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King of Carnival Kings
ImageIn May 1901, way before the time of Disneyland, thousands of visitors flocked to New York for a great day out.  One huge star of the show, nick- named the King of Carnival Kings, lies buried in Hackney ....   There were loads of inventions, spectacles and entertainments at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York:  but maybe it is most famous for being the place that a President of the United States was killed by an assassin's bullet.  So what's it got to do with Hackney?

The answer is Frank Bostock, who was buried in Abney Park Cemetery: it is hard to miss Frank's grave, because there is a life-sized white marble lion lying on top of it.  He was born in 1866, and became one of the greatest showmen in the world..   His family was in the menagerie business, with wild collections of animals: and they did some pretty weird - and unkind - things with their poor performing animals.   He got married to Susannah Wombwell: and guess what - her family were in the menagerie business too.  (You can read a story about what happened when those animals came with the Wombwell Show of Wild Beasts to visit Stoke Newington in Issue 15 of TimeLine).

Frank had first set off on a steam ship to New York, to set up his own carnival business in a place called Coney Island.  Crowds came to see him and his scary bizarre beasts - like Wallace the Untameable LionJolly the Elephant, and the Boxing  Kangaroo.   Soon Frank was travelling around America with his fantastic shows, teaming up with the fabulous Ferrari Brothers.  

Frank introduced what he called his Olde Pleasure Faire to America - and in 1901 the Pan American Exposition was brilliant place for him to please the crowds.   His amazed audiences we astounded by Esau (a chimpanzee dressed in a suit of clothes using a typewriter; Electra the Flying Illusion and Posco the Poison Man (who was specially good at charming snakes).  

ImageLocal doctors queued up to examine Esau, who Frank called "The Missing Link", to check whether he was really an animal or a very little human being.   There was non-stop entertainment around Frank: Bonner, The Horse with Human Brain, could do sums; visitors could go on an amazing merry-go-round called The Golden Chariots, which had a huge electrical piano right in the middle; and Frank himself would entertain people with his lion-taming sessions.  He became known as the most famous and fearless of all the lion-tamers in the world.   And one big attraction of Frank's show were the wedding ceremonies: the happy couple would actually get married inside the lions' cage, with real live lions just a few steps away.

The Pan-American Exposition started in May, and carried on right through the Spring and Summer and into the Fall.  It was a chance for America to show the world all that it was proud of at the beginning of a new century.  The huge fair was a triumph - and Frank was there, making a mint of money and thrilling anybody and everybody who came to the Exposition.  One person who loved shows like it was President McKinley, so he was not going to be left out of this Exposition. The President first visited the Pan-American Exposition on Thursday September 5th, and liked it so much that he came back the next day:  President McKinley went on a tour of the nearby Niagara Falls in Friday morning, and then back to the Exposition in Buffalo.  And it was right there, in the middle of the massive show full of fun and excitement and promise; everything that was trendy and exciting about the new Age in America, the shows, and the music, and the new buildings made for the Exposition that an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz turned up and shot the President dead as a dodo.

But life for Frank went on.   After the Exposition had finally closed in November, Frank's tours around America carried on as before: Frank wowed people with Minnie the Wild Girl,  the Royal Lilliputians,  Madame Morelli and her Leopards and much much more.   Frank was nicknamed the King of All Carnival Kings, and the Americans adored him.  But, in 1912, during a visit home to England, Frank - who had lived surrounded by the world's fiercest beasts - died in bed of the flu, aged just forty-six years old.   And now Frank and Susannah are buried together, and lie quietly under that marble lion we can all see in the Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington.
 
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