Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Greatest Show On Earth

Magnet # 246:  Seal Balancing Ball

Material:  Plastic

Purchased By:  Gina

Well, grab the kids and head out to the big top, if you've got one nearby - it's Circus Day! This occasion is set on the anniversary of the day of the first Ringling Brothers performance back in 1884. There were seven Ringling Brothers in all, and five of them started performing in their own backyard in Baraboo, Wisconsin, after they were inspired while watching a circus being unloaded from a steamboat. They raised funds with a few initial performances that were more dancing and signing, then set out with a wagon, a horse they had rented, and a more experienced showman. They kept working hard, raising the money to buy a donkey and a Shetland pony, and improving their act. Eventually, all seven brothers had joined in, each with his own particular task, be it publicity, advertising, management, producing the show, or overseeing transportation from one locale to another. While there were many other traveling circuses, the Ringling Brothers were able to set themselves apart simply by being honest and refusing to rip off their customers. With a sterling reputation, they were able to rise through the ranks, eventually purchasing their own railroad cars that allowed them to move quickly from one large venue to another, greatly increasing their revenue. And when James Bailey of Barnum and Bailey passed away, they were able to purchase that competitor. They kept the two circuses separate until World War I, when there was a sharp decline in attendance. By creating The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, they were able to keep the United States' largest circuses alive. And it's still around nowadays, for although the Ringling family sold it in 1967, the name is still used and is beloved by children and adults the world over.

Circuses actually date all the way back to the Romans, who may have gotten the idea from the Greeks. They had tiered levels of seats for spectators to occupy while watching acrobats, trained animals, jugglers, and staged battles. Rome's first and most important circus was Circus Maximus, although there were several others of note. Unlike more modern circuses, these did not travel and occupied set areas. After Rome fell, circuses faded away for some time. Gypsies carried on the tradition in a small way, traveling and performing with their unusual abilities and trained animals for crowds, but it wasn't until the late 18th century that circuses really made a comeback. That was when Philip Astley began holding performances of his circus in London. Soon, others were copying his success, taking circuses all over the world. In fact, George Washington even attended one in Philadelphia. As circuses spread around the world, many countries took their own, unique spin on them. The huge circuses with massive tents and exhibitions of skill and strength are believed to have been developed in the United States. In Russia, with Lenin's encouragement, circuses were elevated to an art form and Chinese circuses focused on the country's ancient acrobatic traditions. Later, in the 1970s, the circus began to evolve into a more dramatic form fusing street performance techniques with those of circus performers. The results, Contemporary circuses like Cirque de Soleil, have proven to be popular with audiences. And now, many countries around the globe have their own circuses, proof that the ancient form of entertainment has truly been integrated into the modern world.

Well, if you can't celebrate Circus Day under the big top, you can always watch a film that's centered around the circus, like Disney's Dumbo or Circus World, which features John Wayne. And there's even a real-life Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin, home of the Ringling Brothers. There, visitors can learn about the history of the circus at have a look at artifacts like posters, circus wagons, and photos and even attend a circus performance at certain times of the year. Sounds like fun to me. And if you've never seen a circus for yourself or haven't been in awhile, you should consider attending one. After all, they don't call it the Greatest Show on Earth for nothing!

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