As a child, I remember looking forward to the circus every year. I loved the animals, trapeze artists, death defying stunts and mostly, the clowns. While I went to many different ones, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey was always my favorite. As I grew older it seemed that the circus was something that was fading away. Rarely did I hear of a circus, at least not with nearly the regularity that I did in my childhood. They seemed to have become something of a rarity and I missed them terribly. Once in a while a “circus” would come to town but it was a sad try at what they used to be in the past. A few animals, A lion tamer that stayed outside the cage, and maybe one or two poorly trained clowns.
Today I learned that my childhood favorite circus, Ringling Bros., is coming to town and you better believe I plan on being there! They have been in business for over 200 years and had a rather surprising and humble beginning. P.T. Barnum was a man who, in the early 1800s, was known as a showman recognized for his engaging hoaxes. In 1834 he marketed an African American woman as the 160 year old nurse to George Washington. The venture was successful because of his advertising ability and they toured for a short time before the woman, blind and almost completely paralyzed, passed away and was later determined to be no more than 80 years old. After opening a museum he purchased in New York, he became the first to market exhibits such as a little person he dubbed “General Tom Thumb,” as well as the Fiji Mermaid, a mummified body of what looked to be a cross between fish and mammal. He was also the first to exhibit Siamese twins, Chang and Eng Bunker. After his museum burned to the ground he became mobile and coined the term “The Greatest Show on Earth” with his touring group of circus “freaks.”
During this time, five brothers calling themselves the Ringling Brothers were enjoying a great success with their touring circus show. The brothers purchased Barnum’s show in 1907 and the shows remained separate until 1919 when the last remaining Ringling Brother decided to combine the two. As time went by, movies became more preferable than the circus and the last show was performed in 1956. The loss of the show was short lived, however. In 1957, John Ringling North moved the show from tents to an indoor production. By 1967, Irvin Feld, a well known name in rock-n-roll, and other interests bought the company from the Ringling family and quickly began to make adjustments to enhance quality and profitability. Over the years, the show was split into two touring units (“Red Unit” and “Blue Unit”) that to this day still travel the world.
I’m looking forward to introducing my young nephews to the fun a well done circus provides and hope they will be as excited as I am when I tell them we are going.