Prof. Charles E. Griffin: The Yankee Yogi

Charles Eldridge Griffin (1859-1914) was not only a sword swallower (as might be apparent from the pitch card above) but also a magician, fire eater, ventriloquist, contortionist, lecturer, and more. In addition to “Professor Griffin”, he was sometimes billed as “Monsieur F. Le Costro” and “The Yankee Yogi”.

Born in St. Joe, Missouri, Griffin spent most of his youth in Albia, Iowa, where he later retired and spent his last years. In between, he saw a good part of the world. He started out performing at local fairs and opera houses at the age of 16. From he here he joined up with Hilliard and DeMott’s Circus, then Pullman and Mack’s, then Sells Brothers, a stint at the Paris Pavilion in France, and then Bob Hunting’s Circus, eventually operating that outfit’s entire sideshow himself for several years. That led to a similar position with Ringling Brothers, starting in 1899, where he performed alongside his wife the snake charmer Mlle. Octavia, who was billed as “The Serpent Enchantress” and “The White Witch”.

In 1902, he moved from Ringling Brothers to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, where he eventually wound up managing the show as well. His last season was in 1907. The following year he published his book Four Years in Europe with Buffalo Bill. His earlier literary efforts had included How To Be A Contortionist! Bending Made Easy: A Practical Self-Instructor by a Well-Known Professional (1896) and The Showman’s Book of Wonders (1897).

Griffin was only 54 when he passed away in 1914, probably due to causes related to a stroke he had suffered a few years earlier.

For more on variety arts history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,