Well, if you were even lightly considering it, then Baraboo WI would have been the place for you to be 130 years ago. In fact, anywhere in Wisconsin would have been fine. It seems that the center of all American circus life was here, so there must have been something in the air. Five local boys named Ringling lived in Baraboo, and we know they made it big – and made this their winter headquarters . But they were inspired many others – around 25 companies, in fact, thought Wisconsin was the perfect petri dish for circus incubation.
The Circus World Museum is here, and it is filled with treasures. The poster collection is wonderful, and tells the story of an industry filled with competition, intrigue and – inevitably – mergers and acquisition. But our five Ringling brothers were perfect for the biz. They each brought special skills and got along perfectly, making them successful from their humble beginnings here in Baraboo. Imagine their glee as they prospered and were able to partner with or acquire the biggest names of their day, ending with the Barnum Bailey Circus, creating “The Greatest Show on Earth.” And to think it all started here in Baraboo…
The posters are wonderful, and tell quite a story of show business late 19th and early 20th century-style. Imagine living in a small town anywhere and seeing the circus arrive! What romance! What excitement! What drama! And it was educational – often featuring an historical drama that I am sure was accurate in every detail. But let’s not forget the clowns. Even Calvin Coolidge had to laugh at the circus!
Clowns get a special section in the museum, and well-deserved. Love them or hate them, what would a circus be without them?
This museum is built around the original winter quarters of the Ringling Brothers Museum, and wonderful buildings still remain. You can see where they housed and trained the elephants, and how all the other animals were quartered. (Don attempted the elephant bicycle, with great admiration for the elephants.) What an immense undertaking that circus was!
The cages, trains and the amazing original circus wagons they have here represent an astonishing collection of Americana, still being preserved and restored, as we saw with Mother Goose. Some of the cages were still occupied, but locked, thankfully.
We also saw the town itself, which is still charming, with the obligatory Civil War monument. Just think, an intact small town that has a circus museum, circus culture, and a live circus all summer. Can you beat it?