Visit the Circus Historical Society website at

John Robinson’s Hippopotamus Den

John Robinson / Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus Hippopotamus Den

This wagon was one of the last few wagons ever built in the Peru winter quarters of the American Circus Corporation. (1) This wagon was built in the winter of 1928/1929 for the John Robinson Circus along with four other cages that had the arched openings. All were identified by the scalloped Skyboard at the time. ( The scalloped skyboard would then be found on a couple other cages later on that were not built at this time ) This Hippopotamus den was on the John Robinson Circus in 1929. In September of 1929, John Ringling bought the American Circus Corporation which included the John Robinson Circus. The John Robinson Circus went out again in 1930 with this cage on it.The cage was numbered # 30

John Robinson Circus Hippopotamus Den

( 1929 – Conover set # 136, photo # 2 – Wm. Koford Photo )

Following the closure of the 1930 season, a decision was made to fold this show for good. Now with a boatload of surplus equipment sitting around the winter quarters, the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus picked out the best of the wagons to replace many on their aging show. This cage went over to the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus starting in 1931. in 1933, the wagon bore # 80 but that was changed to # 14 by the 1934 season. It remained there through the 1935 season which was then titled the Hagenbeck-Wallace and Forepaugh-Sells Bros. Circus. Due to the coming recession, the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus did not go out in 1936. In 1937, the show was leased to Howard Bary. This cage was again used for the 1937 season. Although the show was leased again in 1938, some changes were made in the equipment and this cage did not go out for the 1938 season. Sitting idle in the Peru winter quarters, it remained their until February of 1940.

John Robinson Circus Hippopotamus Den

( 1941 – Conover Set # 502, photo # 1144 )

The Cole Bros. Circus had their winter quarters in Rochester, Indiana. They had a horrible winter quarters fire on February 20, 1940 that consumed several of their wagons and cages, animals and equipment. The Cole Bros. Circus bought this hippo den and a small two arched cage from the Peru winter quarters. This cage would then be found on the Cole Bros. Circus through 1950 where it was numbered # 19. Whether it was ever used in the 1951 dates is unclear.

John Robinson Circus Hippopotamus Den

( 1952 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 14, photo # 79D – Kelly Morris 1952 Jasper, Ga – Hippo Den – Joseph Bradbury photo )

(2) In the spring of 1952 the cage and hippo were sold to the Kelly-Morris Circus. They converted the cage to a truck mounted unit and carried this for their 1952 and 1953 seasons. In 1954, they sold this unit to Bob Snowden who then took it out on the Royal American Shows. Bob Snowden the sold the cage and the Hippopotamus to the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus. The cage becomes lost at this point in time as the Hippopotamus became a stellar midway attraction in a walk through semi trailer display.

(1) Excerpts from the Corporation Cages by Stuart Thayer, bandwagon, Nov. / Dec. 1971, page 24

(2) Excerpts from Cole Bros. Circus season 1951 by Joseph Bradbury, Bandwagon, Nov./ Dec. 1981, page 12

If you have any questions or have more photographic evidence, feel free to contact us at