Horn's Punch & Judy Show History

So you can truly appreciate the legacy of Horn's Punch & Judy Show, we’ve provided this brief overview tracing the history of this famous puppet play in the state of Maryland up to the present-day Professor Horn.

According to Constance Lippincott's 1902 publication, Maryland as a Palatinate, the first Punch & Judy show in Maryland took place in Annapolis before the American Revolution. Evidence suggests the entertainer was British. Other itinerant showmen, like the conjuror mentioned in the January 1783 edition of the Maryland Journal, performed in Fell’s Point offering sleight-of-hand skills and a whimsical play starring Punchinello.

However, James Edward Ross was one of the first local residents to make a living, albeit a precarious one, with this attraction. Using the stage name of Professor Rosella, Ross premiered his famous puppet show — which he learned from magician/puppeteer Spaff Hyman — in April 1897 at Pat Harris' Dime Museum on Baltimore Street.


Rosella and Friends

It wasn't long before Rosella presented Punch & Judy puppet shows throughout the mid-Atlantic region. During the summers of 1913 and 1914, Rosella gave several shows a day in Atlantic City at Young's Million Dollar Pier, where, it was noted, sea lions applauded enthusiastically by clapping their flippers during his performances. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was his most distinguished patron and letters from the president claimed that Rosella's performance was the "best Punch & Judy show he had ever seen." Foreign diplomats also engaged Rosella to entertain guests at their Washington, D.C., chancelleries.

For 25 years Cardinal Gibbons insisted upon sitting in the front row of 500 laughing children while Rosella rollicked through his Punch & Judy act for the Archbishop's annual Christmas party. His Punch act was also a favorite attraction at Riverview, a now-defunct Baltimore amusement park. Rosella lived on Hull Street in South Baltimore and retired in 1948 after spending 50 years in show business. He died in May 1950 at the age of 73.

Through the years Rosella taught the art of Punch & Judy to other entertainers. Steve Brenner, a Baltimore clown who claimed to be the first Bozo the Clown character, apprenticed with Rosella. Others, such as Shorty Weston and Harry Sigmore, copied Rosella's act. Back in the 1950s Brenner claimed that only two local entertainers presented creditable Punch shows: Brenner and veteran Baltimore entertainer George Horn.

Like any performance, a good Punch & Judy show is difficult to present. Although Brenner was only in the business for a few years, and eventually sold his equipment to another circus clown, George Horn persevered with Rosella's Punch & Judy act.


George Horn and Mr. Punch

George Horn, the youngest member of the Baltimore Demons' Club, a local magic society, not only became a noted Punch & Judy operator, circa 1932, but an excellent ventriloquist. Sometime in the 1930s he performed his ventriloquial act at the famous Baltimore Hippodrome Theatre for a month-long engagement. He was also the first Maryland entertainer to introduce balloon animals into his show.

After World War ll George Horn brought his novelty act to the famous Club Charles. Located at Charles and Preston streets, the owners of this prestigious nightclub built a special Punch & Judy bar with a two-way mirror. Hiding behind the looking glass was George Horn, and seven nights a week his puppets exchanged banter with patrons in addition to providing other clever amusements.

There were, of course, other Punch & Judy entertainers in Maryland during the last century. Back in 1921, Professor Will H. Smith, from England, presented a Punch show at a Chautauqua event in Easton. In 1938 an Amateur Theatrical Group performed the famous puppet play at Fell's Point's Recreation Pier. Even Baltimore's very own Johnny Eck, the amazing half-man, presented Punch & Judy while touring with carnivals and sideshows.

As for the current Professor Horn, during the summer of 1963, George Horn presented his Punch & Judy show at Patterson Park. This was intended as a school treat for students attending St. Elizabeth's in East Baltimore. One of the students was a novice magician named Mark Walker. Sitting in a meadow near the old music conservatory and watching George Horn's Punch act made a lifelong impression on the youthful wizard.

Mark called Mr. Horn and promised to visit. He did — some 20 odd years later. What triggered the Horn/Walker reunion was a brief NBC Nightly News film clip of noted English Punchman John Styles, MBE, (now a great friend of Mark Walker). At that time George Horn was in his eighties and with talk of retirement on the horizon, Mark asked if he could continue this unbroken Maryland tradition. Mr. Horn gladly consented, taught Mark the act, and the two entertainers remained best friends until George Horn's death in January 2004.

In honor of his mentor, Mark Walker adopted the stage name Professor Horn and continues with the very same show he saw as a child.

 


Horn's Punch & Judy

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