Exhibit pays tribute to one of circus industry’s great families

Aug. 31, 2013 @ 06:55 PM

To residents of Henderson, they were the Loughlins. But to much of the world, they were the Flying Castellos.

That was in the day when the circus was the Internet, TV, movies and radio rolled into one. It provided entertainment that generated an excitement seldom found in the modern world of electrical gadgets.

Henderson’s Castello Loughlin family was a major part of the circus world.

The Vance County Historical Society inaugurated an exhibit of Castello Loughlin memorabilia at Perry Memorial Library last month, honoring the family with a reception.

Tem Blackburn, vice president of the society, welcomed an overflow crowd in the Farm Bureau room. After a brief business meeting in which the organization’s officers were re-elected, he described the background of the exhibit and then introduced Bobby Hoyle, who served as spokesman for the Castello Loughlin family.

Six members of the fourth Castello Loughlin generation were present: Bobby Hoyle, Sylvia Ann Hoyle Wedemann, Charlie Loughlin III, Frances Loughlin Ellington, Dena “Dee” Loughlin Todd and Diane Loughlin Johnson.

Speaking in front of a continuous slide show highlighting events in the Castello Loughlin family history, Hoyle said, “My great-grandfather, Dave Loughlin, apprenticed himself to Dan Castello at age 15.”

Castello was one of the founders of the Barnum & Bailey Circus. He adopted David Loughlin who, in turn, adopted the name Castello.

David became a bareback rider with the circus. When he married Ada Wallett, they became an act.

“Both sets of our great-grandparents came from circus families,” Hoyle said.

Ada had her own circus credentials. She had performed as a bareback rider with her parents’ show and was the first woman shot from a circus cannon. David and Ada performed together as the Flying Castellos.

As if to reinforce Hoyle’s narrative, the slide show behind him carried pictures of family members standing on the back of a white horse. Another scene showed them leaping, one after another, to a standing position on the horse as it galloped by.

Bobby said the video show was made from old eight millimeter films taken during the heyday of the circus.

After David lost a leg, the result of an accident that ended his performing days, the couple and their five children moved to Henderson.

Bobby said he wasn’t certain why his great-grandfather selected Henderson except it was about midway between New York and Florida.

The time of the move is also uncertain, but the Castello Loughlin family was here by 1892. A handwritten document dated June 27 of that year was a request from D.C. Loughlin to the Henderson Board of Commissioners “to grant me License for the continuance of my business as Retail Liquor Dealer in Town of Henderson, Vance Co. N.C.”

Not only was Henderson their home when they weren’t on the road performing, Hoyle said, it also provided business opportunities for the family. David Sr. purchased the Central Hotel and Saloon near the train station. Hence the request for the liquor license.

“The family would pool their money and buy property,” Hoyle said. They soon had businesses up and down Garnett Street, including Loughlin-Goodwin Jewelry Shop, a hardware store, the Smoke Shop and Edith’s Diner.

Those businesses are long gone, but Diane Johnson said there is still a Loughlin store on Garnett Street. She is the owner of Betty B’s.

The family continued to perform after they moved to Henderson. They set up a ring at their home on Spring Street, where the children could hone their riding and acrobatic skills.

The second generation continued the circus tradition, creating their own acts.

David Jr., his wife Pearl and brother Edward, who performed as Scruffy the Clown, teamed up for a bareback act that took them to circuses, fairs and amusement parks around the country. Later, at age 8, daughter Sylvia (mother of Hoyle and Sylvia Ann Wedemann) joined them. At the peak of their popularity, they commanded weekly salaries of $1,500 to $2,500.

Charlie, his wife Hettie and daughters Margie and Zazell performed as aerialists.

Fred, his wife Bessie and sister Edith joined together to become the Riding Waltons. Their daughter Bebe performed on the high wire.

The various Castello acts gradually reduced their performance venues, leaving the circus circuit first to cut down on travel, a concession to family life. When vaudeville died, they limited their performances to fairs and amusement parks.

The family finally retired from circus life with a final performance in Henderson’s High Price Warehouse on Montgomery Street in 1935.

Part of their history is now on display in Perry Memorial Library. It’s there to be enjoyed by people who remember the circus, and by others who missed that era but might learn how the nation and the city entertained themselves before Twitter, apps and smartphones.

 

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.