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The Adventures of Wee Coyle: Chapter Six
by Will Lomen, 13 January 2012


In 1954, early in the year of my second grade in school, my mother Rosanne Coyle Lomen and my brother Terry and I moved from Kirkland across Lake Washington to Seattle. We arrived without my dad Jerry, who disappeared from our lives, never again to appear except by rumor. Suddenly within days, the three of us were living in a large three-story northwest box house on Capitol Hill at 1412 E. Aloha, with my mother’s parents Minnie Dalby Coyle and my “larger than life” grandfather William Jennings “Wee” Coyle and his stray cat, Civic, a brown tabby. As our grandmother, whom we called Mimi, showed us our giant bedrooms on the third floor, her gentle voice calmed the confusion of the unsettling changes that had occurred during the past week. Then when Wee said to Terry and me, “As soon as you boys get unpacked come on downstairs and I’ll teach you how to play blackjack,” our new house began to feel like a home.

Everybody called my grandfather Wee, from his own daughters to strangers who would introduce themselves to him on the downtown streets of Seattle. He would politely shake the newcomer’s hand, introduce his two grandsons and then listen patiently as the person would explain how he knew Wee Coyle. My brother and I would stand there on the sidewalk listening to stories about a specific football game, a political event, or an occurrence at the Civic Center, and we could see the joy in the person’s recollection. After they shook hands again, we would be on our way to the Washington Athletic Club or to visit Henry Broderick or Joe Gottstein. After a moment we would ask, “Wee, who was that man?” Wee always had two answers: Joe Bush or Harry Williams. After a while we realized that everyone we met had those two same names and when we asked why, he would say, “Boys, I’ve met so many people in my life I can’t remember them all.” As our walks with our grandfather continued around the city, we would ask him, after meeting another one of his admirers, “Was that Harry Williams?” He would look thoughtful for a moment and then say, “No, I believe that was Joe Bush.” Terry and I would laugh as we neared the Pike Place Market or Pioneer Square. The main point being that a lot of people knew who he was and he never walked past one of them who wanted to talk.

(Click here to read Chapter V); <Chapter I>; <Chapter II>; <Chapter III>; <Chapter IV>

As a grade school kid, I remember leaning over the side of my grandfather Wee Coyle’s green fabric rocking chair, with my younger brother Terry leaning leaning over the other side, listening to his composed voice as he paged down the list of Heavyweight boxing champions in the New York Times Almanac: “Sullivan, Corbett, Jeffries, Fitzsimmons, Jeffries, Hart, Burns, Johnson, Willard, Dempsey, Tunney, Schmeling, Sharkey, Carnera, Baer, Braddock, Louis, Charles, Walcott and Rocky Marciano.” With a Pall Mall cigarette burning in the ash tray on his side table, we listened as he ran down the list, critiquing each fighter. I can’t remember his specific number-one champion (it might have been Jack Johnson or Jack Dempsey) but I do remember his saying one time that all the Heavyweight Champs with the initials J. J. were very good. That would include a list of James J. Corbett, James J. Jeffries, James J. Braddock and Jersey Joe Walcott. I also remember my grandfather saying that his father had listened to the Corbett-Jeffries fight over some kind of a Morse Code telegraph set-up where there was a whole bunch of men in an open area in downtown Seattle. He also said that although the two were the same height, Jeffries outweighed the quick, crafty and charismatic Corbett by over thirty pounds. As manager of Seattle’s Civic Auditorium for twenty-five years, my grandfather was a big sports fan and was involved in organizing many sporting events. He regaled us with stories about boxing, basketball and Seattle’s professional hockey teams that played under the names of Metropolitans, Eskimos, Sea Hawks, Olympics, Ironmen, Bombers, Americans and Totems. After twenty-five years, he retired in 1953, after meeting many sports legends and personalities although my favorite was Hopalong Cassidy.

This quote was taken from the August 15, 1903 sports page of The Seattle Times: “There was great excitement over the result of the Gentleman Jim Corbett- James J. Jeffries fight in 'Frisco and all bets were paid here. Every man around the show who possesses a drop of sporting blood had a bit of money up on the result.”

Also another quote from the August 16, 1903 edition of The Elmira Telegram of Elmira, New York stated: “Jeffries, the Big Californian Giant, in the Early Part of the Fight Easily Out-pointed Corbett - There Were Nine Fast and Fierce Rounds Fought, But  It Was All Over in the Tenth, When Corbett Had to Succumb to the Inevitable - He Had Entered the Prize Ring in the Best of condition and Retired a Thoroughly Whipped Man - Corbett Admits to His Opponent That He Was Fairly and Fully Whipped - Story of the Notable Fistic Battle Given in Rounds.

A few days after the Corbett – Jeffries fight the Ringling Brothers Circus paid its yearly visit to Seattle with four grand performances scheduled for Wednesday, August 19th and Thursday, August 20th.

August 16, 1903 - The Terry Street Boys -- Wee Coyle, Charlie Mullen, Penny Westover, Ten Million,  Shaf Easter, Lefty Burke, Royal Pullen, Roscoe Pike, BeVan Presley, Bill McKay and Keyes Thayer -- were down at the docks again but, instead of following the progress of President Theodore Roosevelt’s entourage as they had done four months earlier, they were watching the eighty-railcar long caravan of the Ringling Brothers Circus as it trailed into town. Known as the “Terry Street Boys” because of the vacant lot on Terry Street where their youth football team practiced, their team had never been beaten by any other team in the city. The boys were entranced with the exotic scene spread out before them. Known as “Ringling Brothers World’s Greatest Shows,” the Circus had evolved from a animal-drawn wagon circus in 1884 to one transported by trains by 1890. In the summer of 1903 admission had risen to 50 cents for adults and 25 cents for children.

