No doubt in today’s “modern” world, a flea Circus gaining worldwide fame would spark activism. From all over the globe activist would race to the rescue of the vampiric fleas trained to pull chariots and perform feats more akin to the circus than their normal habit of snacking on your ankles. From 1935 into the 1960’s circus tricks are exactly what Roy Hecklers fleas were trained to do on a daily basis.
The Heckler saga began with Professor William Heckler, a native of Switzerland, who presented his show at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, and also spent many years at Coney Island. It is said he was originally a builder; he obviously was mechanically inclined. Then he operated various concessions until he found himself the owner of a flea circus. In 1915 he wrote his book Pulicology, which purported to describe the “science” of his trained beasts.
Circa 1923 he moved to Hubert’s Museum, Times Square, where his circus was to enjoy its greatest prominence as a New York institution. William passed away in 1935, bequeathing his tiny show to his son, Roy, or Leroy, who ran it until the 1960s.
Roy trained only female fleas since they are twice the size as males. While fleas normally move by jumping, he trained them to crawl or walk by placing them in a long glass tube. Every time they jumped, they would bump their heads and were therefore conditioned against it.
It is said the fleas would mount tiny paper horses and joust with tiny lances. Troupes of fleas harnessed to tiny chariots, led by wire leashes would ride bicycles, walk tightropes, dance to flea orchestras and even pan for gold.
Unfortunately judging by the videos I’ve posted on this page a flea Circus appears to be nothing more than fleas walking around pulling things. Keep in mind these aren’t videos of Roy Hecklers Flea Circus but his was probably very similar. Regardless it is still quite amazing seeing fleas do anything other than being swatted at as they attempt to drink our blood.