Held at: Tri-County Heritage Society [Contact Us]P.O. Box 352, Morgantown, PA, 19543
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Tri-County Heritage Society. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
The Bard family of Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania is descended from German immigrant Jacob Bard (1813-circa 1887). The Bards are perhaps best known for Jacob's five grandsons who were renowned acrobats in the vaudeville circuit in the early 20th century. The McCord family is descended from Scottish immigrants who settled in Berks County and Chester County, Pennsylvania in the 18th century.
John Bard, Sr. (1850-1893) was a carpenter in Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania. He married Mary Ellen Barnhart (1856-1920) and they had eight children: James Bard (1872-1958), Charles Bard (1874-1925), Annie Bard Heilman (1877-1965), Edward Lawrence Bard (1880-1957), John B. Bard (1882-1966), Mary "Mamie" Bard Rice (1885-1904), Harry Bard (1888-1964), and Edith Elizabeth Bard Blome (1893-1945).
In the 1880s, John Bard, Sr., an amateur athlete, built a small gym for his five sons next to his carpentry business. Bard trained his sons from an early age to perform various feats on gymnastic equipment. He would often take them to see visiting circus performers and encourage them to replicate the stunts they had seen the master gymnasts perform. In the late 1880s and early 1890s, Bard's sons left home to perform as acrobats in various traveling circuses. The Bards were the first acrobatic troupe to leave Reading and go on tour. The Bard brothers inspired other circus acts such as bareback riders, acrobats, and trapeze artists out of Reading, including the Four Lukens, the Four Londons, the Four Melvins, the Four DeHomans and the Four Readings.
The great success of the Bard brothers brought several more acrobatic hopefuls to train at John Bard's gym. Bard's gym became too small to accommodate the growing number of acrobats, so he built a larger gym in 1891, which became known as the Reading Athletic Club. John Bard died in 1893 and his son James took over the gym, while other brothers continued their work as acrobats. Charles, Edward, John B., and Harry Bard formed a vaudevillian acrobat troupe called the "Four Bards," performing in numerous locations across the United States, as well as in South America, Europe, and the West Indies. The Four Bards's busy touring schedule and James's desire to return to performing permanently made it difficult to keep the gym in Reading open and it closed in 1904. James toured for several years as part of the Four Readings.
Performing in vaudeville for so many years introduced the Bards to several famous people in show business in the early 20th century, including Mae West, Charlie Chaplin, Eddie Cantor, vaudeville reporter Walter Winchell, and others. James and John B. became particularly close with Harry Houdini, who offered advice to the brothers about their set design and costumes.
Some time before 1925, the Four Bards disbanded. Charles began performing with his wife, Ella (Bowers) Bard and another acrobat from Reading, in an act called the Ella Bard Trio until his death in April 1925. Edward also continued to act (with minimal travel) with another group for several more years before retiring permanently. In 1925, John B. retired and purchased a farm in Elverson, PA and began raising chickens, ultimately becoming one of the largest breeders of white leghorn chickens in eastern Pennsylvania. Harry opened a confectionary store in Reading when he retired, and James took on work as a janitor and doorman at the Embassy Theater in Reading.
McCord and Haas families
Thomas Messenger McCord (1914-1999) was born to Warren Brook McCord (1871-1924) and Cora May Clingaman (1883-1977) in Elverson, Chester County, Pennsylvania in 1914. Thomas McCord married Hazel Violet Bard (1914-1988) in 1935. Hazel was the daughter of John B. Bard (1882-1966), one of the original members of the vaudevillian acrobatic act called the Four Bards, and Nettie M. Schuler (1882-1969). In the early years of his marriage to Hazel, Thomas McCord worked as a laborer in the coal, lumber, and food industries. Thomas was also an active photographer in Elverson. He and Hazel had one son, Thomas B. McCord (born circa 1939).
Cora May (Clingaman) McCord's sister was Rachel Ann (Clingaman) Haas (1869-1946). Rachel married Henry W. Haas in 1885 and they had several children, including Benjamin R. Haas (1893-1984), cousin to Thomas M. McCord.
Devlin, Ron. "History Book: Long Ago, Reading was a Hotbed for Acrobats." Reading Eagle (Reading, PA), August 19, 2015. Accessed August 24, 2016. http://www.readingeagle.com/news/article/history-book-long-ago-reading-was-a-hotbed-for-acrobats.
Drake, Patricia Laver. "Bard Brothers: World Famous Acrobats from Reading." The Local Historian (Fall 2014): 1-6.
Bard and McCord families papers, circa 1880s-1970s, consist primarily of materials from and relating to the McCord and Bard families. A small amount of materials are from other families associated with the McCords and Bards, including the Clingaman, Haas, Mast, and Fisher families. Materials include subject and genealogical files, journals, scrapbooks, photographs and slides, lantern slides and glass plate negatives, film reels, printed matter and ephemera, and other materials.
The subject files are organized alphabetically by topic. The genealogy files document the McCord and Bard families, as well as other associated families and include photographs, newspaper clippings, handwritten notes, receipts, photocopies of primary source documents, and other materials.
Identified materials from the Bard family include a personal journal from John B. Bard, 1904; notebooks with booking information and financial records for the Bard Brothers, 1897-early 1900s; performance contracts, posters, and newspaper articles relating the Bard brothers; several photographs of the Bards, including posed portraits of the Bard brothers and the Four Bards in costume, candid shots of the brothers practicing stunts, performing and other images; notebooks with sketches and drawings planning out of Bard brother stunts; scrapbooks with newspaper clippings, post cards, playbills, photographs, and ephemera relating to Bard performances, as well as a scrapbook with obituaries and other clippings relating to celebrities the Bards knew, circa 1960s; several photographs, including prints, tintypes, lantern slides, and film and glass plate negatives; a wooden block stamp with an image of the Bard brothers and a silver stamp press; printing plates from Bard poultry farm; notes, letters, postcards; and other materials.
There are a couple dozen scrapbooks in the collection, several of which relate to the Bards, their activities, and their acquaintances as described above. Other scrapbooks include travel scrapbooks, circa 1970s; family photograph albums; and several scrapbooks with clippings, circa 1940s-1960s, of Arthur D. Graeff's column "Scholla aus Pennsylvanisch Deitschlandt," published in the Reading Times thrice weekly from 1938 to 1969 with the purpose of educating the paper's readers about the history and culture of Pennsylvania and more specifically, Berks County and the Pennsylvania Germans.
There is a large amount of family photographs, mid-19th century-20th century, in the collection. Some of the photographs are labeled. Families represented in the photographs include the McCord, Clingaman, Haas, Mast, and Fisher families. There are over 1500 slides with images from travel and from the Tri-County (Berks, Chester, and Lancaster) area and surrounding areas, circa 1970s. There are also four super 8 film reels.
Other materials in the collection include deeds and other property and legal documents, booklets, late 19th and early 20th century newspapers, and various newspapers and clippings, circa 1969, collected by Thomas McCord.
Gift of Pam Shenk, circa 2000
Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2014-2016 as part of a project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.
In some cases, more detailed inventories or finding aids may be available on-site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact Tri-County Heritage Society directly for more information.
- Tri-County Heritage Society
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Sarah Leu and Anastasia Matijkiw through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories
- This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
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