Scenes from a vintage circus perserved on film

Originally published at: Scenes from a vintage circus perserved on film | Boing Boing

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The title might need some editing. In Finnish perse stands for ass or butt so any word starting with perse sounds funny.

Update: Title fixed

“There’s a character in this town I’d like to catch up with — a snub-nosed, freckle-faced, barefooted little upstart in blue denims, goddamn handy with a slingshot. I guess he’d be about sixty now.”

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How many circuses had over a dozen elephants? I thought that was Barnum only, and maybe the average travelling circus might have 1 or 2 tops.


45 years ago the circus came through my grandmother’s town. It was its last pass through, with its last elephant. I was there, 7 years old and all ready to help. Immediately put to “work”, which came with a free ticket to the night’s show. Which of course required adult accompaniment and didn’t come matched with an adult ticket.
I got to watch the elephant pull the center pole up, which was an incredible sight.
Sad for the poor things, now.


I was off being born when this film was released. I never saw a real in-the-tent circus. In middle school we attended a circus held on the stage of a large auditorium. It was underwhelming. Something I never understood about a three-ring circus: Did each ring have the same act at the same time, so all the audience had a decent view of the performance? Or was a different act going on in each ring, meaning that you’d always be missing part of the show?

I noticed about 5:30 a sign at the entrance to the Big Top: “Pay Tax Here for All Free Tickets.” Ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.


“We make the girls practice a lot before we let them go up so high”

Come On Reaction GIF


1949… I wonder how many of those performers had any inkling of just how quickly and irrevocably television was about to usurp the circus as the most popular form of mass entertainment in America.


Sorry, coulrophobes, the clowns are the coolest part.


Compared with the precision of Cirque du Soleil, these folks look like bumbling idiots. But the grittiness makes it more impressive.

I dunno, hadn’t movies already eclipsed live entertainment decades earlier? Dumbo was released in 1941 and I’d wager that more Americans had gone to see that film than visit a live circus that year.

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And I should think radio outdrew the circus as well.

Different act in each ring. I’m certain it was a ploy to attract repeat business.

True story:

I woke up to the sound of news helicopters in the rural town of Dunolly, Victoria as an escaped circus elephant had fallen down an old gold mine shaft…

All good, the phant was saved.No harm.

Can’t help but wonder what the comical trumpeting and crash sounded like.


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