East Side History Madison’s Blog

By and for the East Side History Club, a project of the Goodman Community Center

At February 2011 meeting, the Circus was in town!

Posted by eastsidehistorymadison on February 26, 2011

This photo taken July 29, 1933, shows Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus “tall man” Jack Earl and one of the circus midgets with an airplane manufactured by Orland Corben at the Madison Airport. Photo WHi-10860 courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society.


The second topic covered at February’s meeting was the circuses that came to the Madison Airport at the end of North Street from 1923 through 1946.

The pilots at the airport would sell airplane rides to the circus workers and performers as well as to people coming out to see the circus.

Joan Phalen and Ann Waidelich prepared a chart of what circuses came when and where they set up, based on research done in the Madison newspapers.  (see below.)

Ann read from a newspaper article published in the Wis State Journal on July 27, 1927 about the Ringling Circus coming to town, and several audience members contributed their memories of arriving early as kids to help set up the circus tents and then being almost too tired to enjoy the show with their “pay”, a free ticket to the show.

Fred Leidel was the featured speaker at February’s meeting, relating memories of being an “airport kid” hanging around the Madison Airport. The short memoir he wrote about that [see related post] contained the following circus memory:

The circus train unloaded near East Washington Ave. where the tracks cross at Gisholt Machine Co.

They hauled all of the equipment from there to the end of the Madison Airport near Oscar Meyer.  The route they chose included Upham Street where we lived.  At the end of our block they watered the animals such as elephants and horses from a fire hydrant.  I followed them to he airport, where I helped to put op the Big Top and bleachers.  Salary — one free ticket to the evening performance.  After the tent and bleachers were put up and I go my ticket, I started selling airplane ride tickets.  I sold the most tickets for which I got a small bonus, but at a nickel a ticket plus the bonus I earned $16 that day.  We  had quite a few airplanes flying — the Travelaires, probably 2 Corbens, a Waco, a Fairchild, a Cessna and a Taylorcraft.  We flew even during the afternoon circus performance and the Big Top canvas would flap as the planes swooped overhead.

Thanks for the memories, Fred, and to Ann Waidelich and Joan Phelan–thanks for your research work. Great meeting–over 60 people attended!

-Sarah White

Date Eken Plat, Madison Airport Elsewhere on East Side
Aug. 7, 1916 Ringling Brothers – Nelson’s Corners
July 5, 1920 John Robinson’s Circus – Rutledge, Helena & Russell Streets
Aug. 15, 1921 Ringling Barnum & Bailey – Carey Plat, E. Wash & 2nd St
Aug. 13, 1923 Morris & Castle Shows
Aug. 27, 1923 Sparks Circus – Carey Plat – E. Wash & 2nd St.
Aug. 13, 1924 Ringling Barnum & Bailey
July 29, 1926 Ringling Barnum & Bailey
July 5, 1927 Hagenback Wallace Circus – N. Patterson & E. Mifflin
July 27, 1927 Ringling Barnum & Bailey
July 30, 1928 Ringling Barnum & Bailey
Aug. 1, 1929 Ringling Barnum & Bailey
Aug 5, 1929 Morris Castle Shows – Commercial Ave. Circus Lot
Aug. 12, 1930 Ringling Barnum & Bailey
Aug. 17, 1931 Hagenbeck Wallace Circus
Aug 19, 1932 Ringling Barnum & Bailey
July 29, 1933 Ringling Barnum & Bailey
June 14, 1934 Tom Mix Circus  (where ?)
Aug. 6, 1934 Ringling Barnum & Bailey
July 1, 1935 Russell Brothers Circus
Aug. 13, 1935 Ringling Barnum & Bailey
July 21, 1936 Russell Brothers Circus
Aug. 4, 1936 Ringling Barnum & Bailey
July 8-12, 1937 Sheesley Midway – Weber’s Show Grounds, Commercial Ave.
July 30, 1937 Ringling Barnum & Bailey
May 28, 1938 Sells-Sterling Circus
July 3, 1938 Tom Mix Circus – E. Mifflin & N.Livingstoin
Aug. 2, 1938 Barnes-Sells-Floto Ringling
Aug. 1, 1939 Ringlling Barnum & Bailey
June 11, 1940 Rubin & Cherry Exposition – Show Grounds, Commercial Ave.
July 30 1940 Ringlling Barnum & Bailey
June 2-8, 1941 Goodman Wonder Shows – Show Grounds, Commercial Ave.
July 26, 1941 Johnny Jones Clyde Peatty – Show Grounds, Commercial Ave.
Aug 13, 1941 Ringlling Barnum & Bailey
Sept 11, 1942 Ringlling Barnum & Bailey
Aug. 17-22, 1943 Rubin Cherry Exposition – Hartmeyer Show Grounds
Sept. 8, 1943 Ringlling Barnum & Bailey
June 29, 1944 Cole Brothers Circus
Aug 1-5, 1944 Royal American Shows – Show Grounds, Commercial Ave.,
July 20, 1945 Cole Brothers Circus
Aug 21 -22, 1946 Ringling Barnum & Bailey
July 11, 1947 Cole Brothers Circus – E. Wash, Hwy 19 & 51,at Wright St.
Aug. 13, 1947 Ringling Barnum & Bailey – E. Washington New Show Grounds

3 Responses to “At February 2011 meeting, the Circus was in town!”

  1. […] (RSS) « Merrillyn Leigh Hartridge, deceased Feb. 9, 2011 At February 2011 meeting, the Circus was in town! […]

  2. Real Music From a true artist…

    At February 2011 meeting, the Circus was in town! « East Side History Madison’s Blog…

  3. […] As the size of the traveling circuses grew, other East Side locations hosted the performances, including Burr Jones Field and vacant lots near Oscar Mayer and the Dane County Regional Airport. The numerous railroad tracks crossing the east side permitted the circus trains to unload near the circus grounds. Older people who grew up on the East Side  remember watching the circus animals parading from the tracks to the circus grounds, and arriving early to help set up the circus tents in exchange for  free tickets to the show. Circuses were the topic of the East Side History Club’s February 2011 meeting. A list of circus locations by year was posted on this blog. […]

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