Sig Sautelle’s Big Shows

Sig Sautelle (George Satterly, 1848-1928) was a minor figure to be sure, of regional importance at best, but we offer this brief elucidation for those who chance to encounter the name on ephemera like this:

Sautelle was only 12 years old when he joined the Union army as a drummer boy. During his service, a fellow soldier taught him the art of ventriloquism. For years he toured dime museums and tent shows as a vent, puppeteer, and magician.

He founded his own circus, Sig Sautelle’s Big Shows in the 1880s, working the Erie Canal and associated waterways via canal boats and wagons. (“Sig” was apparently short for “Signor”). At his peak Sautelle had two shows touring at the same time, his territory grew to encompass New England (traveling now by rail), and he took over two hotels in Homer, New York (outside Cortland, which is near Ithaca) in which to house his employees. There he also undertook to build a unique, roundish circus building in which to train his horses. The building still stands, has been landmarked, and no doubt has attracted many a curious passer-by for over a century:

From 1904 until his death, health and financial setbacks hindered his operation although there were periods when he was able to revive his show and recapture some of the old glory. This terrific article by a writer from the Finger Lakes region gives lots more detail and description about the performers in his shows and about Sautelle himself, a colorful local character in his adopted town.

For more on show business history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.