As I have previously remarked, having known several “clown ministers,” I am familiar with the grease-painted face of Evil. It was the silence of these creatures that was the most terrifying: they would bustle about the sanctuary doing allegorical things with balloons or leaping in simulated joy, ostensibly offering religious instruction, while their body language screamed “sociopath.” The silent White Clown of the European circus tradition and the current panic-inducing clowns who stand mutely in the street produce a similar effect.
In 1896 there was a Clown Horror reported in the press: a silent man in a clown suit with two ventriloquist dummies wandering about the Midwest. Meet Mr. George J. Mold.
MOLD MAKES START
SILENT CIRCUMNAVIGATOR STARTS OUT ON HIS TRIP.
Given a Great Ovation at Cash Henderson’s Store Given One Hundred Dollars Worth of Presents
Great Crowd Follows Him Everywhere
He Goes Directly to the Halls Where He is Received With Great Enthusiasm
Missouri Pacific Extends Its Courtesies
He is Interviewed With an Eagle Reporter.
George Mold the silent circumnavigator started out at midnight last night on his four years trip around the world. He was accompanied by Bob Kinnaird his press agent.
When the clock struck twelve there was a great crowd around Cash Henderson’s store and Bob Kinnaird dressed Mr. Mold in his clown suit. After this Mr. George Bergman presented him with a box of chewing gum which Mr. Mold will sell this morning to make his start in the circumnavigation of the globe. Mr. Cash Henderson and a great crowd of enthusiasts filled his store and everything Mr. Mold did was cheered to the echo. Harry Hagney, editor of the Beacon presented him with a suit of clothes and the other presents given to him amounted to over $100.
At 12 o’clock today Mr. Mold and his press agent will leave Wichita. The Missouri Pacific railway will give him the courtesy of the road and stop over privileges.
After the start last night Mr. Mold went to Redmen’s hall where he was tendered a great ovation and from there he went to the Columbia club masquerade ball with like results. He was highly gratified over the reception tendered him at both places.
MOLD IS INTERVIEWED.
Last night at the entertainment given by the Columbian club in their hall, Mr. George Mold, the silent circumnavigator, gave his first public exhibition of his powers of ventriloquism, by means of which he expects to win the $10,000 wager, and through which he is to carry on all intercourse with the world for the next four years. The hall was filled to its utmost capacity, and the interest manifested by everyone during his performance was most intense.
He made his appearance in a costume of black silk trimmed with old gold ruffles and spots. The style is the regulation clown costume and with his comically designed make-up he appears as though he had trod the sawdust ring for a lifetime, instead of it being his first attempt.
In each hand he carried a ventriloquial figure, one representing a diminutive Irishman and the other a negro, named “Danny” and “Joe,” respectively. He began carrying on a conversation with the figures and when they apparently answered him it was impossible to discover a muscle in Mold’s face moving, nor was there any straining of the facial muscles to hide the effort. The figures cracked jokes with each other, sang songs, entered into disputes and discussions and in everything acted as though they were endowed with the power of speech.
In response to an encore he executed several of the most difficult feats known in ventriloquism, notably the singing of a song while holding a coin between the teeth. This, according to men skilled in the profession, is among the hardest of all acts. During it the face was remarkably passive and the coin held without any apparent effort, yet the singing was clear and distinct, and to the observers came from the mouth of the figure. He also gave an exhibition of advancing and retreating voices, throwing at will his voice into any part of the room.
After the entertainment he was seen by an Eagle reporter at his rooms in the Sedgwick block and told many interesting facts and stories about his past and future. When intruded upon he was admiring a gold medal just received from Jack Clark, a member of the Manhattan club of New York City, to be worn on his trip around the world.
He was asked about his undertaking and for a long time pleasantly conversed on matters pertaining to it and himself.
“Naturally,” he said, “the future is very indefinite and I will be unable to give you a very clear idea of what I intend to do. I am going to start tomorrow morning, preceded by a brass band as an escort to the train. We, Mr. Kinnaird and myself, will leave for the St. Louis that morning and from there on through the east. We will strike nearly every town of any importance east of the Mississippi. Two years of our time will be spent in this way. We have already received an invitation to accompany one of Cook’s excursions, which will leave New York on Jan. 1, 1898. This excursion we will probably accompany and with it visit the foreign lands, returning over the Pacific to San Francisco. From there we will visit every prominent Western city, and return here by Jan. 1, 1900.”
When asked to tell of his early life, he began by speaking of his father. He said:
“My father was a newspaper man for years. He was a native of Vienna, Austria, and was a student at the university there when the revolution against taxation broke out in 1848, and took an active part. To avoid death he fled to this country. After a short stay at Pittsburg, Pa., he went to Chicago to take charge of an editorial department of the ‘Illinois Staats-Zeitung’ which he held for a number of years. He then went to Alton, Ill., where he founded the ‘Alton Banner’ and published it for a long time. It was in Alton that I was born and raised. I remember the first time I ever heard a ventriloquist and I knew then that I could speak in the same way. I practiced and had a great lot of pleasure by means of it. When I was 19 years of age, five Alton boys and myself went to Denver to form a band. All the musicians of that place had gone to the gold fields and after we arrived there we got the fever and followed the South Park railroad, which was then building. We would play for the miners and railroad men every night and get our pay in gold dust. At Leadville we joined Fishback & Costello’s circus with which we came east, and finally landed at Alton.
“I stayed there until 1887, when I received a letter from here to come and manage the Wichita ball club, which wanted to enter the league. This I did, and it was the only league team we ever had, for the boom fell immediately after. I then entered the postal service, carrying the mail sack on the Main street route for the last five years.
