Clowning around in Baraboo
From: Eau Clair Now/Leader-Telegram
Sunday, May 20, 2012
"My cousins are real clowns," I told a friend.
"So why did you invite them to visit?" he responded.
"Because I like them a lot."
"But you said they're real clowns."
This "who's on first" dialogue finally ended when I pulled out a picture of my cousin, "Sparkle Star," and her husband, "E.Z. Topps," both professional clowns.
I had recently moved to Eau Claire, so I invited the couple - known in real life as Jan and Wayne Lovell of Nashville, Tenn. - to come and help me explore my new hometown. It was no surprise they wanted to visit Circus World Museum as long as they were in Wisconsin.
Circus World is located on the original Ringling Bros. Circus winter quarters - a National Historic Landmark in Baraboo in southern Wisconsin. The drive to Baraboo, in the Wisconsin Dells area, took less than three hours.
We visited in the off-season to avoid crowds, but had we come in summer, we would have begun our tour with a circus performance in the Hippodrome.
Instead, we watched the excellent movie that gives visitors background to understand what they will be seeing. From it - and from the encyclopedic knowledge of circuses E.Z. shared - I learned the American circus began in the late 1700s in Philadelphia when John B. Ricketts assembled a few acts and staged them in a temporary wooden structure called The Circus.
The circular performance area, devised to accommodate the natural gait of horses, was called a ring.
As time passed,circuses came to be performed in tents that could be moved from town to town by trains and trucks.
The circus provided jobs for locals who could set up and take down equipment.
The tents grew larger to accommodate bigger crowds and aerial performances, which led to additional rings and simultaneous acts being introduced.
Exotic animals also became part of the show; this was before most major cities had theirown zoos.
The Ringlings entered the picture in 1875, eventually establishing their winter quarters in Baraboo for the purpose of repairing equipment, building props, sewing new costumes and advertising for the following season.