The Circus is Coming to Town!
"Tales of Yesterday"

By William Loveday, Jr.
Fulton County Historian


A CIRCUS PARADE at the "Four Corners," in Gloversville; date unknown.  At least 15 
elephants, maybe more, lead the way up East Fulton Street after coming down North
Main.  Despite the rainy weather, a goodly crowd was on hand for the event.  Note
the men, top right, who have climbed a telephone pole for a better view.

These were the electrifying words that signaled the arrival of many top-notch circuses in Gloversville during the early days of the 1900’s. The excitement was not limited to children, as adults shared the same anticipation for these visits. From this early photo of the Ringling Bros. And Barnum Baily Circus arriving in 1909, you can see the throngs of mostly adults at the “four corners” watching the always anticipated parade coming down North Main St. and turning onto East Fulton St.. It was a rainy day, but neither the elephants nor the large crowd seemed to mind. If you look closely, you can see just behind the elephants two of the decorative horse-drawn wild animal wagons pulled by white horses in the long parade to the circus grounds on East State St..

The circuses up until the early 1940’s always arrived by train at the FJ &G Rail Yard on West Fulton St. where the Rail Trail pavilion is today. There was always a crowd waiting to watch the off-loading and preparations for the parade through town. Rail was the preferred transportation in those days simply because trucks large enough to carry the huge tents and poles were not available or reliable for cross- country travel until the 1940’s.

The parade route usually either came directly up West Fulton St. to Main St. and then North to Eighth Ave. and Kingsboro Ave., or they headed from the Yard over to Spring St., then south on Main St., to Fulton St. and then on to Kingsboro Ave.. They went where the crowds were, and they were always followed closely by the street cleaners. Before the arrival of any circus, advance men would have tacked colorful flyers about the circus to just about every telephone or light pole in town.

I remember vividly when I was in grade school at the old Kingsboro School having the teachers tell us to drop everything, form up in lines and march out to the sidewalk to watch the circus parades pass by. Every good circus was led by a loud band to announce that they were on their way. The parade route went on to State Street, then east to the early Glove City Airport which was in the open fields about where Lexington, Rt. 30A and MCI are today. The airport was little more than a long level field with one or two hangars, but it was an interesting place to watch the “latest” in aircraft land and takeoff. When the circus was in town, the airport shut down so the circus could set up there.

The circus manager always had a ready source of manure shovelers as most teenagers were hard pressed to come up with the $.25 cent admission fee in those days, so many of us were more than willing to work a few hours for the free ticket. The amount of work available was in direct proportion to the number of horses and elephants in the circus.

The early 1900’s must have been awesome for the local spectators because their only other exposure to exotic wild animals from faraway places like Africa was through black and white pictures in newspapers and magazines. The 3-ring acts under the “big top” were fascinating because even in the early 1940’s none of us had ever seen anything like it. They put on excellent live shows that thrilled young and old alike.

In later years, the circuses were trucked in rather than using the rails and set up in the area near the old Glovers Baseball Park where Walmart’s is today. The big circus names became fewer and fewer and one of the last well-known ones to visit us was Frank Buck’s “Bring em Back Alive” Circus featuring the African animals that he was so famous for capturing.

But for many years, this area of Fulton County attracted the best circus entertainment in the world and filled the big tops to capacity. It was an era before television when this unique type of show came to us bringing with it sights and entertainment which local residents could only read about and dream of ever seeing live.


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Copyright ©2002, William Loveday, Jr.
Copyright ©2002, Peggy Stadtmiller, Jeanette Shiel
All Rights Reserved.

Last updated Tuesday, 13-May-2008 13:13:55 PDT