Thursday, July 01, 2010

Thursday Thirteen 160: Circus Train

Once upon a time, there was a magical train that, for two days every July, wound its way through Southern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois on its way to Milwaukee.

This train had the power to evoke long-dormant memories, even as it created new ones.

It had the power to bridge generations, creating a cherished bond between young and old. That's my dad in the yellow shirt on the left in July 2000, a year before he died. He remembered his older sisters pulling him all the way up town in his little red wagon to see the circus train unload.

Older generations brought their children and grandchildren to see the brightly painted wagons, remembering bygone days, when the circus was held under the big top with live music, not in an arena filled with stale air and pre-recorded music.

They recalled the first time they saw exotic animals from far away lands.

They remembered how excited they were to watch the wagons roll into town, or see them being unloaded from trains by elephants.

Wagons depicted elaborate scenes from nursery rhymes, mythology, the Bible, as well as the Old West and countries on continents a world away. (This is one of my favorites—it is one of three Mother Goose wagons.)

People marveled at gilded and mirrored wagons designed to reflect light and dazzle an intrigued public.

They exclaimed over the miniature organs and calliopes.

They thrilled at the sound of the bell wagon.

There were once thousands upon thousands of circus wagons criss-crossing the United States in nearly 3,000 different circuses. Today, only a few hundred wagons survive.

A collection of 210 original wagons and vehicles are housed at Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin—the former home of the Ringling Brothers Circus (1884-1918). The Ringling Bros. purchased the Barnum & Bailey Show in 1907 and merged the two in 1919. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey is the largest surviving circus company in America.

The site also houses a large reference museum and collection of circus memorabilia that includes photos, journals, business records and more than 9,000 original circus posters.

During the summer season, there are daily performances that include acrobats, aerialists, jugglers, magic shows, and more.

I hope you have enjoyed your journey with the Circus Train today. Please let me know if you would like to see more!

(Please leave your link if this is your first visit!)

Darla M Sands * Colleen * Alice Audrey * Shelley Munro
CountryDew * Adelle Laudan * Janice Seagraves
Inez Kelley * Robin L Rotham * Sasha Devlin
Tatiana Caldwell * Paige Tyler * Harriet * Janet * Kristen
Jennifer McKenzie * KS Manning * Elise Logan

More Thursday Thirteen participants


colleen said...

I want that kind of circus to come to town! Either that or cirque du soleil.

Heather said...

Colleen: I would love to see a live performance of Cirque du Soleil sometime. The teasers I've seen on TV never fail to amaze!

Darla M Sands said...

I love the photos, thank you! They're beautiful, and all I can think of is the eerily wonderful movie, "Something Wicked This Way Comes".

Heather said...

Darla: Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed them. Can't say I'm familiar with that movie. It's not horror, is it? *shudder*

Alice Audrey said...

Talk about nostalgic. I only ever saw the train in real life once, and that while driving by, but I thought it was cool.

Shelley Munro said...

Ooh, I think I want to run away and join the circus! I enjoyed the photos and descriptions. :)

CountryDew said...

Great post! I have never seen that kind of circus train. Wow.

Heather said...

Alice: Having seen the train at least three times, I can attest to the fact that it is even cooler being able to see the different wagons up close. *g*

Shelley: Wouldn't riding one of these wagons make joining the circus more exciting?

Anita: It truly was a unique Wisconsin event. Unfortunately, the econmy being what it is, the train has not made it's journey since 2003, and the Circus Parade was held in Milwaukee for the first time last summer since 2003. It was held in Baraboo for a couple years in between, but is not being held at all this year.

Paige Tyler said...

Those are very cool train cars! Sounds like fun!


My TT is at

Heather said...

Paige: Very cool indeed! The trip to Circus world Museum is worth it just for the wagons on display.

Robin L. Rotham said...

Is it unAmerican to say I don't like the circus and never did, even as a child? I think it was because I was so scared that the trapeze artists were going to fall and die. I was never a fan of watching people risk their lives. *grin* But I take my kids anyway.

Heather said...

Robin: Gasp! Very un-American, lol. At least you've got over your fears enough to take the kids! Though I've seen the Circus Train at least three times since college, the last circus I attended was as an exchange student to Norway while in HS. Amazing how universal some things are!

Tatiana Caldwell said...

I've never seen a circus train. I can imagine that my children would get a kick out of that!

I'm with Robin, in that I was never a big fan of the circus as a child, and for the exact same reason - I just sooo didn't want to see the performers get hurt. It's the same with me now when I watch gymnastics and the olympics - through my fingers!

Heather said...

Tatiana: It is definitely unique, and something that was enjoyed by children of all ages. I loved watching the faces of both young and old as they viewed the different wagons. I'm glad this piece of our past has been preserved by the Circus World Museum and Wisconsin Historical Society.

Unknown said...

That's incredible. How wonderful you have such amazing photos and memories. I've never seen anything like it. You've painted an ever more beautiful picture with your words. I can almost see the lions pacing back and forth in those cages.
Thanks so much for sharing these. I hope you'll share more.
Happy T13!

I am Harriet said...

Very cool pictures! You don't see those much any more.

Have a great day!

Janet said...

That was just amazing! Thank you for sharing :-)

I saw a few Cirque shows...Love, the Beatles one in Vegas was by far the best!

Heather said...

Adelle: Thank you, I was hoping people would like the text as well as the photos. I will definitely share more in a future post!

Harriet: No, there are very few authentic circus wagons left, only hundreds where once there were thousands. I'm glad someone had the initiative to rescue some of them.

Janet: Thanks, I'm glad you liked. And lucky you, having been to not one but many performances by Cirque du Soleil!

Inez Kelley said...

How cool! I've never actually SEEN a circus train.

Elise Logan said...

What a lovely T-13. DH's grandparents live in Sarasota, where the Ringling Museum is located. Since the circuses wintered in Sarasota, there's a lot of circus culture there, too.

Heather said...

Inez: I feel quite fortunate that I've been able to see the train at least three times. I wish others could have the same opportunity!

Elise: Ringling Bros. actually wintered up here in Baraboo until 1927, when the combined Ringling and B&B show then moved to Florida. I think one site would be as interesting to visit as the other! *g*

Jennifer Leeland said...

I'd love to see more!!!! AWESOME! My train obsessed son would love it.

Janice Seagraves said...

Oh wow, those pictures were amazing. You really caught a bygone era.

Thank you for posting them.

Happy TT.

K.S. Manning said...

What an awesome post! I'm so happy when we can learn from the past.

Heather said...

Jennifer: Thank you. I will be happy to share more circus train pictures in a future post, for both you and your son. *g*

Janice: Thank you. Guess nostalgia can be a good thing sometimes, huh?

KS: Thank you for visiting, I'm glad you enjoyed the journey!

Kristen said...

That was so cool! What a treat to have access to such fun memories.

Heather said...

Thanks, Kristen! I know now what a rare treat seeing the train was, even if I didn't fully appreciate it then.

Alice Audrey said...

Now I wish we could have gone out there sooner.

We're coming out in August.

Darla M Sands said...

That is so neat! It really brings out the child in me.

Sasha Devlin said...

Those photos were handing out plot bunnies left and right!

I had to psych myself up to go the circus last year with my niece. Clowns spook me.

Heather said...

Sasha: Happy to inspire! ;)