BARNUM & BAILEY’S… Clown…William “Billy” Burke

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We can keep the “Original Barnum & Bailey Circus …”Alive” (the circus closed on May 21, 2017 after 146 years) …with…

The Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth… 1882 Songsterthe “Famous Clown”, Billy Burke

He is the father of stage star, Billie Burke, who was married to the producer, Florenz Ziegfeld.

Billy Burkewas a Circus Clown whose Daughter was the famous actress …Billie Burke, who played “Glinda the Good Witch”… in the Wizard of Oz…….A rare piece of Circus Ephemera.


He was the English Clown, Billy Burke; a big name in the legendary Barnum & Bailey Circus.

William “Billy” Burke.  toured the United States and Europe, who was a singer and clown and worked for the….

Barnum & Bailey Circus

……Barnum & Bailey combined both shows, in 1919 when the Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth, a circus created by P. T. Barnum and James Anthony Bailey, was merged with the Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Shows.  The Ringling brothers had purchased Barnum & Bailey Ltd.  following Bailey’s death in 1906, but ran the circuses separately until they were merged in 1919.

Barnum and Great London Circus Songster Pamphlet – 1882

By W. E. (Billy) Burke (Author)

Billy Burke’s Barnum & Great London Circus Songster: Containing a Collection of the Latest and Best Songs of the Day as Sung by …”America’s Greatest Clown”…BILLY BURKES’ SONGBOOK


1894 “Barnum and Bailey Greatest Show on Earth” Songster “Miss Jones Came Back”… (as sung by “Billy Burke”)

Barnum and Great London Circus Songster W. E. (Billy Burke)

 The Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth Songster.  It is about … Billy Burke

billy-burke-w-e-burkes-blk-whtAnother well-known singing clown of the Civil War period was William Elhelbert Burke. Burke was born in Ohio, on October 23, 1845. His fun-making began, of all places, while working as an apprentice to a druggist in Frederickstown, Ohio. Billy became the center of a mirth loving group that headquartered at the drug store.

Though only sixteen years of age he joined the Union Army. At the battle of Arkansas Post, Burke was seriously wounded, and so disabled received an honorable discharge from the Army.

In 1865 his first professional mirth-making began when he joined a minstrel troupe. This association was short lived and he left soon for employment with the J. M. Nixon Circus. He was to join the show in Galveston, Texas, and fate nearly cut short his life when the steamship carrying him to the Nixon show was wrecked at sea, and after being lost he was picked up and brought to New Orleans. In this city he was quickly secured by the Thayer and Noyes’ circus. While with this company he again had a bout with the water elements when the steamer carrying the troupe was wrecked on the Red River. In this case Mr. Burke escaped with only the loss of his handsome and expensive wardrobe. He remained with Thayer and Noyes for two seasons and then signed with the Mike Lipman show. He then moved to the great Forepaugh show for two seasons. From that show he went to the Lewis B. Lent Circus that was appearing in New York City. He met with brilliant success there. His next engagement was with the James Robinson show, and it was while he was with the show that it merged into the “Great Chicago Show.” Following this he was with the Trans-Atlantic show and then returned to Lent, and then moved to the Great Eastern and on to Montgomery Queen. He was with various other shows before becoming a feature with the… Barnum and Great London Circus in 1882.

Billy Burke, Character Clown — Wm. E. Burke’s address to the public

This poster is one of many fine examples of circus posters printed by the Strobridge Lithograph Company of Cincinnati in the early 1880s… when American entrepreneur and cultural icon …P.T. Barnum first negotiated the merger of his circus to form …”P.T. Barnum’s and Great London Combined.”

Poster : CP-090


Billy Burke, Character Clown — Wm. E. Burke’s address to the public.


Billy Burke and his Clown Elephant “Sid”
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