Barnum & Bailey’s Golden Age of Chivalry
by Richard Conover
(1) Chivalry arrived at the Circus World Museum on 24 October 1967, and the Museum’s staff immediately went to work to have it restored in time for the 1968 Milwaukee parade in its original 1903 green, red, and gold glory. It is indeed fortunate that this elegant parade float has finally passed into more appreciative environment before it suffers any more from the disinterest that could be expected as long as it was no more than an oddball exhibit around an antique auto museum.
( 1903 – Richard Conover collection )
Unlike so many parade vehicles, this one no longer presents any major problems to historians. It was one of the thirteen built for Barnum & Bailey in 1903 by Sebastian. The carvings were done by, or under the supervision of, Samuel A. Robb. The above photo shows it in its original configuration. Sometimes before 1910 several vertebrae (about 15″) were removed from the dragons’ necks, a corresponding amount of material was taken out of the tail, and the dihedral angle between the wings was flattened to reduce its height. This may have been done so that it would no longer be necessary to take it apart to cut down on the overall height when it was loaded on the flat cars. However, the slip joints for joining the necks and the tail to the body are still with it.
The last dateable picture I have seen of it in parade was taken in Ashville, North Carolina, in 1913. (2) On 31, December, 1925, it was sold to George Christy along with 20 other ex-Ringling and Barnum & Bailey parade wagons. Out of this purchase, Christy selected the wagons known as Asia, America, Columbia, Palm Tree, and three of the Barnum tableau dens, vintage of the 1880’s, for immediate use on his Christy Brothers Circus. He left the remainder in the Bridgeport quarters in reserve for possible future enlargement of his show. They were still there for a period of time after the Ringlings removed their property to Sarasota. Finally, when the owners of the property requested that he move them, he stored them in nearby Fairfield, Connecticut.
About 1933 it was acquired from the Fairfield, Connecticut, landlord where Christy was renting storage space by Whitlock, Inc., antique dealers of New Haven, who sold it soon thereafter to the Gorganigo Museum of Antique Autos in Princeton, Massachusetts. It was still in fairly good condition when I saw it there in 1947; but since then, one of the dragon heads has disappeared, the dragon’s body has rotted through in spots, and all that is left of the wheels are the iron hubs and tires. According to Mr. Gene Zimmerman, its most recent owner who acquired it along with the other assets of the Gorganigo Museum in 1965 to add to his own enormous antique auto collection at his museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, it was in this condition when he got it. Walter Heist, Jr. realized what wagon it was and contacted Chappie Fox at the Circus World Museum about it. The subsequent visit and negotiations brought this wagon to the Museum. But if past performance is any criteria, it will take more than a casual glance to differentiate between the new parts and the originals after the Museum’s craftsmen have completed its restoration.
( 1968 – Richard Cline photo )
The wagon has been used in many of the parades held in Baraboo, Chicago and Milwaukee. At times the heads, and tail were removed to lower the total height and there times were it was transport intact.
( Photo is courtesy of Jim and Donna Peterson )
According to the wagon records at Circus World, this wagon is 18’0″ long x 8′ wide x 14’8″ tall.
( Circus World Museum Postcard )
(1) Bandwagon, Vol. 11, No. 6 (Nov-Dec), 1967, page
(2) Bandwagon, Vol. 11, No. 2, March / April 1967, pp.4-8.
The wagon can be seen in person at Circus World in Baraboo, Wisconsin
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