Entertainment and Recreation

The decades of the '1860's and '1870's saw the introduction and flowering of other forms of diversion. Some of these were traditional, such as the circus and the visiting lecturer, and some were new, like baseball and the beginning of what would be the bicycling craze. Presbyterian Church, 1865 Nearly every year the arrival of summer marked the beginning of the circus season. Beginning in late May and continuing through the early fall, Ann Arbor played host to as many as three separate circus companies. For weeks in advance, the newspapers trumpeted the pending arrival of some of the greatest circuses in nineteenth-century America. P. T. Barnum, Adam Forepaugh's Great Eastern Menagerie, the R. Sands Grand Multiserial Combination Circus and Homohipodeal Amphitheatre, and Van Amburgh's New Great Golden Menagerie Circus & Colosseum all appeared in Ann Arbor.

On at least five separate occasions throughout the 1860's the newspapers heralded Dan Rice's Great Show and School of Educated Animals. A master clown, cocky and pugnacious, Rice enthralled Ann Arbor audiences with his coarse humor and lively songs and jigs. He and his troop, upon arrival at the Michigan Central Railroad Station, would parade in costume through town before their first big show later in the afternoon and evening. Rice's entourage offered "moral" attractions such as "Excelsior," the blind, talking horse; the comic mules, "Pete and Barney"; and the not-to-be-forgotten herd of sacred cattle. Many of the acts came right out of the barnyard, yet townspeople seemed unmindful of the failure of the performances to live up to their advance publicity. For them the circus broke the monotony of small-town life.

While the circus was a summer attraction, theatrical performances appearedCircus advertisement, 1873 year-round at Hangsterfer's Hall and Hill's Opera House. General Tom Thumb, the midget discovered and made famous by P. T. Barnum, made at least three appearances at Hangsterfer's. Humorists Josh Billings and Artemus Ward also performed. Minstrel shows were a popular form of entertainment. In addition to such touring companies as the George Christy Minstrels and Ben Cotton's California Minstrels and Brass Band, Ann Arbor had its own amateur minstrels. Dramatic presentations included Edwin Booth in his role as "Hamlet," and Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack in their production of the "Scouts of the Plains."

The University's Student Lecture Association brought many prominent lecturers and social reformers to town. Speakers included Louis Agassiz, Wendell Phillips, Mrs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Charles Sumner, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Lucy Stone blackwell, Henry Ward Beecher, former Vice-President Schuyler Colfax, and Robert G. Ingersoll. Their subjects ranged from evolution and reconstruction politics to women's rights and literature. P. T. Barnum, in town without his circus, lectured appropriately on "Money Getting."

The reception which Ann Arbor accorded these speakers varied considerably. In the heated period prior to the inauguration of Lincoln in 1861, the fiery abolitionist Parker Pillsbury of Boston was forced to flee the Free Church when attacked by a mob of disgruntled townspeople. At this meeting the local newspaper reported, "some bones, as well as windows, doors, seats &c., were broken." Contrasted with this was the solemn reception Emerson received in January 1863. The Michigan State News compared him to "one of the puritanic fathers of the last century..."

The Civil War was partially responsible for the introduction of new forms of entertainment into town. Baseball began as a form of recreation among soldiers in army camps. Its popularity quickly spread throughout the nation. Many towns organized clubs to compete against neighboring communities.Dexter baseball team, ca. 1865 As early as 1862, Ann Arbor organized the Monitor Baseball Club. Baseball then was not like today's defensive game. Against the team from Ypsilanti in 1867, Ann Arbor squeaked by 52 to 48. Two weeks later in the match game of a three-game series Ann Arbor again triumphed. This time the score was 66 to 27.

The coming to Ann Arbor of "velocipedes"--or bicycles--was a fad, a diversion reserved for a very few. The real flowering of bicycling did not occur until the 1880's. But for a brief moment in 1869, the velocipede captured the attention of the town. Similar to a bicycle, the machine was propelled by turning the front wheel. This wheel, though slightly larger than the back, was not as big as the high-wheeled bicycles of the 1880's and '90's. In February 1869 an out-of-town manufacturer demonstrated the use of the velocipede. "The 'animiles' are now stabled at the hall over Besimers' Saloon," the Michigan Argus reported, "where the sporting gentry can have an opportunity to try their metal and their speed...we expect to see a street race at no distant day." In April two riders made the trip to Ypsilanti in two hours, no mean feat in that day of primitive, rutted, and mud-swamped roads. After some complaints, the city passed an ordinance forbidding the riding of velocipedes on the city's sidewalks.