fighters.  He related that the Army studied the methods adopted by the circus in transporting their personnel and equipment.  Some of these methods have since been used, he said.   . . .

Pvt. Cole’s wife, Dorothy, and their 3 1-2-year-old son, Sonny, are . . .  looking forward to the return of Pvt. Cole when the family plans again to take up their circus life where they left off when Uncle Sam sent “Greetings” to “Jimmy” to become a part of the world’s biggest “show.”   . . .

 A year after Mr. Cole left for Louisiana, his wife Dorothy and son came to live near him in their house trailer.  The Daily Times reported

Sgt. Jimmy is in the work he likes and understands—transportation, and no job in the Army has proved any more difficult than keeping a motorized circus on schedule in all kinds of weather and over all types of terrain.  Jimmy . . . is helping the Army maintain the fine job they have been doing in moving men and supplies to all fronts to bring Victory to the American forces and their allies.

In December 1945, the Times observed that Mr. Cole had been discharged, and that

. . . he no sooner had returned home than his workers began to filter back, some like himself, wearing the discharged veterans service button.  A lieutenant of Marines, still on duty in Guam awaiting his discharge, wrote to Jimmy this week seeking a job as secretary.  . . .  A discharged sailor of the Merchant Marine called on Jimmy this week to arrange for a candy floss and novelties concession.  “All those three years I was on board ship – even when the torpedoes were flying—all I thought of was that concession. I figured it all out and the minute I was out of service I bought that candy floss machine and now I’m happy,” the sailor told Cole.

It is not unusual in post-war adjustments, Cole says, to find veterans eager to take up circus life.  They are restless, want to be on the move and the bustle of the traveling show business offers them the period of readjustment needed before stepping back into civilian life.  After the other World War, numbers of servicemen joined up with circuses to fulfill the urge to move with crowds.

Though German paratroopers did not rain down on the US, people must have seen images like this.
In The Decorative Arts of the Forties and Fifties writer Bevis Hillier studied the imagery of the post-war period in England, and found that circuses appeared frequently.  He believed that the circus stood for, and detoxified, the image of the army.  Mr. Hillier also argued that toy balloons stood for parachutes (something small, harmless, and fun that goes up, replacing something threatening that comes down,) and that mermaids, found frequently in post-war English imagery, replaced the threat of submarines.  I talked to a friend who experienced the post-war period in the US, and she thought this sounded a bit far-fetched.  She is probably right, but it is an interesting thought.  England, with its very different experience of the war, would have coped with it mentally in a different way than we did.  Still, if American soldiers after two world wars found themselves drawn to the circus – a situation where people and equipment move in organized groups for a purpose, but the purpose is fun rather than killing – it suggests that Mr. Hillier might have something there.  It seems reasonable that we would present ourselves with comforting images after stress and fear.
We do have this Times article about bubbles and balloons from October 1945, that ring a similar note:
 Bursting In Air

Don’t be surprised if the next thing is a bubble party.  Or has it arrived, with youngsters blowing bubbles at pedestrians up and down Main street?  Who starts such fads, anyhow? Let there be more, for people need escape from the effects of other and sadder globular bursts in the air.
Speaking of these inoffensive, multi-colored spheres that provide a chuckle even when one bounces on the minister’s nose or the teacher’s glasses, is this nation aware of the fact that the children of today have grown up without having had the fun of playing with toy balloons?  Toy balloon manufacturers went to war.  Their products became vital in meteorology and for other requirements of the armed forces.  . . .

It’s refreshing to welcome back the legerdemain of bubble-blowing.  . . .   here’s to bigger and better bubbles.

Bowl made in the US during the post-war period.

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