Barnum & London’s Mother Goose Float
The Mother Goose Float was built in the 1886 to 1888 period for the Barnum & London Circus along with Bluebeard, Sinbad the Sailor, Cinderella, and Red Riding Hood. While the name of the show changed to Barnum & Bailey, the float remained there. The Mother Goose Float was taken on the 1898 to 1902 European tour and was photographed in 1903 in the Bridgeport winter quarters as seen below.
( 1903 – Conover Set # 703 – photo # BB19 )
Richard Conover’s excellent coverage of the Allegorical Floats (1) alludes to the possible use of this float on the Adam Forepaugh and Sells Bros. Circus in 1910-1911 and the probable use on and off on the Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest shows through the 1918 season. With the combination of the Barnum & Bailey show with the Ringling Bros. in 1919 and their discontinuation of the daily street parade after the 1920 season, this float remained in storage at the Bridgeport, CT. winter quarters.
Fred Buchanan bought this float along with several other wagons, floats and equipment for his Robbins Bros. Circus in 1927. After his show folded in 1931, the show was taken to the Wm. P. Hall circus farm in Lancaster, MO. This photo taken in 1932 shows the float still retaining a set of 16 spoke wheels but these are not the same size as those from 1903.
( 1932 – Conover Set # 855, photo # 120 )
Wm. P. Hall then sold this float along with a lot of the Robbins Bros. Circus remnants to Zach Terrell and Jess Adkins who were building their all new Cole Bros. Circus in 1935.
( 1936 – Conover Set # 94 – photo # 12 – Wm. Koford photo )
Over the course of years on the Cole Bros. Circus, the Mother Goose Float would undergo several different changes. Being relatively road worthy upon acquisition in 1935, the float sparkled with sunburst wheels and a fine looking presence. It would remain on the Cole Bros. Circus through 1948.
( 1939 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 37 – photo # 6C – June 2, 1939 in Ithaca, NY )
By 1939, the colorful sunburst wheels had been changed to a simple spoked wheel. the decorative mudboard was now gone as well.
( 1941 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 50 – photo # 25C – August 23, 1941 in Chattanooga, TN – Pfening Archives )
The wheels were again changed by 1941. While the rear wheel had been larger in 1939, it appeared that all four wheels were the same size. This was quite different from the 1903 version.
( 1946 – Used with permission from Illinois State University’s Special Collections, Milner Library. )
Now seen with a solid rimmed tire on all four wheels, the float was also painted into a multi-color scheme. The wagon was left in storage in the Rochester winter quarters in 1949 and 1950. In 1951, this float along with lots of equipment that had been left in storage was loaded up and brought to the Peru facility. Once the Cole Bros. Circus was out of business in 1950, it remained in storage, along with the remainder of the show in a hanger at the Air Force base almost across the street from the Arthur Wirtz farm which was formerly owned by Terrell Jacobs. In 1952, Fred Hainer and the Cleaver Brooks Co., a Milwaukee Steam boiler maker bought the America Calliope, Chappie Fox got this float and Roland Wilde bought the Old Woman in the Shoe Pony Float.
( Circa early 1961 as a Circus World Museum postcard )
Chappie Fox was brought into the situation when Fred Hainer was looking for advice from someone with knowledge of calliopes. Somehow during the dealing, Chappie purchased Mother Goose. Chappie Fox gave the Circus World Museum this fine little float in the summer of 1954. (2) The Museum wasn’t even an open entity at the time, just a great ambition. The Circus World Museum had a postcard made of it in it’s colorful days.
( 1961 – Joseph Bradbury Album # 58 – photo # 34C – Mother Goose float at Circus World Museum in Oct. 1961 )
By the fall of 1961, this float had been gone over again. The solid rimmed wheels were replaced with a spoked large and small wheel configuration. The decorative mudboard had been replaced again. The float was looking much like it’s self as seen in 1903 once again.
( Circus World Museum Postcard )
A huge change came to the Mother Goose Float around 2008 when the body was lengthened to a more original configuration and the carvings were finally covered with actual gold leaf.
( 2011 – taken at the Cincinnati Art Museum Circus Posters display – Bob Cline photo )
The Mother Goose float is now 12′ long, 6’9″ wide and 9’1″ tall.
The wagon can be seen in person at Circus World in Baraboo, Wisconsin
(1) Excerpts from “Those Diminutive Tableaus, the Allegorical Pony-Drawn Parade Floats” – Bandwagon: Vol. 4, No. 5 (Sep-Oct), 1960, pp. 3-9
(2) “Horse Drawn Wagon Collection” by Chappie Fox on page 97.
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