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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 spent 30 years working in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, and aerospace education for Active 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

Comments and Circus Stories

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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      9 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      It's a new year and plenty of local and regional circuses will likely be coming to your area. I hope you all write Hubs about their performances - and even the protests against them. Happy New Year!

    • profile image

      Sandy Post 

      9 years ago

      really great article - always loved the circus!

    • hanwillingham profile image


      9 years ago

      Written this article so great.

    • W. K. Hayes profile image

      W K Hayes 

      9 years ago from Bryson City, North Carolina

      wow, I haven't even thought aboutthecircus walk since I saw one some thirty-five years ago. This is a really great article and a wonderful trip down the better parts of memory lane.

    • blackhatworld profile image


      10 years ago from Belize

      i love circus! since i was young until now, i still enjoyed watching circus. thank you.

    • ineveryoneheart profile image


      10 years ago

      oh coolest one

    • Video Express profile image

      Video Express 

      10 years ago from Boston, MA

      I haven't seen a circus walk but it seems great. I do enjoy the circus though.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      nice hube you !! have written great ...............

    • a2z50 profile image


      10 years ago

      Great work on the circus . In my recent Hub about the Hub city , history showed that one of the first settlers in this town was a very fat man that traveled with the Barnum and Bailey circus . I enjoyed this one too.

      thank you


      As always also rprcarz50

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      marijanareynders - You have some really good memories to cherish. The circus is just a huge piece of America as well for over 200 years, and if it ever ends completely, I'll cry. Have you ever stood beside a smiling elephant? It's indescribable. Thanks for telling about your animals and circus memories.

      mega1 - What a memory! This is just like a Norman Rockwell painting of a Ray Bradbury summer. Thanks a million!

    • mega1 profile image


      10 years ago

      When I was a very little girl the circus (a little one) used to come to our town in Kansas every summer and every kid in town would be there on Main street to watch the parade - which only lasted about 1/2 an hour. It was a little circus, the same one, that came every year but we never got tired of it - tents and clowns on stilts and stinky animals and "gypsies" and all! What a great memory! Thanks for bringing it all back to me.

    • marijanareynders profile image


      10 years ago from Toodyay, Western Australia

      Patti, what a lovely walk back into time. I remember the circus walks back in South Africa. We lived in a small farming town and I insisted that the animals walked from town to town as we used to meet the circus outside town and escorted them to where the circus was to play out. As I grew up, my dad impressed on me that it would have been more cruel to let the poor animals walk from one end of South Africa to the other (I thought as Ethel commented that the animals were totally free). But it was a lovely thought, and I used to feel so important - and little - walking with my favorite animal, the elephant. What a lovely and interesting piece of writing ... those were the good old days (to my memory). Looking forward to your next interesting hub. Thanks.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Right Heeeeeeere! - Come and see the parade of great comments!

      Thanks everybody, for reading and sharing this experience with me. Elephants walking happily down the street made people rush to their office windows and watch with astonishment, because it was not well advertised. People could nto believe the tiny ponies, either. One of the elephants was smiling!

      Deborah D. - I have heard of the book, but not yet read it. Supposed to be very good, so I will.

      Hubtrails - Search for the Hubber called Ohma, who thought this all up, and you'll see the world as well as what Hubtrail is!

      rmr - PT sure had a lot of words, so he made a good copywriter, I'm sure.

    • ethel smith profile image

      Ethel Smith 

      10 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      I guess on the Circus Walk the animals almost feel free. They are not of course but it is great to see them uncaged. Great memories. Love the images

    • JenDobson27 profile image


      10 years ago

      Interesting, I never actually knew what a circus walk was!

    • samsons1 profile image


      10 years ago from Tennessee

      Ahhhh, the memories... Thanks for a moment to reminisce-- a time of reflection and remembrance, a time of childhood.

      I truly enjoy your talent of composition.

    • rmr profile image


      10 years ago from Livonia, MI

      Patty I love the fact that I always learn something from your hubs. I've seen the circus animal walks in movies and read about them in books, but I bet it would truly be something to see, up close and personal.

      I'm a great fan of all things circus, and especially P.T. Barnum. I've heard it said that he was the worlds first and most successful copywriter.

    • bonnebartron profile image


      10 years ago from never one place for too long

      I love how the universe works! A good friend of mine grew up in B&B circus, and I was just talking about the history yesterday! Thanks for the read, just one quick newbie question, what are the hubtrail travel walks? Look forward to reading more of your hubs!

    • samboiam profile image


      10 years ago from Texas

      I still love the circus. Its simplicity is so refreshing. Thanks for a wonderful hub.

    • Deborah Demander profile image

      Deborah Demander Reno 

      10 years ago from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD

      That was a great hub. Have you read the book "Water for Elephants"?


    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      10 years ago from London, UK

      When you look right back to the beginning of the 20th century it is amazing what excited the people. It is so sweet. Thank you, Patty, for this trip down memory lane.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Thanks for sharing that memory with me drbj. I will be reading circus stories later. :)

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      10 years ago from south Florida

      Hi, Patty. What a charming hub that brings back fond memories of watching a circus walk a long, long time ago.

      You are so right. Watching the animals in the circus walk was far more exciting, to me, than the acts on the circus grounds.

      Thanks for the memory.


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