With the “Elk’s Carnival” almost ready to kick off on Wednesday, the 19th of August 1903, the Circus was scheduled for the first two days of the thirteen day Carnival. The Elks Lodge had the city’s permission to fence off a sizeable section of downtown Seattle to produce the city’s first multi-day summer festival, which the organizers anticipated would be attended by the majority of Seattle’s citizens.

The Elks furnished the Carnival’s center with booths, circus tents, and rides on the site of the former acreage of the old University of Washington campus on Denny’s Knoll. From the northeast corner of the old campus on Union Street, the closed carnival grounds extended west from Fifth Avenue to a grand entrance arch that spanned Union half way between Second and Third Avenue. A shorter arm of this enclosure also ran one block south on Third Avenue to University Street then back up to Fifth Avenue. This section was lined with booths offering what The Seattle Times reported as; “The best products of the best city on earth.”

The boys watched as the Circus’s equipment was unloaded into horse-drawn wagons which then began their journey for the old Seattle Armory on Union Street between Third and Fourth Avenues. Leading the caravan was a brand new Ford Runabout with a convertible top carrying two distinguished looking gentlemen. As the car passed by, the driver doffed his black fedora and waved it to the crowd.

Next to him Wee heard a man say, “That’s Mr. John Ringling, one of the Ringling brothers who own the circus. I recognize him from a newspaper photograph.”

“I wonder who the other man is?” his female companion asked.

“Maybe one of his brothers, he’s got five or six of them,” said the man.

As the procession climbed up Spring Street, Charlie Mullen called out, “Wee, where are they headed next?”

Jogging up the wooden sidewalk next to his friend, Wee Coyle, the quarterback of the Terry Street Boys football team, said, “They’re going to the old Armory on Union Street. They’re taking over all that land where the University used to be.”

The rest of the Terry Street Boys trailed behind as the circus parade, including at least twelve elephants, as well as tableaus (carved horse-drawn wagons that resembled the gilded fantasies of a deranged royalty), made their way up 2nd Avenue and past the Brooklyn Hotel.


                                                                                                                                                                                              Paul Dorpat photo

Looking north on Second Avenue towards University Street and the Brooklyn Hotel at its southeast corner. The Washington Hotel formerly The Denny Hotel is on the left horizon of Denny Hill. The front portico to the Victorian building sits atop Denny Hill.

When he got to the corner of 2nd Avenue and Spring Street, Bill McKay stopped and looked back down Spring Street. “Wow I can’t see the front or the back of the parade!” he exclaimed as he looked back and forth between the moving path of animals, people, wagons and carts being pushed and pulled by fit looking men.

An hour later the procession turned east off Second Avenue and onto Union Street as it made its way toward the intersection at Third Avenue with the Armory farther up ahead. Off to the left the Washington Hotel (formerly known as the Denny Hotel) loomed on Denny Hill to the north.

Wee stopped next the rump of an elephant, who he had heard its caretaker call “Regina”.

“Watch yourself, boy,” the man said as Wee moved closer to stare at the animal, like none other than he had ever seen.  “If you’re not careful you might get stepped on by the “Queen Elephant” herself.”

Men in suits and straw boaters, women in full length white dresses holding umbrellas against the heat and The Terry Street Boys stared at the magnificent animals, whose skin looked like wrinkled gray leather, their long trunks waving back and forth on the ground scooping up anything that might be edible, then lifting it to their mouths.

“It’s like something out of 1001 Arabian Nights,” whispered Roscoe Pike, sidling quietly up next to Wee.

“Yah,” said Wee, “and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.”



                                                                                                                           Paul Dorpat photo

Looking east on Union Street one can see the Armory which has been painted purple and white for the carnival. In the middle of the photograph is an elephant being led by a man in a white shirt. In the foreground is another man in a black outfit who is taller than the elephant; maybe a large policeman.

“Look,” called BeVan Presley, “they’ve painted the old building purple and white.”

As the boys and their parade moved up Union Street (which had been closed for the Carnival) toward the Armory, they smiled with joy at seeing the old building fairly sparkling in the noon day sun. The fresh paint had turned the formerly pale brick façade into a shining example of Seattle’s enthusiasm for The Elks Carnival and The Ringling Brothers Circus.


                                                                                                                                                           Paul Dorpat photo

Before the Carnival the Armory Building flanked by soldiers wearing white gloves and gripping rifles, at parade rest.

Following Wee, the Terry Street Boys snuck in through a gap in one of the fences and wandered around the circus’ base of operations located at the Armory. The enormous circus site, which covered over four city blocks, was covered with tents, animal cages and wagons that had brought hundreds of people and many exotic animals to downtown Seattle.

The boys were entranced with all of the action, as they heard lions and tigers roar, and they pointed and gawked with curiosity after glimpsing at a tall woman with long dark hair, a man with a beard hanging down to his knees and a midget with a big head. Dust rose from the site in the growing heat of the sweltering summer day. The boys eyes widened in awe as they watched men erect twenty-foot high wooden bleachers and elephants, pulling thick ropes, made tents appear suddenly from large canvas piles. Whenever they saw a large man who looked to be in charge, they stealthily avoided him by slipping into a tent or disappearing behind a large cage or wagon.

Up ahead the boys could hear a strange barking noise that didn’t quite sound like a dog to be followed by a man giving loud commands along with the distinct slap of something hitting water. Then, before them, they saw a man -- wearing a straw boater, a white shirt, dark pants held up by red suspenders and black shoes -- who was standing on a large wooden platform next to a swimming pool that was over seven feet high. He had a baton in his hand and was calling out commands to whatever or whomever was in the pool. Leaping onto a flatbed wagon, the boys looked into the pool and laughed out loud. Before them was a herd (also known as a pod, rookery or harem) of  gray seals splashing about in the water. The Terry Street Boys continued to laugh and exclaim at something they had never seen before. “They’re real seals!” “How many are there?” “I wonder where they got them?” “I thought seals were black.” “They’re like dogs without fur. Or feet. Or tails.”

