from-- -the weaterchannel
In the 19th century, there was one sure sign summer had arrived: the circus pulled into town, unpacking its canvas tents and wild animals from the trains that carried it around the country.
"Oftentimes, in small, remote locations, a visiting circus was the only entertainment (in terms of performing arts) the audience had on a given year," said Dominique Jando, an author and the founder of Circopedia.com. "Traveling circuses in the US used to tour only six months a year, when the weather was good, usually from May 1 to the end of October."
Jando, who enjoys the aura of the traveling circus and considers the shows a type of performing art, has been to thousands of circus performances.
The slideshow above features vintage photos from 1890 to 1960, the era of traveling circuses.
According to one of Jando's articles, the English showman Philip Astley created the modern circus in London. His building featured a circular arena where performers did tricks on horseback. But performances held in buildings didn't last long in the United States. The last circus building in New York City, on 14th Street, was demolished in 1870, Jando said. By the early 1900s, American traveling circuses, such P.T. Barnum & Bailey's "Greatest Show on Earth" or the Ringling Brothers circus, were growing in popularity.
One of the disadvantages of traveling canvas tents, however, was that shows had to be canceled in bad weather.
"Somehow in the US, the technology of circus tents remained unchanged until the 1970s -- and tents were until then very susceptible to bad weather, wind notably," Jando said.
Sitting beneath the big top, visitors at the circus could expect to see men and women performing stunts on horses, acrobats doing floor or trapeze acts, clowns, and reenactments of famous battles. In addition to performances, circuses offered visitors the chance to view menageries and freak shows that featured people who were uncommonly large or small or those who had tattoos or piercings.
For Jando, though, the essential element of circuses is that he be moved by the physical beauty of the performance.
"John Steinbeck said: 'The circus is change of pace -- beauty against our daily ugliness, excitement against our boredom … Every man, woman and child comes from the circus refreshed and renewed and ready to survive.' I agree with that," Jando said.
For more information on the history of the circus, visit Circopedia or check out Jando's book, The Circus Book: 1870-1950.
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