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Ringling Brothers' Circus Animal Walk and the Elephants

Updated on June 28, 2016
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish has 30 years experience in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, history, and aerospace education for USAF Civil Air Patrol.

Original Ringling Bros. Circus

Circus poster of a typical parade for Ringling Bros. in 1912.
Circus poster of a typical parade for Ringling Bros. in 1912.

Greatest Show On Earth

The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus will eliminate elephants from all shows in 2018. The enterprise may follow by taking other animal acts out of the circus. The elephants will be cared for long-term in a forever home with the circus owners.

The Circus Parade - A Golden Three Miles

The circus is a part of American history and the circus parade has been an iconic celebration in large and small towns across the US. It has inspired novels and short stories, poems and movies.

I'd never seen it before, but the tradition was hundreds of years old. It was the Circus Animal Walk. A line of trainers, elephants, and horses were escorted by the Columbus Police from the parked Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey Circus train in the small historic Grandview Railroad Yard at the end of the Piqua Line.

Very near Downtown Columbus, the walk proceeded along three miles of streets eastward to Nationwide Arena and nearby circus housing. If we spectators were lucky, we thought might take a few clear photos. However, it was dreadfully cold and rainy for many folks to venture to the tiny parade's planned route. One onlooker appeared in a full bright-yellow rain suit with hood.

You can see a photo of the sunny day's Circus Animal Walk in Grandview during 2008 here.

Enough vacant lots and Arena space existed near the Ringling Bros. Zing-Zang-Zoom magic-themed show site to provide large animals and their trainers with safe housing for six days. On the final Sunday night after the afternoon performance, the animals walked back to their train along the same route -- Sometimes it's more fun to watch the Circus Animal Walk and imagine 139 years of Ringling Bros. history than it is to attend the show..

Cirque du Soleil inhabits those same vacant lots when they come to town, with their striking blue and yellow tents. But today, we saw elephants and horses walking to work in their traditional manner. They were protected by the police cruisers, equestrian patrols, and the animal keepers along the three miles of Dreams Come True for children and those of us that wish we could have been around just once in the 1930s, when the circus came to town. It was a full parade then, with jobs offered the local youth to tend elephants and raise tents.

In December of 2012, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, was ordered to pay $9.3 million to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus to settle a lawsuit brought about by allegations of mistreated elephants. This circus was found innocent!

Elephants Retiring

Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus - The Greatest Show On Earth - agreed to remove elephants from their enterprise by 2018. Animal activists have advocated for the elimination of elephants and other animals as objects of entertainment in circuses and zoos, the animals often mistreated by less professional outfits.

Victory for Ringling Bros Barnum and Bailey

  • Animal rights group to pay circus $9.3 million in elephant dispute!

    NEW YORK (Reuters) - In December of 2012, the major animal welfare group, ASPCA,agreed to pay $9.3 million to the owners of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus to settle a lawsuit brought in response to now-dismissed legal claims of mistreated elephants.

Latest Cols OH video from roboticnerds on YouTube

Elephants in Literature

Elephants were a favorite of Ray Bradbury, who added the circus to many of his sci-fi and fantasy stories, based on his experiences with helping the big tents set up when the circus train came to town in the Great Depression. If her were alive today, he might be crying about the loss of the beloved elephants from the show.

Rudolph Lucasie & familiy, African albinos. PT Barnum found them in Amsterdam in 1857. He brought them to America to become the most popular "living curiosities." Barnum billed them as black Madagascans that slept with their pink eyes wide open. They
Rudolph Lucasie & familiy, African albinos. PT Barnum found them in Amsterdam in 1857. He brought them to America to become the most popular "living curiosities." Barnum billed them as black Madagascans that slept with their pink eyes wide open. They

Pick up any book by Ray Bradbury...

...and you are as likely as not to read a story about circuses, autumn sideshows, comedians, magic, and a little horror. These have been his favored topics since experiences with early films and the circus as a child circa Depression Era America. He has been able to combine his topics again and again, sometimes with a thrilling outer space backdrop.

