Above is the famous photo of the Welsh Bros Circus troupe in 1895. You can see a young Houdini standing on the far right (labeled #6). But where is Bess?
I've always wondered if Bess is the clown standing in the center of the photo (#4). The clown looks to be Bessie's size, and why else would she be absent? There is also evidence that supports this. On page 78 of the Harold Kellock biography, Houdini His Life Story, Bess talks about this first tour with the Welsh Bros. and remembers:
"We had only two clowns with the circus, two serious- minded middle-aged men. The tragedy of their lives was that they could not sing, for they had the songbook privilege for the show, and, with no one to sing the songs, they could not sell the books. They were overjoyed when they found that I could make a stab at singing. They dressed me as a clown, put me on a chair, and I sang verses of all the more catching songs, for which I received the large sum of two dollars for fourteen shows. My, but I was proud of that money! I felt that I earned it all myself."
So what do we think? Does this photo capture Bess the singing clown? I think it does!
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Thanks to Diego Domingo and Chris Berry.
UPDATE: Chris Berry checks in with evidence that the Welsh Bros. Circus did have three (male) clowns at this time. The New York Clipper for May 5, 1895 identifies them as Charles O'Brien, Josesph Kearney and Billy Ashton. So it's possible they are the three pictured here and Bess, for whatever reason, is absent.