Spark Plug: Our One Ring Circus

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Thorough Pictorama readers may remember back in March of 2018 (March 24, almost exactly three years ago!) when I posted about the photo below in the post It’s Clint Flynn – on Spark Plug (which can be found here).

At that time I confessed my rather specific interest in this mini-genre of photos which depict people on various homemade versions of Spark Plug, the horse character of the Barney Google comic strip fame, which made its debut in 1919. (In my mind these are like an addendum to people posing with Felix – collecting those photos being part of my life’s work.) In 1925, the year today’s photo was snapped, Barney Google and Spark Plug would have been hitting their stride fame-wise.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection

When I say mini-genre of photos I do not exaggerate as I have only seen three in my life (although I am convinced that there are many more to be found which I plan to uncover and of course acquire.) I was able to purchase two of the three known to me. It was the first one, at a Hake’s auction I believe, that got away which started me on my hunt for further ones. (Strangely, like some of my Felix photos, I believe that first one hailed from Australia. Australia in the 1920’s must have been a crazy, great place.)

All three photos I have encountered sold for a significant price. The card I share today started at a price even I wouldn’t pay for it and eventually came down as I had expressed interest and gather I was the only taker. In part, I think this card suffered a bit because it was hard to be certain at first that it is an original photo postcard, not a reproduction, which it is.

Back of card. Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

Unlike most outstandingly great photo postcards I have encountered, this one was mailed. Luckily it didn’t suffer noticibly on its journey. I show the back below and you will note the postmark, March 23, 1925! (I am loving all the coinciding of March dates today. March must be Spark Plug photo month, right down through the decades.) It was addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Chalfont, Muncie Ind. 720 W. Ponders Street. (The street address is added like an afterthought which I don’t believe I have ever seen.) The sender, unnamed, writes (somewhat cryptically), Golden Banders. Come and see our 1 ring circus it is free Thurs. We. is the date. Please come early don’t be late. March 26. 7.30.

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

On the front of the card 1 Ring Circus and a $ have been painted neatly onto the neg and printed. I’m not sure what the $ is referring to, tucked as it is between these two splendidly attired and painted clowns, adorned with pointy caps, each of them accessorized with a feather duster.

The woman, less sporty in her dress, but fully in the spirit of the thing, seems to be an assistant of sorts; she is holding Spark Plug’s head a bit possessively, although maybe she is also keeping him steady. (I really like her shoes – I own a pair like those that I am quite partial to.) The tot fortunate enough to be perch atop him is in a Buster Brown suit, with bow tie, and looks pretty smug and pleased with himself – who can blame him? Hotsy totsy!

Unlike the sturdy fellow in my earlier photo, this Spark Plug is a wonder of casual construction. I think he may have real plungers for feet and lower extremities and something mysterious above that connecting it all. (Interestingly plungers are frequently used to depict Spark Plug’s feet, he is not drawn that way in the strip where he just has enormous, clunky hooves.) His body appears to be an ambitious combination of wood and cardboard if I had to guess.

An interesting question is whether or not Spark Plug has back legs here – I do not see them. (Do you?) It seems like maybe white hat clown is holding him up? Not sure how that works – perhaps the clown jiggles you up and down? The solution behind this mystery is hidden now. Whoa! Steady there fellow I say!

It’s Clint Flynn – on Spark Plug

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today I am pleased to present something I consider to be a rarity, even among the rarified world of people posing with, or on, comic characters or stuffed cats. I could be wrong, but I figure I am probably one the largest (if not the very largest – only?) collector of such photos. Go figure, right? Anyway, many years ago I saw a photo of someone posed with Spark Plug. If memory serves, Spark Plug was more of a stuffed affair and furthermore, that it was from either New Zealand or Australia. (A bit less surprising than you think – about a quarter of my photos hail from that part of the world, such as the one in the post Echo Point, Katoomba.) That was in an online auction, Hake’s I believe, and I had a large but not large enough bid on it, and was bitterly disappointed when I lost it. Like a fool, I did not keep a scan.

Compulsive collecting behavior being what it is, I added it to my occasional searches for photos. If I didn’t want to look at automotive parts and endless Barney Google merchandise (not to mention that Google has adopted a very different meaning online than it had in about 1925) of which there is a plethora, I had to perfect that search a bit which I did over time. I did see some very nice stuffed versions of Spark Plug over the years as a result and was even tempted to buy one occasionally. I have not (yet at least), but after what may easily be a decade of looking I ran across this photo the other day while drinking my morning coffee, predawn and dawdling before getting ready for work. It is postcard, but on thin paper which I can’t imagine holding up in the mail. This one was never sent and even with that appears a bit ragged. After pushing a few buttons, happily I found it in my mail about 48 hours later.

The person who sold it, had an interesting bit of local history attached to it. Our man Clint Flynn was a resident of Flynn’s Cove, Cumberland County, Tennessee. Son of William L. Flynn and grandson of Richard “Red Fox” Flynn of Civil War note. Seems Red was a famous Union Scout and conductor on the Underground Railroad. Also mentioned is that Red lost his brother, John to Confederate Guerillas so this family gave a lot to the cause of the Union in the Civil War. Clearly the town mentioned is named for the family. Just because I find it a bit interesting, I include a photo of Clint’s sister Rebecca below, shown with the man she ultimately marries, Walter Reed. (He does not appear to be the Walter Reed of scientific or other fame, nor is he Walter Reade of theater fame, although my eBay historian friend implies that he too is notable without detail.) It is also up for sale on eBay as this goes to press.

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Photo of sister, Rebecca Flynn, and Walter Reed. Not in Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

 

Clint Flynn did not seem to make his way into local lore so we do not know anything about him except that in roughly 1923 (according to the seller who must have calculated this from the album it came from) he perched atop of Spark Plug while at Hardie’s Casino, Miami Beach, Florida and had his photo taken by H. H. Duncker, cameraman, as per the back of this photo. I like his bravado – embracing the situation for all it is worth and creating a sense of movement on this very stationary version of Spark Plug. Go Sparky, go! Spark Plug appears to be made mostly, or entirely, of wood, tail standing straight up in back like a frowsy flag. I also draw your attention to the strange little figure, chased by an alligator in the bottom right which I did not see until purchasing the photo and studied it, next to him a tiny and almost unreadable sign, Miami Beach, Florida. (This photo has also been enhanced by the Photoshop magic of Mr. Kim Deitch.)

Strangely, this is the first photo of this kind taken in the United States to enter my collection. While this was a common photo opportunity offered at seaside and other resorts in Great Britain, Australia and even New Zealand, I have never found or purchased one from our own shores. (I believe the best I have done is people posing with nominally outsized Mickey’s or Mickey Mouse knockoffs.) Now that I own this little gem, I am of course anxious to acquire additional ones. And you, my Pictorama readers, will be the first to know.