Hayley Enoch captures the magic of Circus Day, even if the train simply passes through.
For generations past, especially those before internet and television and movies became common, the sight of the circus train meant a break from everyday monotony, the most elaborate entertainment and the most visceral representation of the wonders of the world beyond their doorstep they were likely to see. For modern people, it meant the continuation of a 146-year-old tradition, a welcome chance to photograph something beyond the ordinary autoracks and coal hoppers.Alas, it's all too much given today's prices, and today's attention spans.
Anyone who has ever lent a hand in tourist railroad operations or private car ownership can attest that maintaining even a small fleet can be prohibitively expensive. Feld Entertainment did cite a combination of operating costs and falling attendance as the reasons behind the closure, though it did not offer any information on what specific costs involved with operating the circus had become the most untenable.My social media feed filled up, over the weekend, with hopes that some or all of the circus train stock could be preserved. It's unlikely that much will find its way into preservation, considering circumstances at Circus World and at the Illinois Railway Museum, two places that have a good deal of their collection under roof.
Still others voiced what was perhaps the most accurate and the least well received opinion on the reasons behind the RBB&B’s closure: Travelling circuses are just one more relic of bygone eras that have overstayed their place in our modern, digital world. Their demise was inevitable: Modern audiences are too worldly, too cynical, inundated with too many other entertainment options to appreciate the kind of entertainment that the circus offers.
The truth, as it usually is, is likely some combination of all of these factors. Whatever the exact reasons, though, the end of the circus and its two trains bring an era of entertainment and era of railroading to a close. The loss is palpable. There are jobs lost, talents and years of experience that may not find a place in other industries, an entire experience that can now only be described in the pages of history.
Editor Jim Wrinn went to Circus World, where he was not alone among media seeking the back story.
As news spread Sunday that the vaunted Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus will end its more than 130 year run in May, there was only one place for me to go, the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wis., about 2 hours west of Trains’ world headquarters. This place is hallowed ground for circus history -- the town of 12,000 today where five brothers in 1884 came up with the idea for the show that would go worldwide, the place that was once Ringling’s circus headquarters, and since 1959, the museum’s home. It is dotted with historic buildings where performers practiced and animals trained.But the entertainment and educational functions of the itinerant circus now have substitutes.
The museum is about all American circuses, and Wisconsin is prominent in that story as the launching point of Ringling in Baraboo, P.T. Barnum in Delavan, and almost 100 other circuses across the state. Railroading, of course, plays a major role, [museum director Scott] O’Donnell said. Railroads replaced wagons and buggies in hauling the Ringling circus about 1890, and it made it possible for circuses to cover greater distances between shows. Circuses brought the world to cities from coast to coast – everything from giraffes and cotton candy, to performers from as far away as China and Hungary, and much more. America responded: businesses closed and schools shut their doors when the circus arrived. “It was like live Google search came to your town,” O’Donnell said. As many as 16,000 watched a circus show in a single day.The animals in the menagerie might participate in the circus itself, but many (consider the hippopotamus, the giraffe, the walrus, and the badgers and wolverines) were along to show the locals what sort of exotica roamed the world.
Circus World would be happy to add some Ringling Barnum cars to their collection, but there are limits.
The Mabies -- shirt-tail relations -- also set up their circus in Delavan.
Chase Gunnoe meditates on What It All Means.
As people’s lives revolve around technology – so do the businesses in which employ them. There is a mentality that everything we do can be improved upon if we introduce some form of technology to help execute the task. Hands-on trades skills are replaced with microchips the same as acrobats are replaced with mobile apps.I doubt that. And yet the day may come when nobody knows how to set the valves on a steam locomotive, or how to catch the triple somersault.