‘Professor Gallivan’s Flea Circus’


Jim Gallivan and his wife, Mickey, are integral to documenting and saving Pomona history, and Jim has an interest in the 19th century pseudo-science of phrenology. Thus I was delighted, but not entirely surprised, when Jim sent me the above mock-Victorian photo in response to my column last week about my little flea problem at home.

His note began:

“The timing of your article on the ‘flea invasion’ was interesting. At the summer Phillips Mansion event of the Historical Society of Pomona Valley, my daughter Britney and I presented a lively Victorian flea circus. I believe that was about three weeks ago. (And one of our fleas is missing.)”

Hmm, maybe I have it. Jim goes on to slyly reference my role as grand marshal of the 2007 Pomona Christmas Parade:

“However, one trait of the Pulex irritans is that they take on the owner’s traits. Seeing how one of the features of our circus is a parade and we even have have a car, single-flea powered, I was wondering if you might be able to spare one of your talented fleas to lead the parade and wave.

“If it could be supplied with an appropriate hat it would be all the better. It will take a while to train but having good stock is important. As Mark Twain said a flea can be taught most anything a congressman can.”

Jim, you’re welcome to one of my fleas. In fact, purely to make things simpler for you, feel free to take several so that you can do auditions and pick the best for your purposes. No, I insist.

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  • Dee

    “As Mark Twain said a flea can be taught most anything a congressman can.”

    How absurd. Everyone knows a flea is way smarter! 😉

    Many of them simply prefer to be lobbyists.

  • Oh no! More fleas!

    [Feeling itchy yet? — DA]

  • Linda Frost

    Hey, David, come to Mt. Baldy. We have plenty of rocks, to which George and Claremont cant lay claim — and no fleas. Thats right, nary a one. Fleas don’t live at high elevations; we get our kicks from ticks. A flea circus might play in Pomona, or Peoria for that matter, but it would go bust in Baldy.

    [Could be a tourism slogan for Mt. Baldy: “Plenty of rocks and no fleas.” — DA]

  • Bobby G

    Speaking of Twain, one of his best quotes, from Pudd’nHead Wilson and Those Extraordinary Twins:

    “Consider the flea! — incomparably the bravest of all the creatures of God, if ignorance of fear were courage. Whether you are asleep or awake he will attack you, caring nothing for the fact that in bulk and strength you are to him as are the massed armies of the earth to a sucking child; he lives both day and night and all days and nights in the very lap of peril and the immediate presence of death, and yet is no more afraid than is the man who walks the streets of a city that was threatened by an earthquake ten centuries before. When we speak of Clive, Nelson, and Putnam as men who ‘didn’t know what fear was,’ we ought always to add the flea — and put him at the head of the procession.”

    [Hear, hear. — DA]

  • J. Gallivan


    I would like to take and audition up to ten of your fleas. Each flea slightly different talents and abilities. I work near the paper’s office so can easily pick them up.

    Calling phrenology a “19th century pseudo-science” is a topic I can take up with you some time. From my studies I can easily show if it is a pseudo-science then modern medicine and psychiatry are in the same category.

    I will stop on that note, but phrenology has an interesting history and deserves a much better reputation than people know to give it.

    [It may take some effort for us to round up 10 fleas at this point — they seem to have (mostly) left, as mysteriously as they arrived. Maybe they didn’t like the publicity. — DA]

  • That looks like an excellent flea circus. I do like the poster of Hooke’s flea.

  • D

    I am interested in your comment about fleas being unable to survive at high altitude. I was wondering if you knew the the maximum altitude at which they survive.

    [No. — DA]