Family:Whitney, George Leon (c1833-1889)

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George Leon8 Whitney (Eben B.), son of Eben B. and Fanny (-----) Whitney, was born about 1833, Littleton, NH, and died 5 Feb 1889, Imlay, MI.

He, as "C. H. Whitney", married, 11 Jun 1853, Nashua, NH, Ellen E. Packard, daughter of Erastus and Nancy (Nelson) Packard. She was born about 1836, MA, and died 1921, Jackson, MI.

"Whitney Family – Imlay City
"Whitney circus was founded by George L. Whitney (1833-1889), who was born in NH. As a teen he toured with a minstrel, or musical, troupe. From 1852, when George married teacher Nellie E. Packard, until 1861 they toured with the troupe consisting of themselves, their son, Charles (1853-1934), and a few others on the east coast. Like many shows, they traveled as a wagon show in summer and in the winter they performed in theaters and halls.
"In 1867 the troupe disbanded. In 1872 the Whitneys formed a new company including David S. Helmar, Dutch comedian, and Calvin M. Gillette. E. B. Whitney died in 1872. They left Boston in the spring of 1877 for the Midwest, probably due to the economic depression and competition. By fall 1877 they arrived in OH. George Whitney leased a hotel with large barns near Imlay City, MI the next year. He later bought the property. For the next 25 years this was both the home and winter quarters for the Whitneys.
"The show developed from a minstrel, or musical, show – with everyone playing instruments, singing, and performing comedy, some in blackface – into a circus. Acrobats, animals and a side show were slowly added over time. The show rotated its route by performing one year in MI, and the next in MI, OH, and IN. The show’s title changed over the years reflecting their change from minstrely, which was featured until 1887, and concerts, featured from 1878 to 1894, to circus. In 1878 it was Whitney Family’s World Entertainment during the summer and Whitney’s Concert Company in the winter. In 1882 it was The Original Whitney Family Combination. 1884 was The Original Whitney Family, Combined with Locke and Long’s Acrobatic Troupe. Whitney Family Three in One. 1887 was Whitney’s Circus and Museum. “Museum” here means a sideshow. In 1888 it was known as Whitney’s New Enterprise Circus and Museum. 1892 was Whitney’s New Imperial Shows. 1896 was called Whitney’s Concert Company. In 1897-1898 they were called Whitney’s Acrobatic and Specialty Company. 1899-1903 was Whitney’s Big One-Ring Show.
"In 1882 the show included 32 wagons and 64 horses. Every man helped put up and take down tents. No drinking or staying out was allowed. The wagons moved out at 8 a.m. 2-3,000 could be seated in the show’s big tent. The band was led by Otis “Floyd” Whitney. The band was very good and played from memory, as there was no sheet music. The band played for an hour daily to attract attendees for the circus and for an hour before the two-hour long show began at 8pm. Wm. Fairweather and George L. Whitney both sang, sometimes in blackface made from burnt cork. The stage was set up on a long wagon. Acrobatic, trapeze, and rope-walking acts performed in front of the stage on the ground. The show began with a band, some in black face playing and making funny responses to a man who asked questions. When the band started up, a boy pulled clothes out of a box and Fred Locke jumped out. That was considered good entertainment by an unsophisticated audience at the time. Songbooks were sold to supplement the circus’ income.
"1889 George L. Whitney died. Following his death his wife, Nellie E. Whitney, and later his son, Charles, managed the circus. Charles Whitney’s children were the first family members to perform actual circus acts. Prior to their performances other circus performers were hired to fill the ranks. Charles’ daughter Josie Whitney (1874-) performed trapeze and acrobatics. In 1890 when the tent caught on fire, Josie cut the curtain ropes to contain the fire. The next night the performance was given outdoors until a new tent could be procured. Charles’ son Leon Packard (1878-) performed a comedy acrobat aerial ladder act. Charles also had a daughter Lula “Lou” L. Whitney (1882-) who performed. Trained dogs, ponies and mules were part of the Whitney show, but the show never had elephants or an equestrian act.
"From 1887 to 1894 the Whitney show was at its peak, with both a menagerie and a street parade. The show employed about 100 people and had about 30 wagons. “The big top being a 110-foot round top with a 40-foot middle piece.”
"With larger circuses cutting into their route, the Whitney closed at the end of the 1903 season. In 1921 both Mrs. George L. (Nellie) and Mrs. Charles A. Whitney died. Charles Whitney died in 1934, Josie, his daughter in 1896. In 1951, Leon lived in CA and Lou (Mrs. Lou Whitney Weber) in Wyandotte, MI."[1]

Children of George Leon8 and Ellen E. (Packard) Whitney:

i. Charles Augustus9 Whitney, b. 4 Dec 1853, Nashua, NH; m. Ada V. Sanderson.


107 112 Whitney, George C. 37 M W Machinist $250 New Hampshire Male citizen over 21 -----, Ellen E. 35 F W Keeping House Mass. -----, Charlie A. 16 M W Work on farm New Hampshire Attended school -----, Fannie 70 F W No Occupation " -----, Eben Z. 75 M W Concert Singer " Male citizen over 21

Geo. L. WHITNEY 46 Self M M W VT Showman --- --- Nellie WHITNEY 42 Wife F M W MA Actress MA MA Chas. A. WHITNEY 26 Son M M W NH Showman VT MA Ada V. WHITNEY 23 Wife F M W MA Actress & K. House ENG ENG Josephine WHITNEY 5 GDau F S W MA NH MA Leon P. WHITNEY 1 GSon M S W MI NH MA


  • Census records.

1.^  Major Circus Families, Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University.

Copyright © 2014, Robert L. Ward and the Whitney Research Group.