Believe it or not, Tom Redway juggled five apples without a drop a distance of 3 1/2 miles back in 1932. Read it yourself if you want. It's right there in "Ripley's Believe It Or Not,"
But I wondered about the rest of the story and did some research.
It turns out that Redway was much more than the self-declared "first juggling marathoner." He was talented and fondly remembered community and regional Vaudevillian.
Ms. Carolyn Chouinard, the North Salem, Mass., town historian, remembers his performances there as early as 1926. "Tom didn't need a stage." she said. "Barber shops, fire stations, drug stores, or bars were fine. He would always attract a crowd. All my contemporaries who saw him perform at various functions say he was much better and funnier than anything that can be seen on TV today. I think it was because of the Redways I've always had such a fondness for live entertainment, jugglers and magicians."
Dynamic and humorous, Redway and his spouse, Nina, made a mark that lasted.
Jules Thomas (Redway) Chauvin, was born in Montreal, Canada, in 1886. A former Canadian League baseball star and World War I veteran, he performed comedy, juggling, clowning, magic, knife throwing and calligraphy. He worked the Kent Circuit with Nina, a striking beauty noted for dancing and a routine described as "paper tearing."
Redway's life story sheds light on the vaudeville era. After marrying, he and Nina worked the carnival circuit in America and Canada. They both starred in stock plays and comedies. They shared the stage with such stars as Marie Dressler and El Brendel. Tom was billed with Harry Houdini, and at one time he even shared an act with W.C. Fields. But he broke it off due to Fields' drinking habits. He followed that by working an evangelical campaign in the South with Mordecai Ham.
In the early teens, the couple bought some land and a house in North New Salem, Mass. They added a room with a high ceiling for juggling and called their haven Rosy Ridge.
When not on the road, Redway also performed for free for local church groups, school groups, civic and social groups, and clowned and juggled in local parades. Youngsters used to watch him practice. He and Nina were especially attentive to children and even instructed a few in the craft.
"Of course he juggled. Indian clubs, hoops, plates, balls -- anything that would fly in his hands. I saw flying saucers before people even heard of the other kind. One of his tricks involved balancing a saucer on his foot and flipping it up on his forehead, then balancing a cup on his foot and flipping it up and catching it on the saucer, then balancing a spoon on his foot and flipping it up and catching it across the top of the cup, then balancing a sugar cube on his toe, flipping it up and catching that in the spoon. All done effortlessly with an amusing line of patter. Along with this he did card tricks and other magic which enchanted us."
Along with a quick wit and other performing skills, Tom was a ventriloquist. When Joe Truman's cow fell through the barn floor, neighbors gathered around and tugged, front and rear while the poor animal struggled and mooed. Thinking clearly, Redway imitated the bellowing of an impassioned bull, and the sad mooing ceased. The cow hauled herself to the floor and headed toward the pasture!
During the Depression Tom and Nina were hit hard with financial woes, and never really recovered. Their savings melted away and they sold what valuables they could. They received gifts of food from friends and neighbors, even after World War II. One man said of Tom, "He was poor as far as money was concerned, but he was very wealthy in terms of good will."
After a long illness, Nina died in 1947 and Tom continued alone. He lost an eye to glaucoma in 1950, but that didn't stop him from entertaining and clowning. In 1955 he collapsed at home and was hospitalized for several serious operations, then discharged to a rest home. Later that year he returned to Rosy Ridge where he remained until his death in 1960, leaving no relatives.
The town of North New Salem took over the property, sold it to an abuttor, who eventually tore the dwelling down except for the high-ceilinged room where Tom practiced juggling. What possessions worth anything were sold, the rest discharged. His juggling paraphernalia was acquired by Richard Casey, an amateur juggler who now lives in California. The high ceilinged room mysteriously burned down a year later.
In my research calls and inquiries one thing impressed me quite clearly. The people in town and the surrounding townships loved the Redways quite emphatically. Even a teenager working in the local post office knew who they were. Dynamic, powerful, humorous and wise. They made a mark that was easy to follow.
New Salem Academy alumni donated money for a suitable marker for his grave, but funds fell short and lay dormant for 16 years. In 1976 it came to the attention of James Hodge of a granite works in a nearby town. He had personal recollections of their entertainment and made up the difference for his tombstone.
One hopes that the rewards of a career in the footlights shone brighter in their hearts than their pauper's legacy. Nina indicated that at one time, when asked if she missed her former life - the theaters, audiences, and challenges. "It is far better," she replied, "to be a has-been than a never-was!" Tom felt that way, too. His favorite saying was, "There's a right way, a wrong way and a Redway!"