Friday, June 12, 2009
The Circus Comes to Town
Last fall, I was walking through one of the objects storage areas with the museum's exhibits manager. He glimpsed a large folded canvas and asked about it, so we donned white cotton gloves and opened it to reveal an incredible sideshow banner of a snake.
The 9' x 9' banner was so spectacular that it was decided on the spot that it had to be exhibited. So, the planning began to create an exhibit around it. It is shown here on display in the museum's Step Right Up! exhibit open through August 2, 2009.
The "Alive" banner was painted and signed by Snap Wyatt, a Florida-based artist, who was a popular banner painter from the 1940s to 1960s. These banners were designed to be larger-than-life in color and subject to draw customers down the Midway to the sideshow tents.
The banner has been in the museum's collections for many years, but no records indicate how it came into the collection or where it was used. Despite this, we know that circuses traveled through Lake County towns giving performances, and some overwintered in factory buildings in Grayslake.
Included in the exhibit are about 100 postcards from the Curt Teich Postcard Archives of circus acts, winter quarters, and clowns. This 1953 picture postcard features performers with the Gainesville Community Circus of Gainesville, Texas.
In 1929 the citizens of Gainesville put together a circus to raise money for the bankrupt local theatre. Entirely staffed by local residents wearing homemade costumes, the circus was so successful that it continued until 1958.
The collections were further searched for circus related photos and objects. A bandmaster's jacket and baton were selected to display as well as photos of circus parades in Waukegan.
Shown here is a photo of the Sells Floto Circus parade on Genesee Street in Waukegan, August 23, 1920.
In 1906, this circus was created in Colorado as a combination of the Floto Dog & Pony Show and the Sells Brothers Circus. The Sells Floto Circus generally operated with sideshow acts. The circus was purchased by the American Circus Corporation in 1921, and then by Ringling Brothers in 1929. When Ringling bought the American Circus Corporation for $1.7-million, they owned virtually every traveling circus in America.
Sells Floto, like many circuses of the day, was impacted by the Great Depression, and closed in 1930.