As the name implies “The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus” were the efforts of three families. While the history of the circus can arguably be traced back to the Romans, the modern version of the circus began in England. This was a show that incorporated horsemanship with entertainment in between for the onlookers to watch. Clowns, high wire acts, animals and other acts were scheduled in-between the equestrian acts to keep the attention of the onlookers.
The American version of the circus is often credited to John Bill Ricketts, way back in 1792. He opened the first circus in Philadelphia, the following year 1793. While P T Barnum didn’t get involved with the circus till later in his life, he is often thought of in connection to the traveling circus and the use of another American industry, the railroad. His show was often thought of with a few other firsts, the freak show, and wild animals. There is a great podcast that did an episode about Bet the first circus elephant.
In the mid 1950’s, as attendance grew, Ringling Bros was the first circus to vacate the big top tent and start presenting in larger local permeant venues, such as stadiums and arenas. As the circus witnessed the turn of another century, attendance started to dwindle. Under criticism for the exotic animals that it trained and maintained in a Victorian manner, Ringling Bros had been sited and paid many fines and made changes to their handling.
On May 21, 2017, Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus gave its last performance at Nassau Coliseum in NY. The cars that you see here were purchased by a group of people and have, at least temporally landed here in the Steamtown National Historic Site, in Scranton Pa. My understanding is that they are going to create an exhibit on it highlighting the railroads part in this unique piece of American history