Project Description

Sparks Sea Serpent Tableau

(1) The Sea Serpent tableau originated on the John F. Sparks Shows in 1913. In 1910, Sparks traveled on nine cars, 1 advance, 2 stocks, 4 flats, and 2 sleepers. The wagon was built by H.L. Witt & Sons out of Morristown, Tennessee and was built at the same time as the Twin Statues Tableau and one other one for the Sparks Circus. It was used for parade purposes and in 1922 served as the show’s ticket wagon. The current restoration at Circus World Museum as a red body and gold carvings is to represent the way it looked in a 1917 photograph taken on the Sparks Circus.

(2009 – Bob Cline photo)

(2) The wagon was sold to Floyd and Howard King in the winter of 1924-25 and in 1925 it was used on the King Brothers’ Walter L. Main Circus. In 1926 and 1927 it was on the King’s 10 car circus titled Gentry Bros. Circus, and in 1928 was on their Walter L. Main Circus. The 1928 Main show was called Cole Bros. in 1929 and 1930. The wagon was on the Cole show when it went broke Aug. 30, 1930 at Scottsville, Ky. The entire show’s equipment was soon acquired by H. C. Ingraham and Bert Rutherford who had planned a big railroad circus to tour in 1931 to be called the Ingraham and Rutherford Circus. The equipment was moved to Peoria, Ill. to frame the show, but further litigation came up and the Venice Transportation Co. of St. Louis, Mo. ended up with the property.

(1929 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 6, photo # 7C – Billy Dick collection)

About 1938 the Sea Serpent tableau along with the other Cole 1930 property was sold to G. W. Christy and moved to his quarters in South Houston, Texas. Christy never did follow out the rumors that he was returning to the road with a railroad show. No doubt the big 1938 recession that cut the country’s five railroad circuses down to two in a single season and knocked off some of the leaders of the motorized field, had something to do with Christy’s decision not to go out. For several years he advertised the property for sale as a unit.

(1949-1950 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 26 – photo # 44C – at Chicago Railroads Fair)

It is not entirely clear as to when the wagon was repainted white but several changes occurred. The skyboard became a flat topped straight skyboard. The carvings disappeared from the Skyboard. The wagon carvings were painted silver. A carnival in Iowa purchased the Sea Serpent wagon, along with two other tableaus about 1947, but soon sold them to the Chicago Railroad Fair of 1949-50 where they were displayed. For many years there was a movement within the Circus Historical Society to purchase the wagons or at least lead them into a good permanent home, It seemed at one time that the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago would get them but that fell through. Then about 1953 they were acquired and sent to the Dover, Ohio fairgrounds to be used for display and ballyhoo purposes by the local Boy Scout council. They are looked after under the watchful eyes of good fans and CHS members, Bob and Norman Senhauser.

(1953 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 15 – photo # 52A – September 1953 at the Tuscarawus County Fairgrounds in Dover, Ohio)

In 1964, Norm and Bob Senhauser sold this wagon to the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co. who in turn donated it to the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin. It was first used in the 1965 Old Milwaukee Days parade.

(1965 – Richard Cline photo)

The wagon is 13’2″ long x 10′ feet tall x 7’11” wide. It weighs three tons and was numbered 33. In 2009, the wagon was restored back to the 1917 red and gold look while on the Sparks Circus.

(2012 – Bob Cline photo)

(1) Bandwagon,Vol. 45, No. 6, Nov-Dec. 2001, pp.4-11

(2) bandwagon,Vol. 5, No. 1 (Jan-Feb), 1961, pp. 9-11

The wagon can be seen in person at Circus World in Baraboo, Wisconsin