COBWEB CORNERS: When the circus came to town

By Mel McFarland

       The big circus train rolled into town recently and when the show was over, it quietly rolled away. I'll bet you did not see it go. The tale that follows, however, is from a hundred years ago.
       In the summer of 1907, no less than three circuses visited Colorado Springs. Back then, before the show arrived, there was an advance car. The advance car was the advertising car. When it got into town, dozens of boys were hired to put up signs and posters. Some lads paid for their first bicycle doing this job. Three weeks later, the show would arrive.
       Some shows had short trains of only a few cars; others were much larger.
       You may have seen the recent Barnum and Bailey train stop at Kelker. The animals were marched over to the arena. The "family" cars were kept along I-25 north of downtown.
       In 1907, the circuses used open fields near downtown, near where St. Francis Hospital is located. The trains sat in either the Rio Grande or Santa Fe yards. The circus had elaborate wagons for the animals and even the basic tent equipment. Most of these have gone now, except for a museum that displays them up in Wisconsin.
       First, the big top was raised. The sight of the big tent was an attraction in itself. If you had not seen the posters, the tent was a big giveaway. Then, before the show, there was a parade.
       The 26 cars of the Sells-Floto Circus arrived in early June. Floto followed a smaller circus which had performed poorly in May. The Floto people promised to do better, but things did not go well. Several promised acts had left the show, and there were problems with sick animals. In addition, several "grifters" (con men) had set up near the area and were cheating people. The circus left a day early.
       The Barnum and Bailey show arrived in its 50-car train in July. Its leaders promised no problems as they set up in an area west of the downtown. Like this year when Barnum and Bailey left, everyone was happy afterward… including a few young people who'd found jobs in the circus.