By Jim S. Powell
he large colorful lithographs appearing in store windows in Chandler, and the bright colored posters pasted on barns, buildings and fences gave the first hint that the circus was coming to nearby Tyler.
It was 1946, and people in Chandler were “talking up a storm” about the circus and all the excitement it was bringing to our area. The mother of one of my friends found out when the circus would be arriving in Tyler by rail and where it would be unloading. I was elated when she invited me to go with her and her son to witness the arrival. We had to leave early in the morning, but I didn’t mind because this was a special treat and rare opportunity for me to witness free entertainment—the unloading of a circus.
When we arrived in near downtown Tyler, about 300 people had already gathered at the railroad’s unloading site near East Erwin Street. Within a few minutes, a loud whistle blew from the approaching train, announcing the circus cars’ arrival. The train’s engine was pulling three types of railroad cars loaded with the entire big top circus. Long, flat cars carried the wagons loaded with equipment. One even carried the parts of a carousel. The animals were in livestock cars, and circus personnel were riding in the coaches. I can’t remember how many train cars there were, but like Christmas packages, something exciting was in each one.
The precision of the circus workmen as they unloaded each car was a wonder to behold. The heavy wagons with the equipment were the first to be unloaded, and were sent immediately to the circus grounds in south Tyler where the Bergfield Shopping Center is presently located. Gaudy colored wagons were unloaded next by skillful men and strong, sturdy horses. These wagons were decorated with elaborate woodcarvings, colorful hand-painted pictures, mirrored surfaces, gold leaf and colorful wheels. Some of these wagons were actually cages containing a variety of wild animals including fierce lions, pacing leopards, big bears and sleek tigers. The horses were unloaded and harnessed to these wagons as soon as they came off the flat cars, pulling the wagons down South Broadway and on to the circus grounds.