Barnum & London’s Old Woman in the Shoe Float
The Old Woman in the Shoe Float was built in 1883 for the Barnum & London Circus along with the Santa Claus Float. While the name of the show changed to Barnum & Bailey, the float remained there. The Old Woman in the Shoe Float was not taken on the 1898 to 1902 European tour and remained in the US. It was photographed in 1903 in the Bridgeport winter quarters as seen below.
( 1903 – Conover Set # 703 – photo # BB18 )
There is an uncertain point in time after 1903, when the Barnum & Bailey show started changing the wheels on these floats. This undocumented photograph shows the Bluebeard Float with the original 16 spoke wheels but the Woman in the Shoe and the Red Riding Hood Flats have both had 12 spoke wheels with sunburst displays applied.
( Undocumented photo on the Barnum & Bailey Circus – Conover Photographic collection. )
Richard Conover’s excellent coverage of the Allegorical Floats (1) verifies the use of this float on the Adam Forepaugh and Sells Bros. Circus in 1910-1911. Another photograph confirms this float was used in the 1912 Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Shows parade. It is entirely probable that the float was used 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. Hall then sold this float along with a lot of the Robbins bros. Circus remnants to Zach Terrell and Jess Adkins who were building there all new Cole Bros. Circus.
( 1936 – Conover Set # 94 – photo # 11 – Wm. Koford Photo )
While the original spoked wheels from 1903 were gone and replaced with smaller sunburst wheels, the float was still fairly unchanged in 1936. However, by 1940, the undergear had changed completely with a flat bed for the figures to sit on now in place. The flatbed frame would remain through the Cole Bros. Circus years ending in 1950.
( 1940 – Conover Set # 473B – photo # 4843 )
In 1943, the wheels had been changed to having no sunbursts in them. The flatbed frame had also been changed again to show a thinner frame than the decorated version in 1941.
( 1943 – Ruth Nelson posing on the Cole Bros. Circus – Conover Photographic collection. )
By 1946, the Cole Bros. Circus had repainted the float into a multi-color unit and changed the wheels to a solid rimmed tire they had acquired while out in California in 1940. 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.
( 1946 – Used with permission from Illinois State University’s Special Collections, Milner Library. )
When the Cole Bros. Circus had closed the 1950 season, the train and equipment was brought into a siding by the Air Force base almost across the street from the Arthur Wirtz farm on the west side of Peru. This was the old Terrell Jacobs farm. Many of the wagons were stored in a hanger on the base. In 1952, Chappie Fox accompanied Fred Hainer, the owner of the Cleavor-Brooks Steam Boiler company out of Milwaukee, to Peru. Here they purchased the America Calliope for the Cleavor Brooks Company. Chappie Fox got the Mother Goose Float and Roland Wilde purchased the Old Woman in the Shoe float. These wheels would still be on the float when it was given to the Circus World Museum in 1958 by Roland Wilde of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.(2)
( Circus World Museum photo )
The Old Woman in the Shoe is currently in the workshops of Circus World being prepared to be entirely covered in gold leaf.
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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