Maple Hill Stories
Researched and Written by Ruth Ann Montgomery
A span of forty-seven years, the life-time of William Bowles Antes, was complete with careers in the
newspaper and entertainment businesses. Although he was best known in Evansville as the radio
announcer and publicity agent for the Ringling Brothers Circus, Antes was a talented musician and writer.
Perhaps his greatest gift was the ability to meet and converse with people in all walks of life. It seemed
there was never a person that Bill Antes met that he did not consider a friend.
Bill Antes was born on September 25, 1905. He was an Evansville native, the son of Robert Manning and
Margaret Cornelius Antes. His father owned the Evansville Review and Bill trained to enter the field of
journalism. He graduated from Evansville High School in 1923 and then went on to the University of
Wisconsin in Madison, graduating in 1927, with a degree in journalism. His senior thesis was a history of
the Evansville Review.
His writing and musical talents were recognized early. Local organizations frequently asked Bill to sing at
events. Evansville’s Liberty Loan Committee sponsored an essay contest in November 1918. Bill was in
eighth grade and his essay was entitled “Why My Family Should Own Liberty Bonds.” The judges found
the essay so “forceful and well written” that the Rock County Chairman of the Woman’s Liberty Loan
Committee requested that two copies of the essay be sent to the Rock County Council of Defense and also
on to the chairman of the Federal Reserve District.
In his junior year in high school, Bill Antes organized a small orchestra. Donovan Cary, Delevan Calkins,
Donald Ellis, and Earl Wolfe were the other members of The Moonlight Melody Boys. They played for high
school dances and a dance in Magee’s Hall. Antes was a talented piano player and in his senior year
played in a recital at the University of Wisconsin.
Antes entered the University in the fall of 1923 and graduated in the spring of 1927. His first job out of
college was editor of the Park Falls “Herald”. The job in Park Falls lasted only a couple of years, then
Antes returned to help his father and brother, Robert J. Antes, run the Evansville Review.
His return to Evansville was welcomed by the local women’s clubs, who sought him out as a speaker and
entertainer. The Afternoon Club announced a program in November 1929, with William Antes giving a
lecture and recital on “Popular Versus Classic Music.”
The following year, Antes rented land at the northwest corner of North Madison and Garfield Street and
built a miniature golf course. For the next three summers, Antes promoted his new venture, the Velvet
Greens Miniature Golf Course.
In the second year, Bill Antes added mechanical obstacles to the course. He also hired an attendant to be
at the greens, while he worked at the newspaper. Antes had a club house on the grounds where
customers could purchase refreshments, whether or not they played a round of golf. The grounds were
decorated with garden furniture, bird baths, gazing balls, and flower urns that were also for sale.
At the grand re-opening of the miniature golf course in 1931, Antes hired Holly’s Trained Animal Circus and
the Evansville Community Band to perform. Horace Hollibush, his wife and son and Horace’s brother,
Verlyn Hollibush, were the circus performers. They had dogs, the only trained wolf in captivity, a trick mule,
pony, goats, sheep, a monkey and a coyote.
Antes claimed that 1,000 people had attended the circus performance and band concert. When no live
entertainment was available, Antes persuaded a local business, Bullard Electric, to provide a radio that was
set to a music station. “You’ve Played The Rest – Now Play The Best” was Antes’ advertising slogan.
He purchased bleachers from William Campbell, son-in-law of Evansville circus owner, George “Popcorn”
Hall, so that people could watch others as they played the game. To promote the venture, Antes wrote
poems about the course and printed them in the Evansville Review. He even persuaded the City Nurse to
endorse the course as “an excellent remedy for sleeplessness at night which is due to a lack of exercise.”
As Managing Editor of the Review, he took full advantage of the newspapers advertising space to promote
his recreation and entertainment business.
The following year, in 1932, Antes continued his search for entertainment in the circus world and acquired
King Tut, a 300-pound black bear, owned by Frank Hall, another member of Evansville’s Hall circus family.
The bear was exhibited in a large cage. There was also a miniature zoo, fish pond, and new mechanical
devices set up to make the course more difficult. Treats for the bear and other animals could be
purchased at the club house.
The Velvet Greens entertainment gave Antes his first taste of working with a circus and the life of the
professional entertainer. He loved it. Although he maintained his connection with the Evansville Review,
for many years, it was the circus that dominated his work life for nearly 20 years.
In September 1932, Bill Antes married Edna Rosenthal of Monroe. She shared Bill’s enthusiasm for the
entertainment world, especially the circus. In the spring of 1936, Bill and Edna joined the Russell Brothers
Shows. The Review editor’s work was left in the capable hands of J. I. Scott and Don Every served as the
Bill’s was the press agent for the circus and Edna worked in the office. They purchased a trailer for living
accommodations while traveling with the circus.
