Simon Blumenfeld & Wilhelmine Blennow

Simon & Wilhelmina Blumenfeld

Simon Blumenfeld

  • Birth name: Simon Hirsch Levy (also spelled Samson and Levi)
  • Born: abt 1829 – Wassenberg, Heinsberg, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany
  • Name change: 1846 – Beuel, Germany – from Simon Levy to Simon Blumenfeld
  • Stage names : Simon Blumenfeld, Simon Blumenfeldt, Herr Simaun
  • Occupation: Circus owner, trick rider, and horse breaker
  • Married: abt 1859
  • Died: 2 Jun 1911 – London

Wilhelmine Blennow

  • Birth name:  Wilhelmine Constance Blennow
  • Also called: Wilhelmina Constance Blennow
  • Born: 1841 – Trier, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany
  • Stage names: Wilhelmina Blennow, Frau Simaun
  • Occupation: Trick rider
  • Married: abt 1859
  • Died: 30 Oct 1915 – London

Advertisement for Circus Blennow listing “Simaun” (Simon Blumenfeld) and “Madame Simaun, geb. Wilhelmine Blennow.” Würzburger Stadt- und Landbote, 23 June 1860

SIMON BLUMENFELD was the youngest son of Moritz Levi Cerf Blumenfeld. He was born Simon Levy, but his entire family changed their last name to Blumenfeld (the maiden name of Simon’s mother) in 1846 in Bueul, near Bonn, Germany (“Name Adoption Lists from the Department of Bonn, 1846,” Kulturbüro AHB.).

Simon was a circus owner, trick rider, and horse breaker who frequently performed as HERR SIMAUN. Like the rest of his family, Simon performed in the family circus under the direction of his brother, Emanuel, even after his elder brothers Moritz and Meyer had left to form their own circuses (Geller, Rudolf, “Die Familie Blumenfeld und ihre Circusse,” Die Zirkuszeitung, Kulturhistorische Gesellschaft fur Circus und Varietékunst, June 1992, 23, Circus Varieté- und Artistenarchiv, Marburg).

WILHELMINE BLENNOW was the daughter of August Blennow, a circus owner, and Henriette Hoffmann. She performed as a trick rider for her father’s Circus Blennow.

The Blennow and Blumenfeld families frequently performed with each other’s circuses. No doubt this is how Simon and Wilhelmina met; they married around 1859. On the 1911 English census, Simon and Wilhelmina are listed as having completed 53 years of marriage (United Kingdom, 1911 Census for England and Wales, schedule for Simon Blumenfeld and family). Intriguingly, a benefit performance (where the proceeds went to the featured artist[s]) for “Fraulein Wilhelmine Blennow” and “Herrn Simaun” took place in Altona (outside of Hamburg) on September 29, 1859. It seems likely that this was to celebrate their engagement or coming marriage (Wilhelmine is still listed under her maiden name) (Altonaer Nachrichten, 29 Sept 1859).

After their marriage, Wilhelmine is often called FRAU SIMAUN or FRAU WILHELMINE SIMAUN.

A review from 1862 from the Amsterdam newspaper Algemeen Handelsblad gives a good overview of a performance:

“The work of various artists in many respects surpass what we have beheld in previous years and what first deserves mention is that we saw something new… The performance started with n Maneuvre Orientale, executed by the men H. Blennow, Simaun, A. Blennow and O. Bernard, and the women Virginie Troost Blennow, H. Blennow, Simaun and Cariot. We did not know what most to admire: the riches, beauty and accuracy of the costumes, the proficiency and elegance of the riders, or the obedience of the beautiful horses, with an accuracy, certainty and ease with which the most difficult turns, the boldest moves are performed… Then the Trakhener gray mare Rosa, trained from freedom by Mr. Simaun… They jumped with ease over obstacles of a height and width which has not yet been seen in the circus. La Coquette Espagnole, a pas de deux by the ladies and Virginie and Rosa Lee, appears to us, although we deny the dancers grace nor skill, … we would have willingly missed this part of the program. We were better satisfied by the double-vaulting, with great boldness and much grace, executed by the ladies Hugo and Mathilde Blennow. The boldest we have seen in this genre, came from Mr. Simaun and Mad. Virginie Troost- Blennow, riding two trotting horses, who performed miracles of bravery and also the most beautiful form” (10 Sep 1862).

