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
(Click here to read
Chapter V); <Chapter I>; <Chapter
II>; <Chapter III>; <Chapter
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
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.
- The Terry Street Boys -- Wee Coyle,
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.
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.
“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.
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.”
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.
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
wonder who the other man is?” his female companion asked.
one of his brothers, he’s got five or six of them,” said the man.
procession climbed up Spring Street, Charlie Mullen called out, “Wee, where
are they headed next?”
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.”
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
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.
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.
stopped next the rump of an elephant, who he had heard its caretaker call
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.”
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.
something out of 1001 Arabian Nights,” whispered Roscoe Pike, sidling
quietly up next to Wee.
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.
called BeVan Presley, “they’ve painted the old building purple and
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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
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!”
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
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.”
young woman said, “Oh, father, are you OK?” Unable to talk, the Professor
nodded his head and then croaked. “I’m fine.”
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?”
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
nodded as he gauged the distance from where they were standing to the
end of the block. “About a hundred yards,” he said.
the Terry Street Boys eyed Wee expectantly, being aware that their friend
had never been beaten in a sprint and knowing his enthusiasm for
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.
think you could beat them?” asked Lefty Burke.
looked at Lefty and smiled. “Sure,” he said, “without a doubt.”
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.
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!”
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.
exclaimed Royal Pullen, “there’s a lot of dough getting spread around.”
said Keyes Thayer, “if I had some I’d bet on Wee.”
other boys murmured and nodded in agreement.
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.
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
the first man called, “I think Prince has done something to his neck,
can you fix him?”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
a doctor?” asked Wee.
Alex laughed, then clapped Wee on the shoulder. “Not hardly son.
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
man’s,” said Mike.
looked at Mike and laughed again. “Or a woman’s!” he said with a shout.
widely, Mike laughed out loud, in unison with the roar of the surrounding crowd.
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
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
welcome, sir,” said Wee as they shook hands.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.”
tickets for my mother and father and brother too,” said Wee with a grin.
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.”
it’s a deal,” Wee said with a smile, his eyes narrowing.
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.
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
Suddenly a voice
behind him said softly, “Say something, Wee” and then he was nudged from
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
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
Wee smiled back
and he found himself saying. “When I win this race, I look forward to
watching your celebrated performance.”
nodded her head slightly, smiled and said, “And I will be honored to
perform it for your pleasure.”
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.
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.
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!”
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
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
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.
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?”
chest heaving, Wee smiled back and said, “Yes ma’am.”
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
after Mr. John Ringling offered Wee a wad of money, saying, “I put down
a few dollars on the “dark horse.”
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.”
stared intently at the youngster and said, “Go ahead, son, take it, no one
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.”
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
sir,” said Wee.
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,”
play pool?” the man asked.
Rooney said to Wee, “That’s Ed Rio, the Ringling Brothers pool
champion, and he’s challenging anyone in the world to beat him.”
smiled. “No sir, I’m going to stick to running.”
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.
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.
Ringling?” his mother blurted.
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.”
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?”
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.”
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.”
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
father nodded and said, “You just wanted to run didn’t you.”
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.”
Coyle burst out in a rare smile and said, “And you did, didn’t you.”
nodded. “Yes, sir.”
good,” said his father. “But I think you should stick to running for
your school and against boys closer to your own age.”
nodded. “Yes, sir.”
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.
how come mother doesn’t make you sit in the bathtub like us when you get
a haircut,” asked Frank?
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.”
hooted with laughter.
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
(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.
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
The only anxious
moment of the evening came when the daring John Rooney missed a
somersault while leaping from one cantering horse to another.
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.”
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
Wee ducked his
head then glanced at his parents, who along with his brother, were
looking at him strangely.
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
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
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.
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
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
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)
A Potpourri of Phenomenal Performances by Artists of Skill and
Ring No. 1: The Three Tatalis, dexterous and difficult feats of hand
balancing. Mamekichi and Moto, marvelous equilibristic
performances upon a frail and lofty framework of bamboo, with breakaway
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
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
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
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,
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
Stakes: The High School National Championship The Score: Seattle High
School - 5, North Division High School - 6
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
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
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.
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
teammates into position, trying to save the day.
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
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.
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.
looked around quickly and found Referee Best. Their eyes locked and the
man held up ten fingers.