The Russell Bros. Show was a three-ring circus that traveled the small cities of the Midwest and into the
Western states. According to Bill, the season was an unusually strenuous one for the performers and the
circus animals. There were long dry spells in the summer and then, heavy rains on some parts of the tour.
Despite the hardships, there was only one performance missed all season and that was during a downpour
of rain in Fordyce, Ark. The circus ended its 1936 tour in Oklahoma and Texas and the Antes’ returned to
Evansville in November. Bill resumed his work as managing editor of the Review, but he and Edna had
been bitten with the desire for travel and adventure that the circus offered.
By April 1937, Bill and Edna were on the road again with the Russell Brothers Circus. Bill was still listed as
the managing editor of the Review but the duties were once again turned over to J. I. Scott.
Bill wrote a regular column in the Evansville Review, “Under The Big Top: High Lights and Side Lights of
the Canvas City of Spangles, Glamor, and Sawdust.” Each week, Bill wrote his observations of circus life
and travel logs of the places that they visited along the tour.
The Russell Brothers show wintered in Missouri and set up for their spring rehearsals in Rolla. The circus
tent was set up and the sound of the band and the calliope could be heard throughout the city. Performers
rehearsed and the crew practiced putting up and taking down the tent, so that each person knew their
part. Programs were revised so that there were no gaps in the performance. The band practiced
throughout the day.
Because of the economic conditions during the Great Depression, the circus sent an advance agent with a
team of 26 men ahead of the circus to check the financial condition of the area. The team also checked
for conflicts with other circuses that were in the area. Then the advance agent chose cities with between
5,000 and 50,000 people.
Once the cities were chosen, the contracting agent went to the city and made arrangements for the circus
grounds, advertising, police protection, licenses for performing, water, and other utilities. When the
arrangements were complete the agent sent the route back to the show so the caravan could begin.
The show traveled with a fleet of 150 cars, trucks, trailers and vans. The circus had 450 performers,
technicians, staff members and laborers.
It was during this second year with the circus, that Bill and Edna began to meet celebrities that would have
a great influence on their future in the Circus and entertainment world. Bill’s newspaper column reported
that they met Clyde Beatty and his wife, who were well known animal trainers for circuses and the movies.
The Antes’ met Gene Autry, a cowboy movie actor. They also met people from other walks of life who had
achieved some notoriety, including the deputy who shot “Pretty Boy” Floyd, the gangster; a reporter who
covered the trial of kidnappers Loeb and Leopold; and many nationally known authors, poets, and song
Bill’s ability to meet new people and engage them in a positive experience during the short time that the
circus was in town, was a great benefit to his employers. These brief encounters gained him new friends
wherever he went. In one of his Under The Big Top columns he said, “It is seldom that I was not invited to
the homes of these distinguished people following the performance.”
Once the circus reached a town, it was Bill’s job to go to the local newspaper office and become
acquainted with the editor. Bill would write a newspaper article for the paper’s next edition, pay any
advertising bills that had been inserted in the paper for the circus and give away passes to the circus to
local celebrities and the newspaper staff.
If there was a local radio station, Bill paid any advertising that was put on the air and arranged for some of
the circus performers to make a radio broadcast. Sometimes the circus band performed or performers
would talk about their acts.
If possible, Bill arranged for the entire afternoon circus performance to be broadcast on the local radio
station. This encouraged people to attend the evening performance.
If he could arrange a meeting with the local Chamber of Commerce or a service club, Bill took this
opportunity to promote the circus.
Bill was perhaps at his best entertaining local officials and celebrities. He invited them to be his guest in
the circus dining tent before the evening show. Bill and Edna served as the host and hostess at the
special table the circus provided for them to entertain their guests. The invitation always won the Antes’
new friends and created a spirit of good will for the circus.
If there were Civilian Conservation Camps or institutions, such as orphanages, insane asylums, and
schools with underprivileged children, Bill arranged for free passes and bus service to the circus.
It was the weather that plagued the circus folks during their 1937 tour. From the time the circus left
Missouri, there was rain in Illinois. Then it rained in Iowa. It rained for nearly three weeks straight.
Rain mired the circus tents and vehicles in the mud. The elephants were called on to haul the equipment
to drier land. Even the Antes’ trailer had to be pulled out of the mud by the elephants.
At Marshall, Missouri, the main tent started to blow down during the matinee performance. Screaming
women and children ran outside into the downpour, while others refused to leave the tent.
“All of us pitched in and tried to persuade everyone to leave immediately to avoid any serious accidents.
The band continued its musical program and the performers went right on through their acts until it looked
as though we might all be killed,” Bill wrote in his Evansville Review column. The only thing that saved the
day was that the tent was heavy from the rain and the wind did not blow it down.