This post courtesy reader Rick Rauschenbach, who wrote to tell us about his interesting vaudeville family.
Rick’s Granduncle, John Wilmer Rauschenbach, b.18 July 1879, was known as John “Jack” Martine. He was a circus performer, and theater actor and manager, and more delightfully, a con artist. Born in Baltimore, he was orphaned at five and placed in the German Orphan Asylum along with several siblings. He ran off and joined a circus and was an acrobat for a time, billed as “The Human Snake”. From here he went into the legit, performing in Tom Shows and other melodramas. (often doing acrobatic stunts between plays). He was in Ed Harrigan’s Old Lavender Company and also stage managed at Daly’s Theater and the 39th Street Theater. He took his mail at the Lamb’s Club.
Early in the 20th century, Martine dropped show business, using the manners and polish he had acquired in the theatre, and a letter of reference from a banker who hardly knew him, to land a job as a clerk at a posh, high end Fifth Avenue haberdashery. This became his springboard (briefly) toward better things. His charm must have been prodigious. He began to socialize with the rich and famous. He began attending society parties, wowing them with his acrobatic stunts. He was engaged to marry a Senator’s daughter. He took a passenger ship with a woman called “the Baroness” and stayed at swanky hotels in the Great Capitols of Europe. When detectives investigated, they discovered that Martine had pilfered thousands of dollars worth of merchandise from his employer. His scam was to sell it to society friends at half price. In addition, he had misrepresented himself to countless people, painting fantastic stories of his background, and on one occasion, represented himself as an agent of the U.S. Treasury department. When all this broke in 1906, his criminal activities got far more press than his show biz career ever did.
Rick’s grandfather, Frederick Julius Rauschenbach, b. 28 Feb 1874, styled himself Fred Martine, after his brother Jack. He was a monologist and acrobat in vaudeville and the circus. For a time he was part of an acrobatic trio called “Martine, Carl & Rudolf”, and had a two-act with his wife which played the Bentley Brother Circus. The wife performed an iron jaw stunt, suspended over the big top by a bit held in her teeth.
Fred’s son (Rick’s uncle), Charles W. Rauschenbach, b. 18 Apr 1906 apprenticed with the “Flying Wards” as a circus acrobat and performed with the Hanneford Equestrians. While rehearsing an act for the latter organization he missed a landing in a teeterboard number and was badly injured. When he recovered he joined the navy and retired from show business.
For more on vaudeville, please read No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,