History of circus art. Part III. Circus in the USA

The chapiteaus toured all over Europe, but the coverage was incomparable to what was happening in America. In 1820-1835, the American circus experienced the period of boom growth. The overseas entrepreneurs developed the modern chapiteau arrangement that resembled a huge marquee. The New World was rapidly developing; new cities and settlements were constantly popping up, hence the demand for circuses, which could easily be moved from place to place. The arrival of a circus troupe in a new town was always accompanied by colorful street parade, and with the advent of railways, many circuses favored this mode of transport.

Perhaps the most prominent impresario of all times was and remains the American Phineas Taylor Barnum. "The Shakespeare of Advertising", endowed with a unique talent for wrapping audiences around his finger and selling them anything, Barnum successfully promoted the freak show called "The American Museum", was the entrepreneur of the juggler Signor Vivala, did advertising for "Swedish nightingale" Jenny Lind and finally in 1871 headed the Greatest Show on Earth (as his circus was called). "By early 1882, Barnum & Bailey Circus troupe employed 370 performers. The circus menagerie was comprised of 20 elephants, 338 horses, 14 camels, and many zebras, lions, leopards, hyenas and large snakes. The circus toured around the world and even performed for Queen Victoria. "Barnum & Bailey Circus” had buildings of almost equal size around the long four or six-mast marquee for the 'sideshow' and menagerie, tents housing the trained and drudge horses, not to mention spacious tents serving as dressing rooms for men and women, and numerous back buildings - workshops, offices, kitchens, dining rooms and the like; all covering an area of several hectares!"

American audiences were particularly fond of elephants. There was a real "war" between the circuses of New World: each tried to outdo the competition in number and size of animals. In 1882, Barnum negotiated with the zoo in London to buy African elephant Jumbo, a favorite of the English capital citizens. The animal was renowned for its impressive size (the advertisement said that "it weighed about six and a half tons, and was about three and a half meters high"), and its purchase cost the impresario ten thousand dollars. The news of Jumbo joining the company of the World Greatest Show in record time became a sensation. When the elephant was shipped to America aboard the “Assyrian Monarch”, a huge crowd, shedding tears, saw the animal off. An equal number of people gathered in New York Harbour on 9 April 1882 to await the precious cargo.

For three and a half years, Jumbo was the "superstar" of Barnum & Bailey Circus. Billboards called for a look at "the biggest four-legged creature on earth", and during his time in America, the elephant gained over a tone in weight! On September 15, 1885 in St. Thomas, Ontario, after a performance, the animals were loaded onto wagons and Jumbo was run over by a train. He died on the spot from his injuries and trauma. Phineas Barnum even managed to use the tragic death of the animal for promotional purposes: according to the legend, the elephant sacrificed himself to save his younger companion, elephant Tom Thumb. "The lithographs depicting Jumbo heroic demise were printed in thousands of copies" and the elephant took a place of honour in circus history forever.

Museum Collection exposition features automaton "Jumbo elephant". The mechanical elephant Jumbo entered the museum collection from the family of Mr. Wesley Redhead (Des Moines, USA), who received it as a gift from the founder of The Greatest Show on Earth, Phineas Taylor Barnum (05.07.1810-07.04.1891).

“Museum Stories” cycle presents a story about the Elephant Jumbo, the prototype of which was the famous elephant called Jumbo from the circus by Phineas Taylor Barnum.

These days the museum is hosting a themed exhibition “Circus Parade”. One of the highlights of the exhibition is the elephant called Jumbo, created by Jean Roullet in 1885. Find out more detail about the exhibit in the column "Meet the themed exhibition "Circus Parade!" characters

To be continued by the story of circus art development in Russia.