Amazing Vintage Photos Of How Working And Living In A Circus Was Like

Circuses are a part of pop culture of the nineteenth and twentieth century. They are sometimes infamous and sometimes great, but all of them are a little bit creepy. We gathered fifty pictures that show how circus was in the nineteenth and twentieth century, when circus performances were in all their glory, before they fell from grace due to animal care issues and maybe the rise of other entertainment forms. Take a look at how was the everyday life of a touring circus cast back then, and try not to be so scared, because they surely were good and happy people that enjoyed making other people laugh. Enter the tent and enjoy!

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THE WORD

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The word Circus comes from the latin, and it means "Circle, rounded". It was applied to those circular arenas that romans used for performances, races and stuff (stuff meaning killing people)

MODERN CIRCUS

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The modern circus was invented by Philip Astley, a horse rider that opened a school in London in the 1700's. He was the first to perform in a circular ring and not in a straight line.

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THE FIRST TENT

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The first one to ever use a Circus tent was a circus owner called James Purdy Brown. He thought that this was a great idea for making easier the transport and to reach places that didn't have big places to perform.

FILL THE PAUSES

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Then, Philip Astley hired a bunch of acrobats, tightrope walkers, jugglers and all types of performers like clowns to perform during the breaks between acts. Astley Circus was so popular even the King of France went to see it.

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ELLA AND ELVIRA

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Ella and Elvira were two conjoined twins that used to perform in a circus as "The Two Headed Woman" in the victorian age. They inspired the American Horror Story characters.

THE MOST FAMOUS DWARF

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General Tom Thumb, born Charles Sherwood Stratton is one of the most famous circus dwarfs in history. He was so famous that his wedding was covered by the most important magazines of that time and after the reception they were received by Lincoln at the White House.

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THE FAT WOMAN

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Doris Bleau was 93 pounds when she was only six months old. But the time she died, at 38, she was 714 pounds. She was called "Diamond Kitty" and "Boston's Bouncing Baby".

JOEYS

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The clowns are commonly called "Joeys" after Joseph Grimaldi, the most famous clown of the nineteenth century. He started performing at the age of two because her mother was a penniless widow.

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WALKING ON THE EDGE

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There are different types of tightrope walking. Eight, to be more precise: High wire, Tight wire, Slack Wire, Slacklining, FreeStyle Slacklining, Funambule, Skywalk and Jultagi (that exists in Korea since the year 900)

CHARLES BLONDIN

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Charles Blondin was a world famous tightrope walker from the nineteenth century. He gained his place in the circus' wall of fame after crossing the Niagara Falls on a tightrope.

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GUNTHER GEBEL-WILLIAMS

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Gunther Gebel-Williams was probably the best animal tamer of all times. Born in Poland, He worked from 1968 to 1990 gaining world fame for being an amazing tiger and elephant tamer.

PINITO DEL ORO

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Born in a spanish circus family, María Cristina del Pino Segura Gómez, was forced to perform when she was a little kid to fill in the shoes of her recently dead mother. She became the best and most famous trapecist of all times.

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THE RINGLING BROTHERS

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The Ringling Brothers (Albert, August, Otto, Alfred, Charles, John and Henry) started performing in events, and then in 1884 founded The Ringling Bros. Circus, probably the most important circus in American history.

A LONG HISTORY

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The Ringling Circus, called "The Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus", and more affectionately "The Greatest Show on Earth", ran from 1884 to 2017, when it did its last performance.

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HIGH COSTS

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They closed the tent because of the high cost of maintenance of the show and the ticket low. They let their elephants go in 2005 because people were protesting, but that caused an incredible drop in ticket sales.

THE GREAT ALZANAS

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The Alzanas act was so dangerous that they were the cause the law now requires a safety net for trapecists. Two years before this photo, in 1947, the fell 40ft and one of them was supposed to never walk again, but in only a year she was back in the rope.

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ANIMALS

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There are 12,000 circuses with animals in the United States and only 100 inspectors of the Department of Agriculture to look after them. Those animals spend 96% of their lives chained and caged.

REPEAT AND REPEAT

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Those animals often experience several trauma from being caged and chained, like obsessive behaviour. They spend 11 months a year locked, so they also suffer from arthritis for being still for so much time.

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DAN RICE

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Dan Rice, born in 1823 in New York, became the first famous american clown. He was also an animal tamer and songwriter, and he was so popular he even ran for President of the United States.

CLOWNS

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Clowns have different names and "titles". For example, a "Boss Clown" is the one in charge of the others, a "First of may" is a clown without experience and a "Truper" is a veteran clown.

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TOO MUCH PEOPLE

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In its last fifty years of life, when it began being produced by the Feld Family, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus received over one quarter of a billion spectators.

ELEPHANTS

Time

The story of elephants performing in circuses has its origin probably in a 1829 play called "The Elephant of Siam", performed in London, that included a living trained elephant called Mademoiselle D'Jeck.

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MADEMOISELLE D’JECK

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Mademoiselle D'Jeck was trained to do some stunts like ring a bell and steal a crown with her trunk and then putting it into a person's head. Her act became a sensation.

