By David Freese
St. Tammany News
October 17, 2012
The circus, with its traditional migrating crimson, gold striped ‘Big Top’ architecture, savory illusions, conglomerate of acrobatic and aerial performances, combustion of exotic-animal tricks, soaring human cannonballs, array of coordinated clowns and colorful family ties, is a more than 150 year old American phenomenon.
Florida-based Cole Brothers Circus of the Stars will host their 128th edition of the circus today and tomorrow at the Northshore Harbor Center, 100 Harbor Blvd., in Slidell. Shows will begin both days at 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
The world’s largest big top circus will present “an incredible two-hour program featuring elephants, tigers, clowns, amazing physical feats, and spectacular daredevil stunts,” Cole Bros. said. The circus performance will consist of more than 80 tons of rigging, props, lighting and sound equipment, all huddled under a giant five-story high red, yellow tent.
According to history, Cole Bros. Circus remains the only circus organization to have survived through a century, 100 years of ‘Big Top’ tradition. Since that time, three generations of Americans have “thrilled to the sights, smells, sounds and feats of skill that typify the Cole Bros. Circus.
William Washington Cole began the Cole story in the 1880s. W.W. Cole stated the following in 1884, “Presented in a reputable manner by reputable people.”
Cole received numerous accolades for his support of the circus and when he died in 1915, he left an estate of $5 million, quite a sum of money during the early 1900s.
Within the turn of the century the circus changed its name from “W.W. Cole’s New Colossal Shows” to Cole Bros. Circus, which remains today. The circus would be purchased by Canadian showman Martin Downs and his son James. During the 1920s Cole Bros. Circus was owned and operated by two brothers, Floyd and Howard King, who brought the circus to the western frontier where performances were held at military bases, mining camps and remote boomtowns.
Like many organizations, the circus took a big hit during the Great Depression but advocates with Cole Bros. Circus had faith. Jesse Adkins and Zack Terrell would then acquire and restructure the circus itself. During the 1935 Cole Bros. Circus performance, Adkins and Terrell moved the show on thirty-five double-length railroad cars. The performance was delivered to townsfolk by a giant street parade from railroad yards to circus grounds.
A new chapter in the Cole Bros. Circus began in 1935 when legendary performer Clyde Beatty joined performers. It was around this time that the “Human Cannonball” act was included.