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 AN AMERICAN JUDY

by Judith Lile
Updated Sept 9, 2012

                    AN AMERICAN JUDY

   A  few years ago, at a local antique show, I came upon an unusual marionette.  She was about 14” tall, her stout body was clothed in a blue- checkered cotton dress, and she had very large carved feet with big, bony toes, sticking out from the bottom of her skirt.  But it was her head that had caught my attention.   As any fan of Punch and Judy would spot, she was clearly Judy. Beautifully carved, she had the same sharp nose and chin, and the unmistakable blue and red cap with a white ruffle around her face. In front of her was a sign:

                                  Famous Pennsylvania Carver
                         The lost wife carving of Peter Hauntz,
                                               “Julianne”

   Naturally, I had to take her home and, to my delight, an old newspaper clipping came with her, leading me to the story of Peter Hauntz and how a Punch and Judy character named Julianne came to be found in a country auction in central Pennsylvania.

   It seems that Peter Hauntz was a creation of James H. Sharp, a wood carver, puppeteer, and ventriloquist, who lived in the Mill Hall area of Pennsylvania and traveled around the countryside performing puppet shows with his dummy whom he named Peter Hauntz.  According to the newspaper article, Sharp served in the Seventh Cavalry in the Civil War where he learned how to carve puppets from a buddy, an Alsation named de Rotschkoff, who had learned the art in Paris from a well-known carver, Professor Alexandre.  Through de Rotschkoff, Sharp must have come to know Judy, what she looked like, what she wore, and possibly the story of Punch and Judy, a European tradition little known in America. ( Compare the bonnet of Julianne with that of a Judy made in Germany at left, roughly in the same period.)  Sharp entertained Union troops with his puppet shows, and was sometimes known as Professor Sharp (like European puppeteers.) When he was discharged from the army in 1865, he had ” found his vocation” and went on to travel  “about the country in a black closed wagon, almost like a dead wagon,” giving him “an air of mystery.”
 
    Sharp (shown at right) was most closely identified with his main character, Peter Hauntz.  It is believed that he adopted this name from “Peter Hans,” a stock character popular in Pennsylvania- German districts.  He was fascinated by magic and often included tricks of “magical powers” in his shows.  Perhaps that’s why he liked the name “Hauntz” with its suggestion of the supernatural. The dummy/puppet was very much like Sharp, a tall, dark, Lincolnesque man, and so life-like that Sharp himself was most often referred to as Peter Hauntz.  Included in the shows also were his daughter Helen, “darkly beautiful as a gypsy princess” and a small child called Herodia, who had run off one night from cruel foster parents and hidden in his wagon. Sharp took her along, giving her the part of a marionette and she became such an attraction that later Katherine Milhous wrote a novelette about her called “Herodia, the Lovely Puppet.”  The shows were famous in the area: 

   "Wherever he went there were friends,  people to whom his shows gave delight --- country stores, blacksmith shops, tin shops, inns and hostelries where companionship was easy and pleasant….the school house or hall was filled with gay, unrestrained laughter."

   "The next day he was gone, but in backyards and barns and wood sheds, the children were putting on what they hoped were reasonable facsimiles of what they seen the night before."

   As a veteran, puppeteer, ventriloquist, magician, and even “a wandering minstrel, famed for his ‘lung music,’” many legends have been told about this folk hero.  Unfortunately, most of the material for the puppet shows has been lost. Sharp was killed  in 1908 by a switch engine when his horse and buggy crossed a railroad track.  He was 78.  To quote the newspaper:

        “ J. H. Sharp, the ‘Punch and Judy’ man killed.  Struck by  

         train at fatal crossing in this city Saturday afternoon.”

   All of the puppets and equipment in the buggy were destroyed in the crash.  His story might have been forgotten over time, but, in 1941, a college English class in Lock Haven was assigned the project of researching James H. Sharp.  The students investigated all aspects of Sharp’s life and particularly his career as an entertainer.  The final report was published in June of that year in the Lock Haven Express.

