Circus memorabilia makes colorful display at Tippah County Museum
by Lena Mitchell/NEMS
December 20, 2012
RIPLEY, MS – Circus memorabilia fan and collector Bob Middleton didn’t need to run away to join the circus as a child to indulge his favorite pastime.
Instead, the father of one of his childhood friends – a devoted circus fan himself – took them to experience the delights of the circus world on a regular basis.
Some of the dozens of pieces the 73-year-old has collected or built during more than six decades of devotion to the circus is on display at the Tippah County Historical Museum in Ripley through December.
“I guess I really caught the circus bug when I was 13 years old,” Middleton said. “It was June of 1953 and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was coming to my hometown in Bridgeton, N.J.”
From about age 9, Middleton and his friend Melissa had attended circuses with Melissa’s dad, Sam Brown.
Brown had befriended Middleton’s dad when the career military man retired in Bridgeton after World War II, and Brown was national president of Circus Fans of America.
“Melissa was the same age as me and he’d take us every time,” Middleton said. “When we were 12, Melissa died of leukemia, and he just kept taking me after that.”
It was before the days of television and electronic devices to distract and entertain children, and 30 to 40 circuses came through Bridgeton or nearby towns in 1948 and 1949, Middleton said. But the Ringling Bros. Circus was the turning point.
“Never before had I seen such a mass of trucks, wagons and equipment,” he said. “It was unreal. When the big top (tent) went up the poles, I could not believe it. The show was great. It had five rings of performers at the same time. The tent was so big it held 8,000 people and had a form of air-conditioning.”
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