Sepia Saturday (on Sunday) – An Italian Family Circus

Sepia Sat April 27, 2013

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind become the launchpad for explorations of family history, local history and social history in fact or fiction, poetry or prose, words or further images.

When Alan posted this week’s prompt picture, one of his suggestions to fit the theme was the newspaper headlines. The headlines were Greek to me, but as I looked closely at the photograph for ideas, the poster behind the readers caught my eye. I don’t speak the language, but I could understand “Italiaans Nationaal” and recognize it as a circus poster.

Italiaans Nationaal Circus

















This detail caught my attention because my husband, daughter, and I had recently attended a circus – an Italian family circus. My husband, ever vigilant to seek out events with an Italian connection, purchased tickets for the Zoppe Family Circus.

Zoppe circus ticket

It was held on the grounds of the Long Center in Austin on a lovely April evening.

As we walked up the hill toward the tent, we heard music and applause and noticed that people were crowded in front of the tent rather than entering. We had missed most of the pre-show entertainment, but Giovanni Zoppe was talking to the crowd.


Giovanni explained a little of the history of this small family circus and the great meaning the circus has for this family. He set the stage so that the audience knew from the beginning what to expect (or not to expect) from this circus. No Ringling Brothers here. No Cirque du Soleil. Instead, this circus seeks to preserve the traditional Italian Family circus.

The website for the Zoppe Family Circus provides this account of the family’s circus roots:

“In 1842, a young French street performer named Napoline Zoppè wandered into a plaza in Budapest, Hungary, looking for work. There, his eyes glanced upon a beautiful equestrian ballerina named Ermenegilda, who captured the hearts and minds of the crowd with her grace and showmanship. More important, this talented beauty captured Napoline’s heart.

However, since Napoline was a clown, Ermenegilda’s father saw him as beneath her and disapproved of their relationship. The two ran away to Venice, Italy, and founded the circus that still bears their name. Over the generations, the circus survived wars and political upheaval in Italy and the rest of Europe.”

Cecil B. DeMille brought Alberto Zoppe, Napoline’s grandson and Giovanni’s father, to the U.S. from Italy in 1948. Alberto was running the Zoppe Circus in Italy and was famous for his backwards, flat somersault off the back of a running horse onto the back of a second running horse. He appeared in the movie “The Greatest Show on Earth” performing this trick in the background. During filming, Alberto performed his trick over and over and over again as the speaking character repeatedly flubbed lines.

In 2007, Alberto was inducted into the Circus Ring of Fame in Sarasota, Fla. Alberto’s first wife was from the famous Wallenda family. Their son, Tino Wallenda Zoppe spoke about his father in the tribute video below. It contains some old footage (including his famous lateral somersault) as well as circus and family photos.

Following is a clip of Alberto in “The Greatest Show on Earth”.

And now back to my family trip to the circus….. Most of the performers in this circus are related. Giovanni and his wife, his sister Tosca and her husband, and his sister Carla and her husband are all performers. I did not anticipate blogging about this, so our pictures are few and, frankly, not that great. It didn’t help that we were using our phones and flash was not allowed. If you visit the Zoppe Family Circus website, you can see photographs of a much higher quality. Now … on with the show.

After some more banter with the crowd and a tarantella played on accordion by the “white clown”, we were finally told that we could enter the tent and find a place to sit.

Zoppe bleachersThe bleachers looked a little iffy – like boards held together with bungee cords. Parents kept a hold on their kids until everyone became comfortable with the seating arrangements. The bleachers weren’t very high, so we weren’t in much danger even if someone slipped through. The green sections were the aisles.

A transformed Giovanni entered the ring as Nino the Clown and the circus opened with all of the performers in the ring at once.

Here are the rest of our pictures from inside the tent.

