Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Carl Hagenbeck

Well, that was some intermission, hey folks? We're back from winter quarters (where yours truly bought a house and got engaged) so on with the show!

This week, we're talking about Carl (Karl) Hagenbeck. Born in 1844 to a fishmonger and sometime exotic animal dealer, Hagenbeck received his first exotic animals, several seals and a polar bear, at the age of 14. By 22 he was already running his father's ever growing animal trade, eventually expanding it to the point where it required several building to house his collection. Hagenbeck frequently joined the company's expeditions to the farthest reaches of the globe, bringing first animals and then natives of the countries he visited and exhibiting them at his Hamburg Thierpark and touring them through Europe. It's possible that Hagenbeck's exhibitions may have even inspired the notorious "Human Zoo" built by Geoffroy de Saint-Hilaire at the Jardin Zoologique d'Acclimatation as well as numerous others that followed. 

When Hagenbeck toured with a group of Sami natives who were at the time being displayed alongside reindeer captured in Lapland, all eight of the Sami contracted smallpox with a few weeks and died. Shortly thereafter, five natives of Tiera Del  Fuego died of pneumonia. Afterwards, Hagenbeck vowed never again to exhibit human beings (though he did go on to hire natives as animal handlers on future tours). 
While his treatment of human beings may have been less than laudable, Hagenbeck's views on animal training and exhibition were another story. At the time, the prevailing line of thought was that animals had to be trained through fear, often through the use of whips or blacks fired nearby. Hagenbeck believed that animals respected not brute force, but kindness and responded better to positive reinforcement than negative, a view that most trainers after him eventually adopted.

In 1907, Hagenbeck opened his Tierpark Hagenbeck (not to be confused with his previous Hamburg Thierpark) in Stellings, Germany. It was here that he made one of his most lasting cultural contributions, not to the circus, but to zoo design. Hagenbeck's new Tierpark featured exhibits designed to mimic an animal's native habitat, rather than the concrete and iron bar design common at the time. In fact, many of the Tirepark's exhibits had no bars whatsoever, using instead moats that kept animals away from both the park's visitors and from one another, allowing the park to exhibit animals from the same regions together despite being predator and prey in the wild. Visit any major zoo in the western world and you'll likely see Hagenbeck's designs at work. Or, see the original Tierpark, still open in its original 1907 location. Of course, if you can't make it to Germany, there's always Hagenbeck's autobiographical "Beasts and Men, Being Carl Hagenbeck's Experiences for Half a Century Among Wild Animals"

Hagenbeck also lent his name, albeit unwillingly to the second largest circus of its time after Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey. Hagenbeck had toured Europe and the United States with his own circus starting in 1903, handing over ownership for the 1905 and 1906 seasons were run to John Havlin and and Frank Tate. The show was eventually surrendered by Havlin and Tate as payment for a debt to partners Ben Wallace and Jerry Mugivan who named their new show the Hagenbeck-Walace Circus, banking on Hagenbeck's name and reputation. Hagenbeck sued as he'd given over no rights to the name beyond the original sale to Havlin and Tate. As Hagenbeck was in Germany at the time finishing work on the Tierpark, he was unable to plead his own case in an American court and subsequently lost the suit. Hagenbeck-Wallace went on to a successful premier in the spring of 1907, Carl Hagenbeck himself died in 1913, the same year the show was again sold, this time to Edward Ballard.

Next week we'll talk about the railway disasters that plagued the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, including one of the worst in circus history.