The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa


September 9, 2013

The Big Tree, The Circus, and Ringwood Park


South of the Big Tree was an area of farms and community recreation. From time to time, Ringwood Park contained many different forms of entertainment. Circuses and Wild West shows were held there. And the first ballpark was at its center, just west of the “new” Hawthorne School, (built in 1898). Thereafter, houses began to spring up in the vicinity, and this started the demise of that popular open area.

Many a young boy sneaked under the canvas of the large tents to see the fabulous circuses which came to town. From the time that John Ricketts brought the first circus to America in 1793, (and became a friend of George Washington), circuses have been very popular for exhibiting equestrian skills, acrobatics, tightrope-walking, bareback-riding, jugglers and, of course, the clowns - who originally sang and yelled out jokes. Later, they became mute and pantomimed or acted out their outrageous humor. Emmett Kelly and Clinton’s own Felix Adler were two of the most famous clowns.

One terrific show that had animals was the Hagenbeck Circus. It provided big news in the June 19, 1905 Clinton Daily Herald, which minutely describes all the festivities … including that John Dudak, a Greco-Roman style wrestler who would wrestle “Mufee,” a gigantic Polar Bear!

Most of early circuses appeared at Ringwood. Churches didn’t care for them, but the likes of P.T. Barnum and Ringling Brothers added menageries of wild animals, as an “education” ploy, and often linked them to biblical connections, such as a hippopotamus billed as “The Behemoth of the Holy Writ, Spoken of in the Book of Job.” They came to town and held huge parades …. which attracted paying customers. Their wagons were especially ornate and costly. Noted chiropractor, Dr. B.J. Palmer, once purchased the “Two Hemisphere Band Chariot,” which was constructed in 1896. But, by the 1950’s, circuses (which had numbered 100 earlier) were discontinued as a 100-year traveling show and returned to their roots of staying stationary in large cities and then on television.

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