In Something Wicked This Way Come, Mr. Bradbury does an exquisite job of painting 1930s boyhood images of the arriving circus train. It stops outside town by the edge of a field of crops, where the rail line runs silently in the dark, except for the late-night train whistlings. It is magic and children and youth feel anticipatory electricity in the air.

The Bradbury animal walk next day is a grand costumed parade from the rail line through the main portion of town. Two boys secure temporary jobs with the circus for the weekend performances, and witness strange sideshow denizens. One of these is a beautiful woman curiously encased in a long block of ice. It's a largely genuine picture of the circus in the Midwest around 1890 - 1940. In Cambridge, Ohio the youth and men were given jobs pitching tents, feeding animals, and watering the elephants and my father was one of the lucky boys for a few years.

I suppose that the circuses of the 1950s were a shadow of those of the Depression Era, when they were huge, grand, with many rings and even female lion trainers. A Shine Circus in the 1980s was a little different, emphasizing prolonged trinket sales between the acts. Another, much smaller, traveling circus came to town one summer during the 1990s and it had the most skillful "human statues" acrobats I've ever seen.

The local State Fair also included a small French traveling circus for several years. Each circus was different. However, none of these interesting shows were like the 1930s photos I've seen or Mr. Bradbury's word pictures, the old TV series Circus Boy, or the film Trapeze (Big Top on local programming) with Burt Lancaster.

A large Russian Circus appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in the 1960s and it was fun to watch, but it did not include an animal walk or a circus parade - likely because of the Cold War political climate. Protesters were feared to be planning possible attacks on the Russian people and animals. In a reverse scene, the film Moscow On The Hudson portrays Russian circus performers attempting to defect in the USA.

A circus is full of stories of the human condition. Walking with its elephants is like walking through time - still fascinating on a cold, rainy spring morning.

Ringling Brothers Circus Winter Headquarters, National Historic Landmark, Baraboo Wisconsin.
Ringling Brothers Circus Winter Headquarters, National Historic Landmark, Baraboo Wisconsin.

Circus of the Past

My father and uncles used to help set up circus tents and water the elephants long ago as boys. Not one for much entertainment, my father made sure that I saw two circuses when I was small - one in a stadium at night and one in the Bog Top during an afternoon. I always remember elephants, horses, and ladies dresses as colorful starkly butterflies as they twirled from high poles by an ankle.

Circus Boy with Future Monkee Mickey Dolenz

The Circus Age: Culture and Society under the American Big Top
The Circus Age: Culture and Society under the American Big Top
Professor Davis offers huge research, including finding and interviewing people whose tales about the circus give real insight into what circus life was like and what the circus meant to people when "Circus Day" was the biggest event of the year.

"Water for Elephants" is a memorable and compassionate book and film about the lives and the escape of elephants and people from an abusive circus owner. Don't miss the movie and try to see the circus before 2018. Perhaps they'll let you give an elephant some water.


Ringling Bros. Travel Schedule

The Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus operates two circus troups that travel different performance routes around America simultaneously. Their scedules are quite full, but allow time for the animals and people to rest between performances. The Red and Blue Trous fnction under a different theme an dname each year, as do the more recent Cirque du Soleil troups.

The Eastern US troupe is the Red Tour that sweeps through parts of lower New England across to the west across the MIssissippi River, into East Texas, and down to the Gulf of Mexico, including New Orleans.

The Blue Tour begins in Eastern Pennsylvania and cuts across the Midwest, the Southwest, and includes Seattle WA and Portland OR. Many sites in California are visited as well.

A new GOLD TOUR is centered in Louisiana and lower Texas. Called Illuscination, it is presented in Baton Rouge, Austin, and Hidalgo.

How would it be to travel with any of these three tours across the USA? For some, it is a very hard life, but for many, it is a long and rewarding career.

© 2010 Patty Inglish MS


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