Originally published on Torontoist on October 23, 2012.
The News, January 27, 1894.
HEAR YE, HEAR YE! Ladies and gentlemen, and children of all ages! Today, we have for you the most incredible, the most astonishing, the most breathtaking, and the most amusing sight you have seen all day! Moore’s Musee, in association with Torontoist, is proud to present the world’s greatest novelty sensation of 1894! On today’s bill of 12, count ‘em, 12 sterling speciality stars, you won’t believe your eyes when you set them on Professor Harry Welton’s collection of charismatic, pugilistic, death-defying felines!
May we present to you…Professor Welton’s Cat Circus!
While boxing cats, complete with miniature gloves, was the star attraction of the cat circus, it also offered felines trained to perform somersaults, ride bicycles, and walk through burning rings of fire. None of these talents would likely earn the approval of animal cruelty prevention agencies today.
Within months of its appearance on the stage of Yonge Street’s finest novelty-act theatre, Harry Welton’s cat circus took its act to the world’s first movie studio, Thomas Edison’s “Black Maria” in West Orange, New Jersey. In July 1894, W.K.L. Dickson and William Heise shot a short film of the boxing portion of Welton’s show, which was touring vaudeville theatres in the New York City area that summer. The result, Boxing Cats, was only one of a number of animal-centric films the Edison Company turned out for its Kinetoscope machines. Compared to the cockfights that the studio also filmed, a pair of boxing cats was far less violent. If title cards had been used, the film would have been the 19th century equivalent of lolcats.
Welton was one of the first people to benefit from the new medium, as his live bookings increased after the release of Boxing Cats. We’re sure people were endlessly amused.