The Stirks were the leaders in trick riding and bicycle stunts in the variety world in the late 19th-early 20th centuries. The patriarch was Thomas (1859-1924), married to Flora, who was formerly Flora King. (Her sister Minnie was also a juggler and balancer). Originating in England, they first came to the U.S. to perform at Tony Pastor’s in 1881, the first troupe of bicycle riders to perform in America. Essentially, following this engagement, the family just stayed, performing with Barnum, Baily & Hutchison; then Sells Brothers; then Great Wallace’s over the next 27 years. Sadly two of the children died young. Flora (born 1886) died at age 11. Denny (born 1869) formed an aerial act called Stirk and Zeno shortly after arriving in the U.S. and died of pneumonia at age 34.
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.