Wilhelmine suffered at least two falls during performances. In 1862, she was performing in Brussels when her feet caught in the stirrups while jumping; she fell, unconscious, and had to be carried out of the arena. Luckily, she was able to return within 15 minutes to show the crowd she was unhurt (Nieuw Amsterdamsch Handels- en Effectenblad, 29 March 1862). The following year, while performing in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands, she fell while her horse was at full speed, due to the smoothness of the saddle. While she had hurt one of her arms and was very upset, she was able to dismount with assistance (Leidsch Dagsblad, 17 July 1863).

The nomadic lifestyle of a circus performer can be seen in the various birth locations of Simon and Wilhelmine’s seven surviving children: Egon (about 1861) in Leipzig, Germany; Virginie Henriette Wilhelmine Clothilde (1862) in Zwolle, Netherlands; Alexander August Hugo (1863) in Delft, Netherlands; Charles Henry (1866) in Warsaw (then in Russia, now in Poland); Baptist Fritz (1868) in Braunschweig, Germany; Paul Matthew (1874) in Pfullendorf, Germany; and William Edward (1876) in Reutlingen, Germany. They had two other children who died, probably in infancy (on the 1911 English census, Simon and Wilhelmina are listed as having nine children, seven still living. United Kingdom, 1911 Census for England and Wales, schedule for Simon Blumenfeld and family). The birth records of Virginie and Alexander list Simon & Wilhelmine’s home as Mettman, Germany.

Pfälzische Volkszeitung. 1872,7/12

Pfälzische Volkszeitung. 1872,7/12

By 1867, Simon had formed his own CIRCUS SIMON BLUMENFELD (Geller, “Die Familie Blumenfeld”). They performed in Nördlingen, Germany from January 6 to 26, 1877. According to a notice, the circus featured 60 performers and 18 horses. The program included a focus on dressage horses and the great pantomime, “The Banishment of Mazeppa of Ukraine,” as well as daughter Virginie Blumenfeld, Julius Strong (a high wire artist and strongman), Mr. James (clown), August Blennow (Wilhelmina’s father, trickrider), and Wilhelmine’s sister Virginie Blennow Troost (famous equestrienne).

Simon, Wilhelmine, and their children moved to England sometime around 1883. Simon and Wilhelmine appear to have retired as performers by this time, although their children performed for numerous English circuses. Nonetheless, Simon continued his work as a circus director, putting on the Circus Simon Blumenfeld in Brighton, England in 1887 (The Era, 9 Apr 1887), where his relative Miena Blumenfeld Kottaun (probably his sister) lived.

Advertisement for “S. Blumenfeldt’s Grand Cirkus,” Norra Skane, 30 June 1894

Between 1889 and 1894, the Circus Simon Blumenfeld (along with most of the family) toured Denmark, Norway, and Sweden (personal email from Dietmar Winkler, Circusarchiv; The Era, 16 Mar 1889; Tidning för Wenersborgs Stad och Län, 21 Jan 1890; Kalmar, 29 Mar 1890; Waasan Lehti, 23 Aug 1890; Kalmar, 11 Oct 1890; Norra Skane, 30 June 1894; Norra Skane, 3 July 1894.). They may have returned to England briefly in 1890, when “The Blumenfeld Variety Entertainment; one night only” was advertised in Tamworth (Tamworth Herald, 15 Feb. 1890); and again in Chesterfield (Derbyshire Times & Chesterfield Herald, 22 Feb. 1890); alternately, these performances may have been organized by Egon Blumenfeld.

The entire family returned to settle permanently in England from 1895.

The first time the family appears in the English census is in 1901, where they are incorrectly listed as Sidney, Winnie, Benjamin, Phillip, and Walter (United Kingdom, 1901 Census for England and Wales, schedule for Simon Blumenfeld and family). They lived in the Walworth neighborhood of London, where they maintained a permanent residence through 1914.

In the 1911 census, Simon & Wilhelmine were living in the same seven room home in London, along with their three sons Baptist, William, and Paul, their wives and fiancées, and two grandchildren (United Kingdom, 1911 Census for England and Wales, schedule for Simon Blumenfeld and family). Son Charles and family were living nearby.

Simon Blumenfeld died in London on June 2, 1911 in London (Death certificate for Simon Blumenfeld, 1911).

Sons Baptist, Paul, and William continued to perform in England through the end of 1914, when all three brothers and most of their wives and children immigrated to the United States. It is very likely that this was due to the outbreak of World War I in July/August 1914, when there were widespread anti-German riots in England (“Anti-German Sentiment: United Kingdom,” Wikipedia).

Wilhelmine remained in London until her death on October 30, 1915 (Death certificate for Wilhelmina Blumenfeld, 1915). Paul’s wife Ruby and their son stayed with Wilhelmina until soon after her death, no doubt to care for her.

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