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The Greatest Show On Earth


  • The Greatest Show On Earth

    Click image for larger version  Name:	20231015_105109.jpg Views:	0 Size:	143.3 KB ID:	2289144 Last weekend, my wife told me we were taking a Sunday drive up to Wisconsin. Normally, I need no convincing to take a road trip and "head north", especially if it's Green Bay.

    But no, we weren't going to the Frozen Tundra or the Packers Pro Shop. We were going to Milwaukee to see the circus at the Fiserv Arena, home to the Milwaukee Bucks.

    I've always had a thing for the circus.

    My grandfather was a Shriner, and when we were kids, it was a bit of a family tradition to see the Shrine Circus at Medinah Temple in Chicago.

    Click image for larger version  Name:	20231015_115417.jpg Views:	2 Size:	133.3 KB ID:	2289158 My wife had never been to a real circus, so this trip was as much for the fun as it was for her to finally experience something she'd missed out on as a kid. Being able to share that with our grandkids made it that much more valuable.

    The Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin is just a couple hours away, and we've visited a few times when up in that part of the state. Baraboo was the original headquarters and winter home for Ringling Brothers between 1884 and 1918, and the museum sits on their former complex. It's since turned into a world class museum with over 250 circus wagons -- likely the largest collection around. Ten of the original 25 buildings are still standing, including animal stables, workshops and storage buildings that are actively used by the museum as exhibits.

    And yes, they also have a few circus specific railroad artifacts, including a handful of cars out on display, and several others stored in the former Ringling railroad shops off the main property and connected to the present day Wisconsin & Southern.

    For many years, the CWM provided some of wagons to participate in "The Great Circus Parade" held in Milwaukee, Chicago, and other locations. This started in 1963 and continued as recently as 2009. For a number of those years, they partnered with the Chicago North Western to operate the train thru Madison and down the CNW Harvard Subdivision, and then up the CNW New Line to Milwaukee.

    For several of those runs, I was one of those watching as it rolled thru the Northwest Suburbs...​​

    Feld Entertainment (the owners of Ringling since 1967) had been under pressure for years to stop using elephants in their shows, and made the decision in 2015 to give into the activists, and the elephants were retired in 2016.

    Whether it was related to that action or not, ticket sales for the circus plummeted, and Feld closed the show in 2017, and put the railroad cars up for auction.

    In retrospect, it was probably wise to wind down the show in an orderly fashion when they did, as there's no doubt they would have closed permanently as a result of the Covid lockdowns.

    Click image for larger version  Name:	20231015_123207.jpg Views:	2 Size:	133.0 KB ID:	2289160 ​I vaguely remember reading a while back that they'd considering bringing back the circus, but didn't realize they'd actually done it.

    While I went into this performance as a bit of a skeptic, I do have to admit I enjoyed the show.

    Like everything old that's suddenly new again, the current edition of Ringling is "reimagined" -- that's a polite way to say they'd dispensed with decades old traditions.

    There was no "Ringmaster" or master of ceremonies.... instead, there was a group of four core characters who essentially shared the role as a Committee of Ceremonies. There were also no clowns in make-up or silly costumes... instead, there was a troupe of three jugglers in slightly garish outfits that also did some slapstick between other acts.

    Most importantly, there were no animals. None. The closest they came was a dancing robot that looked like a mechanical dog...

    In spite of all that, there was no shortage of performance acts to keep our attention. There were acrobats, tumblers, trapeze, dancers, drummers, aerial and tightrope artists -- more than enough to put together two 60 minute acts in a three ring environment with video boards and lighting. The music was more modern as well, similar to what you'd expect from a Vegas quality production show.

    It's definitely less dramatic/ethereal than what Cirque du Soleil is known for, and probably a lot more age appropriate for kids. Audience reaction shots were included on the video screens, and there was some audience participation that the kids got into.

    My wife enjoyed it as well, so I'd say the formula they're aiming for works for adults who missed out on the circus when they were younger.

    Click image for larger versionName:	20231015_113416.jpgViews:	0Size:	131.3 KBID:	2289161 Since we're a rail site.... it's time to discuss the elephant in the room.

    Or, more appropriately, the lack of elephants....

    Without the special handling and accomodation required for animals large and small, they don't need to travel by train anymore. Perhaps that might change if a couple hundred Superliners become available, but for now, it's a truck based show like the other Feld arena shows (e.g. Disney on Ice and Monster Jam), and like the truck based Gold Unit which served smaller markets

    To that point, as we walked out of the venue, there were already 20 trailers staged in a lot next to the arena. I'm guessing the performers and equipment handlers now travel by bus, and stay in hotels for the 1-3 days they're in each performance location.

    Certainly, by no longer having the availability of railroad tracks and a place to store 60 cars nearby will open up many more venues and cities, and allow for more performances with less time spent traveling.

    What I do know is Railfan Granddaughter and my wife both had a blast.

    Maybe the tradition my grandfather started will be the next thing reimagined?

    We're only a few weeks into their comeback, but it certainly was a good time, and we'd do it again.

    Click image for larger version  Name:	20231015_110736.jpg Views:	3 Size:	165.3 KB ID:	2289156

    Last edited by eric; 10-19-2023, 05:18 PM.

    • jbtower
      jbtower commented
      Editing a comment
      It's exciting to read that they have made a comeback, something I can take our second round of granddaughters too! Thanks for sharing

    • eric
      eric commented
      Editing a comment
      jbtower They're coming to the Rosemont Horizon aka Allstate Nov 3-5

    • landnrailroader
      landnrailroader commented
      Editing a comment
      My father was a Shriner and I don't think I missed a single visit of the company that did the show a single time as a young feller. Now at 84, I've been a Shriner for 62 years myself but here in Jacksonville, the group has dwindled to almost zero.
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