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Home Arts Educational magazines Atkey, Mel —. Atkey, Mel — Updated About encyclopedia. A typical circus might feature one advertising wagon a sixty-foot tent, and a dozen performers. Matthew Wittmann: Everyone that was a performer in the show would put on a costume, get on a horse, ride in to this thundering music, some kind of march, and just parade around the ring.

It was a way to show off how many performers there were, and sort of set the stage for what was going to come. Jennifer Lemmer Posey, Curator: There would be men balancing on horseback. There would be trainers presenting the wonderful feats that horses could do. These would be broken up with tumblers and clowns. Dominique Jando: The clowns at the time spoke and sang very often. And they had topical songs, which were about political events, about something that everybody was speaking of.

Clowns were quite important in the show for that because they had this human contact with the audience. Narration: As tents got bigger, performances became more perilous. By the early s, shows began presenting an act that would become emblematic of the circus.


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It was invented by Frenchman Jules Leotard. Dominique Jando: Leotard was a gymnast. His father has a gymnasium in France, in Toulouse. And to experiment, he jumped from one trapeze to a pair of rings and to another trapeze. His father thought that could be a pretty good act and started developing an apparatus where his son could jump from one trapeze to another. Narration: Circuses claimed their shows provided young American males examples of true man liness.

Many observers agreed. Friday I tasted life. It was a vast morsel. A Circus passed the house — still I feel the red in my mind though the drums are out. Emily Dickinson. Robert Thompson: The circus was a topsy-turvy world. It was about possibility.

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What it Meant to Run Away to the Circus

The emotional physics of the world did not apply under the big top. It was a flip-flop. It was transgressional. And it was loud, and it was colorful, and it was beautiful. You cannot come to a circus and still believe as you previously did. Circus is a peek into what we could be, how great we could be, how beautiful our world could be.

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Narration: It was the most remarked upon train journey of the decade. At almost every stop along the route from Boston to San Francisco, local dignitaries and jubilant crowds turned out to greet the first passengers to take a train trip across the country. When the luxury Pullman cars finally arrived on June 1, , the travellers gloated that the journey had taken just eight days. Narration: The completion of the first transcontinental railroad had capped a frenetic era of railroad construction. In , when P.


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  • Barnum and WC Coup began planning their second season, it dawned on them that this expanding web of track could unlock larger profits if they put their circus on rails. To show guys, it was like nirvana to not have to play these little crossroad towns. Narration: Coup spent the winter haggling with railroad companies, insisting they clear their tracks at night to guarantee his circus would arrive at its destination by 6 a.

    It took the inexperienced men twelve hours to accomplish their task. In the process, a camel slipped and broke its back. Coup realized what he required was an entire train of some sixty cars designed specifically for his needs. In Ohio he found an outfit that built him on short notice flat cars on which to load the wagons, cages and carriages.

    Then he bought secondhand sleeping cars for his staff, boxcars for the equipment and stock cars for the animals. All the railroad companies provided were the locomotives, cabooses, crews, and track.

    The Project Gutenberg eBook of Bunny Brown and His Sister Sue Playing Circus, by Laura Lee Hope

    Davis: It transforms the circus into a modern industrial corporation, complete with manager systems, with bosses of different departments, contracting agents. Robert Thompson: The first railroad circus is really the best example of the first really big entertainment industrial complex.

    The circus has become big business. You know, today, we talk about big oil and big pharma. In , the railroad circus left New York travelling through the Mid-Atlantic states, before heading west and to Minneapolis. After five months on the road it turned back east, finishing the season in Detroit at the end of October. It was a marathon run of stops and nearly 7, miles.

    Travelling by rail had been so successful, the show grossed a million dollars, the first time a circus had ever made that much money. Only two elephants and a camel survived. Coup was distraught. He saw no option other than sitting out the following season. But Barnum was not ready to give up.

    Cook: Barnum is relentlessly optimistic. He has remarkable energy. He fashions himself a go-ahead Yankee who is relentlessly entrepreneurial, full of energy and self-made individualism.

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    Narration: The tents, wagons, and draft horses had been spared. All that was needed to move forward, he insisted was energy, pluck, courage, and a liberal outlay of money. The docks of Manhattan were thick with fog when P. Like many American circus owners, Barnum got most of his animals from the German dealer, Carl Hagenbeck. Nigel Rothfels, Historian: His original market was in the city of Hamburg but then, very quickly, he became known by circuses as somebody who could supply animals.

    He was incredibly reliable and he delivered animals with cash on delivery, not cash up front. If you bought an animal from Hagenbeck and it died soon after arrival, as they tended to do, he would replace it. Narration: Typically, Hagenbeck contracted with European agents, to capture his animals. They would set up camp in the bush, sending local men on the hunt.

    After a stay of many months, the assembled menagerie accompanied by a vast staff of handlers, marched to the coast. From there, they traveled by steamship to Suez, by rail to Alexandria, by ship across the Mediterranean and then by train to Hamburg.