by Russell Pemberton
From: Goshen Trails,
Printed by permission
At one time in the earlier part of the twentieth century, McLeansboro
was on the regular route of the big circuses. These events took
place on a one night basis and of course, the circus moved by railroad
in a long train. Usually stops were made only at county
seats. The move was made by night after the show was over in one
town, the tents, etc. set up during the day to get ready for the night's
The circus train was composed of flat cars which carried the circus wagons, stock cars carrying the horses and elephants, coaches in which the performers rode. The wild beasts, lions, tigers, etc. were carried in cages on wheels that were hauled on the flat cars.
About daylight, the circus would start unloading. The usual place for the unloading to take place was the "coal track" which is the one farthest west of the Shawneetown Branch line. Ramps would be laid from one flatcar to the other and the circus wagons would go down a ramp onto West Market St. and be taken to the circus area. The horses and elephants were among the first thing to be unloaded so they could assist in pulling (or pushing) the wagons to the circus ground.
As soon as the circus wagons began arriving at the grounds, the tents would be erected by the roughnecks, the bit one being the one that housed and three rings known as the "big top". The side shows would be arranged on each side of the passage to the main tent.
One of the most interesting things to watch was the unloading of the circus equipment which of course was free to anyone who wanted to arise at daylight and make the trip to the circus train.
As soon as all the work had been done or at least most of it, preparations would be made for the parade. This consisted of the elephants, some of the wild animals (in their cage wagons), horses all dressed up in their trappings with riders who wore their fanciest costumes. Along toward the end of the parade was the calliope which used steam to make the tones. The sound of the calliope would carry far into the country. The parade was to make every one aware of the fact that the circus was in town and would be ready for business.
In going to the circus a customer would go through the lane of the wagons containing the wild animals and on into the big tent. Within the opening was another parade with all the pomp and ceremony that could be mustered by all the personnel of the circus. The band would be playing very smartly during this opening parade. The clowns would be cavorting and again the horses and elephants with their riders.
After the parade, acts would start in each of the three rings. The center ring usually was the site of the most highly advertised acts and the seats from customers nearest the center ring were of course the highest priced ones. It was impossible to watch all the detail of each act in each of the three rings but any of them were especially selected for audience appeal.
After the show was over and the audience filed out, the side shows were already gone, having been hauled to the railroad site to be reloaded for transportation to the next circus stop. 'Way into the night, the wagons hauling other equipment could be heard groaning their way through the unpaved streets, many times so muddy the elephants would have to push with their heads.
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