photo courtesy of artist

Professor Horn’s Punch & Judy Show

Punch and Judy puppetry Baltimore, Maryland
Photo Credit: photo courtesy of artist
photo courtesy of artist

Punch and Judy, the hilarious, slapstick hand puppetry tradition, was first brought to England from Italy more than 300 years ago; by a century later, it had made its way to the United States, with some of the earliest shows taking place in Maryland. According to a 1902 publication, Punch and Judy first appeared in the state at a show in Annapolis prior to the American Revolution. Another early Punch and Judy show was presented in Baltimore, at the city’s Peale Museum, in the early 1800s. But, by far, the city’s longstanding stalwart is Professor Horn’s Punch & Judy Show, which is a part of an unbroken Baltimore tradition that dates back to 1897. Now in the care of puppeteer Mark Walker, Old Punch, the wisecracking trickster who exemplifies the best and worst of human nature, continues to bring smiles to the faces of both children and adults. Now he’s here at the National Folk Festival to entertain you!

Punch is the descendant of Punchinello, the traditional Italian stage clown in the commedia dell’arte of the 16th century. Over time, Punch evolved from actor to marionette to hand puppet; his successive miniaturizations only serve to highlight Punch’s symbolic utility as a projection of human fears, foibles, and fantasies. The grumpy, outrageous Punch—who does things other people might like to do, but don’t dare—can be counted on to deflate the pompous. Over the centuries, he and his long-suffering wife, Judy, have entertained audiences ranging from London’s street children to sultans and kings.

The history of Professor Horn’s Punch & Judy Show can be traced to April of 1897, when James Edward Ross, a.k.a. “Professor Rosella,” premiered his Punch and Judy show at Pat Harris’ Dime Museum in Baltimore. It became famous throughout the Mid-Atlantic and continued for 50 years. Professor Rosella’s Punch and Judy was a favorite of President Franklin Roosevelt, and was often engaged by foreign diplomats in Washington, D.C., to entertain their guests.

When Rosella retired in 1948, Steve Brenner, a Baltimore comedian who had apprenticed with him, continued to present Rosella’s Punch and Judy show. In the 1950s, Brenner claimed that, while there were others who copied Rosella’s act, only he and veteran Baltimore entertainer George Horn could accurately be said to carry on traditional Punch and Judy shows. Brenner continued in the puppetry business only a few years, but George Horn persevered.

It was in Baltimore’s Patterson Park on a school outing in 1963 that a young Mark Walker first saw George Horn’s show, which left a lasting impression on the novice magician. Twenty years later, Walker visited George Horn and asked if he could continue Horn’s Punch and Judy tradition. Horn agreed, and the two remained close friends until Horn passed away in 2004 at the age of 98. Walker honored his mentor by adopting the stage name “Professor Horn,” and for decades presented the same show he experienced as a child. In recent years he has expanded his show, with a new stage, new characters, and new hand-carved puppets, with Punch still at the center of all the mischief.

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