The Rise of the American Circus, 1716–1899


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About the Book

To both young and old, the circus remains an icon of American entertainment, a wholesome pastime untouched by the passing years. But the modern circus, with its three rings, ringmaster, animals, and acrobats, is the product of nearly three hundred years of evolution.
This intriguing work chronicles the history of the American circus from its roots in England through its importation to America to the end of the nineteenth century. It introduces the early pioneers of the circus, addresses business concerns such as management and training, and discusses the development of the show itself, including the incorporation of menageries, the need for animal training and care, the addition of circus music, the use of the tent, and the unique attractions of side shows and “freaks.” Personal stories of those who made their lives under the “big top” are woven throughout the narrative, adding an intimate perspective to one of America’s most enduring entertainments.

About the Author(s)

S.L. Kotar of St. Louis has been writing (together with J.E. Gessler) for more than four decades, beginning with scripts for television’s Gunsmoke.
The late J.E. Gessler lived in St. Louis.

Bibliographic Details

S.L. Kotar and J.E. Gessler
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 362
Bibliographic Info: 124 photos, glossary, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2011
pISBN: 978-0-7864-6159-2
eISBN: 978-0-7864-8700-4
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Preface 1
1. When the Circus Became a Circus 5
2. The Circus Comes to Town 14
3. Competition in the Riding School/Amphitheatre/Circus 22
4. The Evolving Circus 28
5. Getting Away from the “Circus” 35
6. The Circus Comes to America 48
7. The Century of the Circus 64
8. Equestrian Drama Finds a Home 78
9. “In the Rude State of Nature” 91
10. The Circus Tent 101
11. “Horrible: A Man Devoured by Tigers” 109
12. The Era of P. T. Barnum and the “Great Lion Tamer” 121
13. Variety, Novelty and Splendor 139
14. A Small Field of Competition 152
15. “A Regular Out-and-Outer” 166
16. “Gulling” the “Dear People” 180
17. Circuses and Menageries in the Civil War Era 188
18. Everything’s Hunkidori: Moral Exhibitions, Aggregations and the “Ku-Klux-Kan” 199
19. Sawdust and Spangles 216
20. “Fully in Keeping with the Present Age” 238
21. Privilegers, Flash Folk, Fakirs and Bunco Men 256
22. The Original Monster Makers 267
23. Canvassing the Landscape 277
24. The Allurement of Sawdust and Tights 290
25. The State of the Circus 304
26. “A Little World in Itself” 314
Glossary 323
Chapter Notes 327
Bibliography 341
Index 343

Book Reviews & Awards

“Kotar and Gessler…showcase the companies, human and animal acts, and mixed responses to this evolving form of entertainment”—Reference & Research Book News.