Glimpse of the Past, October 29, 2015

Circus Time in Hillsboro… October 1917

The Hillsboro Reporter, Thursday, October 29, 2015

This year Hillsboro's Main Street Manager and Board, with support from the City of Hillsboro, Hills­boro Chamber, and numerous volunteers, hosted a highly successful "Cotton Pickin' Fair" in downtown Hillsboro, attracting an estimated 10,000 participants. The "Cotton Pickin' Fair" is successor to a long line of carnival shows and traveling circus troupes that have visited Hillsboro for over 100 years in the fall of the year, at the prime of cotton picking season. In early 20th century, the Hill County Fair was staged in the fall season and hosted on the old fairgrounds north of the city off the old Dallas Highway and today's location of L.B. Foster Company. After the Fair closed during the Depression, circus and carnivals pitched tents on the property south of West Walnut and Bois d' Arc Street, today's location of Tucker Lumber and related buildings.

In the heyday of Hill County's cotton culture, cotton picking was in full swing by October and fair and circus time were a welcome break and reward for the long hours spent dragging heavy cotton sacks through the fields of white. On October 12, 1917, young and old alike thrilled to watch over 700 horses, herds of ele­phants, dens of wild animals, camels, herds of giraffes, zebra, and ostriches disembark from the 89 rail cars. As the 5 trains unloaded from the Katy tracks, the population of Hillsboro grew by 1,370 as circus workers, barkers, and handlers arrived. A pa­rade through downtown Hillsboro and around the courthouse was a high­light of the event, as animal handlers moved the menagerie toward the cir­cus grounds. 

Ringling brothers Circus was the creation of five Ringling Brothers born to German immigrants. Their first show was in 1870, and by 1889 the circus traveled by rail cars. P.T. Barnum, a showman extraordinaire who operated a museum of oddities, including the midget General Tom Thumb, moved into the circus world and in 1872 styled his traveling circus "The Great­est Show on Earth." In 1882 Barnum bought an African elephant from the London Zoo, and quickly. Arriericans developed a love affair with "Jumbo." In 1907 Ringling Brothers purchased Barnum & Bailey Circus for $400,000 and operated dual circus units until 1919 when Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey officially merged.

John Ringling North became president and director of the circus after the death of his uncle, John Ringling, last of the brothers who died in 1926. In the second half of the 20th century under North's leadership, the circus switched from a show under the Big Top to air conditioned venues, spelling the end of Ringling Brothers to small-town Amer­ica. This year the 2015 edition of "The Greatest Show on Earth" was staged in August in Dallas at American Airlines Center. 

Caption: Ringling Brothers Circus provided Hillsboro with a parade of elephants and exotic animals on a visit on October 12, 1917. Circus handlers would march the elephants from the Katy tracks to the Fairgrounds, and the parade was a popular event to advertise the circus. Admission to the circus in 1917 was 50 cents, and children under 12 were admitted for half price. Gates to the circus opened at 1 and 7 pm and shows were at 2 and 8 pm. This photo is from a 1913 Ringling Brothers visit to Hillsboro. 

Circus Time in Hillsboro