   From the microfilm printouts of the article, I’ve learned some of the details about the puppets and the shows.  The  puppets (or poppets, as they were called then) were made of wood, one 24” tall, who sat in Peter’s lap, a dummy for his ventriloquist acts; others were hand or “sleeve” puppets, and others, like Julianne, were marionettes, 12”- 18” tall, with heads the size of a small cocoanut. Among the puppets were Punch, Judy, Peter Hauntz, Julianne, the Devil and an Alligator. They often had to be replaced, ”especially the victims of the quarrelsome Peter Hauntz.” Cobblers and Jacks-of-all trades were found that had made repairs to the puppets as Sharp traveled through their towns. Sharp’s wife made the clothes and  went with him, keeping the costumes mended and renewed. One item, mentioned several times, was Julianne’s white, fluffy apron which must have been lost by the time she (or some version of her) reached me.  Peter and Julianne seemed to have been characters in a performance much the same as Punch and Judy, maybe as a kind of “local” adaptation to appeal more to his audience. They had the same routines, remembered by people who “as children saw justice done to the little wooden evil-doer of far away and long ago.”  Peter “struts onto the stage. . . loud and boisterous and full of action,” singing,

 

                   When I go out to promenade,

                   I look so fine and gay,

                   I have to take the dogs along,

                   To keep the girls away.

    What follows is a typical Punch and Judy exchange: 

              Julianne:   There’s not a bite of bread in the house.

              Peter Hauntz:  Then bake cakes!

Julianne:  (crying in earnest):  I’m going home to my Mother.

   Peter Hauntz: (hitting and punching Julianne until she leaves the stage):  Go,go,go,go. GO!  If that lady comes here again, I’m going to knock her down.”

   And so on, until, after several more knock-abouts, songs, and insults, the Devil, dressed in red with a  pitchfork, comes to take Peter away. “Oh Please, Mr. Devil, ”Peter cries,” don’t take me.  Take my wife, take Julianne!”  But Peter is “carried down into the lower regions.”

   The article concludes with “There was no topic that we speculated more upon, nor that we dreamed more about than that of finding the actual puppets.”  The students learned from the Sharp’s onetime neighbor that the Sharp’s house had partially burned down years ago with some of the puppets inside. Another neighbor said that puppets had been found in an old carpet bag in the attic when new owners moved into the house and that they had been in such poor condition they were burned with the trash.  Some puppets, however, were said to have been stored in a shed in the small town of Salona, one of the stops on Sharp’s tour, but only one had ever been recovered. Could this one be my Julianne?  Is she indeed “the lost wife carving of Peter Hauntz ”?  I can’t be sure, but she is now safely on view at the Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation in Toronto, Canada, amid a wonderful collection of other Punch and Judy puppets.


 

 

 

 

 Ref. :
   The Lock Haven Express, June 21, 1941

   The Lock Haven Express, March 15, 1951

 

An American Judy Update

   After finishing the above article, I located the book, The Puppet Theatre in America, by Paul McPharlin. In a chapter on German puppetry, he devotes several pages to James Sharp, his background, life, mainly his puppetry, and, finally, we get a first-hand description of the rumored missing Julianne, found "in an attic in Salona, PA, … in the collection of Emma L. Thompson." Though the description doesn’t quite match "my" Julianne-- this one was larger, "costumed in a lavender bonnet," and lacking feet—there are compelling details: she was wearing a" blue and white gingham dress," and had a" cotton-filled body of blue chambray,"(my italics), exactly like mine and the only other cotton-filled body that I’ve ever heard of. In addition, the "upper part of the limbs were of black stocking," as mine was. There was also a drawing made of her head which, except for the bonnet, looks identical to mine. I speculate that since this puppet had a cloth bonnet, mine, with a carved bonnet, was an earlier creation of a younger Sharp when he took the time to carve the head himself. It is common among toy makers to streamline their designs as time goes on. Sharp’s wife made the puppets’ costumes and a cloth bonnet would have been much simpler to produce than a carved one.
   The whereabouts of Mrs. Thompson’s puppet are unknown. My Julianne, now in an art museum, may be the only puppet of this legendary folk figure to have survived. She came to me with an intriguing message and it’s been fun to uncover her history, to re-live the days in small Pennsylvania towns when a dark, mysterious puppeteer came through in a horse-drawn carriage, set up a stage wherever he could and performed his plays with comical, endearing puppets, filling the whole town with wonder and delight.

