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The Inventor’s Notebook #10 – Fleas, Foibles and Follies

The Inventor’s Notebook #10
Fleas, Foibles and Follies
Karl Rabe

For the final edition of The Inventor’s Notebook for 2017, I’ll be rambling on fleas, foibles and follies.

In 1933, my Grandfather took my Father as a child to the Chicago World Fair (subtitled A Century of Progress). Grandfather didn’t allow him to see Sally Rands’ Fan Dance, but he did get to see Professor Heckler’s Flea Circus (normally featured at Hubert’s Dime Museum in Time Square, New York) where he acquired a pair of fleas in full wedding dress – pulgas vestidas – Bride and Groom Fleas as a souvenir.

Growing up, those fleas were one of the many curiosities that adorned my Father’s study. They were were displayed under a glass dome on the head of a push-pin. Many years later, he took the fleas to Sault Ste. Marie Ontario Canada’s Insect Laboratory where they produced a 20×16 blow-up of the happy couple. I still have the photograph (reproduced below).

 

Is it any wonder that I became interested in building my own flea circus about 10 years ago? I’m still working on it to this day. If you look closely, you will see that the sketch in The Inventor’s Notebook Feature Image (logo), is actually an invention of mine for the high wire act in the flea circus.

My character is Professor Dog Bitè… pronounced “Dough Bee Tay…. long O, silent G, accent grave on the E”. The name is a play on my last name Rabe, and the pronunciation is homage to W.C. Fields’ character in the Bank Dick… Egbert Sousè. Whenever someone in the movie pronounces it “souse” as in drunkard, Fields corrects them drawling, “That’s Soo Say… accent grave on the E”.

I purchased Walt Noonan‘s DVD, “Secrets of the Flea Circus Revealed” which is actually an instructional DVD on building your own flea circus. If you ever wanted to build a flea circus, I highly recommend the video as it is full of ideas and concepts.

Some of the effects.

  • The flea makes his entrance from his matchbox dressing room, ala the haunted match box.
  • The flea gets shot out of the cannon through a paper covered hoop leaving an over sized flea shaped hole in the paper. I made the cannon very close to Walt’s design. It is made out of copper pipe and uses a cap to ignite a flash-powder load which results in flame shooting out of the cannon.
  • The chariot is made out of a copper pipe cap cut away, a few brass disks and a steel nail. The flea drives the chariot around the circus ring.
  • My fleas are members of the IBCF (International Brotherhood of Circus Fleas) and they have an extensive contract full of demanding riders.
  • The flea swings from one trapeze to another.
  • A flea climbs up the ladder for the high dive. The diving board bounces and the flea lands with a splash in the pool.. frequently splashing the audience.
  • Finally, the flea rides a bicycle across the high wire.

 

IBCF Contract Riders

 

Here is a schematic of my flea circus.

My family has become accustom to my foibles and follies. When I tell my Wife I’m going in the basement to work on my flea circus, she doesn’t bat an eye. One time I had dropped a small screw on the floor in the basement and was on my hands and knees looking for it when my Son came down. He didn’t miss a beat and in complete deadpan asked “looking for your fleas”? When people ask me how will I keep busy in retirement, I know the answer… I’ll finish my flea circus.

 

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