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The faithful recording of daily life with one of the “big shows,” wandering with it under all vicissitudes, fortunate or adverse, is the errand on which this book is sent. You and I will travel from the distraction and tumult of the summer season to the congenial quiet of winter quarters, and survey operations from the hour when new and unwonted scenes and sounds startle city quiet or country seat retirement until the stealthy breaking of the white encampment and the departure from town. We will scrutinize the entrance of strangers into strange lands and observe the rising and expansion of the tents as an army of men stamp their image upon the earth. Our astonished eye will gaze upon the gorgeous pageant of the parade and returning to the grounds will peer freely and familiarly about the place of strange sounds and entrancing sights. We will watch the master mind of the circus and his associates in counsel and action. We will study the

 life, character, and habits of the motley throng of “show” people and learn of morals and manners, of hopes and fears, of trials and solicitudes; and we will pass sunny hours on meadows enamelled with violets and daisies and goldened with buttercups and dandelions, where the circus is passing its day.

We circus people have so high an opinion of our good qualities that we are not ashamed to introduce ourselves to you. As pilgrims with no abiding city, leading a life of multiplied activities and varied fortunes amid scenes of din and turmoil, hurry and agitation, our platform is courage, ambition, and energy, governed by honest purpose and tempered by humanity. We have our infirmities, our faults, and our sins, but also our virtues, our excellences, and our standards of perfection, and a discerning world has come no longer to regard us as unscrupulous invaders, but as invited and welcome guests. The voice of joy and health resounds through our ranks; we are united in fraternal good-will unbroken by dissension, our life of weal and woe is ever invested with peculiar delightful fascination, and boisterous relish transports itself from town to town. Memory clings with fond tenacity to halcyon days with the circus.

Sometime between 1820 and 1830 (circus annals tell not exactly the year), near what is now New York City, while a red-coated band blew forth a merry melody, a round-top tent swelled upward.

 The parents of some of the present-day performers remember the day. It was the first cloth circus shelter erected in this country, and then what was formerly an open-air show assumed the dignity and importance of an under-cover performance. A crude enough affair it was, as compared with the perfection and finish of the modern circus. The flags and streamers and bunting which add grace and beauty waved no friendly greeting; the clamorous welcome of side-show orators and ticket sellers was wanting; no menagerie offered its accumulated wealth of curious and snarling beasts; human curiosity had not been awakened by the overpowering splendor and magnificence of a preliminary parade; there was a lack of sentiment and excitement and appeal to the senses; only din and confusion and broiling heat. From this mean beginning has come the marvellous circus of to-day, involving a business so extensive that few people possess anything but the vaguest conception of its magnitude, organization, and methods of operation.

Underlying the pomp and glitter and the odor of sawdust and naphtha is a system of government and management whose scale and scope are stupendous and staggering. No human institution is more perfect in operation and direction. Surely no more flattering tribute could be paid than that officially given us by the United States Government. Officers from the army department, skilled

 veterans in their profession, critically observed the swift sequence of proceedings when we showed in Washington—the early arrival of the trains; the rapid debarkation; the magical growth of the white encampment; the parade passing with measured tread through deeply lined streets; the scene on the grounds and at the performances, and the pulling down at night and the hurried, though orderly, departure. Then Gen. Nelson A. Miles surveyed the scene and expressed wonder and admiration. Finally there came a request that two representatives of the department be permitted to accompany the circus for two weeks. To the Government had come a realization that the modern circus offered lessons in the transportation and handling of men and horses, canvas and vehicles. And when the Barnum & Bailey Show was in Europe, the monarch of one of the world-powers, visiting under tents incognito, confessed that he had profited immensely by what he had witnessed, and proposed to put into immediate effect many of the original working arrangements of the circus. For instance, astonished at the ease and celerity with which the heavy circus wagons were run on to the cars by means of a block and tackle and an inclined plane, he admitted, ruefully, that in his vast army they had been hoisting their artillery over the sides of the cars. It remained for the American circus to bring appreciation of the waste of time and labor.

So to the humble employee of the circus who wanders with it from place to place, one day in one town and the next perhaps one hundred miles distant for a period of more than thirty weeks, is a part of the strange daily life, witnesses the emergencies constantly met and dealt with and the perplexing obstacles overcome, comes a forcible and convincing knowledge that it is not an ungodly thing to be questioned and looked at askance, but a genial, legitimate, business enterprise, based upon sound principles and conducted upon the highest lines of ability and responsibility by men who assumed a risk at which the nerviest professional gambler would hesitate. The amount of capital invested is several million dollars; no insurance company will give protection. The dangers of the road are never absent. A cataclysm of damage suits is a constant peril. Rainy weather, preventing performance and profit, may be a companion for months. There must be constant renewal of costly perishable property. Deaths of costly rare animals may swallow up the receipts of days. Continual other dangers and losses, of whose frequency, gravity, and magnitude the general public has no adequate conception, are encountered. Against these ruining possibilities the circus stakes………………………….

Biographies & Memoirs
May 14
Rectory Print
Babafemi Titilayo Olowe

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