Bandwagon, Vol. 1, No. 8 (June), 1942. Note: Only some articles are included in this online edition. Illustrations are not included.
John Ringling, while speaking of circuses more than twenty years ago, referred to the Sparks Circus as the "No. 2 Ringling Show". The splendid reputation this circus always had for being a clean and high class organization under Chas. Sparks' ownership is well known to all. This was one of the most popular circuses ever to tour the Eastern and New England States where it appeared year after year. Its great reputation throughout the South must not be overlooked.
The Winter Quarters for years were in Macon, Ga., where the show opened each Spring. John H. Sparks was the founder of the show and from around 1900 to 1906 the title used was the "JOHN H. SPARKS OLD VIRGINIA SHOWS", using two cars at the start and gradually using more. By 1909 it had grown to a 10-car circus with the best of equipment and everything about the show was spic and span in appearance. Jack Phillips began as Bandmaster in 1913 season and remained fifteen consecutive seasons. The Sparks show always had a first class band. John H. Sparks passed on about 1906. A small scratch on the arm by a lion with the show, caused his untimely end. A monument is erected to his memory at East Brady, Penna. When the show appeared there in 1916 services were held, the Sparks family and officials attended, and the circus band rendered appropriate music.
Chas. Sparks was an adopted son of John H. Sparks and took over full management and control of the show following the passing of the founder. About 1923 the show was enlarged to 20 cars.
The writer was with the show 1916 season, a splendid 15 car show at that time. T.W. Ballenger was General Agent; J.C. Kelly, legal representative; Clifton Sparks, Treasurer (He was a son of John H. Sparks, owner); Wm. Morgan, Secretary; C.S. Clarke, advertising Car Manager; E.L. Doty, 24-hour man; Jack Phillips, Bandmaster; Bert. Mayo, Equestrian Director; J.S. Robertson, was manager side-show; Arthur Wright, leader side-show band and Georgia Minstrels.
Salisbury, N.C., was the opening stand April 10th. First stop in N.Y. State was at Salamanca, May l9th. All of the New England States were played and 17 stands made in Maine. Show was up to the Canadian border at Fort Kent. At Calais, Maine; parade went over to St. Stephen, N.B. A long run was made from Rumford Falls, Me. to Houlton, Me., - 268 miles on the Bangor & Arostock Railway. Bridgeport, Conn., was a two day stand August 4-5th. At Barnesville, Ohio, August 16th a late arrival over the B & O Ry. caused the cancellation of parade and matinee. Great business at night. Huntington, W. Va., was the Labor Day date to big business, one of the biggest days of the season. At Erwin, Tenn; September 13th the largest elephant of the herd "Mary" had to be executed, being hung from a crane mounted on a flat car on the C.C.&O. Ry., and the body was buried in the railroad yards. The elephant had killed a young fellow the day before at Kingsport, Tenn; He was an attendant in the menagerie.
Crowds turned out for the circus in Georgia as show was in that state three weeks and a day. At Fitzgerald, Ga, October l8th on account of a terrific rainstorm, the night performance had to be called off. Show entered North Carolina November lst at Rowland, remaining in that State almost four weeks showing 22 stands. November 13th to 20th all railroad movements were over the Atlantic Coast Line Ry., and all short moves. Total number of towns played entire season 197. Concord, N.C. November 25th was the closing stand and show returned to quarters at Salisbury, N.C. (to be concluded in next issue)
The five elephants walked from town to town and walking on pavement and stepping on stones, sometimes their feet would get sore, so they used to put leather boots on their feet. On the morning of June 20th going from Lee, Mass., to Chester, they went through the Berkshire Hills. For several miles there was a dense woods on each side of the road. A motorist coming up behind the elephants blew his horn, which scared them and they stampeded into the woods. They rounded up four of them that afternoon and got the fifth one late next day. They got into Huntington the night of the 21st of June just after the night performance. So the show didn't have the advertised herd of elephants in Chester or Huntington. The July 4th stand was Fitchbur, Mass,, where we celebrated by having three special meals.
The show after touring New England for the Summer, returned to New York State at Rye, Aug. 26, and most of the performers spent the afternoon and evening at Rye Beach. Showed in Rye Monday Aug. 27th; Mamorneck 28; and North Phelan 29th. Then into New York City, Aug. 30 to Sept lst showing on 143rd St., off Lennon Avenue. Labor Day stand was Union Hill, N.J., The show spent 13 days in New Jersey, the last stand being Lambertville Sept 14th; Doylestown, Pa,, Sept. 15 and several stands in Penna., then into Delaware and Eastern Maryland.
The Sept. 26th stand was Newark, Dele. The show was in early and set up in time for an afternoon performance, but the stringer truck got lost. As they couldn't put seats up without stringers we had to blow the afternoon show. So came evening and still no stringers and time to open the doors to the Big Show. We opened the side show on time and packed them in. The Management announced shortly after eight that there would be no night show on account of "no seats". The crowd yelled "We will stand up so the show went on with the audience standing.
Delaware City, Dele., was the Oct. 3rd stand and when the show arrived, the circus paper was all covered. The advance crew was back on the show, as the show would close the season on Saturday. They were asked why they had let the theatre billposter cover our paper. They said the theatrical billposters claimed the show had cancelled the date. So our billposters went out and covered every theatre sheet in town and in the country with our own paper. We had a good days business even if our paper had been covered,
We were now approaching the closing stand, and the closing day with a circus is always a sad time. The show closed the season in Media, Pa., sat., Oct. 6th with a farewell chicken dinner in the dining tent. While we were eating, Alf. T. Ringling told us, that if the war was over that Winter the show would go out in the Spring, and we could all come back, but if the war did not end, the show would not go out. So the show didn't go out!
In November 1936 I was informed that the Estate and Winter Quarters at Oakridge, N.J., was evidently in other hands, The Lake Development Co., had a sign and office at the main gatehouse and on the mansion was a modern sign "Circus Inn" - open year round. Some bungalows had been erected on the shores of the Lake.
Alf, T. Ringling, Richard T. Ringling, Sam McCracken and a good number of others that were on the show that season have gone to their reward, and each year I hear or read of another passing on.
No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or means
Last modified November 2005.
without written permission of the author and the Circus Historical Society, Inc.
Last modified November 2005.