Sunday Favorites: When the Circus Came to Town
The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus was a huge event. This is a poster from the original circus.
by Merab-Michal Favorite
May 18, 2014
Today, we’re surrounded by entertainment options; we have the ability to travel at will and the world, in general, is much smaller than it used to be.
But 130 years ago the arrival of the Ringling Brothers circus was not only cause for celebration, but also for the chance to stand in awe and the pure spectacle of it all.
Towns literally shut down when the circus would arrive because it was an opportunity to see wild creatures like elephants and tigers, crazy acrobatic stunts, feats of strength and clownish buffoonery.
The circus production was so large and so extreme it was almost like a small town in and of itself, with thousands of moving pieces being carted around the nation from coast to coast.
When the circus was in town, it was bigger than the Super Bowl.
Circuses often arrived by train. In addition to the performing horses, some 400 other horses were used to transport goods.
A trip to the miniature circus at the Ringling Museum of Art really puts into perspective the lengths to which the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus went in order to put on a good show.
Even in miniature form, this behind-the-scenes look at the hundreds of performers, caretakers and general laborers needed to pull off the circus is impressive.
There were food preparation tents, dressing tents, and tents for sleeping. There were tents used for mess halls and tents used for nothing except food preparation for the hundreds of animals that needed sustenance.
Cars lined up to park, then families entered the midway where concessionaires hawked their goods by saying “step right up” outside one of many small tents. Toys were sold as souvenirs, food trucks sold circus treats, and circus-goers bathed in the general sense of celebration and awe that accompanied every show.
One of the most interesting tents was the sideshow, which was filled with oddities that delighted both children and adults. The sideshow, sometimes called "The Kids' Show," required an additional charge, unlike the rest of the circus experience, but rewarded those brave and curious souls that dared to venture inside the tent with a look at the truly strange and wonderful things the circus had to offer.
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