Archie Royer and Mystya Steffan (of Memphis, Mo.) was published in the Topeka State Journal, Topeka, Kansas, on March 30, 1907. Newspapers.com
Lizzie Allen Steffan of Memphis Mo., spent at least two seasons traveling with the Hagenbeck animal show in the early years of the 20th Century. Her daughter, Mystya Steffan, would game acclaim for her vaudeville and acrobat stunts during the same era. Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus poster Wikipedia.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
Mart Steffan married a girl with stars in her eyes.
The son of a long-time, German-bred barber in Memphis, Mo., Mart (short for Martin Steffan Jr.) chose for his wife Lizzie Allen, the daughter of Barlow Allen, a respected farmer from Scotland County, Mo., who lived four miles east of Memphis.
The young lovers married in 1884, and their daughter – whom they named Mystya – was born circa 1888.
Scotland County is located in Northeast Missouri, as far north as you can go without stepping into Iowa. Memphis – which remains today little more than a burb – is the county seat of Scotland, and is regionally noted as home to Ella Ewing, born in 1872, who was known as the tallest woman of her generation. Miss Ewing found a profession with the Ringling Bros. circus as a novelty act, and a small museum exists in Memphis, a tribute to her life.
But Ella wasn’t the only circus performer to come from Memphis. Lizzie Allen Steffan answered that same call.
During the first decade of the 20th Century, Lizzie Allen Steffan seasonally worked as a lecturer in the menagerie of the great Hagenbeck animal show, which toured the country each summer. Her husband, Mert, plied his barber trade at times with the Cummins Wild West Show and the great Wallace shows.
In January 1904, their daughter, Miss Mystya Ferol Steffan, 16, was accompanied by her mother to Philadelphia, Pa., where she joined Archie Royer’s “Next Door” traveling company as a slack wire and trapeze performer, for a nine-week tour of Eastern cities. Mert stayed behind in Quincy, Ill., as a barber at the Occidental Hotel, 623 ½ Hampshire St.
The Quincy Daily Journal reprinted a story from the Memphis, Mo., Chronicle: “Miss Steffan is a Memphis girl and by hard study and close application has qualified herself in music as well as oratory and has uncommon promise in the theatrical field for her future success.”
That same year Mystya married the widowed veteran Vaudeville performer Archie Royer, who was 20 years her senior.
In 1907, “Archie Royer and Mystya” were headliners at venues throughout the United States. Notices of their entertainment gigs can be found in newspapers from Topeka, Kansas to Beaumont, Texas.
The San Antonio Light described the performance in its July 24, 1907 edition: “One of the best vaudeville skits ever seen in San Antonio is the act of that funny little German, Royer, (He stood 5-foot-2) and his partner, Mystya, at the Lyric Airdome this week. This team has won great favor wherever they have appeared.”
Meantime, Mystya’s father, Mert, was barbering in St. Louis, making the circuit of county fairs in Missouri during the summer months.
In 1908, Archie Royer was booked for a tour of Great Britain, and his young wife soon followed him there. By then, Mystya was pregnant and couldn’t perform. She gave birth to their son, Archie Jacques Edward Royer, in London.
In the meantime, Archie professionally associated with Mizpah Selbini, a member of the famed Selbini family of acrobats.
According to Brian Chatters, author of a book on the Selbini family, the relationship soon went from professional to personal.
In 1913, (Archie’s wife) Mystya appeared as Kit Larson in George Street’s stage production of the western drama called “The Cattle Thief.” Later, she returned to the United States alone, leaving baby Archie with his father and Mizpah Selbini.
Later that year, according to Brian Chatters, Royer and Mizpah Selbini returned to the United States, and Selbini’s daughter from a previous marriage, Patricia, soon joined them. Both Mizpah and Patricia traveled under the surname of Royer, as did Mizpah’s youngest daughter, Jean, when she joined the family in 1914.
In 1918, the 10-year-old son of Mystya and Archie Royer died of spinal meningitis. He was buried at Monk Cemetery in Michigan, where Archie and Mizpah would later be interred.
Mystya settled in Ohio, and married Elmer Coor at Lucas, Ohio, in 1916. That marriage ended, and on April 18, 1923, she married John A. Carton.
In Brian Chatters’ book on the Selbini family, “Kate Chatters, the Great Selbinis, and Lalla Selbini” he makes note of the fact that Mizpah Selbini’s first husband, Rolland Gallier, died on Feb. 27, 1921, at the age of 40. Archie Royer married Mizpah A. McCoy (Selbini) in 1922 at Philadelphia, Pa.
Archie Royer’s last bigtop performance was in 1919. He retired to a 30-acre farm two miles from Bangor, Mich., were he raised and sold vegetables, according to September 1949 interview with the News Palladium at Benton Harbor, Mich. Occasionally, he performed at public celebrations.
He was married five times, he said in that interview, the first and last marriages to wonderful women. He described his other three wives – which would include Mystya - as “duds.”
In that interview, he claimed the two daughters that his wife brought into the marriage as his own, and failed to mention the son he lost to illness in 1918.
Archie Royer died in September 1956, a year after his fifth wife, Mizpah. His death notice says he was born Nov. 14, 1869, in Pottstown, Pa. He was the son of the late Mr. and Mrs. William Royer, and had run away at a very young age to join the circus. He was survived by one sister, Mrs. Ida Reagen of Philadelphia.
Mystya’s father, Martin J. Steffan, died in 1937, and her mother, Elizabeth P. Allen Steffan, died in 1940. They are buried at Riverside Cemetery, Defiance County, Ohio. Both of Mysta’s parents lived with her before their deaths. She was their only child.
Mystya, who had worked as a hair dresser in Ohio, died in 1963. Mystya’s husband, John Ambrose Carlton, died in 1965. They are also buried at Riverside Cemetery, Defiance, Ohio.
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 indexed collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com
Archie Royer is pictured in his hometown newspaper, The Mercury, Pottstown, Pa., on July 11, 1950. Newspapers.com
Archie Royer as a clown. Published by his hometown newspaper, The Mercury, Pottstown, Pa., May 5, 2013. Original artwork from the Pottsville Historical Society. Newspapers.com
Archie Royer originally traveled with his brothers, and the act was known as the Bros. Royer. This advertisement was in the Springfield Leader and Press, Springfield, Mo., on Feb. 14, 1900. Newspapers.com