One of the most colorful characters in the circus industry, Ben Davenport owned the Dailey Bros. Circus which was a large railroad show.
Information Obtained From:
Bandwagon Magazine, Vol. 14, No. 4 (Jul-Aug), 1970, pp. 4-11.
Article and research By Leland L. Antes, Jr.
In the fall of 1914 a young boy arrived in Delaware, Ohio, to attend the Methodist College, and study for the ministry. His parents, in Friendly, West Virginia, had planned for their son a career in the Methodist Church.
But one semester was all he could take and he took off. Opening and closing in one semester, Benjamin C. Davenport, joined out with a circus. The record is not too clear as to which show he went, but it is thought that it was Robinson’s Famous Shows, first in the winter quarters and then on the advance car.
A few years later he bought “the smallest horse in the world” and exhibited it fairs and indoor circuses. The next adventure was in partnership with Jimmy Sullivan on a carnival, where Ben framed a one ring circus for the midway. This did not work out and the stock went back to Sullivan at the end of the season.
In 1923 Davenport went out with the LeRoy Motorized Circus, from Fostoria, Ohio. He drove one of the seven Ford trucks. During the 1924 season he was with William Peters (Ketrow) on what was the first tour of the Ketrow Bros. Circus. Ketrow bought an elephant from the Hall farm and after the elephant man left Davenport took over the bull.
Davenport took his assemblage of horses, ponies, dogs and monkeys to the Lindemann Bros, four truck Seils-Sterling Circus, out of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, in 1925. He was just about the whole show that season, appearing in 13 of the 26 acts, and on some days worked knives and magic in the side show. He stayed with the Lindemanns through the 1928 season. This was his training ground for a later career as a circus owner.
For the 1929 season he moved to the “Princess Iola’s Medicine Show”, playing week stands. Princess Iola, was actually Miss Eva Billings, daughter of Gay Billings, who had operated “Gay’s One-Horse Circus” out of Quincy, Illinois in the early 1900s. Princess Iola became Mrs. Davenport and in 1931 together they took the med show out again but it soon went broke in Sugar Creek, Ohio. Eva Davenport and her infant daughter Norma, returned to her home in and for a time took up residence.
Meanwhile Ben watched the ads in the Billboard and joined Milton Holland in framing a indoor circus to play Elks’ Club auspices in the Pacific Northwest. They stayed out 26 weeks.
He later went back to med shows playing halls for five and six day stands. For the next two years he was rassling bears and selling medicine. By that time his trucks were worn out and he replaced them with a couple of old Chevrolets.
This was the start of the Davenport Society Circus, in 1935, using a side wall corral, two trucks and an air calliope as the physical property. This little show grew, and continued under that title through the 1939 season. In 1940 the title was changed to Dailey Bros.
Ben and Eva bought Honest Bill Newton’s elephant, Nemo, their first elephant. They later bought a second bull from Newton, Rosie, as well as two camels and a manage horse. The 1940 season lasted until December 14th, and a small winter unit toured for six weeks, prior to the opening of the 1941 season. R. M. Harvey was now general agent, and the show was destined to grow fast from that point on.
In 1993 Benjamin C. Davenport was inducted into the Circus Hall of Fame.
Eva Billings Davenport passed away on February 22, 1958 in Sarasota Florida .