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Abandons Stage Career

Philip Piantone Abandons Stage Career

In 1928, for the first time in the history of Lawrence County’s education system, a professional acrobat/athlete became an eighth- grade graduate at the age of 21 years. He was Philip Piantone, one of the six Tip-Tops, the world’s fastest acrobats who played the Lawrence County fair at Bridgeport, Illinois, in September, 1927. As his part of the county eighth grade commencement program held at the Lawrence Township High School, Mr. Piantone gave an acrobatic performance consisting of hand balancing, contortions and tumbling. His appearance on the program was the last number and the largest crowd ever in attendance at an eighth- grade graduating class in this county was present that evening.

Piantone was born in Austria of Italian parentage, and came to the United States at the age of three years, entering school at Norristown, Pennsylvania, at the age of seven years, and continuing in his school work until 14 when he completed the seventh grade. At this time, he was compelled to leave school to help support his family of nine brothers and sisters.

Piantone was a puny sickly boy who never saw a healthy day in his youth, but because he needed work, he started to walk 500 miles to the nearest large city in search of employment, stopping along the way to ask for a bite to eat. Because of a weak stomach and a poor digestive system and the small amount of food he received he would be considered extremely malnourished today. He slept in box cars by night and hiked by day. Weary and tired, he stopped one day by a large paper mill to rest. While sitting there he saw the picture of a strong muscled man on the back cover of a discarded magazine and that inspired him to exercise 15 minutes a day. It was not a very long until

Piantone threw away the doctor’s medicine, gained weight, and began to build some muscles.

At a very young age Piantone cherished an ambition to become one of America’s distinguished surgeons. By the age of 18, he had become a professional acrobat after years of hard training with himself as teacher. Then he cast his lot with the six American Tip-Tops, a troupe who played not only the best county and state fairs but the best theaters of Canada. The troupe practiced hours each day.

Piantone lamented the fact that he had not completed the eighth grade to E C Cunningham when he was at the Bridgeport County Fair. Encouraged by Mr. Cunningham, Lawrence County School Superintendent, Piantone commenced studying four hours every day from materials sent to him by Mr. Cunningham. He studied while riding on trains, between acts at the theatres, and before and after shows. His attention to his books invoked a lot of criticism from his fellow comrades who asked him if he was going to make a preacher out of himself.

After graduating from the eighth grade and through the aid of the County Superintendent, the young man, chose to abandon the stage where he had established a name high in theatrical circles, and secure a position in Bridgeport. However, he could find no jobs available in Lawrenceville. Piantone finally found a job at Bridgeport where he was hired as the night clerk at Dukes Hotel, but the work there was too hard for him to do and go to high school so he resigned after which he went to Chicago where he found a job in the Presbyterian Hospital as a night elevator operator. Four years later, Piantone graduated from Marshall High School.

According to Mr. Cunningham, Piantone was a young man of clean habits; he did not use tobacco or intoxicating liquors in any form and he did not have any other bad habits that many young men of his age had. He helped his family with his spare money ever remembering that his mother had been a great inspiration to him. He had real character - something to be proud of - a great possession. As a young chap he was a physical weakling, but by persistency in physical exercises he not only developed a strong body, but he became a professional athlete and acrobat able to do things that few men could do. He worked himself up to the place where he could make attractive earnings on the stage, but he left that for greater service – to become a surgeon at which he could not only relieve human suffering, but could go into research work for the purpose of putting his name on the pages of history. After his four years of high school, he intended to spend six years in a college to become a surgeon.

Mr. Cunningham heard from Philip Piantone again in 1936 by letter Piantone had written from Mexico where he was tumbling with an Arabian Acrobatic troupe. (There was no information about whether he had continued with a medical school education.)

Ed Note: D Lemeron discovered Piantone had lived in Chicago at the time he registered for the WWII draft in 1940. He stated that he was working at a Chicago Mail Order Company and gave his height as 5’1” and weight as 142 pounds. Piantone died April 22, 1943 at age 34 in Chicago; the death record listed his occupation as Physical Instructor.


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