Run away to join the circus?

Elaborate circus wagon with bells

I’ve loved history since I was a child. I read a lot of history and biography. I sometimes wonder why I like it so much.

When I was a child in the ’60s, my beloved grandmother told me that her father, Francis Fenwick, had run away to join the circus. What a great thing to tell a kid! It stirred the imagination. Years later, I tried to track down whether there was any truth to the story. Like many family stories, the answer is “sort of”.

Elaborate circus wagon with bells

Francis Fenwick was a carriage painter in Lenox, Massachusetts. Lenox was one of the posh communities where rich New Yorkers spent the summer. The author Edith Wharton lived there in her home, The Mount.

Edith Wharton’s home, The Mount. About a mile from Francis Fenwick’s carriage shop.

But in the winter, the society crowd was not around, and business was probably slow. In the winter of 1916, Francis move to Bridgeport Connecticut, near the winter headquarters of the Barnum and Bailey circus. He probably helped in repainting the ornate circus wagons. Family stories confirm that he went to Connecticut routinely for several years.

Genealogy combines finding people and finding their stories. It’s always a delight when we can find out more than just date of birth, marriage and death.

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