Acting Bears, Sacred Bulls, Performing Dogs… the Big Top is Arriving Soon.

Here in 21st century Columbia, the circus will be passing through town soon.

Some of the earliest pictorial advertisements in post-bellum South Carolina newspapers are advertisements for the circus. Below are examples of fanciful circus advertisements printed in the Columbia Phoenix and Anderson Intelligencer in the 1860s and 1870s. I found these while searching “Circus” in South Carolina newspapers.

Chronicling America is a rich resource for those interested in American Circus history. Just a bit of background research produced some very interesting details about the people affiliated with these circus acts, which you can read below some of the images further down the page.

The advertisements included here, Mike Lipman’s Great Combination Show, Colonel C. T. Ames’ New Orleans  Circus and Menagerie, Lent’s Railroad Leviathon, and Dan Castello’s Great Show (all ads found in SC newspapers in Chronicling America) are but a few of the scores of independent troupes that passed through SC and performed in various towns in the 1860s and later.

You can search for circus ads yourself by visiting the Search Newspaper Pages page on Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. You have the ability to limit your search to SC papers only,  to search within one newspaper title, or to search in newspapers across the entire US. Don’t forget that you can limit your search by date as well.

The Daily Phoenix, circa 1867, ad for Mike Lipman’s Great Combination Show

The Daily Phoenix, circa 1873, circus ad for Lent’s Railroad Leviathon

Lewis B. Lent (1813-1887) who grew up with his father’s traveling menagerie is described as “an all around circus man and was considered to be the best general agent and router of his day” (http://www.circushistory.org/Olympians/OlympiansL1.htm). In the 1830s, Lent traveled up and down the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers by steamboat, and later  in 1843 was the first American circus act to perform in England. Lent’s Railroad Leviathon included acts such as the Hippozoonomadom which included a hippopatamus, Equescurriculum, the Seven Wonders of the World in a gas-lit city of tents, an army of horses, a cantonment of canvas, [in short] the globe in captivity” (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84027008/1873-10-11/ed-1/seq-4/).

The Anderson Intelligencer, circa 1869, ad for Col. C.T. Ames New Orleans Circus and Menagerie

Colonel Clark T. Ames (d. 1870) organized the Ames’ Southern Menagerie in 1866, and his New Orleans Circus and Menagerie in 1867. His show, described as “A Colossal Aggregation of Olympian Sports and Nature’s Wonders” boasted “a score of beautiful ladies, a legion of male artists, a duo of lion tamers, a most extensive menagerie of rare wild beasts of nearly every known species and of every geographical range from the frigid to the the torrid, a herd of trained horses, and clowns, musicians and comedians.” His wife, Eugenia De Lorme Ames, was part of the act, too, as a lion tamer. Sadly, one month after her July 1869 performance in Anderson, S.C. as advertised here, she was mauled  but not killed by one of her lions in a performance in Sunbury, Pennsylvania  (http://www.circushistory.org/Olympians/OlympiansD1.htm). Colonel Ames died a year later, in 1870, in Dawson, Georgia from a gun shot wound inflicted by drunk patrons trying to get into a show (http://www.circushistory.org/Olympians/OlympiansA.htm).

Anderson Intelligencer, circa 1866, ad for Dan Castello’s Great Show

Dan Castello (1834-1909) “showman, clown, leaper, and vaulter” joined the circus life in his youth around 1849. On one of his European tours, Charles Dickens watched his performance at the Alhambra in London and wrote that [Castello] “did not jump but flew” through the air, in reference to Castello’s ability as a vaulter. Castello was known for his “Batteau Leaps” described as “specialties of the show” in his advertisment. His best vault was over 16 horses, described as “leaving the batteau, he would shoot into the air to a height of about 20 feet as straight as an arrow, then by a very quick turn of the neck and bending of the knees he would turn a somersault in a twinkling and strike on his feet in an erect position” (http://www.circushistory.org/Olympians/OlympiansC1.htm). With his own show, Castello chartered a steamboat and traveled up and down the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, even following the Union Army down south during the late years of the Civil War. Shortly afterward, he passed through Anderson, S.C. in 1866, as evidenced by the advertisement above. He later completed the first coast to coast circus tour made by any American circus troupe in a single season.  Dan Castello was such a successful entrepeneur that the famous P.T. Barnum once said ” Give me Dan Castello and money enough to reach the first stop and I’ll come home with a fortune at end of the season [and] I don’t care if it rains every day.”

For a short history of the circus, read this Circopedia entry provided by the Circus Historical Socety, http://www.circopedia.org/index.php/Short_History_of_the_Circus.

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9 Responses to Acting Bears, Sacred Bulls, Performing Dogs… the Big Top is Arriving Soon.

  1. Barnett Shale says:

    I have to ask. Where did you get all these old fliers? I would have them up in my room if they were mine. Brings me back to my childhood!

  2. ako says:

    very interesting history of the circus

  3. Mocmed says:

    Hilarious title! Good work

  4. John Dunne says:

    History of the circus may it live for ever. As a child I enjoyed the circus and to this day people still enjoy the closeness fun and happenings of what goes on.

  5. Dan says:

    I love old vintage things, so cool!

  6. Ren Gillbert says:

    Superb gallery collection. Great history of circus, in my childhood i also enjoyed it. Its nice feeling to read this educative and entertaining article.

  7. james barry says:

    Hey i like circus. you have wonderful information. Very nice to read this post.

  8. Mcgraw Hills says:

    Extraordinary post . I liked it very much. Superb collection. Its my pleasure to read this post.

  9. Jerry says:

    See the movie “Water for Elephants”. It is amazing, just a great tale.

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