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Pauline Braham – The First “Queen of Handcuffs”

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Lester & Allen’s Minstrels arrived in Cleveland, Ohio for a three-day booking after a long series of one-night stands. On Thursday, October 7, 1886,  the 40-member company marched in a “grand parade" and then proceeded to give five sold out performances at the Cleveland Theater. Amongst the blackface singers, dancers, and comedians were the Barham Brothers who performed shadowgraphs. Sitting in the audience at one show, was a stage struck 19-year-old, Pauline Jackson. She met the 29-year-old Lewis (Louis) Braham and his older brother Abraham, either at the theater or through the local Jewish community.  By Monday Pauline had been persuaded by Lewis to leave with him. She found herself on the way to their next performance in  Sandusky, Ohio. Lester & Allen’s Minstrels then played another series of one-night stands through Michigan, Illinois and Indiana finally arriving in Chicago for a week-long engagement. There on October 19th Lewis and Pauline were married before an eve…

The Orlandos

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Sideshows in carnivals, fairs and circuses were home to many relatively obscure escape acts. The Orlandos are one example. They were with “Karr’s World’s Wonder Shows” for the 1916 season. They appeared under canvas with four other variety acts. This was one of the 16 shows with the carnival “Tom W. Allen’s Shows”.  The carnival toured large and small towns in the mid-west from April to October 1916. No description of the act survives. Who these performers were or what happened to them is a mystery. All the information we have is from a single advertisement in Billboard Magazine and a photograph of the couple.
References Billboard, July 1, 1916
Photograph from the collection of Fred Pittella



Gary Hunt Copyright 2017

The Haags

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George and Elizabeth (Lizzie) Haag were a husband and wife team that for a time specialized in escapes. Elizabeth’s maiden name was Miller and she was born on March 6, 1876 in Reading, Pennsylvania. She was working in a cigar factory when she met George Haag, a local barber. They were married in May of 1902 and settled down in Reading. George was a semi-professional magician and performed at local events as Professor Haag. In the summer of 1907 they performed magic at Carsconia Park, an amusement park in Reading. That fall they toured with a vaudeville company. During the summer of 1908 they were back at Carsconia Park, but this time Elizabeth was billed as Madam Luella, Queen of Handcuffs. George did his magic act “Magic, Mirth and Mystery” and twice a day dove into Lake Carsconia handcuffed.  To publicise their performances, Elizabeth did an exhibition escape at the local police station. She was restrained with four pairs of handcuffs, shackled and placed into a cell. Within four mi…

Minerva: Don't Ever Mess with a Handcuff Queen

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“Minerva is the only woman before the public today who juggles with the handcuffs as though they were gold bracelets and comes out of a locked up straight jacket as if she were wriggling out of a silk negligee.” Cumberland Evening Times, July 13, 1908
Minerva learn the intricacies of being an escape artist from her husband, William van Dorn. He had toured for a number of years as part of the escape act “Vano and Arno”. After he married Minerva in 1903 she was quickly added to the act. They toured as the “Vanos” until they went their separate ways in 1906. By this time Minerva had become the principal performer of the escape act and her husband had developed an act using liquid air. In the summer of 1908, Minerva was finding success touring summer theaters and amusement parks in the eastern states. She was contracted to play a week at Merryland Park in Cumberland, Maryland for the princely sum of $75. Arriving early, she met with the park manager who complained of poor attendance and hop…