By Ben Bromley
April 27, 2013
Baraboo---Dismayed donors say they’ll suspend support for Circus World Museum if the site becomes part of the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Such a pullout would not only cost Circus World money, but could result in the loss of large collections now on loan. Earlier this month, donor Fred Pfening informed Circus World executive director Steve Freese he’ll discontinue support if the Historical Society absorbs Circus World as proposed in the governor’s budget. This would represent a significant loss, as the Ohio manufacturing executive is not only a financial donor, but the owner of a large collection of circus photographs and Ringling business records on loan to the museum.
Pfening’s April 2 letter states “it was a foregone conclusion” his collection would be given to Circus World upon his death, but if the Historical Society takes over, he’ll request the return of materials now on loan.
Freese said Pfening’s contributions fill gaps in Circus World’s collection, and his lead might be followed. “It’s going to send a clear message to the circus community: Don’t send your stuff to Baraboo,” Freese said. “They will collectively choose to send them elsewhere.”
Pfening said he fears Circus World, if rolled into the Historical Society, would falter and his collection no longer would be cared for — and made available to researchers — by circus experts. “I think it’ll enter into a long, slow decline and they’ll put it all in a warehouse,” Pfening said. “Nobody will be an expert in it. I want my collection to be used when I don’t need it anymore.”
Ellsworth Brown, executive director of the Historical Society, declined comment.