Letter from Otto Ringling, October 26, 1907
Otto Ringling (1858–1911) was the son of a German immigrant who, with his brothers Albert, Alfred, Charles, John, August, and Henry, created the Ringling Bros. circus empire in the late 19th century. The brothers bought the competing Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1907. They ran the circuses separately at first, but merged them in 1919 to create the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which came to be known as “the Greatest Show on Earth.” This letter, written by Otto to his brothers in October 1907, details how the assets ...
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Illinois State University's Special Collections, Milner Library
Circus Spectacle Float
This photograph depicts an elaborate spectacle float in the “backyard” of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in September 1922. The spectacle, or “spec,” often opened the show and was a procession that took place around the hippodrome track inside the big top, or circus tent, featuring as many of the performers and animals as the circus director was able to costume. Traced back to the earliest circuses in America, the spec was originally a lavish performance of literary or historical tales intended to entertain and edify the audience ...
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Illinois State University's Special Collections, Milner Library
Back Door Scene at the American Circus
In the American circus, the area directly behind the circus tent or arena where performers prepared for and staged their entrances through the “back door” came to be known as the “backyard.” This glass-plate negative from 1928 reveals a typical backyard scene of an American circus just prior to performance of the spectacular production number. The spectacle, or “spec,” was a procession that took place around the hippodrome track inside the big top, or circus tent, featuring as many of the performers and animals as the circus director was able ...
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Circus World Museum
Pay Off of Spec—the Good Old Times
In the American circus, the spectacle, or “spec,” developed as a procession that took place around the hippodrome track inside the big top, or circus tent, featuring as many of the performers and animals as the circus director was able to costume. Traced back to the earliest circuses in America, the spec was originally a lavish performance of literary or historical tales intended to entertain and edify the audience. The costumes created for specs were often exotic, representing cultures from all corners of the globe. The costumes also could be ...
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The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art
Ringling Circus Winter Quarters, Sarasota, Florida
John Ringling (1866–1936), one of the seven Ringling brothers who dominated the development of the American circus in the late 19th and early 20th century, moved the winter quarters of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus from its original quarters in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to Sarasota, Florida. Ringling’s vision, as recalled by Fred Bradna, equestrian director for the show, in his book The Big Top, was to “lay out the quarters like a zoo, and thousands of visitors will pay to see it. I’ll build an open-air ...
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The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art
Garland Entry, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, 1930
This photograph shows horses and riders of the "Fete of Garlands" or "Garland Entry" assembling in the back yard of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus before going into the big top tent. Various tents and baggage wagons can be seen in the background. The image is a good example of the size and complexity of a “spec” performance in a large American circus. The spectacle, or “spec,” developed as a procession that took place around the hippodrome track inside the big top, or circus tent, featuring as many ...
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Circus World Museum