Project Description

Forepaugh’s Three Tier Telescoping Tableau

The wagon pictured in the following photos is one of the famous old parade wagons associated with many of the better known circuses of the past. During its long history it was remodeled on several occasions, however, its basic appearance remained the same. The origin of the wagon is somewhat obscure. Richard E. Conover has accumulated the most data on its early history that is available and I would strongly recommend his publication, The Telescoping Tableaus, and his article “The European Influence on the American Circus Parade” in the July-August issue of Bandwagon this year for the early history of this wagon. Conover refers to an March 8, 1879 issue of the N. Y. Clipper which mentions Adam Forepaugh importing two more British parade wagons. Conover has well documented earlier wagons Forepaugh imported and he is of the opinion that the wagon covered in this article could very well have been one of the two wagons mentioned in the Clipper story. I fully agree with his theory because certainly the wagon construction, wheels, gears, etc., are similar to other wagons known to have come from England. In its original form this wagon was a three tiered vehicle with four oval mirrors in the lower deck. (See Photo No. 1). In the above mentioned Conover article in the last issue of Bandwagon, Photo No. 9 shows the wagon in the Adam Forepaugh parade of 1888.

(1880s – Photo No. 1 in the Bandwagon 1961, Sept. page 9 – William Woodcock collection)

The three decker wagon was on the Forepaugh show until it was sold, along with another tableau wagon commonly called the Lion and Mirror, to Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Shows in the fall of 1890. It was then rebuilt by Moeller Bros. of Baraboo. The top deck was removed and heavier wheels with outside type sunbursts were added, however it is possible the wheels could have been added earlier. The wagon then served on Ringling Bros. through the 90’s and until about 1902. Photo No. 2 from the Trimpey Collection shows the wagon on the Ringling show in 1900.

(1900- photo #4 – Ringling Bros. – Enlarged area of a Trimpy negative)

The wagon next appears on Gollmar Bros. Greatest of American Shows and it is believed the wagon went to that show at the time of, or shortly thereafter, Gollmar went on rails for the 1903 season. It was now rebuilt again, presumably either by Moeller or by Gollmar’s own forces. Gollmar did rebuild some of the equipment themselves that they obtained from their cousins, the Ringlings, to convert their show to railroad operation. Anyway the mirrors on the lower deck were somewhat rearranged with one mirror being eliminated so that now the wagon had only 3 mirrors instead of 4 on the lower deck. (See Photo No. 3). Inside type sunburst wheels also appeared on the rebuilt wagon. The wagon then remained on the Gollmar show through the 1916 season where it was used as the No. 2 Bandwagon in parade, and then was sold along with the rest of the show to James Patterson, well known operator of carnivals of that day.

(1912 – Conover Set # 296, photo # 81 – Kenneth Whipple Collection)

In 1917 Patterson put out the James Patterson and Gollmar Bros. Combined Circus using the Gollmar equipment. The two decker wagon was used by Patterson as the sideshow bandwagon as per Photo No. 4. The show was on the road only one season. Just what use if any Patterson made of the wagon in 1918 is not known. Some Gollmar equipment was used on the Great Patterson Shows, his well known carnival of that day, but it is doubtful this particular wagon was put on the show.

(1917 – JTB # 19, photo # 29B – Patterson-Gollmar Bros. Circus)

In 1919 James Patterson sold the wagon, along with a three diamond mirror tableau (See Photo 2, Page 13, Circus Wagon History File, Nov.-Dec., 1959, issue of Bandwagon) a seal den, and the hippo, Lotus, and her den, to Al G. Barnes, who put it on the circus bearing his name.

Just how long this particular wagon lasted on the Barnes show is not known to this reporter. In the early 20’s Barnes was constantly adding and discarding parade equipment. Barnes continued his street parade until mid-season 1924 and conceivably the wagon could have lasted on the show that long. Not too many photos are available that picture this wagon on the Barnes show and it was not until last year that I saw one. Chet Slusser of Porterfield, Calif., well known circus model builder and photo collector who has a knack of digging around old photo shops, etc., and coming up with rarities, provided me with a print showing this wagon on the Barnes show in the early 20’s. It was No. 76 and is shown carrying the clown band in parade.

(1920 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 36, photo # 26D – Al G. Barnes clown band – Chet Slusser photo)

Information on the wagon is now clouded until it definitely appears in 1927 on the short lived Cook & Cole’s 3 Ring Circus. This was a 15 car railroad show, traveling on 1 advance, 4 stocks, 6 flats, and 4 sleepers, that was owned by Arthur Hoffman and Leo E. Crook. The show was framed at Omaha, Neb., opened May 21 at Manning, Iowa, and closed June 1 at Fairmont, Minn. The bulk of the equipment used to launch the show came from the ten car, F. J. Taylor Circus of 1925. Other property was leased from Fred Buchanan, Col. W. P. Hall, and the Venice Transportation Co., and Billboard stories of the time say that the owners had also acquired property from other sources. Just how the ex Barnes two decker tableau, plus a Barnes ticket wagon got to the show is not definitely known, however the best guess is that it came either from the Beggs Wagon Co. or the Horne’s Zoological Garden Co., both of Kansas City and dealers in circus equipment of that day. It is not believed this particular wagon was on the F. J. Taylor Circus of 1925 but I am unable to prove definitely whether it was or was not there. A lot of old property was renovated to get the Cook & Cole show to rolling and in the show’s obituary, Leo Crook states that he dropped 30 G’s of his own money, the bulk of which was used to renovate the Taylor equipment in Omaha causing the show to start out with no bankroll.

(1927 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 41, photo # 26A – Cook and Cole wagons at Fairmont, MN.)

Photo No. 5 is an interesting one and the only photo I know of in existence anyplace of the Cook & Cole Circus. This photo from the Hertzberg Circus Collection of the San Antonio Public Library was evidently taken sometime after the show closed and it is my opinion was taken of wagons parked at Fairmont. The ten cars of Taylor property went back to Omaha and for years was advertised for sale in the Billboard by the Taylor family. Just recently the Circus World Museum of Baraboo picked up an old Taylor bandwagon which proved the old, old rumor of many years that Taylor wagons were in the Omaha area. An equally old rumor has had it for years that old Cook & Cole wagons were stored in Fairmont, Minn., but to date none have turned up. I think it is safe to assume that those at Fairmont have rotted away including the old tableau wagon that had turned so many parade miles on the Forepaugh, Ringling, Gollmar, Patterson-Gollmar, Al G. Barnes, and Cook & Cole Shows.

My thanks go to Dick Conover and Col. W. H. Woodcock for their help in preparing this article, however, let me point out that some of my conclusions do not necessarily reflect their own opinions, however, I think on most points we are in complete agreement.

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

By Joseph Bradbury