Spotlight: Penn’s Woods Puppet Theater

David Lano, in his own words, part 1 of 2

Trouble always found it easy to catch up with circus folk.

We were with the J. August Jones show at a fair in Bath, NY when I witnessed one of the weirdest fly-by-night organizations that I ever saw.

It cantered into town the last week – a reckless, daring, irresponsible pack of rascals who slept in the woods and in piles of straw.

They were a gang of overland men and women in appropriate costumes.

They rode in under the leadership of a desperado who called himself Night Hawk. They rode in two-and-two; every man had a lady riding with him. About twelve persons were in the company.

They would round up a crowd in a square by promising an entertainment of impossible things. They would hold the crowd while Night Hawk would sell bottles of medicine for a dollar each.

He would then speed up his pitch, and give every man back his dollar, allowing him to keep the medicine. He announced that he had three types of cure-alls: the dollar kind, the two-dollar kind and the five-dollar kind.

He made a lot of sales of the two-dollar kind because the buyers expected to get their two dollars back and be told to keep the medicine.

The funniest part of the setup was that the ladies in the troupe could really ride; they tore up and down the roads like female Jesse Jameses.

Who and what they were I never knew, but they surely broke up the fair’s monotony. Some would sneak out at night and come back with horse feed and other rations.

They cooked at night in their community frying pan. They always had chicken. You could smell it frying.

Two of the Night Hawk girls made friends with my wife. These two girls would bring over fried chicken for her. They seemed rather nice.

They stuck to their men and made no contact with outsiders. Their camp was one that the town bullies avoided. It later developed that the girls really needed friends.

They had a story to tell that must often have risen to their lips, but for fear, was not yet told. To be continued…

Robin and Susan Tafel – 215 441-4154  –

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