What was the Jungle?
Frank Bostock was determined to do things differently, on a grander scale. Whilst a traditional Menagerie would move from location to location, showing animals in cages, the Jungle involved a mass of entertainment centred around animals that had been trained to perform. Bostock called his show the 'America's Amazing Advanced Animal Aggregation' in an attempt to move it above the status of a Menagerie, such as those travelled by his Bostock and Wombwell relations.
A travelling Menagerie was set up to facilitate travelling dangerous animals. The standard layout would involve the travelling cages forming three sides of a quadrangle whilst the leading edge of the quadrangle would consist of the the "walk-up" front of the show. In effect the animals travelled and were exhibited in the same cage throughout. The front of the show consisted of a balcony and ornate decoration of carving and painting - depictions were of beasts fighting and being hunted and captured. This front stage would include a band of musicians, a 'spieler' telling of the animals inside and their grand 'back-stories' detailing exploits of ferocity and capture, and the various trainers resplendent in their uniforms, medals and tools of the trade. A classic example was the story of Ballard's escaped tiger attacking the Exeter mail coach - this made a bloodthirsty tale which grabbed the punters' attention.
The Jungle set itself apart from the travelling Menageries in the first instance via its layout. Bostock pioneered a set-up using three sides with an arena in the centre. The system had linked passageway cages from the outer to the centre arena, with a system of communication to ensure that animals would not meet 'en route'.
In the spirit of showmen such as Tom Norman and PT Barnum, Frank Bostock enjoyed the power of exhibition and spectacle twinned with the lavish language of advertising, publicity and promotion. The Jungle, when it arrived in the city, would set down for a longer period than the brief stay generally afforded by a traditional Menagerie. A similar comparison might be the recent trend for 'Giant Ferris Wheels' that spend months on end in our towns and cities, distinguishing themselves from a standard travelling fair which may well have a smaller Ferris Wheel of its own.
The Jungle would contain collections of the most exotic animals, each with fascinating 'back-stories' told by Bostock, such as the regimental bear who regularly escaped his military duties and so ended up in the Jungle. Animals would then be advertised performing a number of comical chores, or handlers would perform in the big cage with the animal. Dignitaries and brave performers would be advertised as making speeches and performing songs from the midst of the lions. Alongside these animal attractions would be various oddities and curiosities, human acts with striking differences or able to perform strange acts of illusion or endurance. Early fairground machinery was also erected, long slides and a 'Joy Wheel'.
Baron X and the 'kid glove' lions - NFA Collections.
Frank Bostock soon assembled a fine selection of animals and trainers - pushing the envelope on securing exotic breeds, hybrids and acquiring the best trainers with 'celebrity' attributes. One of his unique acts was the equestrian lion whereby he worked a full-grown lion into riding a horse. This was achieved using a fairly stocky and (obviously) unconcerned horse along with a lion that - though full grown - was actually quite small but for a tremendous mane that gave an illusion of a bigger animal. Mounting was achieved using a bridge system to avoid making the lion leap onto the horses back and tear its flesh to pieces. Another famous act (pictures above) was the trainer 'Baron X' and his kid-glove lions. This shows the quick-witted business sense of Bostock who had to have a group of lions castrated due to their over-activity such that, after the operation, the lions lost their manes and all sense of feline pride and aggression. This allowed them to be handled by a trainer - Baron X - using soft gloves and nothing else to pat them around the arena.