Zoppe5Zoppe6Zoppe8Zoppe Nino 2Zoppe NinoZoppe MartinZoppe9Zoppe Nino high wireZoppe10Zoppe12Zoppe11Zoppe White clown 2Zoppe White Clown

A couple of comments regarding the circus:

Nino the clown is great. Not only is his performance as a clown engaging, but it seems that he can do everything in the circus. He rides bareback; he walks the tight rope, he does trapeze – and all while in character as a clown. It reminded me of the saying about Ginger Rogers doing everything Fred Astaire did only backwards and in heels. He has suffered some serious injuries in the past, but you wouldn’t know it.

I have so many relatives that are heavily into animal rescue, animal rights, and such that I wondered if I should feel uncomfortable about the animal performances. The only animals in this circus are horses and dogs. The horses are all used for equestrian trick riding except for a pony. I wish I had a decent picture of the palomino – it had the most beautiful, velvety coat I have ever seen.

Not everything goes perfectly in a circus like this. The family that does acrobatics (not part of the Zoppe family) were great. But one young girl was unable to successfully pull off a new trick. She tried three times and was never successful. Not a good day for her.

The act that stole the show was Little Nino. I think he is Giovanni’s son. He was maybe three years old and came out dressed just like Nino the Clown, only he had a pacifier in his mouth. Big Nino slipped the pacifier out of little Nino’s mouth at the first opportunity and without a problem. The little guy was so cute. He already had comic timing and performed a rather a lengthy routine with Nino. The next generation in training at a very young age.

Another nice thing about this little circus was that all of the performers left the ring through the same exit as the audience, so they were outside to thank everyone for coming and pose for pictures. The Zoppe Family has a mission statement that reads:

Zoppé an Italian Family Circus is a performing arts troupe dedicated to the celebration of life, love and family. We are committed to the preservation of traditional Italian family circus. Our vision is a modern day presentation that has deep roots in both history and heritage. The goal of each performance is an entertainment and educational experience that sends the audience home with a happy heart and enchanting memories.

I would say that they are succeeding in their mission.

Zoppe 1

You can view more historical photos of the Zoppe family here.

Now stay seated and read what others have prepared for Sepia Saturday.


My 1st Blogiversary!

scan0087It’s my one year anniversary of blogging!

I feel a bit like my one-year-old self in the picture…… I stood up. I took the first step, but I’m not steady on my feet yet. I fall down a lot. And I’m reliant on that bottle for comfort.

OK – the bottle has been replaced by lots and lots of dark chocolate.

For a brief, but embarrassing moment, I thought my anniversary was on April 4, like Jana Last, and I left a comment on her blog saying so. But what really happened is that I had posts ready to publish on April 4th 2012, but I was too scared to hit the publish button until April 21st. I should really learn to check my sources more carefully!

I doubt if anyone read those first few posts, even though I stewed and stewed over them. Then I got up the nerve to ask to be added to the Geneabloggers blog roll. People actually read what I wrote and left me comments! A couple of my family joined in too. Uncle Don – you are the best! And a friend started following early on even though she’s not that into genealogy and certainly doesn’t know most of the people I write about. Thanks for the encouragement, Danita!

I’ve discovered what a great community there is among family history bloggers. It’s extraordinary! Support, encouragement, advice, knowledge – freely shared by people I’ve never met and possibly never will. I’ve found it very difficult to balance my own life and preparing my own blog and research with time to read and support other bloggers – not to mention how much I learn from them! Some weeks it’s more of one. Some weeks it’s more of the other. Thanks for the support – you know who you are!

The most amazing thing that happened because of blogging (combined with weird coincidences on Facebook) was finding my half-sister, whom I hadn’t seen since she was a baby and I was 8 years old. An intention and a picture sent out into the blogosphere that I never expected to be found….  Incredible!

I hope to have achieved a better sense of balance by next year, to walk at a steadier pace, and to have a better sense of direction. I’ll surely fall down and embarrass myself sometimes. But who knows who or what I may discover in the process?

Thanks for walking with me into the past, through the present, and on into the future!

I’ve got plenty of dark chocolate on hand for the journey!