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This profile was last updated on 3/28/14  and contains information from public web pages.

Mr. Charlie Sparks

Wrong Charlie Sparks?
Circus Historical Society Inc
1075 W. Fifth Ave.
Columbus, Ohio 43212
United States

 
Background

Employment History

  • Manager
    Sparks Brothers Circus
  • Owner
    Sparks World Famous Shows
  • Manager
    Sparks World Famous Shows
  • Rigger

Education

  • master mechanic of motor equipment
16 Total References
Web References
Circus Biographies S-U
www.circushistory.org, 28 Mar 2014 [cached]
Charles McGee Sparks was born in the state of Utah in 1882. At the age of seven he was adopted by J. H. Sparks, operator of the Sparks Brothers Circus and was with them until 1903 as an animal trainer and acrobat. Beginning in 1903 and continuing through 1928, Charles Sparks became manager and proprietor of the Sparks Circus, one of the finest twenty-car railroads in the east, with an outstanding circus parade. The Circus was known as a cleanly operated show both morally and factually and from the standpoint of not permitting any gambling or other vices commonly known in show business at that time.
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A certain amount of subterfuge was employed by a third party as Mr. Sparks had refused to make sale of the show to the American Circus Corporation many times prior to this. From 1930 to 1937, Sparks, operated the Downie Brothers Circus, one of America's largest motorized circuses at that time. It was sold at auction April 15, 1939 to a Mr. Bill Miller. In 1934, at the request of Ringling Brothers Circus, Mr. Sparks came out of retirement and opened a number two show called "Spangles. Charles McGee Sparks died on July 28, 1944, pre-deceased by his wife, Mrs. Ida Sparks, by some five years. Mrs. Sparks had been most active in his enterprises.
...
Charles Sparks 1876-1949
Murderous Mary : Weird True Stories
themoonlitroad.com [cached]
Throughout his life, Charlie Sparks, owner of Sparks World Famous Shows, knew how to please an audience. He was the son of English music hall performers and, by age eight, was performing as part of the highly regarded Jack Harvey Minstrels as a drummer and World Champion Clogger. When his father died, he sang and danced on street corners to support his widowed mother.
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Shortly thereafter, Weisman not only adopted Charlie, but took the unusual step of changing his own last name to Sparks - perhaps because it was a more "circus sounding" name.
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In 1901, when Charlie was 25, his father grew weary of touring and bought a hotel near Winston-Salem, North Carolina, adding a fishing lake and a small zoo.
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This tragedy left Charlie in full control of the circus. He knew that, for his show to thrive, it had to latch onto the vast network of railroads that were spreading across the country at that time. Sometime after 1903, he moved the show on the rails, starting with just one rail car, performing horses and ponies, and draft stock.
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Charlie became a trusted and well-respected figure in the circus world, and was a common sight strolling down the street in his Stetson hat and cane, a smoldering cigar in his mouth.
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But Mary was more than just a performer to Charlie Sparks.
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After Charlie married Addie Mitchell, the circus's head cook and animal doctor, Mary, in essence, became the child that this childless couple never had.
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Charlie firmly instructed his employees to be kind, gentle and respectful to all his animals, especially his beloved Mary.
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To avoid tipping off rival shows, Charlie kept his routes under his hat, and rarely advertised in circus trade papers. Mere days before his show arrived in town, his scouts would plaster the area with colorful posters.
On the morning of September 11, 1916, before the circus arrived in the small mining community of St. Paul, Virginia, a local hotel worker named Walter "Red" Eldridge spotted one of these posters. He was about to change the life of the Sparks circus forever.
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For the next few days, Eldridge was instructed according to Sparks' "gentling care" philosophy when it came to the animals.
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Hearing the screams, Charlie Sparks rushed over and put his arm around Mary's trunk, calming her down. He then saw the mangled body of Red Eldridge, the magnitude of Mary's actions suddenly apparent.

But what was even more frightening was the chant coming from the crowd. Anger had burned away the fear in many of the onlookers.

