Project Description

Santa Claus Float

(1) By far the easiest to trace is the story of the seven that were built for Barnum & London in the middle 1880’s. These seven, together with the older Howes Dragon, made a total of eight for that show. The first two of the seven, Santa Claus and The Old Woman in the Shoe, were made in 1883 as evidenced by the special lithographs that were made up for each of them. Between 1886 and 1888, the set was completed with the addition of Mother Goose, Bluebeard, Sinbad the Sailor, Cinderella, and Red Riding Hood. The special two-sheet lithograph, circa 1889 (photo no. 5) indicated that there were two others – Sleeping Beauty and Robinson Crusoe. However, none of the considerable news coverage about this set that would be contemporary with the lithograph, including a special route book issued for the 1889 winter season in London, ever mentions other than the eight. This, together with the entire absence of photographs of the Beauty and Crusoe, has led me to conclude that these two were never built.

The eight stayed with the show until the second European trip of 1898-1902 when three were left behind. This fact con be ascertained from the inventory of equipment compiled on the occasion of the sale of the show by Mr. Bailey to Barnum & Bailey, Ltd. (ref: my 1957 pamphlet, THE AFFAIRS OF JAMES A. BAILEY, pages 5 and 16). This inventory listed five pony floats as a group, and it was necessary to examine the European parade pictures to determine that these were Cinderella, Mother Goose, Bluebeard, Red Riding Hood, and the Howes Dragon. The Santa Claus float remained in the Bridgeport, CT. winter quarters.

(1903 – Conover Set # 703 – photo # BB21)

This photograph is believed to be a part of the large set of correlative pictures taken in Bridgeport about 1903, soon after the show returned from its five-year European tour.  In 1912, photographs of the Ringling Parade show the Shoe and Cinderella; and it is probable that these two and perhaps Mother Goose and Santa Claus were with this show off and on through 1918. In any event, these four had to end up with the show property stored in Bridgeport rather than with that left in Baraboo after Ringling-Barnum discontinued the parade.

There they remained until 1927 when they were purchased by Fred Buchanan, together with several other wagons, including the Twin Hemisphere Bandwagon, the Barnum & Bailey calliope with the big horn and clown carvings, the Barnum & Bailey hippo den, for his Robbins Brothers Circus, The winter quarters for this show was in Granger, Iowa. After the purchase, the Robbins Show was on 30 cars through mid-season 1930. About this time, the depression was beginning to make itself felt, and ten cars were cut off and returned to Granger; and it is probable that the four floats were included. The show, being mortgaged to William P. Hall, was brought onto the Hall Farm of Lancaster, Missouri, at the end of the season. In 1931, it limped the season on 15 cars and returned to Lancaster. This left the four floats in Granger until a Christmas parade unit was formed sometime between 1930 and 1932, the tour of this unit terminating in Lancaster. However, Santa Claus was not with this promotion and was left in Granger where it rotted away.

(1936 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 59 – photo # 25B – Buchanan WQ in Granger, Iowa, Nov. 1936 – Manny Gunn collection)

(1) Excerpts from “Those Diminutive Tableaus, the Allegorical Pony-Drawn Parade Floats” -Bandwagon: Vol. 4, No. 5 (Sep-Oct), 1960, pp. 3-9

By Richard Conover