Celebrate The Greatest Show on Earth: Happy Circus Day!
May is a month that seems to be filled with all sorts of holidays. From Mother’s Day to Memorial Day, Cinco de Mayo to May the 4th (Be With You), there seems to be something for just about everyone. But there are still more reasons to celebrate in May… like Circus Day on May 19! Yes, it’s true! On May 19, everyone is encouraged to bring a little bit of the circus into their own world. But why the 19? Well, it all has to do with the Ringling Brothers, of course! Whether or not you’ve had the chance to watch the elephants and trapeze artists for yourself, everyone knows the famous brothers who have become synonymous with the circus. And it was on May 19, 1884 that the famous Ringling Brothers Circus first opened their doors. The circus was founded by five of the seven Ringling Brothers, Albert, Otto, Alfred, Charles and John, after seeing one unloaded from a steamboat. Prior to their first circus, the five would perform skits and routines in town halls throughout Wisconsin. In 1884, the first official circus took place in Baraboo, Wisconsin where a Historic Landmarker now stands. The main tent was just 45 by 90 feet wide and there was no band wagon or menagerie.
While the brothers spent the summer performing their one ring circus, it wasn’t long before the circus established itself as one of the largest and best-run in the country by the late 1880’s.
The five brothers were soon joined by their other two brothers, August and Henry. By 1887, the official title of the circus was “Ringling Bros. United Monster Shows, Great Double Circus, Royal European Menagerie, Museum, Caravan, and Congress of Trained Animals.”
The brothers split the money they earned equally, laying the groundwork for what would come to be seen as one of the most honest and fair circuses in history, with each brother having their specific role as well. While Alfred publicized the circus, August worked advertising, Charles produced the show, Al picked the acts, Henry attended each show, Otto dealt with the money and John supervised transportation.
Thanks to John’s careful planning, the brothers were able to avoid many of the competing circuses and build their reputation up. But in 1985, they specifically traveled to New England, an area well known as under the power of Barnum and Bailey Circus. Upon meeting one another, the two circuses decided that rather than compete with one another, they would divide the US, with Ringling setting up home base in Chicago and Barnum and Bailey in New York.
Already one of the largest traveling shows by 1900, the Ringling Brothers began buying other circuses, including Barnum and Bailey in 1907, a year after James Bailey died. While they remained separate circuses for some time, they were combined in 1919, after the US entered World War I and named “The Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Combined Shows, the Greatest Show on Earth.” Today, the show is still touted as The Greatest Show on Earth.
So, today is the day to get in the circus spirit and celebrate the Greatest Show on Earth! Happy Circus Day!