After suffering a nervous breakdown as a nurse, Mabel Stark (1889-1968) seeks a “simpler & easier profession”: training wild jungle cats for the Big Top. Formerly known as Mary Haynie, she joins the circus and becomes the world’s foremost wild animal trainer, circa 1910-1920. Despite numerous maulings, it is Mabel’s love of big cats that keeps her coming back. Wrestling the Bengal tiger, Rajah, is her signature act, spectators looking on in amazement as the lithe dare-devil steps into a cageful of snarling jungle cats armed only with a cane, a whip and a pistol full of blanks. Read more about it!
The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.
The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.
|1916||Adopts a motherless Bengal tiger cub as her own and names him Rajah.|
|February 1916||Mabel Stark is severely mauled by a lion named Louie.|
|August 2, 1921||Stark battles 3 enraged tigers before hundreds of spectators, causing a panic.|
|1922||Joins the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.|