With a broad smile, Wee sat down on a large pile of rope and laughed along with his friends as the seal’s trainer directed his charges through their array of tricks. Eventually the trainer had six seals, balancing and bouncing balls on the tips of their noses, zeroing in on flying hoops, clapping their flippers next to him on the platform or leaping into the air to catch an airborne fish. They “arfed and woofed” with joy and then would leap onto the platform for another fishy reward.

Parked next to him, Wee noticed a large wagon with bars enclosing its frame. Painted on the wooden planks of the wagon it read: Captain Webb’s Juggling Seals. Performed by Prof. H. J. Reichert. Nailed at one end of the wagon was a gaudy poster with leaping seals and a man wearing a top hat, a white uniform and knee high black boots.

Across the poster, in fancy type, it read: Capt. Webb’s Company of Awkward Looking, Deft Juggling, Wonder Working Seals. The Most Unique Display of Animal Training Ever Attempted. Unquestionably the Most Wonderful Act of the Kind in the Known World. Performed by Prof. H.J. Reichert

Wee smiled in agreement and his gaze went back to the man and his seals. That must be Professor Reichert. Then his eyes were drawn to two teenaged girls who were tiptoeing up behind the Professor, one of them carrying a long stick which she promptly stuck into the Professor’s rear end.

Concentrating solely on his work with his seals, the Professor took a startled leap into the air and, with his arms wind milling out of control, landed in the water amongst his pod. Spooked, the seals swam panic stricken to the side of the pool. As the man flailed in the water, Wee and his pals laughed, initially thinking that this incident was part of the routine. However, a woman’s scream immediately filled the air, “He can’t swim! He can’t swim!”

The boys could see that the depth of the pool did not allow the man to keep his head above water. He gasped once, went under water for a moment then tried to push himself back up, finally rising from the surface with a mouthful of water, his eyes bulging in panic and his hands slapping ineffectually against the water.

In a flash Wee jumped to his feet with the coil of rope in his hands. Grabbing one end of the roll, he leaped off the wagon and in the same action threw the rope into the air toward the splashing man. The coil unraveled as it arced toward the pool. Landing on his feet, with his pals immediately behind him, Wee handed the rope to the first person behind him. Penny! Penny Westover, took the rope’s end and passed it down the line to the rest of the Terry Street Boys. Unable to see the man in the water because he was below the top of the pool, Wee took a running leap and grabbing the frame of the pool, vaulted himself onto the wooden barrier and landed in the water on top of a seal. The startled amphibian barked in surprise and paddled away from Wee at top speed. Coming up for air, Wee took a few powerful strokes then stopped as he tread water. In front of him, the man had taken a firm grip on the rope end and was being pulled to the side of the pool by the Terry Street Boys. Quickly, the man reached the pool’s platform and he grabbed onto it for dear life. Wee paddled next to him and gave him a push as two strong Circus workers pulled the Professor from the pool. The young woman, who had screamed, hurried to his side as Wee glided to the side of the pool and, soaking clothes and all, hauled himself over the side of the pool’s wall then dropped to the ground where he was met by his friends. “Come on let’s get out of here,” he said. “We might get in trouble for hanging around here.”

The young woman said, “Oh, father, are you OK?” Unable to talk, the Professor nodded his head and then croaked. “I’m fine.”

As Wee and his pals slipped away, one of the men who had pulled the Professor out of the water, called to the boys. “That was quick thinking with that rope, what’s your name, son?”

As the last of the Terry Street Boys disappeared around a wagon containing two sleeping lions, Shaf Easter turned back toward the gathering crowd and said, “His name is Wee Coyle.” 

Later in the day, the boys returned to the circus site after grabbing a quick lunch at the informal open-air market set up on First Avenue and Pike Street. Editor’s note: The official Pike Place Market opened August 17, 1907, and is one of the oldest continually operated public farmer’s markets in the United States. Wee’s clothes had pretty much dried out from his adventure with the Professor and his seals, although his socks still squished inside his leather shoes.

Walking single-file between a couple of large tents, they suddenly found themselves looking out onto a large field where the University of Washington’s former main building had been located. After the University had moved northeast to a bluff overlooking Lake Washington in 1895, the land had been cleared out by a developer who had big plans for the downtown site. However, in the summer of 1903, the plans had not yet evolved into anything other than city blocks' worth of dirt and gopher holes, an ideal spot for the Circus to set up shop.

The boys stopped in surprise. In front of them were hundreds of circus troupers, some of whom sat in makeshift bleachers, while others lined up down to the end of the city block. The crowd’s attention was focused on four men who wearing shorts, singlets and low-cut shoes, and they  jogged in place near a white chalk line that had been laid in the dirt. The boys spread out beside Wee, and Penny Westover looked at his friend and smiled. “Looks like they’re going to have some kind of a running race.”

Wee nodded as he gauged the distance from where they were standing to the end of the block. “About a hundred yards,” he said.

All of the Terry Street Boys eyed Wee expectantly, being aware that their friend had never been beaten in a sprint and knowing his enthusiasm for competition.

Having grown to 5’8,” and weighing about 125 pounds, Wee Coyle was no longer  “Wee Wee”, a nickname bestowed on him by a neighborhood bully when he was in elementary school. At the age of fifteen he had developed into an athlete who was fast, smart, resourceful, confident and a leader.

“Do you think you could beat them?” asked Lefty Burke.

Wee looked at Lefty and smiled. “Sure,” he said, “without a doubt.”

His friends, having heard the exchange, nodded and chuckled in agreement. They watched as two well-dressed men, who seemed to be the center of attention, interacted with other men near the four runners. A lot of walking back and forth and talking and gesturing to men in the audience was taking place next to the runners.

One man called out, “Get your bets down for the Ringling Brothers' One Hundred Yard Sprint Championship!  Mike Rooney, champion daredevil horse acrobat, will defend his title against his brother, John Rooney, the fabulous Frenchman, Alex Picard, and the remarkable redhead, Reno McCree!”

