Posted 11 months ago
There Used to Be a Circus Here
(With Apologies to Frank Sinatra...)
By Chris Berry
The typical circus poster of the early 20th Century was designed to focus on things like thrill acts, clowns and wild animals. In the first lithograph shown here, the artists at Strobridge take a different approach in this poster produced for the tour of France in 1902. Instead of equestrians and tigers, you are presented with four of the largest buildings in the world that have been the home to Barnum & Bailey: Vienna’s Grande Rotunde, the Chicago Coliseum, the Olympia in London and last but not least, Madison Square Garden in New York City. The architectural rendering alone makes this a standout poster, but imagine seeing it with the knowledge that the same show that exhibited in these modern arenas will soon be coming to your hometown.
When James A. Bailey took his "Greatest Show on Earth" to Europe (1898-1902), he routed his Forepaugh & Sells circus into Madison Square Garden, previously a spring tradition for Barnum & Bailey. That season Strobridge produced this one-sheet to promote not only the circus, but the fact that its home in America's largest city was, in fact, the greatest indoor arena in the world. Incidentally, this is the second of four buildings to carrying the Madison Square Garden name (1890-1925), and the last to actually be located in general proximity to Madison Square. Although no examples of this poster have surfaced with a date tail for other cities, in all likelihood this lithograph was used throughout the Forepaugh & Sells tour of 1900, and this artwork was very likely placed in store windows across the country.
Finally, a rare poster for Barnum & Bailey's engagement of 1980 at America's preeminent building for circuses - Madison Square Garden, and this poster promoting some of the thrill acts of the 1908 season. Close observers will note that one of the acts featured is "The Leamy Ladies", the same trapeze act featuring future solo aerialist Lillian Leitzel during the time that she was performing with her mother and aunts. When the Leamy Ladies returned to Europe, Leitzel stayed in the US - becoming a sensation on both the Ringling Bros and Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus.