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10 Amazing Circus Families


9
The Clarkes
Ernestine Clarke (not shown) was a bareback rider and trapeze artist in the 1940s; she was inducted into the International Circus Hall of Fame in 1967. Underwood Archives/Getty Images
Ernestine Clarke (not shown) was a bareback rider and trapeze artist in the 1940s; she was inducted into the International Circus Hall of Fame in 1967. Underwood Archives/Getty Images

The Clarke circus dynasty stretches back to the very beginning of modern circus-hood. In the early 19th century, famed horseman John Clarke began to work for Englishman Phillip Astley, the gent credited with inventing the modern circus in the late 1700s. (A quick aside -- supposedly Clarke served as the model for Sleary, the circus owner in Charles Dickens' novel "Hard Times.") Clarke's family continued on in the circus business, with his grandsons creating a popular aerial act that was brought over the pond to America's Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1903. Two of the grandsons, Ernest and Charles Clarke, perfected the triple back-somersault in 1909 [sources: Jando, The Telegraph].

Although the family act broke up during World War II, when the men were called to serve their country, Ernest's daughter, Ernestine, soldiered on alone. Ernestine was a talented bareback rider and trapeze artist hired by the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. She was so talented, the company gave her a solo riding spot in its show, plus her own flying act. Ernestine left the circus in the 1950s to raise the two daughters she had with husband Parley Baer, a circus performer and actor. Both girls followed in their mother's footsteps, becoming trapeze artists. In 1962, the Clarke family was inducted into the International Circus Hall of Fame for their collective bareback skills, and in 1967 Ernestine was inducted on her own [sources: International Circus Hall of Fame, The Telegraph].