Oh, Circus Day!

Posters, pageantry, animals, costumes, performers and a circus band

Source: At the Circus, Practice Book Series by Rod Everhart, WJU#1351

Between the end of the Civil War and the start of World War II, the population of rural American towns greatly looked forward to the arrival of the touring circuses.  Try to envision those days, when the thrill of the Circus Street Parade and the brightly colored posters that were plastered all over town did their job.  It was not possible for anyone in the community to not know the circus was in town.  A matinee and an early evening performance were scheduled, and excitement was in the air.

The crowd starts drifting in early, to both catch the Center Ring Concert and to get good seats.  On their way in, they first pass through the menagerie tent and get a good look at the giraffes, elephants, camels, lions, and tigers that will soon participate in the initial pageant — or Spectacle or SPEC —  around the hippodrome track circling the three rings in the Big Top. 

As they enter the Big Top the sawdust swirls and rises around their feet.  The tent is quite hot despite the slight breeze blowing through the open canvas entrance.  The hawkers tout their wares – pink lemonade, spun-sugar “cotton” candy, popcorn and peanuts.  The music is calming, and men and women alike fan themselves with advertisement paddles handed out by a local business.  The children sit on the edge of their seats, asking, “Where are the elephants?”

Just then, the circus band sounds the opening fanfare. When the dazzling Ringmaster takes the Center Ring, an expectant hush comes over the audience.  The women are all smitten by this handsome man with the warm-as-toast voice, who proclaims the usual, “Ladies and Gentlemen, and children of all ages… let the show begin!” 

The band strikes up the grand entry march and soon the track around the rings is filled with the spectacle of the elaborate and oft-gaudy pageantry. The theme this time is Nursery Rhymes – Mother Goose, Jack & Jill, Old Mother Hubbard, the King with his pie.  Yes, they are all there.  To a rural crowd, the costumes and floats are awesome … well beyond anything they’ve previously experienced. The band is outstanding.

The various acts hold the audiences’ rapt attention so firmly there is no recognition of time passing.  The sequins on the costumes turn into glittering diamonds, and one daring performer after another achieves the impossible.  The talented animals display their skills with apparent intelligence. The music the bandmaster has selected matches the acts perfectly, and for some acts, portions of as many as ten different tunes have been played, adding to the excitement of the performances and varying perfectly with the display’s changes of pace. 

The show ends with a final parade around the Hippodrome track, with performers waving and the audience doing the same.   While the spotlights may have now faded, the show will not be soon forgotten. 

About Joe Shearin 16 Articles
Joe (WJU #3773) is an Editor and Contributor at MYWJU.ORG in addition to being a Trustee, Secretary and Trombonist in Windjammers Unlimited.