The Circus


Barbara J. Feldman

Although circus-like performances have existed in many cultures for thousands of years, the history of the modern circus began in London in 1770 when Philip Ashley used a circular performance ring for exhibiting trick riding and horsemanship as a promotion for his horseback riding school. With the advent of a circular stage, the horses could be seen from all angles, and would never gallop out of sight. Even the size of his stage, forty-two feet in diameter, is now a circus standard.

  • Barnum Museum3 stars

    P.T. Barnum's name is synonymous with show business promotion. Phineas Taylor Barnum and his partner James Bailey started the Barnum and Bailey Circus in 1887, calling it "The Greatest Show on Earth," This museum site (from Bridgeport, CT where Barnum lived with his second wife) provides a brief introduction to Barnum's life and accomplishments. The best clicks can be found under Cast of Characters, where you'll be introduced to Tom Thumb, Jumbo the elephant, and the Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind.

  • Big Apple Circus5 stars

    Founded twenty years ago by two jugglers, The Big Apple Circus is a non-profit one-ring big-top tent circus. Their educational site is my pick of the day because it is a treasure trove of delightful circus tidbits. Not to be missed sections include the downloadable Study Guide in Adobe Acrobat format ("a resource for students and teachers"), a history of the circus (titled Classical Circus in the left-hand menu,) and two 360-degree Virtual Tours (one of the big-top tent, the other of the stables.) And last, but not least, take a look at the animated tent raising.

  • Circus Lingo3 stars

    From "Aba-daba: any dessert served in the cookhouse" to "Zanies: clowns," the Circus Lingo glossary defines dozens of words used exclusively in the circus world. Stepping beyond the dictionary into the rest of the site (created by children's software producer Big Top), you'll find several amusing Shockwave trinkets, but none directly related to the circus.

  • Cirque du Soleil3 stars

    Since their beginnings in the late eighties as a street festival in Quebec, Circque du Soleil has performed for more than thirty million people. Currently, their 575 performers are staging seven shows on four continents. Their animal-less performances are a tantalizing mixture of dance, acrobatics, and music. Best bets at their site (besides details on when and where they perform) are the video previews of their seven shows which you'll find under In the Ring.

  • Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey5 stars

    "Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, the online edition of The Greatest Show on Earth!" Following the left-hand menu, you can start your tour with Fun and Games, where you'll find Shockwave arcade games such as Create a Clown and Morph a Clown, circus-themed e-postcards, and a Ringmaster's Quiz. Other sections worth clicking are The Magnificent Menagerie (all about the circus animals and their care,) History & Tradition (a history of the RBBB circus), and an excellent section for teachers, homeschoolers and troop leaders titled Circus Works.

  • By May 16,2001

  • Honorable Mentions

    The following links are either new discoveries or sites that didn't make it into my newspaper column because of space constraints. Enjoy!



    The Circus Book, 1870s-1950s
    The Circus Book, 1870s-1950s
    by Dominique Jando
    (Hardcover)
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    The Night Circus
    The Night Circus
    by Erin Morgenstern
    (Paperback)
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    Price: $4.98

    Circus
    Circus
    by Lois Ehlert
    (Hardcover)
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    Price: $9.98