TAMED LIONS

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The success of Mademoiselle D'Jeck's act encouraged circuses all over the United Kingdom to add an animal act to their performances. Queen Victoria was a huge fan of tamed lions, what made them very popular.

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A REAL LIFE VILLAIN

time

A lot of people were born in the circus. Probably the most infamous one is John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Lincoln. His father was a very well known actor and his mother was previously the wife of a circus owner.

ARNARDO

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Arne Arnardo is "the king of Circus" in Norway. He ran away with a circus when he was a little boy and with the time he opened his own ring. He was an equilibrist, contortionist, hypnotist and ventriloquist.

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POSTERS

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Posters are a big part of Circuses' history. By 1915 the Ringling Bros. posted 10,000 posters a day in major cities, with great designs that still amaze us. Seventy people were hired to do the job.

COMPETITION

Time

Competitions between circuses were sometimes incredible. They used to stick their own posters over the ones made by the others. It was so serious that in 1911 they thought they should do an Ethic Code.

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TRANSPORTATION

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Circuses' owners were and are business people. And that's why they try to improve their productivity. In the nineteenth century, the circuses would set along a river so their things could be transported by water.

FLOATING CIRCUS

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And then someone thought "Hey, what if we transport our things in a boat that is also the theatre?" And that's how the Floating Circus was born in the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. The Floating Palace could accommodate more than 3,000 people. It was shut down by the civil war.

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THE WORST ACCIDENT

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In 1944 the worst tragedy in Circus History happened. The tent of the Ringling Brothers caught fire during a show. The stampede caused 168 deaths, including at least 67 children.

AFTER THE ACCIDENT

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After the accident they began regulating security issues in Circuses Tents, that were not regulated until that time. Since this happened, not even one person died in a tent fire.

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FLYING WALLENDAS

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The Wallendas are a whole family of circus performers. In 1945, while they were performing an act like the one in the photo, one of them fall and died. In the seventies another Wallenda died after touching a live wire. And several others share the same fate. Their descendants still perform.

AFTER DEATH

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In 2004 a young woman working in the Ringling Bros. Circus died after a fall. What makes this event bizarre is that while she was on the floor being helped by doctors, the show went on.

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CLOWN COLLEGE

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In 1968 Ringling Bros. created the first Clown College in Florida. To its closure in 1997, there were more than 1,400 graduates, most of them men. Women were first admitted in 1970.

AUDITION

Time

Clown College Alumni would study make up, costume design, acrobatics, juggling, pantomime and other stunts. It was actually a big audition for the Ringling Bros. Circus., and a few were selected each year to perform.

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DICK VAN DIKE

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Dick Van Dike hosted a CBS special called "Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College: 20th Anniversary", featuring graduates and students. Van Dike is a honorable graduate.

ANOTHER HONORARY GRADUATE

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Another honorary graduate of the Clown College is Willard Scott, the creator and original portrayer of Ronald McDonald's and before that the original Bonzo the Clown, probably two of the most famous clowns of all times.

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FEAR

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There are a lot of people that doesn't feel quite comfortable around clowns. Some of them suffer from Coulrophobia, that is the intense fear of clowns, probably generated by old traumas, (And the fact that clowns are creepy as hell)

SUPERSTITION

Time

It is considered bad luck to eat peanuts backstage, and whistling is not allowed neither. For good luck, performers usually keep hair from the tail of an elephant in their pockets.

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A SIGN

Time

Most circus performers have a special sign, a gesture, that all their partners know, and it is used to indicate that their act is over. It's usually a movement of their hands.

HUMAN CANNONBALL

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The first Human Cannonball was a 14 years old girl called Zazei. She did her first stunt in 1877 and from then she continued touring with a circus till she fell badly and broke her back.

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TAHRA BEY

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Tahra Bey was a member of the Warsaw Circus. He entertained spectators by piercing his face and body with needles on stage and then hanging weights from them. He also did the nail bed trick

THE STRONGEST MAN

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Zishe Breitbart was a performer known as "The World's strongest man". He could bend iron bars and turn them into "flowers" and move vehicles with a chain. He died performing when he was just 32.

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THE LORCHS

Time

The Lorch were an important circus family from the twentieth century. They were german jewish, and were forced to abandoned their circus during World War II. They were famous for the biggest and best Risley act.

MOSCOW CIRCUS

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The name Moscow Circus refers to two still running russian circuses. They were really famous during the soviet era, when they toured the United States together. They were more theatrical and focused in western europe.

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CIRQUE DU SOLEIL

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The world famous Cirque du Soleil was created by two canadian street artists in 1984. This circus changed the way circuses are today, adding more spectacular stunts and special effects.

performers are men

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A recent survey stated that more than 70% of circus performers are men. Though women were part of Circuses history since its beginning, they are often relegated to solo acts, and sometimes only backstage work.

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ANNIE JONES

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Annie Jones was probably world's most famous bearded woman. She was born in Virginia in 1865 and was kidnapped at a young age to perform on stage. She later became advocate of "Freaks" rights.

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