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Elephants on parade

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One of the highlights of the circus coming to town is always seeing the animals and acts unload from the train. This photo shows the spectacle of a circus parade around 1898. A note on the back of the photo says the parade is "going west down Morgan and turning S onto Fayetteville" and that the photographer was "sitting in the window of the YMCA."

A visitor to Raleigh's 1937 circus described the life the circus took on after the audience had gone home.

They missed the drama of the circus. They didn't go back of the scenes, the "backyard" to showmen, where cook shop, hospital tent, dressing tents, dining tent and animal tent formed a little city of circus people.


Only in the "backyard" can the observer find this confused array of humanity that goes into a circus and sustains the life drama of circus people. In the mammoth tent of the cook shop, those 1,500 individuals eat three meals a day -- 4,500 sets of dishes to be brought out, served, washed and stacked for movement each day.

In that compact neighborhood of artists and workers, the heartaches, the hilarity, the tragedy and the triumphs of the show business create a drama more vital than that seen under the Big Top twice a day.

In the fully equipped, fully staffed circus hospital, known as the "Croak Top" the sprains and bruises and injuries of stuntsters are patched up.


Workmen test ropes, wires and vital apparatus. Ladies hang freshly laundered silks in the breeze to put costumes into clean, crisp condition for the coming appearance in Greensboro today.

Freighted into Raleigh over the Southern Railroad at dawn ... from Winston-Salem, the circus city mushroomed into being , went through the paces, came down again last night and was packed for the next stop at Greensboro by 3 o'clock this morning . Twenty fleeting hours. -- The News & Observer 10/27/1937

For many years, The News and Observer ran a promotion called the Fifty-Year Club in connection with the John Robinson Circus. Readers who had memories of the circus from more than 50 years earlier could share them and then attend the circus as a guest of the newspaper. Each year the paper would report the number who had "renewed" their membership and publish the names of new members.

In 1929, W.D. Terry, State Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds, became a member of the club. He had first seen the circus in 1877.

"When the show came to Raleigh in 1877, it struck a rainy season. It had been raining steadily for three days and on the day of the show it rained so hard and the wind blew with such force that part of the big tent was blown down."


Sidney Williams, of Essex, who saw the show about 1874 in Warrenton saw his first electric light when it was one of the sensational attractions of the show. R.A. Wilder, of Knightdale, who saw the show in Louisburg in 1873 remembers that one of the band wagons ran over a hog on the main street of the town during the parade. J.W. Mitchell, of Raleigh, recalls the show in the Baptist Grove in Raleigh in 1877 when the wind and rain wrecked part of the tent. E.S. Doolittle remembers the circus in Charlotte in 1877 when an elephant killed his keeper in a box car. -- The News & Observer 9/19/1929

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