Hannes Ophof was born in 1885 in the Kamperpoort in Zwolle, Netherlands. He was a bruiser, a freebooter, and he had the notion to make a living by presenting himself as blessed with extraordinary powers; "Fakir Bosco", the man who does not know pain. What inspired Hannes to use the name Bosco, we do not know. It became the stage name of the circus family he founded with his wife, Catharina Jacoba Camelia Geitebeek or 'Auntie Kee' from Utrecht. But before this happened, Fakir Bosco was approached by an inventor from the US, who was looking for a stuntman demonstrating his ingenious apparatus. In the beginning of the twentieth century the first cars and streetcars appeared on the roads and in the cities of Europe. They caused many accidents as the streets were not adapted for them and people were unaware of the danger. The apparatus was mounted to the front of a car or other motorized vehicle and when the vehicle hit an object (i.e., an unsuspecting pedestrian), the 'object' was automatically "thrown aside" by the mechanism (like the front grill on a train), preventing them from landing under the wheels. Stuntman Hannes Ophof, "the man who knows no pain" demonstrated this invention. He was deliberately hit by a speeding car mounted with this apparatus. He displayed no injuries from this and appeared totally unharmed while in fact he sustained severe bruising and fractures. He was paid fifty guilders per event, which was a fortune those days. He joined the inventor around Europe and even the US. Some streetcars in Amsterdam were mounted with the apparatus for a short period until a serious accident in the Spaarndammerstaat occurred, showing it was a danger which put an end to it being used. After a while Hannes gave up on his dangerous profession and with the money, he saved bought himself a little circus tent. The Bosco Circus was born. The year is 1909 and Circus Bosco is born. During the summer it went on tour by canal boat. Hannes had married his Kee later known as Auntie Kee. During half a century she was the cook and support for the Circus Bosco. She never performed in the arena but took care of her husband and the other artists. Meanwhile Hannes had moved to Amsterdam where in the wintertime there was employment for him as an artist. He showed his acrobatic skills in the local variety theatre, for wedding parties and other events. In winter, his tent was stored in the warehouse of Ben Felthuis, who ran a transport business on the Amsterdam 'Prinseneiland' where it could be loaded straight onto a canal boat. The donkey act was the closing number of the show. She would walk around in the arena while Hannes in full costume as ringmaster, wearing his inevitable white gloves would invite anybody from the audience to try and halt the donkey. This led to many futile attempts. An undercover accomplice would end the act in style, landing several times in the dust of the ring and inevitably losing his pants as the audience roared with laughter. Along with the Clown Cupido (Cees van Willigen) Nora the donkey was already in the early days a true member of the Bosco Circus. Nora also had her winter resort in the warehouse of Ben Felthuis, where she was cared by Hans Ophof, son of Hannes and Kee. He would ring the bell of the Felthuis family next door, to get the key to the warehouse. Ger Felthuis, daughter of Ben, used to make sure she would answer the door. She liked Hans who like his father was a promising acrobat. On Sundays Hans would pick her up for a ride on the back of his bike around the Westerpark nearby. A few years later Hans and Ger performed as "The Bosco's" presenting a spectacular balancing act in which they (in a head stand) balance a bike on a small platform in the top of the tent! Year after year the little circus toured the country of Holland. It was widely acclaimed and appreciated by young and old. Naturally, it was not always easy to survive in this business. Ger remembers how sometimes the 'troupe' would be hungry, artists would have to be sent away because audiences were too small. Sometimes it was hard to understand why one day the tent would fill up easily and the next day be empty. Ger remembers a day when the very first dimes collected in the box office before a show rapidly found their way to the nearest bakery to buy food for the empty stomach of the performers. The war years between 1940-45 were difficult. Artists were a suspect group, and every performance needed many special licences (Zulassung). In 1942 Hans Ophof jr. and Ger Felthuis got married. During the last year of the war in the winter of '44-'45 they were lucky enough to be in Limburg in the south of Netherlands. This area was the first to be cleared of the German suppression and when the north was suffering deeply with the "winter of hunger", the young "Bosco’s” were performing for the American and English liberators. Ger remembers so well that when in the spring of 1945 they finally reached Amsterdam everybody was so thin. The fifties were the years of the breakthrough for the Bosco Circus. Hannes Ophof had replaced the simple canvas tent by an independently standing wooden construction with a beautifully painted façade. In 1949 Hannes and Kee celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary party in the tent in Schagen (North of Holland). In 1955 the little Bosco Circus was given the honour to be part of a big exhibition “ENERGIE 55” that took place in Rotterdam. For 101 days the tent stood in good company. There were many tents around it where Dutch and international celebrities were performing daily. Ger remembers the big jazz bands and dance orchestras well known from Dutch radio shows. Even Vera Lynn and Juliette Greco performed on stage. The small family circus of the Bosco family stole the hearts of the many visitors and the elite that were present. In the press they were mentioned in many favorable reviews, praising the authenticity and skill and style of the mini circus. After this short period of success unfortunately the inevitable decline followed. Hannes was getting old and no longer capable of leading the circus or adapting to the rapidly changing times. Television was conquering the world and quickly putting the middle-class artists out of business. Just like the Spiegel tent in Belgium, the Bosco Theatre was facing a similar situation. People wanted the new entertainment of the day. What had been fun yesterday had become a bore today. Hans jr. got a job as a guard in an amusement arcade in the old city of Amsterdam. It offered them a modest living throughout summer and winter. In the beginning of the sixties the tent was sold to a mime player Wil Spoor. The new owner had respect for the tent and its history, but he represented a different discipline, a different attitude, with a different audience. Thanks to Wil Spoor the tent and the memory of the Bosco Circus has been preserved.
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