Ringling Bros. Germany Tableau
by Joseph Bradbury
(1) During the years as a wagon show and after the show went on rails in 1890, Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Shows had depended mainly on their home town cousins, the Moeller brothers of Baraboo to provide them with the various baggage, tableau, and cage wagons needed to load the circus. Of course some wagons had been purchased from Forepaugh and John Robinson but the Moellers nearly always received the order for any new construction of wagons. During the winter of 1902-03 the entire circus world awaited the return to the United States of Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth which had been in Europe for the five previous seasons. To make 1903 a grand and glorious tour, James A. Bailey had placed a large order for a set of new parade wagons with the Sebastian Wagon Works of New York City. The Ringling Brothers felt they must do something to counter this gigantic new street parade so they proceeded to make plans to put their own parade on par with this one Bailey was to spring. They by-passed their Moeller cousins for the first time and went to the Bode Wagon Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio, where they placed an order for four huge tableau wagons and a glass enclosed snake den.
The wagons ordered from Bode were costly but there were to be none finer anyplace. The wagons and their prices were as follows:
United States Tableau, $1,500.00
Great Britain Tableau, $1,500.00
Russia Tableau, $1,900.00
Germany Tableau, $1,900.00
Snake Den, $850.00
By 1903 standards these prices were tremendous, but the wagons were all large, heavily carved, and were as fine as any ever built. Unlike some of those newly built for Barnum & Bailey, all of these were of large box type construction and were designed so they could also carry a baggage load.
Following the 1920 season the combine Ringing-Barnum show discontinued the street parades and the parade equipment was stored at the Bridgeport, Conn., quarters. From then on the Germany-America-France wagon becomes “lost.” It was probably dismantled or is possible that it was destroyed in the bad fire at Bridgeport quarters in 1924. Several wagons and cages were lost at that time.
The wagons were all placed on the show for the 1903 season and remained there for many years. The U. S., Great Britain, and Germany tabs were on the show through the final season of 1918 and in 1919 and 1920 were on the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Combined Show.
( Editor’s note – please notice the carved wheel coverings have disappeared over the years. )
In 1917, the Germany tableau, due to the United States’ participation in World War I became known as the America tableau. No radical change in the basic carvings were made but the name Germany was removed and the name America was substituted. The rear carving was removed and in its place was put the carving of what appears to be a World War I Doughboy, or some type of soldier. Red, white, and blue shields replaced the old Germany Coat of Arms, and a flag was planted in the hand of the center carving. To further aid the transformation to America, a portrait of George Washington was painted on the front of the wagon under the footboard. The wagon remained America for the 1917, 1918, and probably the 1919 season. For 1920 the wagon name was changed again. This time it became France. Here again, no radical change took place other than the name France was substituted for America. The wagon served out its parade days as France.
(1) Bandwagon, Vol. 5, No. 6, December 1961, pp. 3-6
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