Everyone in the bleachers roared out with enthusiasm as the runners waved to the crowd. More money was exchanged, and the boys watched with curiosity as it was obviously a considerable amount.

“Wow,” exclaimed Royal Pullen, “there’s a lot of dough getting spread around.”

“Yah,” said Keyes Thayer, “if I had some I’d bet on Wee.”

The other boys murmured and nodded in agreement.

Wee gestured at the two well-dressed men whom he recognized as the men driving in the Ford Runabout at the head of the Ringling caravan. “The tall man is Mr. John Ringling,” he said to his pals.

“Really?” “How do you know?” “Who says?” “You mean the guy who owns the circus?” his friends commented.

Wee nodded, “Yah, I heard he’s got a bunch of brothers too.”

Suddenly, a dog -- a small terrier -- burst past the boys and leaped at the back of one of the runners. Colliding at full speed with the man’s rear end, the dog immediately dropped to the ground in a quivering heap. The boys watched in shock as the dog lay on the ground twitching and whining. As a crowd gathered, the man, who was the subject of the animal’s attention, crouched down to comfort the shaking pooch. Then abruptly, the dog regained its feet and began running around in circle, causing the watchers to hoot with laughter. The boys laughed along with them as the dog tore around with its neck angled awkwardly inward.

“Alex,” the first man called, “I think Prince has done something to his neck, can you fix him?”

One of the other runners, who must have been Alex, a tall trim man with a black mustache, stepped forward, his eyes closely watching the wildly sprinting dog. After a moment, he took a couple of quick steps and grabbed for the dizzy mutt, but it dodged away, directly into the sure hands of Wee Coyle.

Wee scooped Prince into his arms, and the dog’s feet continued to churn as if it were still running.

“Hold him tight, kid,” Alex said, approaching Wee.

As the Terry Street Boys crowded around their leader, Alex ran his practiced fingers over the dog's neck. “I think it’s dislocated,” he said softly. Then, with a quick and sure movement, he gave the dog’s neck a twist and a jerk, and the dog immediately stopped its contortions.

Prince seemed content to stay where he was, but Wee put the dog down, and it stood on its hind feet as if begging for a treat.

“Well, Mike,” Alex said to the first man with a smile, “it looks as if Ringling Brother’s clown dog will be in good shape for the next show.”

“Are you a doctor?” asked Wee.

Alex laughed, then clapped Wee on the shoulder. “Not hardly son. Although I’m in charge of getting this whole show set up, I do know when a body’s not right and I can usually pop an animal’s bone back into place.”

“Or a man’s,” said Mike.

Alex looked at Mike and laughed again. “Or a woman’s!” he said with a shout.

Smiling widely, Mike laughed out loud, in unison with the roar of the surrounding crowd.

Stocky and fit and somewhat shorter than Wee, Mike extended his hand out to Wee, “I’m Mike Rooney. What is your name, young man, with the quick and sure hands?”

Wee recognized the man’s name from an article he had read in the Seattle Times. Mike Rooney was known as “an incomparable high class bareback somersault riding performer” who, with his brother John, “performed daredevil acrobatics on fast moving horses”. Wee shook his strong hand and, as Mike relaxed his grip, he said, “Wee Coyle, sir, and these are my pals, the Terry Street Boys.”

“Well, Wee Coyle and his pals,” said Mike Rooney turning to the other competitors, “this part time dog whisperer is Alex Picard and also our Circus Ringmaster, and this man is my brother, John Rooney, an exceptionally great and artistic equestrian bareback and somersault expert and this man who thinks he can beat me in a hundred yard dash is Reno McCree, another noted horse lover and vaulting expert.”

Reno McCree, with bright orange hair, was another man like the Rooney brothers, short, stocky and very fit looking. He clapped Wee on the back and said, “Thank you, young Wee, for capturing the star of the show: Prince, the clown wonder dog.”

As everyone looked at Prince, who was now rolling around in the dirt, the two distinguished gentlemen made their way into the circle of dog admirers. Everyone seemed to straighten imperceptibly, and Mike Rooney gestured with one hand and said. “I would also like to introduce you, Mr. Wee Coyle, to Mr. John Ringling, the majority owner of Ringling Brothers Circus and his friend, Mr. Fred Loomis, who traveled along with the Circus in Mr. Ringling’s private car the “Wisconsin.”

John Ringling was a trim man, about six feet tall with an upright posture and a round smiling face. He was wearing a double-breasted plaid suit and had a cigar clamped in the corner of his mouth. Removing the cigar from his mouth with his left hand, he shook hands with Wee and said, “Hmm, Wee Coyle, that name sounds familiar, as in an incident that happened earlier today at the Professor’s seal pool.” Mr. Ringling stared inscrutably at Wee and his friends, who shifted back and forth uncertainly, ready to be ousted from the Circus grounds. After a moment, Mr. Ringling said, “Thank you, young man, for helping save Prince, the Circus’s star performer. It seems as we’ve had a lot of that today. And I want you to know, young fellow, that there are a lot of youngsters whose only reason for coming to the Circus is to watch Prince leaping from horse to horse.”

“You’re welcome, sir,” said Wee as they shook hands.

 “Now how about if I give you a ticket to our grand performance Wednesday night, August 19th for saving Prince.”

“That would be great, Mr. Ringling. If I run in your 100 yard race and win, would you give me and my friends tickets to the opening night’s show?" Wee asked presumptively, feeling he had nothing to lose.

Mr. Ringling nodded thoughtfully. “I like your gumption but you’re not a gambling man are you, Wee?” he said with a glint in his eye.

“Uh, no sir.”

“I didn’t think so, son, because if anyone runs in this race they have to have some kind of stake in it. In other words they have to have a chance at winning or losing something very important to them.” John Ringling looked around the circle of people, all of whom worked for him. Most of them thought he was a fair boss. Then he looked back at Wee and continued. “You have to wager something important, like money, goods or services.”

