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Hood's Winks – Circuses influence history (July 29, 2015 issue)

Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey merged in 1907, becoming Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey (RB&BB) and is still “The Greatest Show on Earth!”
The circuses of America have influenced our history far more than we realize. Remember that picture of George Washington on the beautiful white horse? It was a trained horse, borrowed from the Bill Rickets Circus.
Jules Leotard was the original “Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze.” One daring thing about his act was his skintight pants, which caused such a stir that we call them “leotards” to this day. When you buy a jumbo box of soap or cereal, you pay tribute to Jumbo the elephant and to the man who brought him to America, P.T. Barnum. Jumbo was an African elephant, but Barnum bought him from a zoo in London. The people of England got right irritated about the “Yankee Showman” taking their elephant away, and they raised quite a stink. At one point our ambassador to England wired home that the “issue of Jumbo the elephant” was the most important problem between England and the U.S.A.
Have you ever heard a modern bsinessperson say “I’ve got the nut covered,” meaning that the expenses are all covered? The expression originated back when circus wagons were handmade, and the wooden nut that held each wheel on each axle was handmade, and one of a kind. When the circus arrived in town, the sheriff removed one nut from each wagon, thus immobilizing the circus. He returned the nuts only after the circus paid all its local bills.
Perhaps the most influential early circus was the Dan Rice Circus. You’ve read about it yourself. It’s the one that Huckleberry Finn saw. The original Ringling brothers saw it as children and were inspired to put on their first backyard show, which included a goat that wouldn’t cooperate.
Thomas Nast, a leading political cartoonist of the day, also saw the Dan Rice Circus and was impressed with the show’s great clown, Dan Rice himself. Nast drew a cartoon of Rice in his clown costume of stars, stripes, and high hat. He titled the cartoon “Uncle Sam,” and our government, led by Uncle Sam, has been clowning around ever since.
President Woodrow Wilson announced his candidacy for a second term by tossing his hat into the center ring of RB&BB, and nobody has made a more dramatic political announcement since.
Barnum and Bailey toured Europe in the 1890s with a show of 1,500 people. Every day they fed those people, put on one parade and two shows, loaded it all on the train, and moved to the next town. Kaiser Wilhelm was impressed and sent German officers to travel with the circus train. The Germans, you might recall, fielded a highly mobilized army in the First World War and after that the U.S. Army sent officers to ride with the RB&BB.
You can watch them load the circus train today using the same methods. Hint— it’s more fun if you borrow someone’s child to take with you.