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Meanwhile, Charlie Sparks and his staff had a gut-wrenching decision to make concerning Mary's fate.
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Charlie was a smart businessman, and he knew that, if he didn't satisfy the public's desire for swift justice, his show could be financially ruined. But his final decision ultimately came down to his concern for public safety. "A human's life is something I don't want charged against me," he later claimed in a 1924 interview. "If people in the business get hurt, that's our lookout. But with an outsider - that's different."
With great reluctance, Charlie decided that Mary had to be put to death publicly.
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But then more problems arose for Sparks. The summer of 1916 had brought torrential rains that caused floods and wash outs all over the mountains. Clinchfield refused to send a derrick car all the way to Kingsport when an emergency might require it south over the Blue Ridge Mountains. If Charlie wanted to use a derrick car, he would have to take his circus south to Clinchfield's headquarters and repair facilities in Erwin, Tennessee.
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Some Erwin citizens and Sparks performers couldn't bear to watch the execution, and quickly fled the scene.
In an attempt to calm Mary, Charlie decided to have her walk to the derrick with the other elephants, trunk to tail, like they did most every day.
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One of the more persistent and bizarre stories surrounding this event is that, in an attempt to reclaim some of his financial losses, Charlie Sparks ordered his roustabouts to dig Mary up and cut off her tusks for a touring exhibit.
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Another story claims that the Associated Press asked Charlie Sparks to dig up Mary and hang her again for a photograph.
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Despite the pain, she would probably have been happy to see Charlie again for comfort and protection.
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these people where soooooooo SICK and I thought Charlie loved Mary :(~
Circuses - 1917
www.circushistory.org, 6 Dec 2008 [cached]
Sparks' Show - Sparks' Show, Inc., props.; Charles Sparks, mgr.; Clifton Sparks, treas. and auditor; Wm.
...
Charles Sparks, Mgr., Sparks' Show
Circus Biographies N-Z
www.circushistory.org, 6 Dec 2008 [cached]
Charles McGee Sparks was born in the state of Utah in 1882. At the age of seven he was adopted by J. H. Sparks, operator of the Sparks Brothers Circus and was with them until 1903 as an animal trainer and acrobat. Beginning in 1903 and continuing through 1928, Charles Sparks became manager and proprietor of the Sparks Circus, one of the finest twenty-car railroads in the east, with an outstanding circus parade. The Circus was known as a cleanly operated show both morally and factually and from the standpoint of not permitting any gambling or other vices commonly known in show business at that time. In 1929 the Sparks Show was sold to Mugivan, Bowers and Ballard. A certain amount of subterfuge was employed by a third party as Mr. Sparks had refused to make sale of the show to the American Circus Corporation many times prior to this. From 1930 to 1937, Sparks, operated the Downie Brothers Circus, one of America's largest motorized circuses at that time. It was sold at auction April 15, 1939 to a Mr. Bill Miller. In 1934, at the request of Ringling Brothers Circus, Mr. Sparks came out of retirement and opened a number two show called "Spangles. Charles McGee Sparks died on July 28, 1944, pre-deceased by his wife, Mrs. Ida Sparks, by some five years. Mrs. Sparks had been most active in his enterprises.
The Day They Hanged Mary The Elephant in Tennessee - BlueRidgeCountry.com
blueridgecountry.com, 1 May 1997 [cached]
Charlie Sparks, the owner of Sparks World Famous Shows, was a frustrated man.
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A circus's net worth was measured in rolling stock and elephants: Sparks' dog-and-pony show traveled in a mere 10 railroad cars, compared to Robinson's 42; Sparks could boast of only five elephants compared to Robinson's dozen.
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Never mind Barnum and Bailey -- 84 railroad cars was beyond Charlie Sparks' reach.
So Charlie did the best he could, traveling around the South, putting up advance posters and enticing folks with a noon circus parade prior to the day's two performances.
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And besides, Charlie Sparks was no fool: no town in Tennessee would invite his circus to perform with a certifiably rogue elephant.
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"Kingsport, the railroad, and Mr. Sparks are to blame for what happened to Mary -- not Erwin.
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Charlie Sparks did run a clean circus in an era when many circuses were not welcome in "nice" towns. I'm not sure if the statements about his being jealous of larger units are fact or speculation, I think speculation.
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