Young and cocky, Wee knew he was out of his league bargaining with this man and that he had nothing with which to bet or anything “important” to risk. Then, as he stared at the smiling Mr. John Ringling, he suddenly remembered walking past the horse stables earlier in the day and the word “services” gave him an idea based on the bicycle delivery service he ran out of the Madison Grocery and Market on First Hill. “Well sir,” he began, “How about, if I lose, I’ll muck out Mr. Rooney’s stables for the rest of the day.”

Ringling smiled at the brass of the young man and said, “It appears that you are a gambler, Mr. Wee Coyle, it’s a deal. If you win you get tickets for you and your friends to Wednesday evening's performance at my circus.”

“And tickets for my mother and father and brother too,” said Wee with a grin.

John Ringling looked around at his audience and laughed. “I told you this kid has gumption.  OK that’s the spirit, tickets for Wee Coyle’s friends and family but, if you lose, I’ll look forward to seeing you muck out Mr. Rooney’s stables today and tomorrow.”

“OK sir, it’s a deal,” Wee said with a smile, his eyes narrowing.

At that moment a woman separated herself from the crowd and walked up to Reno McCree. She was the most beautiful woman Wee and the Terry Street Boys had ever seen, and they were all paralyzed into mute statues.  She wore a white short-sleeved pullover shirt that had dark slashes of color over her breasts, as if she had bumped into something she had been painting. Her dark shorts came to mid-thigh and they fit her legs tightly as if they were a part of her. At the end of her finely sculpted legs, her feet were fitted into shoes that looked like a ballerina's but with leather soles. “Who is this fine looking young fellow?” she asked, as she put an arm around Reno McCree and stared at Wee with a confident grace that weakened the fifteen-year old boy's knees.

His face and throat were frozen into pieces of granite that refused to function.

Next to him a voice that sounded like a constricted version of Penny’s moaned. “Oh my goodness, is she real?” And, from behind him, he could detect abnormal breathing and low moaning whimpers.

The woman’s long black hair was piled on top her head and tied together with a white ribbon and, although Wee could not tell what color her eyes were, they didn’t blink, as if daring him to speak. Her lips curved into the corners of her mouth, which was parted so that he caught a glimpse of her even white teeth, and her head was canted in a questioning challenge that Wee could barely fathom. From her smooth-skinned neck that tapered to slightly sloping shoulders and down past her lightly tanned arms, her body had a finely tuned look that spoke of a woman at the peak of fitness.

Suddenly a voice behind him said softly, “Say something, Wee” and then he was nudged from behind.

From somewhere in his brain, he remembered something his mother had told him when he was younger: “When in doubt, son, always remember your manners.” Then he found himself walking toward the amazing sight. Miraculously he had found his voice. He recalled two other recent memories: one from a forgotten silent movie featuring a debonair mustachioed actor and another, a very recent one, from a half an hour before as the boys had travelled the streets of Seattle. “How do you do ma’am,” he said in a voice that was shockingly coherent. “Please allow me to introduce myself.” He stopped in front of her, took her hand and said. “Wee Coyle, at your service. I recognize you from the Ringling Brother’s Circus poster as Miss May Davenport. You are  'performing a statuesque double-riding vaulting equestrian exhibition with Mr. Reno McCree of unusual grace and beauty in equestrianism.'” Wee bowed his head slightly, which elicited a surprised and dazzling smile from May Davenport that made him light-headed.

The Rooney brothers, Alex Picard and Reno McCree, chuckled in surprise, and Mr. Ringling looked at Wee as if watching a prized pupil.

She held his hand and nodded her head. “Word for word, Wee Coyle, I am thoroughly impressed.”

Wee smiled back and he found himself saying. “When I win this race, I look forward to watching your celebrated performance.”

May Davenport nodded her head slightly, smiled and said, “And I will be honored to perform it for your pleasure.”

With his heart still pounding from his interaction with the goddess of equestrianism, Wee jogged down the dirt track toward the starting line one hundred yards away. He had rolled his dungarees up to his knees and had decided to run in his bare feet instead of his still wet, ankle-high leather-soled brogans. Better traction.

As the runners headed away from them, one of the Terry Street Boys, Ten Million, realized that from where they stood they would not have the proper angle to judge the progress of the race. Glancing around, he saw a nearby covered wagon and he immediately ran to it and climbed to its roof. Suddenly he had a better view of the runners and felt he would be able to gauge the progress of the runners.

In a flash, Mr. Ringling trotted to another wagon and reached inside. Removing a wooden megaphone, he ran to Ten’s wagon and tossed him the megaphone. “You’re the announcer young man, don’t blow it!”

Ten immediately searched his memory for the runner’s names: Alex Picard with the mustache, Reno McCree with the orange hair, Mike Rooney wearing the blue shirt, John Rooney wearing a white shirt and his black-haired friend Wee Coyle. He began: “From Seattle, Washington and Ringling Brother’s Circus, we are proud to bring to you the West Coast Championship for the one hundred yard dash.” The crowd roared  in anticipation.

His friends heard the gun fire, but being at ground level and facing head-on they couldn’t tell who was leading. Ten pointed the megaphone at the crowd and called out: “Wee slipped at the start! He almost fell! He’s behind!” I can’t get traction! A loud roar boomed out from the bleachers as the runners sprinted down the track. Finally Wee’s bare feet gained a foot hold and he felt in control. They’re all ahead of me! No, don’t let it happen!  He was behind, but he had the confidence of never being beaten, although he had never raced against grown men. “Wee’s gaining. Mike Rooney is leading!” Having started on the inside of the four men, Wee gauged that if he could catch them, he could slip past in the opening next to the line of spectators standing across from the stands. “Mike Rooney’s in the lead! Here comes Wee on the inside! It’s Rooney, Picard, Rooney and McCree! McCree is gaining!” “Come on Wee,” the Terry Street Boys yelled. I can catch them! Realizing that the older men were not faster than he was, Wee lifted his arms higher and his legs responded. He caught Picard, who was lagging, then John Rooney. Suddenly McCree was next to him, a half a stride ahead. “Mike’s still leading, just ahead of McCree with Wee still gaining!” Something strong shifted inside of Wee and he flew past McCree. He concentrated on the rushing track. A tape was strung across it, and he could sense Mike Rooney was still in the lead, just visible in his peripheral vision. “They’re even!” Wee focused on the tape and just before the finish, he took a long stride and leaned into the tape with his arms forced back and behind in a victorious “V” position. “Wee wins!” Ten Million shouted over the explosion of sound that resounded from the stands.

