Notable People » Seth Benedict Howes (1815 - 1901) - Circus owner, entrepreneur and showman
This amazing man was a showman and entrepreneur and when he died in 1901 left a fortune by today's standards, let alone those of 1901! Some authorities have it as $2m, one, the author below has it at TEN times that! The material below was sent to us by a correspondent. It's a transcript of a self-published article called "The Life of Dan Rice" by Maria Brown his niece in 1901. It appears from the material that Rice was an employee and then an associate of Seth Howes. He has some interesting perspectives on Howes versus Barnum.
"A MILLIONAIRE SHOWMAN" -- BARNUM WAS BY NO MEANS THE WEALTHIEST CIRCUS MAN -- UNCLE DAN RICE TALKS ENTERTAININGLY ABOUT SETH B. HOWES, WHO HAS ROLLED UP TWENTY MILLIONS AS HIS PROFITS FROM THE SAWDUST RING.
" I regard Seth B. Howes as one of the most famous showmen the world has ever known. Barnum? Why, Barnum was nowhere in comparison. In business ability and enterprise, the two things Barnum was most noted for, this man I am telling you of was far and away his superior. Why, B----- , well, Barnum is dead, so we won't try to belittle him, but my man is alive and hearty. Barnum left a couple of millions or so; this man lives and enjoys twenty millions or more, and all made out of the show business.
" Seth B. Howes is now retired from business and living very quietly at Brewster's, N.Y., where many years ago he built himself a substantial country house on the very spot where he was born. Where the onion bed was that he used to have to weed as a boy, he now has his greenhouse, and grows orchids, I suppose one single root of which may be worth more than the whole bed of onions of the days gone by. You will see him occasionally at the Murray Hill Hotel, a quiet, wiry-built old gentleman of seventy-seven, with white mustache and no stuck-up airs about him. In fact, you would take him for a parson rather than a showman.
" His wife was generally with him, as she has been ever since they were married. She is a handsome, queenly Englishwoman, very much his junior. I remember them in the sixties when they travelled with the show. Although she is a thoroughly well-bred woman and wealthy in her own right, in addition to the large amount her husband had scraped together, both she and the old man went about from town to town with just a little handbag apiece. That shows the kind of life partner she is.
" It was a wonder to everybody that Howes got married at all; it was still a greater wonder that he managed to capture a woman in herself charming and so well up in the world of London. The marriage took place in 1861. Howes was then thirty-six years of age and had shown no disposition for women's society whatever, or for scarcely any other society, so to speak. He was all business, and seemed to think of nothing else. But among bankers and business men he had already earned a reputation for ability and wealth, and it was in just such society that he met Miss Amy Mosely. Her father was a London merchant and she had many suitors. She not only chose him from among them all, but immediately adapted herself to his life. She was born a business woman and it was not long before she was running one of her husband's two great shows in England.
" Howes comes from a family of showmen, the leaders of the profession in this country. His brother, Nathan A. Howes, in partnership with Aaron Turner, of Danbury, Conn., started a circus from Brewster's in 1826. Seth was working on his brother's farm at the time, but two years later he joined the show. He became a partner in 1831, Richard Sands having taken the place of Turner in the firm. They had good success for seven years, when the company disbanded.
" I made my debut under Seth Howes' management. That was in 1845, at Palmer's Opera House, on Chambers Street. Madame McCarte was another of the stars. The partnership consisted of Howes and the brothers Edmund and Jeremiah Mabie, and it began business in 1840 and continued for eight years. I was with the show for two years, yet never knew until after that Howes had anything to do with it, so close was he about all his business affairs. He was the shrewdest circus man who was ever on the road.
"A bout this time he saw that Barnum was making quite a name, so he joined him. Then he inflated Barnum's head into a belief that a show travelling around the country would advertise his museum, which, you will remember, was on the corner where the ' St. Paul' building now stands.- So the 'Barnum Exposition on Wheels' was started, and Howes carried it all through the country. He was supposed to have agents all over the world searching for and importing to the show the most wonderful animals that ever existed. As a matter of fact, he bought all the animals in this country; but even Barnum did not know this until long after. However, during the five years he ran the show he made Barnum money, so that did not signify.
" During this time he was figuring on a circus of his own in New York, and two years before he separated from Barnum, which was in 1855, he opened the Franconies Hippodrome, which was on the site of the Fifth Avenue Hotel. In 1854 I paid him $5,000 for the elephant ' Lalla Rookh,' and went to Boston with his partner, Cushing. 'Lalla Rookh ' was a wonderful elephant, the most wonderful that ever lived. She used to perform on the tight-rope. Poor thing; she went bathing in the river in Indiana on a Sunday, took cold and died.
" Well, after that I sold Mr. Howes my trick mules for $5,000, and he bought them without ever having seen them perform. He was a man of wonderful enterprise. In March, 1857, Howes & Cushing's Circus left here for England. No, that was not the first American show that went to Europe. I think the first was in 1842, owned by Juan Titus and Angevine. That was the first to compete with Wombwell's Menagerie, then and for many years after an institution without which no English country fair was complete.
" Howes & Cushing's Circus had a great success in England from the start. They took over with them seventy-two horses and fifty performers and assistants. They travelled through England for a year, and then opened at the Alhambra Palace, London, where Queen Victoria and the royal family honored them with a visit. That was in 1858. They were at the Palace twelve months, and then tented it through England and Ireland for four or five years, during which, as 1 told you, Howes managed to pick up his estimable life partner.
" They brought the circus back to New York in 1864, after having made barrels of money. Why, at one time Howes offered me $100,000 for my blind horse, the most intelligent animal and the most marvellous performer there ever was. Understood every word spoken to him. Howes' idea was to put him on the stage. That was my mistake. That horse ought never to have gone into a ring. He was good enough to play all by himself.
" I joined Howes' Circus at Mobile in 1865. In 1845 he paid me $50 a week; in 1865 he paid me $1,000. He called the show Howes & Cushing's London Circus, and everywhere he went we gathered in the dollars rapidly. I suppose the old man was getting to think he had made us much money as he cared for, for in 1870 he sold the business to James Kelley and Egbert C. Howes, and retired. But for all his wealth he was never boastful; on the contrary. If you chanced to say to him, 'Splendid house tonight! ' he would slowly reply, ' Well, yes, it will just about pay expenses.' He was liberal, though, without being a fool with his money."
For more on Seth Howes and the Howes Brothers circus, see: http://www.howesfamilies.com/hfa/HowesBrosCircus.html
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