Thursday, April 21, 2016

Bandwagon: An Incredible Photo

I was pleasantly surprised to get the following message from another member: I have a photo from my mother's collection that has the name Mr & Mrs H W Wingert - 911 Collins Street, Toledo, Ohio on the back. The photo is of a Circus Band Wagon - and I suspect that Henry is one of the fellows riding on top.

1930 Census of Toledo, Lucas Co, Ohio, showing Henry Wingert (son)
living at 911 Collins St (image from
Henry W Wingert was a nephew of my great, great grandfather, Reinhard Kaechle/Koechle. He lived in Toledo, Ohio during the enumeration of both the 1920 and 1930 censuses. His occupation was listed in both years as a musician; one of those specifying a band musician. In 1930, he was living at 911 Collins Street: the address listed on the photo.

I was thrilled when I saw the photo:
Photo from the Cora Billings family collection of Toledo, Ohio. Used with permission.

Besides the names and address of "Mr & Mrs H Wingert," the back of the photo contained another name: Bob with a last name that might be Ellinert. The word "Sutherland" was also on the photo, which might refer to the Sutherland Sisters Circus Act. The researcher who shared the photo said she had written on the back of the photo, probably in 1953, while taking notes from her mother.

The researcher isn't sure why the photo was in her great grandmother's possession. Likely, there is a connection with one of her sons: Roy or Bert Billings. Both of them were amateur musicians, and possibly one or both of them is sitting atop the bandwagon with Henry Wingert. Both Bert and one of his sisters, the researcher's own grandmother, were dancers on the vaudeville circuit around the Toledo and Detroit areas. Henry Wingert's own wife, Rena, was also in entertainment as an actress. Possibly the Wingert and Billings families worked together at various times.

In the few weeks since I first saw this photo, I've enjoyed learning more about circus bandwagons. The researcher had already explained that this bandwagon was a Tableau Wagon, which means it has carvings on it that tell a story. When I enlarge the photo, I can see ornate carvings of two women, two angels with their wings spread playing instruments, a lyre (top center) and other musical instruments, and other items. In the very center is a circle with the image of a face which appears to be sticking out its tongue.

Bandwagons carried bands in parades as the circus arrived in town and advertised for their show. I found a great description in the book, "The Great Circus Street Parade in Pictures" by Charles Philip Fox and Francis Beverly Kelley found on Google Books (page 20). This paragraph not only explains the purpose of bandwagons, but also describes what life might have been like while Henry W. Wingert rode in the parade and worked for the circus:

Every circus had at least one bandwagon. The bigger the show, the more bandwagons. If a show had more than one bandwagon, the most beautiful, impressive and largest always led the parade to overwhelm the populace right off the bat with the size of the show. Some circuses had magnificent bandwagons that were built for the sole purpose of carrying the band in parade. Others were baggage wagons with seats on top between the skyboards. The circus band slated for the main performance would be the No. 1 bandwagon. Following at intervals in the parade would be a ticket sellers' band, sideshow band, or ushers' band. Invariably there was a clown band. Thus, some of the ushers, ticket sellers and clowns were also musicians; they were often hired because they could "double in brass" - a familiar circus expression. On some undermanned shows they had to double in brass and overalls, pitching in with manual labor. The lead bandwagon was pulled by the largest team the circus had, most likely to 10, 12, 24 or even 40 horses, to create a smash expression at once. The larger bandwagons could hold 15 to 18 musicians. It was difficult playing on the wagons because they had very still springs, or none at all. When a wagon lurched over a hole or cobblestone street, an instrument could suddenly jolt, cutting a musician's lip or knocking out a tooth. No two bandwagons were alike; each was unique. Even if the same builder produced many wagons, each was executed with a distinctive design. 

My Connection:
  • Judas Thaddeus "Thaddae" Kaechle/Koechle (1807-1880) & Katharina Kern (1811-1894) were the parents of both Gertrude Kaeche/Koechle (1848-1940) who married Henry Wingert (1839-1910) & were the parents of Henry W Wingert (1869-1963) & the parents of Reinhard/Rheinhardt Kaechle/Koechle (1844-1900) who married Mary Magdelena "Lena" Karbach/Koerbach (1848-1938) who are my great, great grandparents
  • Reinhard & Lena were the parents of Francis "Frank" Kaechle (1868-1911), my great grandfather, who married Anna Regina Adam (1867-1936)

Are we related or do you know more about this photo? I'd love to talk! Please leave a comment with a way I can contact you, or email me at


  1. What a fun an unusual picture. I've heard the phrase "get on the bandwagon," but I never knew what it was referring to.

  2. I wasn't familiar with bandwagons, either. It's been fun learning about them!


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