Wee staggered into the arms of his friends as they hugged him and tousled his hair. Suddenly the beautiful May was standing before him, an amazing apparition that he hoped was real. She had her hands on her hips as she smiled and said, “Great race, Wee. You beat the “big boys” didn’t you?”

With his chest heaving, Wee smiled back and said, “Yes ma’am.”

With that May Davenport stepped forward, took Wee’s face in her hands and kissed him long and hard on his virgin lips. His eyes were wide in amazement and emotion and she said, “Only the winner gets a kiss like that.”


Shortly after Mr. John Ringling offered Wee a wad of money, saying, “I put down a few dollars on the “dark horse.”

Wee almost put his hand out to take the money but said, “Thank you, sir, but I can’t take the money I’m an amateur.”

Ringling stared intently at the youngster and said, “Go ahead, son, take it, no one will know.” 

Wee looked around at all of the people, the beautiful May Davenport and his friends. They will all know. “Thank you, sir, but the bet was for tickets for me, my friends and my family. I can’t take anything more.”

Mr. Ringling nodded in understanding then reached inside his suit jacket and removed a stack of tickets. After parceling them out to Wee and his friends, Mr. Ringling said. “Maybe I’ll see you Wednesday night, Mr. Coyle. Make sure you make it here, I don’t want those tickets to go to waste.”

“Yes, sir,” said Wee.

As the boys left the Circus site a man called, “Hey kid.”

It was a man Wee had noticed earlier who was handling a lot of bets. “Yes, sir,” said Wee.

“Do you play pool?” the man asked.

John Rooney said to Wee, “That’s Ed Rio, the Ringling Brothers pool champion, and he’s challenging anyone in the world to beat him.”

Wee smiled. “No sir, I’m going to stick to running.”

Rooney called out to Rio, “I think you’re very lucky, Ed, this kid’s probably a quick study and he’d end up taking all of your money.” Wee’s new fans roared with laughter.

That night at the Coyle family home on the alley at 400-1/2 Broadway (and Terrace) on Seattle’s First Hill, Wee told his parents and his brother Frank that he had won the Circus tickets from Mr. John Ringling for winning a running race.

“THE Mr. Ringling?” his mother blurted.

Wee nodded with a smile. “Yes, ma’am, John Ringling, he’s my new friend along with the champion horse riders, the Rooney brothers and Reno McCree, and the Ringmaster, Alex Picard. And I almost forgot, Miss May Davenport who does somersaults on the horses.” He paused for a dreamy moment then said, “She’s beautiful.”

His older brother grabbed him around the neck and rubbed a noogie into his little brother’s head with his knuckles. “Good job, Wee, we’re going to the circus. Do we get to see your new girlfriend?”

Wee shoved him away and said, “she’s not my girlfriend.”  Then he looked at his father. “The other people were gambling for money but I didn’t.”

Bill Coyle looked at his son who seemed to be growing up wiser than his fifteen years. “But you had to bet something didn’t you.”

Wee nodded. “Yes, sir, I told Mr. Ringling I would bet a service. I told him I would muck out Mr. Rooney’s horse stable for the next two days if I lost.”

His father nodded and said, “You just wanted to run didn’t you.”

Wee looked up at his father, his lips set in a straight line. “And I wanted to win, too, so I could get those tickets for my family and my friends.”

Bill Coyle burst out in a rare smile and said, “And you did, didn’t you.”

Wee nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“Then good,” said his father. “But I think you should stick to running for your school and against boys closer to your own age.”

Wee nodded. “Yes, sir.”

Then his father patted him on the head and said, “When you get older maybe you can win a few dollars betting on your speed.” 

Wednesday night there was excitement in the Coyle house, as the family got ready to go to the Ringling Brothers Circus with the tickets won by Wee in his 100 yard match race with Mike and John Rooney, Alex Picard and Reno McCree. Wee and Frank had just been given “bathtub haircuts” by their father and now they were bursting with delight as their discomfited father got his hair trimmed by his wife, Mary Kate. As he sat in a kitchen chair with a towel around his neck, he seemed to flinch with each snip of his wife’s scissors.

“Father, how come mother doesn’t make you sit in the bathtub like us when you get a haircut,” asked Frank?

“Because I’m not squirming around like you boys and bothering your mother with a lot of silly questions and distracting her from doing her job.”

The boys hooted with laughter.

Wearing their Sunday best outfits, the Coyle family walked a couple of blocks north on Broadway Avenue and took the James Street cable car down the steep hill to Second Avenue near Pioneer Square, then walked downhill and transferred to the First Avenue trolley car that ran north on First Avenue.

(The streetcars were divided between trolley cars that are powered by electricity from strategically located power plants to overhead wires and cable cars that ran like a pulley-drawn ski lift but on the ground, under the car. The cart clamped onto the moving cable and to stop, unclamped while the cable continued revolving.)

They got off just before Union Street and walked the rest of the way, on a beautiful and calm summer night in Seattle. The streets were filled with families heading for the Circus, and there was a festive atmosphere in the air with people laughing and talking to neighbors and friends.

