By Mary Lou Egan
He was born to strict Catholic parents in Manchester, New Hampshire, in 1882, and at 13 years of age was expected to work in a shoe factory for 10 cents a day.
At that point, Rudolph E. Pigeon did what most young people only dream of doing: he ran away and joined the circus. Pigeon began performing with the Menard troupe of acrobats, who traveled the East Coast with the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus.
In 1906, he moved out west and joined the Sells Floto Circus, owned by Frederick Bonfils and Harry H. Tammen, co-owners of The Denver Post. Known professionally as “Shorty Maynard,” Pigeon developed routines that drew on his acrobatic ability and love of animals.
The “mule hurdle” had him riding atop the animal’s head, then hanging on to its tail and dragged around the sawdust ring several times. Pigeon created an audience favorite with “Bill, the Trained Goose,” and the duo performed tricks for a dozen seasons.
During the off-season, performers found other jobs and pursued other interests. For Pigeon, that interest was Ada Morgan, who he married on Dec. 28, 1912. They had started a family by the time Pigeon joined the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1916.
After years of travel and circus life, an exhausted Pigeon retired in 1920. He operated John’s Pool Hall in Sterling, which became a casualty of the farm recession after World War I. Pigeon then moved his family to Globeville and sought out his old friend, Harry Tammen, who arranged a position for him with Swift & Company, where he worked for more than 20 years.
Pigeon lived quietly with Ada and his daughters, Florence and Carol, and son, Charles, in a small house in Globeville, where he died Aug. 14, 1950 of heart failure.
Carol recalls, “I remember my dad walking across that bridge at 46th Avenue every morning at 5 a.m. to go to work in the packinghouse. He didn’t make much money, but we always paid our bills on time.”
But the man who “dedicated his life to making people laugh” would be pleased to know that he is still entertaining people. His gravestone, Block 13, Lot 9, at Riverside Cemetery in Denver, is engraved with his image as a clown, and is a popular destination on historic tours.
Mary Lou Egan is a fourth-generation Coloradan who loves history and is working on a history of Denver’s Globeville neighborhood. Her blog globevillestory.blogspot. com contains tidbits about the community. You can reach her at maryloudesign@ comcast.net.