Special Collections has many items related to theater, performance, and film, ranging from playbills and scripts to director’s papers and set drawings. One particularly intriguing item is a bound gathering of items related to the Hanlon Brothers, a performing troupe that specialized in acrobatics, gymnastics, and juggling. They travelled the world in the mid-ninteenth
century and performed for large crowds and royalty.
The Hanlon Brothers performed under the guidance of their mentor, John Lees. They rose to prominence during the 1850s as they toured the United States and Europe. One of two scrapbooks now owned by Special Collections contains letters signed by some of the people they performed for during tours in the late 1840s and early 1850s that took them to places such as
Madrid. One letter in English, addressed as most are to Professor John Lees, “expresses the satisfaction...derived with the performance of Professor John Lees and his three sons George, William, and Alfred, and can strongly recommend them to the notice and patronage of the public in general.” The Hanlons were Lees’ wards, and following his death in 1855 they recruited
their other three brothers to debut as the Hanlon-Lees.
One of the books contains a series of charming watercolor paintings depicting
the three original performing brothers on stage, engaged in acrobatics, juggling, and tumbling. This is a beautiful record of the formative years of an important act, providing a glimpse of their activities and the venues they performed in.