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LAKELAND, FL PUBLIC LIBRARY CONTENTdm Website

About this collection

The Bernard family of Lakeland, Florida was for three generations a family of circus and vaudeville performers. The family was enshrined in the Sarasota (FL) Circus Hall of Fame in 1965.

The family's circus tradition began with family patriarch Floyd Bernard. Born Floyd Hardman in Boone, Iowa on July 23, 1885, he ran away from home to join the circus at the age of twelve and changed his name to Floyd Bernard. Bernard learned contortion and high wire acts and barnstormed with small circuses across the mid-west until joining the nationally known Ringling Brothers Circus in 1905.

It was while with the Ringling Brothers Circus that Bernard met his future wife, Maude Quayle. She had also joined the Ringling Brothers Circus in 1905 as a dancer in its opening "extravaganza." Their courtship was carried on discretely for nearly a year, primarily through exchanges of notes, because the circus had a policy prohibiting the employment of married couples. The two were secretly married in Canada in 1906.

The Bernard family, which by this time included son Howard, moved to Lakeland in 1931. They continued to perform independently and as part of a circus throughout the decade. In 1939, Howard married dancer Dorothy Ames, who joined the other family members to form an acrobatic and high wire act known as the Four Merrill's. The extended family, by now including Howard and Dorothy's two daughters and a son, settled into Lakeland. Floyd became a mail carrier in the city and Howard, after undergoing flight training, served as a flight instructor in Georgia, Alabama, and Florida during World War II. The family still performed locally in such venues as Lakeland's Polk Theater, Winter Haven's Citrus Festival, and Plant City's Strawberry Festival. Family members also continued to travel and perform with the Shrine Circus.

In the post-war years, Howard worked as a flight instructor and the family act, now including Howard and Dorothy's two daughters, continued to perform at sites around Polk County. Maude and Floyd, both approaching seventy, retired from the act in 1954. The remaining four, Howard, Dorothy and their two daughters, continued to perform for several more years as the Four Bernadino's. The act finally broke up for good in 1964 when daughters Mary and Jean decided on careers outside of show business and the circus. Thus ended nearly seventy years of family tradition.

Floyd Bernard died in Lakeland in 1976 at the age of 92. Howard died at the age of 78 in 1986 and Maude followed her son in death in 1989 at the age of 100.

 
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