Circus Historical Society Convention 1996, Baraboo, WI
The event started on Monday, July 15, with registration at a luncheon buffet at the Henry Ringling residence, courtesy of his grand-daughter, Sally Clayton-Jones. The afternoon session of papers started with animal authority Richard J. Reynolds III speaking about Bucheet, the first hippo in America. The 1906 origin and subsequent development of the Shrine circus was the focus of John H. McConnell's pioneering paper and slide presentation. Circus great George Hanneford, Jr., then regaled the audience with some of his memories of shows and showmen of the past, provoking both wonder and laughter. A continuing and entertaining look at the circus heritage of Bloomington, Illinois was provided by Steve Gossard's slide presentation. The evening was filled with a visit to the Al Ringling home, now the Elk's lodge, the attached banquet hall being the site of the evening's catered meal and CHS benefit auction. Quite a few members took home bargains which raised $2,367 for the CHS treasury.
Buffalo Bill scholar Sarah Blackstone commenced the Tuesday session with her paper on Col. Cody and his wild west outside the gates of the 1893 Chicago fair. William L. Slout's engaging paper on James M. Nixon at Niblo's Garden was read in Bill's stead by Dave Price. A five member panel, comprised of Ernest Albrecht, Hovey Burgess, Tim Holst, Dominique Jando and Greg Parkinson tackled the theme of "The Circus IN Contemporary America." The commentary ranged from personal career experience to observations on what the circus of the near term future will embody. It provoked considerable audience involvement and effectively displayed the profound knowledge and expertise of panel members.
The afternoon was devoted to learning about Circus World Museum collections and programming. It started with a visit to the Circus Music exhibit, where members were treated to the standard program and the world premiere of an arrangement of tunes from the film "The Greatest Show On Earth" on the Gavioli band organ. CWM Curator Sherry Huhn revealed the history of the various winter quarters structures in Ringlingville and later provided viewers with a common sense introduction to the care and management of artifacts. A display of forty-one posters from the CWM archives spanning the period from 1832 to 1938 was co-ordinated by CWM Archivist Bill Jackson.
Following the recognition of long term members by Secretary-Treasurer Dave Price and President Fred Dahlinger's remarks on the state of the CHS, Arthur Saxon enlightened listeners with his featured presentation "New Light on the Life of James A. Bailey." The speech contained entirely new information on the personal life of Bailey, which in turn provided a new perspective on understanding his involvement in the circus business.
The final day was led by Janet Davis' paper on women, race and respectability at the American circus. It provoked considerable interest from the audience. Dan Draper continued is documentation of equestrians by unraveling the complex history of the Lowande family. The origins of the risley act were revealed by Stuart Thayer in another of his erudite presentations. Steve Gossard mounted the podium for the second time with an illuminating slide presentation depicting some of the posters in the Illinois State University collections.
Despite a light rain, members shared lunch with CWM performers at the Bengal Barbecue courtesy of CWM's Eric McConnell. A return to the auditorium gave members two entirely different perspectives on the circus. Margie Shannon's scholarly paper zeroed in on the circus' efforts to manipulate the audience was very thought provoking. Canadian circus owner and historian Al Stencell had the group laughing till it cried, listening to how he framed his circus from scratch with no scratch. The funniest CHS presentation since Bobby Gibbs addressed the ground a decade ago, it was also notable for its considerable appreciation and high regard for show people.
The program concluded with a group visit to the Popcorn and Lemonade Circus. Numerous members witnessed the return of the Great Circus Train Wednesday evening, enjoyed a special Baraboo band concert of circus music on Thursday night, and continued their visitations and research at the CWM and its noted library and research center until well into the next week.
Last modified 2005