Under the Big Top: the Circus in America
Elephants line up
The Jump
The Move Between Towns
Front gallery of Circus exhibit

Days before the circus arrived in town, fantastic, gaudy posters were plastered on barn doors, billboards and store windows to entice hard-working Americans to join in the coming magic. The circus promised one entire day of incredible excitement!

At dawn, roustabouts and elephants transformed a dusty field near town into a magnificent tent city. At the railroad depot, townspeople watched for hours as the train cars were freed of their load of parade wagons, wild animals and supplies.

The March
The Street Parade

Brassy music blaring from band wagons and bell wagons trumpeted the arrival of majestic elephants shuffling trunk-to-tail through the center of town. Sequined beauties and roaring lions in gilded wagons were pulled by trained horse teams of Clydesdales and Belgians. The highly carved wagons illustrated nursery rhymes, landscapes, and legends, while "sunburst" wagon wheels spun kaleidoscopes of red, orange and yellow. Billygoats lugged clown carts, and bringing up the rear was a fancy steam calliope that led townspeople back to the show grounds like a Pied Piper!

Sadly, by the 1940s, urban sprawl had pushed show lots too far from Main Street to continue the great circus parades.


Fun Facts
  • The circus system of loading and unloading caravans of people, animals, and equipment was adapted by both German and British armies in World War I to transport huge armies.
  • Never look back during a parade . it's bad luck!
  • 'Jumping on the bandwagon' originally meant to follow the crowd to excitement. The political context of this phrase dates to 1884, when a Puck magazine cartoon depicted Chester Arthur driving a bandwagon full of presidential hopefuls




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