Past Times

Circus brought excitement to town

A circus parade through downtown Raleigh around the turn of the century.
A circus parade through downtown Raleigh around the turn of the century. NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

Raleigh citizens of a hundred years ago were eagerly anticipating the arrival of the Barnum & Bailey circus.

Circus Day! And those who have tried, say that it is hopeless to try to tell it – the multifarious glories of the Barnum & Bailey circus. The advance representatives ruefully confessed their inability last night. That a great revelation of the resourceful genius of the circus man in literally re-creating the famous amusement institution is in store for the local circus goer today, was the positive and unqualified promise. That familiar catch line, “Greatest Show on Earth,” will be lived up to far and away more generously, it was assured, than in any year the circus has made appearance here.

Novelty is set as the keynote of today’s entertainment, the best elements of the dear, old-time circus mingling with the newest things in gorgeous spectacles. Monotony and repetition have been eliminated. Old-timers, it is said, will rub their eyes in astonishment.

Eighty-five double length railroad cars are required to transport the Barnum & Bailey circus. They are operated in four train sections. The first section, known in the language of the circus as the “flying squadron,” was scheduled to leave Henderson, where the show played to packed tents yesterday, soon after midnight. The dining tents which it conveys will inaugurate the encampment at Gatling’s Field and food will await the hungry hundreds when they reach the grounds.

The circus parade will make its gorgeous start as nearly ten o’clock this morning as conditions will permit ... stretches three miles in length and its sumptuous beauty, promise is given, will surpass the most joyful expectations of the young and old. Nearly two score ponderous elephants will tread the route and of camels, zebras, zebus, sacred cattle, yaks and other “led” animals there will be legion. Dozens of open cages will disclose their snarling jungle inmates and intrepid trainers. More than seven hundred equines, ranging from the powerful plumed draft and Percherons and Clydesdales, thoroughbred chariot racers and proud ring horses to the sturdy little Shetland ponies ever dear to the hearts of children, will display themselves. The route is from the show ground on Gatling’s Field, Tarboro street to Hargett, to Wilmington, to Davie, to Fayetteville, to New Bern Avenue, to Tarboro and back to the big tents.

The allegorical and tableau floats and other vehicular appurtenances of the parade are new in construction and conception and as ornately beautiful as the best efforts of distinguished designers, sculptors and decorators can yield. Seven bands will give ceaseless brass harmony and the nonsense of clowns will pervade the long line. A band composed entirely of girls is one of the novelties.

The circus performances will begin promptly at two o’clock in the afternoon and at eight o’clock at night, and the Barnum & Bailey management announce that comfortable accommodations for nearly fifteen thousand persons are provided in their mammoth new weatherproof tents.

The menagerie comprises an equipment of 110 cages, and includes, with few exceptions, every beast, bird and reptile mentioned in natural history. No country has been too remote to frustrate the great traveling zoo’s search for rare and curious animals. Three giraffes, a rhinoceros and a hippopotamus are freaks of the animal world from the depths of Africa which will excite curious attention. One great cage harbors a hundred jumping, chattering monkeys. The aggregate display, the circus affirms, has no traveling duplicate in all the world, and is equalled in only two municipal zoos in this country....

The big innovation of the Barnum & Bailey performances will be “The Spectacle of Cleopatra,” and adaptation of an episode in Egyptian history. It is the story of Marc Antony and Cleopatra, and in a much braver display of horses, chariots, costumes, fair women, hardy soldiers and glittering grandeur than Egypt ever produced, the entrance of the great Roman captain into Alexandria, a conquerer, his yielding to the wiles of the temptress and his final fate on his own sword when Caesar’s avenging legions surround the city, are shown in vast pantomime..... The gorgeous pageants which pass majestically before Marc Antony and Cleopatra replace the “grand entree” of other years. The ballet of more than three hundred presents as dainty and delightful dancing girls as New York could provide.

Among the other novelties in the arena, emphasis is laid upon a ludicrous elephant base ball game, in which one huge beast makes a home run. Ella Bradna, an English miss, will make her first appearance here. She comes acclaimed as the world’s most daring and skilled bareback rider. She is the only woman who has ever executed a forward somersault on a horse. Her exploits have created a sensation wherever she has been seen this season.

The Royal Mikado troupe of jiu jitsu chamions also have something decidedly new. They are fresh from Japan and give a remarkable scientific exhibition, concluding with a strenuous elimination wrestling contest in which the member who succeeds in throwing five champions wins the bout. They apparently undergo everything a human being can endure and come out alive.

A distinguished foreign newcomer to the circus is Johannes Josefsson, an Icelandic expert in the science of self defense against attack by knife, club or revolver. He also demonstrates how a person whose hands have been tightly tied may yet keep an enemy at arm’s length. The art as practiced by Josefsson is known as “Glima,” a form of wrestling and self defense peculiar to Iceland and said to date back to the eleventh century. As proof of his belief in his own powers, Josefsson offers a large sum, which he will forfeit to any person – acknowledged “strong men” and “wrestling champions” are particularly invited to make the attempt – able to stand up against him for five minutes. Further, any member of the circus audience may attack him, while unarmed, with a knife, provided the weapon be not more than a foot long.

As for the remainder of the show, Barnum & Bailey give assurance that the services of the world’s most illustrous equestrians, equilibrists, gymnasts, acrobats, aerialists and other athletes have been enlisted. The clowns number forty; the active participants in the thrilling exhibits below and aloft nearly five hundred. The N&O 10/9/1913