I was recently browsing around the rec.juggling user group, and searching for my name to see if it popped up anywhere. Jugglingjon did for sure, but I also tried searching for my last name, Cronin. To my surprise, a single result appeared, a thread debating where illuminated juggling originated. The final message in the thread referenced a patent for illuminated juggling equipment filed in 1897 with the US patent office, by a man named Morris Cronin:
U.S. Patent OfficeSpecification forming part of Letters Patent No. 575,332, Dated January 19, 1897
For Electrically-Illuminated Jugglery Apparatus by Morris Cronin of London, England
To all whom it may concern:
Be it known that I, Morris Cronin, a citizen of the United States of America, residing in London, England, have invented new and useful improvements in electrically illuminated jugglery apparatus, of which the following is a specification.
This invention consists in jugglery apparatus containing electric glow-lamps and battery in the interior of a partly-transparent outer envelop or frame, all so constructed that the apparatus can be readily taken to pieces and put together and so that the gas evolved during the performance, together with any acid that might escape from the cells, shall be collected and retained within the apparatus itself. The apparatus may assume various forms, such as a ball, a club, or a wand with a ball or club at each end. [Full Patent]
A man with the last name Cronin INVENTED illuminated juggling equipment. And not only that, it turns out Morris Cronin was a well known juggler in the vaudeville era of the early 20th century. “Morris Cronin and His Merry Men” traveled the world performing all over the country and abroad in Australia, Canada, and Britain (which seems like a pretty mean feat in 1900). And the act seems to have impressed:
Morris Cronin and his “Merry Men” maneuver about the stage at the Oakland Orpheum this week in a wonderfully clever way. Cronin is an artist who has gone into an old field and developed a whole lot of new wrinkles in the juggling line where with to entertain his audiences. With his Irish wit and nimble brain he he has blended fun and smart juggling until the blend is one to admire. Everybody in town will be talking about him this week and the result will be that the house will probably be crowded and a lot of people who will want to see Cronin and his merry makers will be disappointed along toward the latter part of the week. [Berkeley Daily Gazette]
I do not as a rule much affect juggling, but the performance of Mr. Morris Cronin, the debonair, and his troupe of jugglers surpasses anything of its kind, and rivets the attention. The impromptu of those clubs flying form hand to hand and caught as by accident by some member of the troupe who happens to stroll on the stage at the moment that a few of these projectiles are carelessly thrown by Cronin the debonair in that direction is a real triumph over matter. [Truth]
He really could claim to be with the Firsts- those who created tricks with clubs. Cronin was first man to Juggle three clubs and shoot club through legs while both feet are on the floor. He was also the first to throw a club back thru legs and catch it while juggling three. Another of his original tricks was juggling three clubs under the arm with one hand behind back. Cronin was a tall man and had long arms so these tricks were easy for him. As he dressed in evening clothes and made an elegant appearance he never did tricks he had to struggle for. Everything had to be done smooth and easy. [Shootin the Breeze]
I also found a funny review of his show by a female theatre commentator:
Morris Cronin, whom I have seen before, is as dexterous with his club-manipulating as ever; but it does not say much for the domestic peace of such a man, when he shows himself to be so devoted to his club. This last remark is meant for a little joke, as I have arranged with the editor that any time a brilliant sally like that occurs to me, it is to be printed in the paper, provided, of course, that it is not of such a nature as to make the printer blush. [Pick Me Up]
Yes, that is a penis joke circa 1896, what a riot. But “Cronin the Debonair”, I could get into that. It sounds like he was a character too, I found a great story online that recounts his experience with a certain left handed juggler in his troupe:
Max Baresh had lied to Cronin about his left-handedness because he was anxious to work in such a prestigious act. Cronin made it a practice never to hire a left-handed juggler, but hired Max, thinking he was right-handed. Everything went smoothly for a while. One day, however, during a relaxed moment backstage, Cronin suddenly threw a club to Max. “Catch, Max!” was the command. Max instinctively put up his left hand and caught the club, whereupon he was fired.[Francisco Alvarez]
How funny is that story? He tricked the guy into showing he was left handed, and then fired him on the spot! This guy is like a cartoon character. Unfortunately I can’t find any pictures of Morris Cronin or his act, however I did find some bits about his personal life. Some articles say he was married to Adeline Genee, the Prima Ballerina of the Empire Theatre in London, but a “special cable to Variety from london” from Cronin denies their marriage. He was married however, and although I can’t find her name (She’s always referred to as Madame Cronin), she carried on his act after his death from pneumonia in 1916:
Eek. That looks like an awful show, but it’s still neat to see a poster for it. Across the board, going through the history of Morris Cronin really captured my imagination, and although I don’t know if I’m actually related to him, it’s pretty amazing to see that I’m not the first Cronin to be closely tied to juggling. I see a lot of similarities between myself and Morris, he was known for his smooth juggling and transitions, like I am, and he tried to innovate in his act with illuminated props, which I’ve also kind of done with my shell games and dark juggling.
Maybe skills like juggling are genetic after all, and every 100 years a Cronin comes around that can throw objects up and down pretty good.