“Through my ventriloquial powers I had many amusing things happen during my mail carrying. Many times I would be taking letters from a street box and persons would stop to watch me, when I would throw my voice in the box or sack and imitate a chicken or bird. The spectators would tell me not to lock the box as there was a chicken inside, or others would think I had been stealing chickens and was carrying them in sack. Other times I would carry the sack under my arm and apparently hold a struggling pig or dog in it and at the same time imitate the sound they would make. Many people have followed me for blocks to see whether I was really holding anything or was fooling them.”
Continuing, he asked if the reporter had time to witness a few of his talents that he had not yet made public, and upon being answered in the affirmative he began giving a conversation between his two figures which were sitting on chairs at opposite sides of the operator. He sat between and the closest examination from a distance of a few feet failed to discover the movements of any of Mr. Mold’s facial muscles.
The figures seemingly talked, laughed and cried and in every way acted very human-like. This being finished he gave what he called “echo work” and is only attempted by experts. A sound is made by the voice and at different intervals an echo is heard. First the echo came from the side of the room, then from across the street and then from a distance the sound varying as the distance. Songs were then sung in different languages. The negro sang German, the Irishman sang in French and Swedish, and all such comical combinations. As a last test he gave an imitation of a man coming down a long hall crying his wares for sale. First the man appeared to be coming up the stairs calling, “Tinware for sale,” and gradually came nearer the door of the room until he reached it, when the reporter felt like going to the door to see if there wasn’t really a man outside, but the voice slowly passed down the hall. The whole affair was wonderful. No instrument of any kind was used by him, and his voice did not have the harsh sound that so many of the so-called ventriloquists have.
In conclusion he stated that all his preparations are made and in spite of the work he has been compelled to do to get ready, he is feeling in the best of spirits. To win the wager, it will be necessary that he earn $13.75 for each day in the four years.
His entire outfit has been presented to him by the merchants of this city, and he will leave well-equipped in that line, although he was penniless when the clock struck 12 last night.
The Wichita [KS] Daily Eagle 1 January 1896: p. 5
Judging from the chicken-mailbox incidents, Mr. Mold was a bona-fide Card. He played in local bands, sang in local theatrical products, and even thrilled theatre-goers as Ben Hur at the local opera house. Why he was penniless? Or was that just a requirement of the wager: that he start with nothing? If not, perhaps he lost his postman’s job after one too many pig-in-a-mail-bag impostures. But off he and his press agent/secretary went, attracting crowds wherever they appeared.
SILENCE IS GOLDEN
Doubly So in the Experience of George J. Mold.
Around the World in Silence for $10,000
At the Golden Rule for Three Days.
A traveler arrived in Logansport yesterday afternoon and has already made an impression which will remain long with our citizens. His name is George J. Mold, and he is now engaged in circumnavigating the globe on a $10,000 wager, the terms of which are the most unique of any ever entered into by any one. He and his secretary, R.F. Kinnaird, are residents of Wichita, Kan., where Mr. Mold was until a short time ago employed as a mail carrier. On December 3, 1895, he wagered with Cash Henderson, a leading merchant of that city, that he could circumnavigate the globe in four years without uttering a word except through ventriloquial figures. As he is a clever artist in this line such an undertaking is relieved of the possibility that he will forget how to talk.
By the terms of the wager he is to wear a clown costume throughout the trip and make $20,000 by honorable occupation. He is closely attended by Mr. Kinnaird, a newspaper man, whose duty it is to see that no part of the contract is violated. Upon the successful performance of the wager Mr. Mold is to receive $10,000 in cash from Mr. Henderson, which in addition to the $20,000 is ample compensation for four years silence. He resorts to many methods of making money and during his stay at Logansport will be at the Golden Rule, where articles will be offered for sale. [chewing gum? souvenir post-cards?]
Large crowds have been attracted to the store today, and from indications he obtained several dollars toward the $20,000 before leaving the city. Logansport [IN] Reporter 24 February 1896: p. 8
In April, at Muncie, Indiana, Mold claimed that he was making between $10 and $28 a day distributing “advertising matter.” Given the kindness of the Missouri Pacific Railway, it seems like he should have been a little further along in his travels. But in May, Mold had a setback.
HIS PAL GOT TIRED
Globe Trotter Mold Is Seeking Another and Better Companion.
Wichita, Kas., May 13 George J. Mold, the Wichita ex-letter carrier, who started out as a globe-trotter January 1 on a $10,000 wager, returned home last night. He was accompanied on the trip by Robert Kinnaird, and he alleges that Kinnaird “got tired” and wants to quit. Mold expects to get a new traveling companion and finish the trip. Mold was to travel around the world in two years, during which time he was to talk only through ventriloquist figures and accumulate $20,000. The postal cards have come along every day, always signed by Kinnaird, until the last, which was signed by Mold at St. Louis May 7 and giving the amount of money on hand as $1,386.40. When Mold left here he was escorted to the depot by a brass band and the whole town turned out to see him off. St. Louis [MO] Republic 14 May 1896: p. 12
Kinnaird was supposed to bear witness to Mold’s income, his silence, and, one supposes, his clown suit. Curiously, his name appears in a list of the guests at an “Owls and Crescents” dance party in Wichita on 25 March 1896, right after that of “Mrs. George Mold.” Mold himself was not on the list.
He seems to have been a 9-days wonder, or, more precisely, a 160-day wonder. The last notice in the press I could find put him in Kansas City, Missouri where he “will interest the public” from the window of the Palace Clothing Company starting 9 June 1896. I can find no evidence that Mold ever made it out of the Midwest. He can be found in the census of 1910 with his wife Emma, and son, George Jr. His occupation is ambiguously listed as “Restaurant.”
Any further news of the Silent Circumnavigator? chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
You’ll find “Rictus Mortis,” a post on the history of deadly clowns here.
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.