In the history of the circus lies both a community for all unordinary and extraordinary peoples and sense of adventure in its lifestyle. From its origins and creators to its classic demonstrations of the unusual, circus is many things.
The circus most people know today are often considered a child’s dreamland, presented through choreographed routines of acrobatics, tamed animals, peculiar human abilities, and other fascinating phenomena. Most people are familiar and fond of the classic Western circus, with its usual variety of treats – circus peanuts, popcorn, cotton candy – and tricks – puzzling illusions and humorous acts.
Maybe you’ve wondered about the origin of this traditional circus. Historians and those of more curious mindsets have accepted the likelihood of where, when, and how the modern circus originated: In 1768, London, England, circus showman Phillip Astley first introduced the circus, which spread across the world like wildfire. In the acts of his show, Astley presented lots of the circus elements known to us today – performing exotic animals, acrobatics, et cetera. Obviously a lot of Astley’s original acts are now what make up the modern circus.
Most circuses throughout the past estimated 200 years are known for traveling, popping up gleaming, colorful lights and enormous canvas tents in hours to prepare for shows. The exciting news of “The circus has come to town!” and the swarming crowds of happy locals always meant the same. However, circuses didn’t usually travel until it became much more convenient.
Before the mid-1820s, most circuses performed their shows in temporary wooden structures or more permanent amphitheaters, making circus travel a bit more complicated. Then, in 1825, a circus enterpriser named Joshua Purdy Brown was the first to use a tent, fashioned from weatherproof canvas, as the temporary home of a circus, and the clever idea took off throughout circuses all over the globe.
Another loved and well-known act from many, many circuses throughout the years is the display, as if in a museum, of both animal and human oddities and extraordinary abilities. This was brought to life and fame by a Phineas Taylor Barnum along with his accomplice, William Cameron Coup, in 1871. They created what they called Barnum’s Museum, Menagerie & Circus. The “museum” portion of their show was basically an exhibition, of humans and animals with odd abilities, like in a museum (hence the name.) These people often included the classics of the bearded woman, little people (referred to at this time as “midgets,”) strongmen, and contortionists, along with many other people with stranger abilities or traits.
Most of these people almost displayed in some circuses were more than just acts or performers. Hundreds of people still consider their circuses to be like family or like a community when they have trouble finding such in the outer world. Throughout its history circus has had a huge positive impact on the lives of some at the margins of society with a sense of security, family, and a place to belong.
As you now know, throughout history, people have been demonstrating and inventing new brilliant ideas and utilities to aid in the spectacular performance of the modern classic circus. And the circus has been offering a family to the people who have needed it most. The show people love so dearly shows an art and a special amount of hard work that is put in to perform, prepare, and end the show in thrown roses and a wave of laughter, and sometimes even awe.
– Mazie Jane