America, one of a four wagon series.  Europe currently resides at the Smithsonian.
America, one of a four wagon series. Europe currently resides at the Smithsonian.
A beautifully preserved red wagon sits ready for display.
A beautifully preserved red wagon sits ready for display.
 This original and preserved Columbia Band Wagon was the first wagon that was acquired by the Circus World Museum in 1959.
This original and preserved Columbia Band Wagon was the first wagon that was acquired by the Circus World Museum in 1959.

Get in on the Great Circus Parade

An historic tradition returns to Milwaukee -- The Great Circus Parade! This colorful celebration of entertainment has been on a hiatus for six years due to lack of funding and may not be back for a while, at least not in 2010, so this would be the weekend to check it out.

I'm particularly giddy about this famous event because I've been invited to join actor / comedian John McGivern at the festival and along the parade route for Milwaukee Public Television's national broadcast of Sunday's parade. Watch the parade in high def on Channel 10.1 starting at 1:30 pm. on Sunday. If you can, take the opportunity to experience The Great Circus Parade and festival on-site to see the joy and care that goes into recreating this once-annual event.

Today through Saturday, the festival at Veterans Park allows you to get up close to all of the ornately decorated antique circus wagons, plus animals and performers. If you're one of those people who complain that clowns freak you out (which I hear there will be a clown wedding on Saturday -- doesn't that make you the least bit curious?!), you have plenty of other stimulating entertainment options including seeing practice runs with the wagons and horses. Each wagon will be pulled by teams of horses (Percherons, Belgians, Clydesdales, Shires and more) or mules, all stabled now on the park grounds. There will be plenty of entertainers, performers, musicians and more. The exotic animals you'll see are from the Timbavati Wildlife Park at Storybook Gardens in the Wisconsin Dells.

Last weekend, I took a stroll from the Summerfest grounds to Veterans Park to see the preparations. I took some photos of the dozen or so unique wagons that had already arrived and met the delightfully engaging John Lloyd, a hands-on volunteer who happens to also be the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Circus World Museum in Baraboo and Assistant Parade Director.

Lloyd is passionate about sharing and preserving the history of The Great Circus Parade. He knows a LOT and explained in lively detail about the collection of wagons from the past century and how the parades were effective and entertaining advertising for the traveling circus back then.

The parade really is a snapshot in time to how circuses were promoted. The golden age of the circus parade was 1895-1910. Barnum & Bailey and Ringling Brothers were direct competitors for the biggest circus audiences before the Ringlings bought out Barnum & Bailey in 1907 around and merged the two shows in 1919 partially due to the financial difficulties brought on by the war. There were 18 circus companies in 1929, but with the market crash, there were only six by 1932. You'll see about 15 different circus shows from the 1900s represented in the 50 wagons of The Great Circus Parade.

Was The Great Circus Parade a summer tradition for your family? Or will this be your first time?

Talkbacks

sandstorm | July 9, 2009 at 4:57 p.m. (report)

i should go, if for no other reason, to remind myself how mind numbingly dull these parades are.

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