Upon arriving at the Circus, they settled into their seats inside the big tent, their excitement growing as a brass band played a rousing tune. Suddenly the music stopped and Alex Picard, wearing a bright and gaudy red topcoat and tails with gold trim and a top hat, strode in, leaped onto a stage, cracked a whip and in dramatic fashion and declared, “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages…”

The Coyles then spent the evening watching fantastically costumed performers, agile giant apes, somersaulting trapeze artists, daredevils on the high wire, elephants holding tails while supporting nimble performers, fierce lions in cages, elegant ladies riding on horses (featuring the dazzling  May Davenport), top-hatted men on stilts, leaping and yelping seals, jugglers who never missed a twirling pin, brightly clothed clowns, delighting young and old, and synchronized men on ten-foot high unicycles. It was a dizzying evening for the Coyle family as they laughed, oohed and aahed, their eyes wide and their mouths opened in wonder at the fantastic spectacle before them.

The only anxious moment of the evening came when the daring John Rooney missed a somersault while leaping from one cantering horse to another.

“That’s my friend,” Wee called out as he leaped to his feet. The crowd held its breath as Rooney lay on his back on the Circus tent’s dirt floor. Alex Picard smoothly deflected the attention away from the injured man with a gesture to spotlight a pack of rabble-rousing clowns. Then, after a few tense moments, the Ringmaster guided the spotlight back to Rooney who had rolled over onto his stomach, pushed himself to his hands and knees, then summoning some kind of inner strength, hauled himself to his feet with a theatrical smile. Picard called out, “John Rooney!” in a loud voice, as the main spotlight covered Rooney immediately with a brilliant beam, then it left the injured man and focused on a parade of circling elephants.

Wee kept his attention on his friend in the suddenly dark area and he saw Rooney slowly slump to the ground. A group of attendants were already running from the wings and carrying him away. Immediately Wee took a step to follow his friend to find out his condition, but his father put a hand on his shoulder. “He’s in good hands, son. He’s hurt, but if he can stand on his feet, he’ll be OK.”

Shortly after, the entire Circus retinue paraded through the enormous tent, taking their bows, with the animals being led away by their keepers, but the performers formed concentric circles inside of the large multiple rings. Then a final overture was played by the brass band and a rousing drum roll ended with the large main spotlight focusing on Alex Picard at center stage. He paused for a moment then began once again as he had three hours before: “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls and children of all ages, I am sure you have all heard of the phrase 'the show must go on' which all of us in the Circus world live our lives by. Three days ago a young man, who is not part of our world, showed us the exact meaning of those classic words. In the space of a few short hours this teenaged Seattleite and his friends were instrumental in saving the life of H.J. Reichert, our sensational seal Professor, rescuing the Death Defying Wonder Dog, Prince, after an accident and, if that was not enough, he then proceeded to win the West Coast one hundred yard dash against all-comers!”

Wee ducked his head then glanced at his parents, who along with his brother, were looking at him strangely.

Alex Picard continued: “On behalf of Mr. John Ringling and the entire Ringling Brother’s Circus, I would like Mr. Wee Coyle and his friends, known as The Terry Street Boys, to please stand.”

The crowd began to murmur and people throughout the crowd were gazing about curiously. Wee looked at his father who nodded his head, then he stood up slowly.

After a moment a few rows behind him voices called, “Wee!”

Wee looked back and saw Lefty Burke and Shaf Easter waving at him. He waved back then looked around the tent and saw his other Terry Street friends standing up and waving at each other: Ten Million, Charlie Mullen, Penny Westover, Royal Pullen, Roscoe Pike, BeVan Presley, Bill McKay and Keyes Thayer. They were all there.

“That’s it boys raise those hands and show us where you are!” proclaimed Alex Picard. “ Come on everybody, let’s give a hand to the boys who give meaning to our motto: “THE SHOW MUST GO ON!” As one, the crowd rose with a standing ovation.

Then Alex Picard brought it to a rousing finish by saying, “ Wee Coyle and the Terry Street Boys, as of this moment you are all honorary members of the our family and we want you to know that you will never pay another “red cent” to attend our Ringling Brother’s Circus and World’s Greatest Shows!”

With that the crowd reacted with a roar.

Wee continued to wave to the crowd and to his friends as his parents were bursting with pride. Then on the main floor, he could see May Davenport and he jumped onto the bench where he had been sitting. He waved at her like a maniac and, because she was already looking his way, he caught her eye and she smiled at him, causing his heart to leap with a quick shock. He knew he was in love but suddenly Reno McCree was next to her, putting an arm over her shoulder then pulling her to him. They kissed passionately. Wee immediately realized Reno didn’t know who May was waving at, he was just kissing the woman he loved and to see May respond to Reno he knew that she loved him. Wee realized he was going to have to find his own love. Next to him his brother Frank put his arm around him and said, “Good job little brother, let’s go home.”

Highlights of the Ringling Brothers Circus taken from their official program (Which has been condensed from approximately ten pages):

Ringling Brothers' Military Band: Ringling Brothers' spectacular production of the salient dramatic and thrilling episodes of the momentous and romantic story of Jerusalem and the Crusades, vividly portraying in characteristic and radiant costumes, athletic and picturesque pastimes and chivalric types the days "When Knighthood was in Flower." The prodigal extravagance and voluptuous revelries of the oriental court shown with historic accuracy in festal gaieties and dancing divertissements. (A brief entertainment or diversion, usually between the acts of a play)

The Three Greatest Herds of Performing Elephants in the World:  Mr. Christian Zeitz, a company of highly educated, unwieldy brute actors in an unique exhibition of elephantine sagacity

A series of mid-air performances of exceptional skill, daring and endurance:  Ring No. 1: Plamondon & Amondo, laughable antics and grinning, freakish mad-cap frolics on the revolving suspended ladder. The St. Leon Sisters, exploits on two swaying aerial swings. Miss A. Forepaugh, flying ring specialty and fearless mid-air evolutions.

Coterie of the World's Most Famous Equestriennes and Equestrians: Ring No. 3: Miss May Davenport and Mr. Reno McCree, double vaulting equestrian exhibition. Two peerless champions alternating mounting and dismounting. Riding simultaneously upon a single horse. 

