Project Description

Dancing Girls Bandwagon

(1916 – Bandwagon, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Jan-Feb), 1961, pp. 9-11 – J.J. Ruff collection)

Probably the most famous of all of the parade wagons of the Sparks Circus is shown in the first photo. This wagon is called the “Dancing Girls” Bandwagon, a name given it by historians for identification purposes so named of course because of the carvings on the wagon. It hasn’t been established who built the wagon, but I have long guessed it was the Bode Wagon Works of Cincinnati. Mind you, this is only a guess, and the reason for such a guess is that some of the carvings had a look similar to carvings found on other wagons Bode is known to have constructed. It is now fairly well known that the wagon was built new for the show for the 1916 season. Several witnesses on the show in 1916 affirm it to have been new for that year. In 1916 the Sparks train was enlarged to 15 cars, adding some three cars to the train carried in 1915. In 1916 the show’s title was “John H. Sparks World Famous Shows,” and in some of the billing paper, the name of “John H.” was omitted. The show was owned by Charles Sparks, with his stepbrother Clifton Sparks associated with him in the management. (1)

(1927 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 38 – photo # 25A – May 1927 Jackson Heights, L.I., NY No. 25 Dancing Girls Bandwagon – S.H. Barlow III photo)

This beautiful bandwagon was put into service as the lead or No. 1 bandwagon in the street parade, a daily feature of the Sparks Circus as long as Charles Sparks owned the show. In the fall of 1928 Sparks sold the circus to H. B. Gentry, who while unknown to Sparks, was acting as an agent for the American Circus Corporation, which was owned by Jerry Mugivan, Bert Bowers, and Edward Ballard. For some time Sparks had refused to sell his show to this trio and always vowed he would never do so. The late E. W. Adams, who was in Macon at the time, told me once, that when Sparks found out that it was the American Circus Corporation that now held title to his show, that he cried like a baby when he learned the truth and threatened old H. B. Gentry with the words, “I ought to bash your head in with my cane you old so and so.” When sold in 1928 the Sparks show was traveling on 20 cars.

(1929 – Conover Set # 843 – photo # 641)

Although the American Circus Corporation units, Sells-Floto, Hagenbeck-Wallace, and John Robinson, had quit parading following the 1925 season, it was felt that the Sparks parade was such an institution in the South East, and Eastern Canadian provinces that it would be wise to retain it for 1929. H. B. Gentry was named manager for the show in 1929, and it went out the same size as in 1928 retaining many of the acts and with the parade a daily feature. The Dancing Girls bandwagon throughout the years had been painted a variety of colors, and in 1929 Gentry had it painted white along with most of the other parade equipment. The painting of parade equipment white was always a strong tendency with Gentry, and it may be remembered that when he managed the Sells-Floto from 1917 through 1920, he had most of the parade vehicles painted white.

In the fall of 1929, John Ringling purchased the American Circus Corporation’s five circuses, Sells-Floto, Hagenbeck-Wallace, Al G. Barnes, John Robinson, and Sparks. Under the new Ringling named manager, Ira Watts, the Sparks parade was dropped in 1930, however, with the exception of the steam calliope all of the tableau wagons remained on the show as baggage equipment. For years the Dancing Girls wagon had carried trunks. The show did not return to Macon winter quarters following the 1930 season but went into quarters with Ringling-Barnum in Sarasota. For 1931 the show was cut to 15 cars and following the season the title was shelved and did not go out in 1932. The Dancing Girls bandwagon and some of the other tableau wagons were stored in Sarasota following the 1930 season when the cut in the train occurred. Sometime later, the Dancing Girls wagon, the Dolphin wagon, a Sparks cage, the old Ringling Bros. United States Bandwagon, and a couple of chariots were put on display at Sarasota quarters as shown in photo No. 4. It seems odd indeed that the wagon was shown such sentiment not usually found in the Ringling management of that time. It is regretted that this sentiment didn’t last long, as in the late 30’s, all of the Sparks equipment baggage and tableau wagons, calliopes – nothing was spared, was burned at Sarasota quarters. This happened about the time many other wagons were being destroyed in Peru. To this day nothing remains of the beautiful street parade wagons that Sparks had in the late 20’s that were used in the fine parades given for several years after most circuses had discontinued this beloved custom.

(1) Excerpts from the Circus Wagon History File, Bandwagon, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Jan-Feb), 1961, pp. 9-11.

by Joseph Bradbury