top of page

Quest for adventure lured Quincy native to the circus

n 1916, the Ringling Brothers’ Circus came to Quincy, Ill. Thomas Buckley, Quincy native, was featured as a featured clown. This illustration of a clown was found in the Aug. 31, 1914 edition of the Quincy Journal.


By 1916, Thomas M. Buckley – 38 years old - had gained quite a reputation for himself in his hometown of Quincy, Ill. He had served a three-year enlistment during the Spanish American War, circa 1898-1902, stationed at a medical base in Manila, Philippines. He had worked with Sam Baldwin of Quincy, Ill., piloting hot air balloons, conducting parachute jumps and participating in balloon races. In addition, he had performed – in partnership with Billie Fees – in a tight-wire act with the W.P. Hall circus show, based out of Lancaster, Mo.

The Hall circus set up at Baldwin Park in Quincy on May 22, 1905. Buckley and Fees – billed as Burns and Burns – performed their wire act before their hometown fans. Unfortunately, the wire broke during the afternoon performance, and in the evening, the wire had been installed improperly, “making it impossible for the boys to do their act with the degree of perfection they wished to in their home town,” the Quincy Daily Journal reported on May 23, 1905. Later during the circus performance, Buckley and Fees came out as jockeys in the hippodrome races.

With circus life in his blood and his never-ending quest for adventure, few were surprised that a decade later, in September 1916, when the Ringling Bros. circus announced its plans to visit Quincy, it was notably mentioned in the newspaper that Thomas Buckley would arrive by rail with the circus, this time in the capacity of one of the Ringlings’ leading clowns.

Advance publicity defined the schedule of Ringling circus performers during that era: Fifty thousand miles via America’s rails, with stops in 200 small towns and big cities dotted across the United States. (Cameron, Mo., Sun, Sept. 9, 1915)

Short-lived marriage

Thomas Buckley and Lillian Morrow were married at Quincy on Aug. 11, 1897. Two weeks later, she left him. In 1900, while he was serving with the hospital corps in the Philippines, he reached out for help in locating his wife, so that he might pursue a divorce. The Quincy Daily Herald on Oct. 11, 1900, reported: “It was a forced wedding and had the usual result. In the bill filed here it is stated that the woman was living in a bawdy house at Burlington, but this appears to be a mistake. The police of that city can find no trace of her.”

Quincy native

In 1880, Matthew Buckley, his wife Eveline Seehorn Buckley and their 2-year-old son, Thomas, lived at 627 Spring St., Quincy.

In 1900, the family had expanded to include five sons, Thomas, 21, Frank, 16, Eddie, 14, Lawrence, 9, and Robert 7. They lived at 416 Maiden Lane.

When Eveline Seehorn Buckley died 1909, according to the Quincy Daily Journal, all five sons were residents of Chicago, and Eveline had relocated there to be near them. Mathew Buckley was a resident of the Soldiers Home in Quincy.

In 1912, Matthew H. Buckley checked himself out of the Soldiers Home and went to Chicago, where he stayed for awhile with his son, Thomas. In August 1912, he checked himself in to the soldiers home at Danville, Ill., where he died three weeks later. He was 67 years old at the time of his death.

Civil war veteran

Matthew H. Buckley was born in Limerick county, Ireland, on April 4, 1847. He arrived in the United States on May 22, 1863, locating in New York City. Six months later, he enlisted in the Third New Jersey Cavalry, Company E, and served until the war’s end under Gen. George A. Custer.

His tour of duty included his capture at Winchester, Va. He was released on a prisoner exchange, rejoined the army and was twice wounded, at Waynesborough, Va., March 2, 1865, and at Five Forks on April 1, 1865.

After the war, he relocated to St. Louis in 1866, where he worked as a cooper for two years. In 1869, he moved to Mount Sterling, Ill., then to Versailles, and finally to Quincy in 1871. He married Eveline Seehorn of Fall Creek, Ill., on Dec. 24, 1876. It was in Quincy where he would work as a clothing store clerk and raise five sons. Thomas was the oldest. (Source, The History of Adams County Illinois 1879)

He filed for a pension based upon his Civil War service on March 20, 1890, citing his status as an invalid.

Curious incident

In April 1905, Matthew Buckley was a registered guest at the Planters Hotel in Quincy, Ill. He told a story that contributed to the conviction of a man and wife in a theft scheme. The Quincy Daily Herald of April 22, 1905 reported:

“Matt’s story was to the effect that after he had been in bed a short time he was aroused by the quiet opening of the door and the entrance of a woman. She sat on the side of his bed, but he repulsed her overtures. Finally he gave her a dollar to go away and she went. Then a man entered the room and asked for a match and was accommodated and went away. The rest of the night was spent without further annoyance.”

In the morning, however, Matt Buckley noticed that items were missing from his room, including two pocket knives, $3 in cash, an heirloom pocket watch and his trousers. At first he didn’t report the incident, but then learned that another hotel patron had been robbed as well.

His testimony prompted a confession from the woman.

Mary Lou Montgomery retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Her collective works can be found at

An advertisement for the Ringling Brothers Circus was posted in the Quincy Daily Whig on Friday, Sept. 8, 1916.

 Recent Posts 
bottom of page