The Sparks circus was founded by John H. Wiseman and a man that used the name Charles Sparks. They toured using the name by 1887, though it wasn’t quite a circus until later. They originally were based in East Brady, Pennsylvania. Wiseman and Sparks were married to sisters named Mitchell from East Brady, PA. Perhaps another family member later married someone from Stokes County?
About 1900 Wiseman acquired property near Vade Mecum Springs, Stokes County, NC that he used as a personal retreat, with the likely intention to build it into a complete resort. He died from the effects of an animal bite in 1903 and the property was sold off in 1908. A gentleman named Steve Shelton has been doing important primary research work on the Wiseman presence in Vade Mecum. A 1990 tertiary summary by others can be read here: https://mbasic.facebook.com/notes/stokes-county-historical-society/history-of-vade-mecum-springs/129082183829825/ I don’t know of any specific connection to New London, NC.
Sparks and Wiseman’s descendants carried on the circus after Wiseman’s 1903 passing. It was wintered in Salisbury, NC in the winters of 1910 to 1915, and again in 1918.
Mary was an Asiatic female elephant with the Sparks circus that was put to death in 1916 after she killed someone. Inflammatory stories based on inaccurate information, supplemented by a faked image of her hanging, are periodically revived online and in print. They have obscured the truth surrounding the episode, as well as impugning the good character of Charles Sparks. He is generally regarded as a showman’s showman, one of the most highly regarded circus proprietors of his time.
The 1946-1947 Sparks Circus was owned by James Edgar. He was unrelated to the Wiseman and Sparks families, leasing the name from the Ringling interests. That show was organized in Arcadia, Florida and wintered in Venice in 1946-1947. A now dated, introductory article about the Sparks name and title, as well as coverage of the 1946 tour can be read here: https://circushistory.wpengine.com/Bandwagon/bw-1964Nov.htm The 1947 season has also been the subject of an article and so has the Venice operation. You can read 1946-1947 coverage of the Sparks show in Billboard magazine, accessible with key word searching on Google Books Advanced Search.
There are numerous articles about the various Sparks operations and tours in Bandwagon magazine. You can locate these in the article index on this website. There is also coverage in White Tops, journal of the Circus Fans Association. These articles, which include a pictorial feature on the families, can also be found in an index on this website. Back issues are often available for purchase, or copies can be ordered from institutions with holdings of the journals.
Fred Dahlinger Jr., Curator of Circus History, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL
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