New Astonishing Diversified Trained Animal Display:  Stage No. 1: Capt. Webb's Company of awkward looking, deft juggling, wonder working seals. The most unique display of animal training ever attempted. Unquestionably the most wonderful act of the kind in the known world. Performed by Prof. Frank Barnes.

International Exhibition of Famous Saddle Horses: Miss Etta Jordan and Mr. John Rooney, a duo of perfectly trained saddle horses in an exposition of the haute ecole.

Highly skillful medley of contortion specialties, hand balancing and unique performances on the high wire: Stage No. 1: The 3 Rio Brothers, a most remarkable exhibition of muscular dexterity on the Roman Rings. Feats of muscular rigidity unsurpassed. The most marvelous act of the kind in the world, performed by a trio of past masters in athletic excellence.

The Unquestioned Champion Bareback Riders of the World:  Ring No. 1: Mr. Michael Rooney, incomparable high class bareback somersault riding act. Introducing a complete somersault from one horse to another while both rapidly circle the arena. A splendid exposition of perfect equestrianism.

A Martial Conceit: A poem in graceful marching figures, feeding the eye with exquisite conceptions in costume and the inspiring suppleness and daintiness of youth, and delighting every sense with exceeding charms of rhythm, beauty, music and novelty. A priceless pastel of terpsichorean (of or related to dancing) genius.

A Potpourri of Phenomenal Performances by Artists of Skill and Diversified Talent. Ring No. 1: The Three Tatalis, dexterous and difficult feats of hand balancing. Mamekichi and Moto, marvelous equilibristic (involving balancing) performances upon a frail and lofty framework of bamboo, with breakaway finish.  

A New Big Aerial Number: The Flying Fishers, sensational long distance mid-air leaps and somersaults, by America's remarkable aerial meteors.

A Series of International Athletic and Acrobatic Sensations: The Dollard Troupe (six in number). A troupe of European artists executing the most hazardous feats. An Acrobatic divertissement both unique and novel. A remarkable display of muscular dexterity. First time in America.

A Number of Unique, Thrilling and Varied Equestrian Specialties: Mr. & Mrs. Homer Hobson, beautiful double carrying act on the backs of two fast running horses. Artistic poises and pictures and graceful transitions.

A Novel Burlesque Equestrian Conceit: Mr. F. Schadle, a terrific scramble by a nimble clown, who does not know how to stay on his mule's back, while the latter swiftly circles the arena.

Grand Hippodrome Sensations. Hotly Contested Trials of Speed and Skill: First Event - Gentlemen's Jockey Race, three times around the track. Horses: Hazard, Tornado, Thunderbolt, Fire Fly. Riders: Al. Thompson, green; John Mercer, red; Geo. Cole, black and yellow; Ray Thompson, blue.

According to The Seattle Times: “The two days' stand of the Circus in the “New York of the West” was exceptionally good financially for John Ringling and the Ringling Brothers. Four turn away houses brought smiles to the faces of everybody. Seattle welcomed the Ringlings right royally, and there is no complaint to register concerning business. The lot was an elegant one, close to the streetcar runs and the parade went out on time.”

The Stakes: The High School National Championship The Score: Seattle High School - 5, North Division High School - 6

January 1, 1907:  With the clock running down, Wee Coyle and his Seattle High School teammates are battling down the Madison Park Field against the North Division Wolves from Chicago.                        

After completing his daring pass to Lefty Burke, Wee sprinted downfield with his Seattle teammates and he could see Scholes the North Division’s homing in on Lefty, with Greiner the other safety, gaining from the rear. Referee Best was running next to him, and Wee noted the man glancing at his watch. Suddenly he could see Burke being pulled down from behind with the Umpire Mr. O’Brien standing near him, next to the goal posts. He’s not signaling a touchdown!   Wee increased his speed and left the referee behind.                              

Wee arrived at the spot where Lefty had been taken down and glanced to his right. The chalk lines were gone but a bit of white line remained connected to the sideline. We’re on about the six.

There was chaos on the field and in the stadium as thousands of spectators streamed from their seats and rushed toward the goal line. (There is no end zone as the goal posts are directly on the goal line.) A squad of policemen formed a line to keep the frenzied fans back. The Wolves’ burly Captain and immovable left tackle Paul Dornblaser were shoving their teammates into position, trying to save the day.

With a sudden blast, rain cascaded from the sky and, for a millisecond, the sky east of Lake Washington lit up with a sheet of light. Moments later a rumbling boom of thunder rolled down from the Cascade Mountains freezing the rabid fans in their steps, but not Wee Coyle and the Seattle High School eleven. The boys from Chicago had heard the likes of the tumult before from Lake Michigan but never before combined with such fervor from a crowd of people. The Seattle team took their positions with military precision and without delay, the way they had been coached. They knew their enemy wasn’t the distance to the goal, it was the clock.

Wee scanned the North Division eleven quickly then called out, “Hut one!” His boys didn’t hesitate because they knew exactly what was expected of them; at the line of scrimmage on the previous play Wee had called two plays. Presley hiked the ball, Wee took it, turned to his left and handed it to a crashing left halfback Jay Smith. A small hole opened before him, between Gillis and Henry, and he charged into it just before it closed. Lowering his head, Jay smashed into the bodies and he could feel his line moving forward as it prevailed on the straining Wolves. From behind, his backfield mates pushed against him as their opponent’s line began to break. He turned sideways and slipped into a small opening. He could feel his cleats steady into a solid spot on the field and he moved with the momentum of his Seattle bunch. Their movement forward continued with his linemen and his backfield literally holding him upright. Jay couldn’t have fallen if he had wanted to. Suddenly their momentum stopped as the Wolves’ line began to hold, then the whistle blew. They had reached the three-yard line.

Wee looked around quickly and found Referee Best. Their eyes locked and the man held up ten fingers.


Will Lomen can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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