When I think about people who are colorful, I think of circus performers. All those brightly colored costumes, the lights, the loud and happy music contribute to the colorfulness of the entire circus.
I was certainly surprised to learn that James Willey, my great great uncle, was involved in the circus. James was born in in Kankakee Illinois in 1850. He married Josephine Greenwald. James and Josephine had four children: Harry (1877-1947), James “Perry” (1880-1952), Minnie E. (1887-1950) and Charlotte M. (1889-1949).
In the articles about his life in the circus, you will not find him often listed as James Willey. He changed his stage name to Signor Montanio, which sounds much more exotic. According to the newspaper articles, James or Sig. Montanio performed as an acrobat, trapeze artist and high wire walker. And from looking at the newspaper articles, he was very good.
Performing was a family affair. His wife had a musical act and played the banjo while his two sons also performed, sometimes as clowns and other times as acrobats. His two daughter, Minnie and Lottie do not seem to have ever performed in the circus.In addition to performing, over the years, James ran several circuses - Montanio's Great New York Show; Montanio's Mexican Show, etc. From the newspaper articles, it looks like James and his family were involved in the circus world until 1898.
|Harry and Perry Montanio|
James died on November 8, 1918 in Pinal County, Arizona. According to the local newspaper, he was camping, became sick and froze to death while returning to town, probably to seek treatment for his illness.
I would love to know about his life in the circus? Why and how did he become a performer? What was the favorite act that he performed? What was it like to travel from town to town?