Biography of Famous American Clown Dan Rice Part 1
About the famous American clown Dan Rice, history and biography of the man who dabbled in a number of fields.
FOOTNOTE PEOPLE IN U.S. HISTORY
DAN RICE (1823-1900). American clown.
He was a child jockey, later an actor, a professional gambler, part owner of an educated pig, a strong man in Barnum's American Museum, one of the first American clowns, an agent for Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, and a candidate for Republican nomination for the office of president of the U.S.
Born Daniel McLaren in New York City on Jan. 25, 1823, he later assumed the name of a maternal ancestor and became Dan Rice.
When he was eight years old his mother died, and Dan ran away from home. He was hired as an exercise boy at a Brooklyn racetrack, became an expert rider, and a year later made his debut as a professional jockey in Trenton, N. J. He rode Lizzie Jackson, a filly named for a niece of Pres. Andrew Jackson. Jackson, who was at the track at the time, congratulated Dan and said, "My boy, if you live you'll make either a great man or a great fool."
In 1837 Dan was hired to walk a champion racehorse from New York to Pittsburgh by way of Buffalo, N.Y. His orders were never to ride the horse. Upon reaching Buffalo on Dec. 1, the boy was stricken with fever and bedridden for several days before he could continue the journey. Dan walked the horse into Pittsburgh on Christmas Eve, 1837, ending a trek that had lasted two months and five days.
When he turned 17, he went to St. Louis, where he met J. H. McVicker, an actor who later became the father-in-law of Edwin Booth. McVicker recruited Dan as a member of his theatrical company, but the boy soon lost interest in acting and sought more excitement as a professional gambler on the Mississippi River steamboats. He won money, furniture, horses--even one of the steamboats, which he generously gave back to the luckless riverboat captain.
In 1840 Dan took his winnings to Pittsburgh and invested them in a livery stable. One day he attended a circus and made friends with the performers, who later induced him to sing and dance "The Camptown Hornpipe" as part of their show. Fascinated by the circus, Dan joined up, took lessons from the strong man, and was said to have been "converted into as powerful a human machine as anyone of his day ever saw."
When this propaganda reached a notorious barroom heavyweight called Devil Jack, the Bully of Bayardstown, who lived across the river from Pittsburgh, Jack boasted that he could tear Dan apart. One night they met in a saloon. After exchanging a few blows, they began to wrestle. Dan maneuvered Devil Jack close to a stove in the center of the room, suddenly forced Jack's face against the red-hot iron, and held it there until the skin sizzled. Jack was scarred for life. Dan became a hero.
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