 

An American Judy -- A new development, Aug. 16th, 2012

   A few days ago, I received two emails from Meryl Sharp Vaughan with some further information about James Sharp. Most significant was the new, and more accurate, account of Sharp’s death, leading to the possibility that, yes, there could be more of his puppets out there to be found. And just as intriguing was the wonderfully detailed and first hand description of Sharp, his appearance, his style, and the settings in which he performed. What a valuable picture of Americana! Here are the letters:

 

Dear Ms. Lile:

Thank you for the article, "An American Judy." I enjoyed it very much . I'm writing because you state in the article that Jim Sharp's puppets and equipment in the buggy were destroyed in the train crash that took his life. My aunt, Mary Frances (Sharp) Ward in "The Durable People," also said he was in his buggy, but this doesn't match the newspaper report in the "Clinton Republican," Aug 19, 1908. If this newspaper version is correct, then perhaps there ARE other to be found. (article below)


J. H. Sharp, The "Punch and Judy" Man Killed - J. H. Sharp of Hublersburg, Civil War veteran and member of the GAR, met a tragic death about 4 o'clock Saturday afternoon, near the Vesper Street railroad crossing, this city, by being struck by train No. 63, a westbound freight. The train drawn by engine No. 1668, was passing through this city at a fair rate of speed and Mr. Sharp, who was on his way to visit a relative downtown, was walking over the tracks. Whether he became confused or did not see the approach of the locomotive is not positively known, but when nearly opposite the coal yard of Mr. O. L. Oster he was struck and his legs fell across the tracks, one leg being completely severed and the other crushed.
Aside from these injuries one arm was fully mangled and a deep gash inflicted in the back of his head. The train was quickly stopped and soon a crowd gathered. Several men who were first on the scene picked up the unfortunate victim and carried him to the office of the Claster coal yard. An ambulance of the Lock Haven hospital was sent for but he breathed his last before medical aid arrived, his injuries being fatal. Undertaker E. H. Waters was summoned and prepared the body for burial, the remains being sent to his home Saturday over the Central railroad to Mill Hall.
Prof. Sharp, as he was best known in this section, was an interesting character and his reputation as an entertainer was a household word in many villages and towns in Central PA. For many years he gave exhibitions in schoolhouses and other public places, his specialty being that of a ventriloquist. His programs included "Punch and Judy" entertainments and various other skits. However, the greatest of his triumphs and the one that made hundreds of young and old laugh was the impersonation of "Old Peter Hontz" and his wife "Julian." In Clinton Co., especially in the country districts, are few who have not in years past attended one or more of his shows and in reality were delightfully entertained. His pleasant personality and genial disposition won him friends and admirers when he went about from place to place.

Meryl Sharp Vaughan

Judith,

I thought you might find of some interest the following taken from "The Durable People, The Community Life of Curtin Village Workers, 1810-1922, " pages 38-39, Mary Frances Ward, Roland Curtin Foundation for the Preservation of Eagle Furnace, Curtin Mansion, Howard, PA. The book is dedicated to Aunt Mary's father, Frank Vincent Sharp.

The highlight of the year for the children of Curtin Village was the day that Jim Sharp drove into town and set up his puppet show in the school. Jim, who lived in Hublersburg, traveled throughout central Pennsylvania with his show. A tall man, he wore a black Abraham Lincoln type beard, always dressed in a black suit with tails, and had a gracious, almost courtly manner. He was a remarkable showman and a skilled puppeteer, magician, and ventriloquist, all rolled into one. His favorite puppet shows were "Punch and Judy'" and "Babes in the Woods." Two of his puppets were especially popular with the audiences - Peter Hauntsz and Bob, the Great Speller. Often beginning his show with magic tricks, he would pull potatoes from little boys ears, all the time berating the boys for having ears so dirty that potatoes grew in them. With a special sound he called lung music, he could imitate a fine violin.

Jim would buy a variety of penny candies, and, during the show, he distributed them liberally to the children in the audience. He always went to the door before the show started and invited in the children who could not afford to buy tickets. He then tried to see that these children got especially large handfuls of candy.

In the late 1890s, Jim bought a talking machine that he would set up outside the school, playing its cylinder records to attract people to his performances. The talking machine created almost as much interest as the show.

Jim was killed one night in 1908 at Mill Hall when a train struck his wagon as he crossed the tracks. The whole area mourned a man who had brought a touch of magic and enchantment to everyone fortunate enough to attend his shows.

Meryl Sharp Vaughan