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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Writing was on the wall



During a remodel of a building on State Street in Madison, several planks were found covered with an 1886 Barnum and London Circus poster from when the group performed in Madison.
By Ed Zagorski
from: wiscnews.com
July 28, 2012
For Ralph Pierce, it was as if he was walking into King Tut’s tomb.
“When the lights came up, it was amazing,” Pierce said. “This fills a hole in our collection.”
Pierce helps organize Circus World Museum’s collection. What he was looking at earlier this month was a wall made of old barn boards covered in a poster for the P.T. Barnum Greatest Show on Earth and the Great London Circus that dates back to August 1886, when the show came to Madison. The posters were discovered during the renovation of a building on State Street.


Although the pieces were nailed to the wall and ceiling in a haphazard fashion and didn’t reveal the look of the entire poster, it was still a valuable find, Pierce said. “I had no inkling this stuff existed about 100 yards from the Capitol,” Pierce said.
Jack Sosnowski, who owns the building, said he and work crews were expanding his business — The Ivory Piano Bar — when got down to the studs and the wall boards.
“I didn’t know what was on the boards,” Sosnowski said. “I thought we could drywall over them.”
Once they placed additional lights on the wall, there were able to make out some of the words on the poster, such as “Barnum and London Show” and “Lion House.”
One of Sosnowski’s employees called Circus World Museum and reached Pierce. He and Circus World archivist Pete Shrake went to visit the site July 20.
 
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“It didn’t take Ralph very long to notice the significance of the poster,” Sosnowski said. “We were all very excited about it.”
Sosnowski said his crews took two days out of their schedule to remove any boards that could be salvaged. He said it took quite a bit of work because some of the boards were connected to the building’s structural support.
“We tried to be as careful as possible when we took the boards out of the building because of their significance,” Sosnowski said. “We know they are really important for research and display purposes at Circus World Museum. We’re excited to see what they do with them.”
Pierce said Circus World Museum Inc. compensated Sosnowski and his crew for their work those two days they suspended their own project to retrieve the boards. He and Shrake packaged the 24 boards, which came in four, eight and 12-foot sections, in tissue paper to transport them to Baraboo.
Pierce said finding the boards was like uncovering an artifact. “By looking at them we can see what colors and what words they used to advertise their shows when they came to town,” he said.
Shrake said the poster provides documentation of the printing process used 126 years ago. “It gives us the opportunity to see how the posters were used at the time to advertise the circus and its shows,” Shrake said. “The fact we were able to get these pieces was extremely wonderful.”
Shrake said Circus World staff will determine how the pieces that comprise their latest find will best be displayed and protected.
“We’re just happy to have them,” Shrake said. “And really grateful.”

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