History & Tourism

When Mansfield Welcomed: The Greatest Show On Earth

20 Jan , 2019  

In 1872, entertainment history was made when the first large circus to travel by rail appeared in small and mid-sized communities across the Midwest. America’s Greatest Showman was behind the entire endeavor.

On June 22, that tour included a stop in Mansfield. The Greatest Show on Earth – a slogan used for the very first time in publicity for that very trip – came to town for three shows. Actually, it was more fully known as “P.T. Barnum’s Great Traveling Museum, Menagerie, and World’s Fair – consisting of museum, menagerie, aquarium, polytechnic institute, international zoological garden, and Dan Castello’s chaste and refined circus.”

How’s that for a mouthful?

The doors opened at 10 AM, 1 PM, and 7 PM for shows starting an hour later under “six colossal tents.” The cost of admission was 50 cents, with children under 9 at half price. Note that the ever-promoting Barnum offered free admission for anyone who bought his autobiography, a massive work with 900 pages and 32 full-page engravings. The cost of the book was $1.50 (allegedly marked down from the original $3.50 price).

The advertisement for the Mansfield show that appeared earlier in June in the Richland Shield and Banner included the following (this is just a part, mind you): Please note that these words are used in the ad, not ours!

  • Four Wild Fiji Cannibals – captives of war, lately ransomed from King Thokamban by Mr. Barnum at a cost of $15,000
  • Live Digger Indians from the Yosemite Valley
  • The only living giraffe in America
  • The only living group of monster sea lions on exhibition, kept in massive water tanks.
  • A monster black rhinoceros, black leopards, Malayan tapir, Giant Abyssinian Ostrich, 24 camels and performing elephants
  • The Famous Horse-Riding Goat “Alexis:
  • The wonderful African snake charmer. Magnificent representative specimen of rare living wild animals, birds, fishes, insects, reptiles, and Marine Monsters.
  • Hippodrome & Circus which is strictly moral and high-toned.
  • Great Double Ring in the Grand Entrée Pageant. One hundred performing equestrians, acrobats, gymnasts, knights, Turks, Tartars, Greeks and Ladies in Medieval costumes, representing a scene of royal magnificence never before witnessed.
File:P.T. Barnum circus car.jpg

Barnum Circus train car

The shows appear to have been very well received. The next published Richland Shield & Banner stated that “never was there such a crowd of people in Mansfield.” 15,000 attended the shows, the article claimed, and streets were crowded from 6 AM on. At 9 AM, a grand procession of “bedecked in gold, silver and flaming colors, camels, elephants, men and women representing oriental times and styles, with a gold figure-headed wagon, palace cars, and scene-painted wagons drawn by horses covered with beautifully ornamented blankets” made its way through downtown.

The Mansfield stop took place between shows in Massillon and Mount Vernon. The 1872 Barnum Tour is considered the beginning of the “Golden Age” of the circus in America, and was made possible when Barnum was coaxed our of retirement. Mansfield continued to be a stop for the Barnum Circus for another several decades.

Other posts in this series:

When Mansfield Welcomed: The Reluctant Muckraker

When Mansfield Welcomed: Its Very First Automobile Show

When Mansfield Welcomed: The Ohio Corn Show

When Mansfield Welcomed: Buffalo Bill

When Mansfield Welcomed: Sir Harry Lauder

When Mansfield Welcomed: Jayne Mansfield

When Mansfield Welcomed: John Philip Sousa

When Mansfield Welcomed: The Fisk Jubilee Singers

When Mansfield Welcomed: Baseball’s Greatest Shortstop

When Mansfield Welcomed: England’s Greatest Actor

Sources: Richland Shield & Banner, Wikipedia, circusinamerica.org

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