I have an almost complete accounting of Leitzel’s employment history after the break-up of the Leamy Ladies in the Spring of 1911 at the conclusion of Barnum and Bailey’s run at Madison Square Garden. I may not be able to identify every appearance Leitzel made in vaudeville, but, for almost any given date, I can tell you whether she was on vacation, in vaudeville, the circus, with the Ziegfeld Frolic, overseas or in a shrine circus for the span of her entire career, with one notable exception.
The one significant period of Leitzel’s life, after she settled in the United States, that I cannot account for with certainty was the period between the break-up of the Leamy Ladies in April 1911 and the debut of the Leitzel Sisters in vaudeville in December 1911. Abundant evidence exists to suggest that she followed a path that I will outline below, but I have yet to find absolute proof.
There are two theories of how Leitzel spent her time in the months between April and December of 1911. One has her auditioning and performing in lower class vaudeville. The other has her remaining with the circus for much of the season, participating as a member of several acts. The evidence, which I will discuss, suggests the latter.
In 1911, the Leamy Ladies, for the third time in four years, contracted to join the Barnum and Bailey Circus for its annual appearance at Madison Square Garden. At the time, there were five members of the act: Leitzel, her mother, her aunt Tina, Lily Dove and Lydia Simpson. Before the circus left the Garden, Leitzel’s mother left the act. Edward Leamy, the act’s manager, was making her life unbearable. As with other female aerial acts he had managed, his overbearing nature could make life miserable for certain members of the acts. He had a habit of trying to take over the lives of the women who were under his management. It was not the first time his relation with a female artist he managed had ended acrimoniously.
The act finished its Garden run with only four members. Leitzel, Lily Dove and Lydia Simpson remained in the act. There is some doubt as to whether Leitzel’s aunt Tina remained or left the act in sympathy with her sister. Photos of the four members of the troupe who remained suggest she may have been replaced.
Exactly what happened after the Garden run is the mystery. Barnum and Bailey wanted to retain the services of the act for the full run of the circus – the act had been the biggest feature of the show while it was in the Garden – but Leamy, stung by Nellie’s departure, decided to call it quits. Having traveled the world for forty years as a manager of talent, he decided to retire to his hometown of Syracuse, New York. He took his revolving trapeze, to which he had an obsessive attachment, with him. This left the remaining members of the act to fend for themselves. Indications are they stayed with the show.
For the rest of the season, photographs like the one above, which appeared in the Illinois State Register on September 11, the day the show came to Springfield, Illinois, appeared in newspapers. Instead of the Leamy Ladies, the acts former members were now being billed as the Silbon Sisters or, in some papers, simply “A Quartette of Aerial Queens.” Leitzel is the girl in front. The fourth member of the troupe may have been Emily Hedder, who also worked in the Siegrist-Silbon aerial troupe. While this is a strong indication Leitzel remained with the show, it is not proof. It’s possible the circus provided a stock photo to the papers even after the girls left the show.
Other photos of Leitzel appeared in newspapers as the season progressed, often in the company of strongwoman Katie Sandwina. The photo below, from the St Louis Post Dispatch, with Sandwina holding Leitzel, Lily Dove and Lydia Simpson in her arms, appeared while the circus was in St Louis. There were photos in the Indianapolis Star showing Leitzel doing a lever while hanging from Sandwina’s arm. The caption below the photo calls her Leitzel Leamy. Articles which accompanied the photos suggested the former members of the Leamy troupe participated in the Sandwina act, but never mention them by name.
There were also articles, which appeared in newspapers throughout the season, devoted to Leitzel’s physical prowess. They described her as the girl “whose acrobatic feats amaze thousands daily, wherever the big circus is showing.” (New Rochelle Pioneer Press, June 3, 1911, p. 4) But these articles could have been written by people who had seen her while she was in Madison Square Garden, because the items did not necessarily appear concurrently with the circus.
On the whole, the evidence strongly suggests that Leitzel and other members of what was once the Leamy Ladies spent at least some of the season with Barnum and Bailey after the show left the Garden. There are also reasons to believe some members of the act did not spend the entire season with the show. Lily Dove’s name appears on the manifest of a liner sailing back to Europe before the season was out.
I will continue to search for the smoking gun that definitively proves Leitzel did, or did not, stay with the show. I have some leads I have yet to pursue.