‘World’s Greatest Show’ comes to SV in 1894

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Can you imagine the Ringling Bros. circus coming to town in 1894?  I'll let the story unfold, but can't believe the people and animals involved!  What a mess — the clean up that followed was unbelievable — 350 horses, the elephants, camels, hippos, and 100 dens of rare wild animals — all in a small “million dollar menagerie,” three rings, elevated stages, “under largest tents ever constructed.” And again in the year 1898, oh my!

It was announced the "World's Greatest Show" was the largest, most extensive exhibition ever assembled under canvas, and required three railroad trains to transport it from city to city.  The exhibition would be given in three rings on two elevated stages and on a great quarter-mile track under the largest canvas pavilions ever erected.

The menagerie was touted as the most complete zoological collection in America, including the largest "monster" hippopotamus ever captured from the Nile, and two herds of performing elephants. It embraced the only giraffe in America, stretching 18 feet tall (one wonders how it was transported — horizontally?), plus 100 dens of rare and curious beasts from all over the world, and a school of “educated goats."  Added to the wondrous displays was an aquarium of marine wonders and a Mammoth Museum of Marvels.

The far-famed horse fair included 350 horses whose glittering, dazzling performances would include two- and four-horse chariot races, jockey races with lady and gentlemen riders, and three equestrian specialists doing somersaults and standing races.  This finest-blooded stock was headed by Prince Chaldean, a long-maned Percheron weighing more than 1,800 lbs."

More than 100 of America's and Europe's most talented and highly salaried performers featuring acrobats, gymnasts and aerialists: Hermann Bros. on the flying trapeze, the French family Gilet, a troupe of Japanese equilibrists, a champion head-balancer, and Lundin -- the modern Samson -- who could lift 3,500 pounds with ease.

The coming of this Circus Maximus “is gratifying to thousands whom the fame of this aggregation is familiar and to the other thousands who will welcome the opportunity to see it in all its magnificent completeness.”  A remarkable event indeed, it could be witnessed and enjoyed for the modest admission price of 50 cents per ticket, and children under 12 were only half price.

Where was the space available for this extravaganza? According to the Spring Valley history, "Tales of Our Town," it was reported that the fairgrounds across the street from the depot on East Main Street (now Willow Park), was used when the circuses came to town in the 1880s and 1890s. This was certainly a convenient spot, right across the street from the railroad tracks (Milwaukee rails) where all the equipment, animals and performers would be unloaded on site. The event must have proved to be most gratifying as the Ringling Bros. was welcomed back in 1898 when the company sold 9,075 tickets during the week.

You are reminded that the Methodist Church Museum and Washburn-Zittleman Historic House are open again on Memorial Day weekend; hours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  See you then!