Before You Even Entered The
Last Sunday, an American Institution died a premature death when the Ringling Bros. and Barnum Bailey Circus gave its last performance. After 147 years and literally thousands of performances, before millions of “kids of all ages”, “The Greatest Show On Earth” is no more than a wonderful memory. But what memories it leaves behind.
My father loved the circus especially Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. As a result about every other year, he would gather the family in his car, drive to Philadelphia where we all attend a matinée performance of “The Greatest Show On Earth”. These trips to the circus resulted in many pleasant memories. Now that Ringling Bros. is a thing of the past, I will over the next week to ten days try to record as many of these memories as possible on the “WE REMEMBER” blog.
Before you ever got into the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey big top, you had to roam down the midway – a wide, dirt walkway that led to the ticket wagons and circus main entrance. It was lined on one side by the circus side-show. The other side of the midway was lined with concession stands and gaming booths. As you started down the midway, the first thing that struck you were the sounds and smells of the circus.
As you passed the many concession stands lining the midway, all you could smell was popcorn popping, hot dogs on the grill and fresh lemons being squeezed to make lemonade. As you got further down the midway and closer to the traveling zoo that was the circus menagerie, the food spells gave way to the smell of fresh hay and the smells generated by the presence of the many circus animals.
While you were adjusting to the smells of circus, you were also being bombarded by the unique sounds of the circus. As you walked down the midway barkers called out for you to try your luck at the various games of chance that they offered. “Step right up and try your luck” or “Get your girl a cuppie doll” the barkers would cry out while the spinning wheels of chance behind them. The big, ornate wheels – always spinning – sounded like the staccato of a continually firing machine gun. Click. click, click… click,….click….. …click,… …..click……….. click,…. …….click the wheel would intone as it spun around and around and then slowly came to a halt on the winning number. “Round and around she goes, where she stops nobody knows” the barker would chant as the wheel spun. Other barkers called ou to you to win a prize by bursting a balloon with a dart.At other midway booths, other barkers would try to entice you to “buy a circus souvenir”. One popular stop on the midway was a booth where you could get your name sewed on to a circus hat.
After you bought your fresh spun candy cotton and got closer to the main entrance, you could hear the circus steam Calliope (which circus people always called the “cow-eeh-oop”) playing familiar circus music which mixed with the newsboy like chants of boys calling out for you to “Get your circus program! Right here! Get your circus program!”.
Then you approached the Ticket Wagon, paid your admission and were sent into the menagerie and then on into the big top. More about those in later posts!
Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows
“THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH”
Posted by Frank Fleming
In Loving Memory of
1936 – 2016