Fall of the Big Top

The Vanishing American Circus

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About the Book

Once an eagerly awaited spectacle, the traveling circus—that miracle of red wagons, trumpeting elephants and spangled trapeze artists that slipped into town at dawn and disappeared by midnight—has all but vanished from the American landscape. This work explores circus history from 1793 to the present and addresses the forces of modern culture (such as the popularity of Cirque du Soleil, and pressure from the animal rights movement) that are pushing big top shows toward what the author calls “circus ballet.” Numerous photographs and in-depth interviews conducted with show owners, performers and directors enrich the narrative. Overall, the book reveals a sobering contrast between circuses of yesterday and today, even as it honors the outstanding performers who created, and have sustained, the enduring appeal of the circus.

About the Author(s)

Entertainment journalist and critic David Lewis Hammarstrom has written articles for The Christian Science Monitor, American Skating World and Variety. He lives in California.

Bibliographic Details

David Lewis Hammarstrom
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 239
Bibliographic Info: 61 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2023 [2008]
pISBN: 978-1-4766-9135-0
eISBN: 978-1-4766-0835-8
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Preface      1

1. The Big One Falls      5
2. Back Before Barnum      18
3. American Heyday      29
4. Brother, Can You Spare a Ring?      44
5. Spectacles Unsublime      56
6. Mavericks on the Midway      66
7. Cirque du Invasion      77
8. Encore for the Eighties      88
9. Vanishing Visions      98
10. Laliberte Latitudes      104
11. Ringling in Retreat      114
12. Reparations for Jumbo?      124
13. Gunther in Black      132
14. There Go the Shriners      139
15. And the Band Did Not Play On      148
16. Minus Clyde Beatty      158
17. This Way to the Ballet      169
18. Bumpin’ Back with a Voice      184
19. Big Apple Delicious      194
20. And in the Only Ring That Matters      206

Chapter Notes      221
Bibliography      225
Index      227

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “Excellent…recommended”—Choice