What do Delavan, Janesville, Prairie du Chien, Appleton, Baraboo, Evansville, Portage, Whitewater, and Watertown have in common? They all served as home to one or more circus troupes at the end of the 1800s and into the early 1900s. Some famous circus names came out of Wisconsin: W.C. Coup of Delavan first thought up the idea of a three-ring circus, and Colonel George W. Hall started his own show in 1886 based out of Evansville. In the end, over 100 circuses were based in Wisconsin. One of the most famous was the Ringling Bros., who grew up in Baraboo and later made it their winter headquarters.
With the recent announcement that the curtain will fall for the last time on Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in May, folks may wonder what will become of the circuses we all knew and loved as children. While unfortunate, this was only one of several circuses that still operate around the country. One nearby community still celebrates their thriving circus heritagethe quaint and quirky town of Baraboo.
Baraboo embraces its circus ancestry, hosting Circus World and its Big Top Show. It also hosts the annual Big Top Parade, held in July, which is celebrating its fifth year. Baraboo is home to the International Clown Hall of Fame and Research Center, historic Al. Ringling Theatre, Al. Ringling Mansion, and the Ringling House Bed & Breakfast. All of these are put on show during the now restaged Big Top Parade and Circus Celebration.
On July 22, Baraboo will host its modern Big Top Parade and Circus Celebration. Families can enjoy a variety of circus-related events and activities, with a highlight being the Big Top Parade. Plan to spend the weekend, savor a long day, or come early for Circus Homecoming events, starting Thursday, July 20, with Downtown Baraboos Concert on the Square, a concert of music written for the circuses at the Baraboo courthouse square.
Visit Circus World to learn how the Ringling Bros. went from a backyard act to circus empire and worldwide brand, and find out about the Gollmar Bros., who also called Baraboo home. You can see a wide selection of vintage circus posters at the museums Library and Research Center, housing more than 10,000 circus posters and poster art. Take the guided tour of the worlds largest collection of antique circus wagons, which includes over 200 wagons and vehicles.
For more interactive fun, visit one or all of the scheduled performances and activities: discover circus music and the variety of novelty instruments used, experience a kids world circus performed by guests, and crack a smile while watching a live comedy show. Not to mention walking through the historic grounds of the original Ringling Bros. historic winter home. Also, in July and August, the museum will host Tiger Adventure.
Then pick a spot to watch the parade on Saturday. The parade starts mid-morning and travels through the downtown historic courthouse square district, but you wont have to wait for the excitement. Clowns and bands entertain you until the parade, featuring antique circus wagons that have been collected and lovingly restored by Circus World in addition to local parade entries, arrives.
Below are a list of activities you dont want to miss this very special circus celebration weekend:
Take in the Big Top Show at Circus World, which includes aerialists, clowns, and other acts of skill and artistry. Shows start May 19 and run through August 27 at 11:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. circusworldbaraboo.org
Visit the International Clown Hall of Fame, which claims the worlds biggest collection of clown artifacts. Special activities are planned for the 2017 Circus Homecoming Weekend. theclownmuseum.com
And make sure to check out what is playing at the Al. Ringling Theatre. Throughout the year, this wonderful performance space hosts everything from movies to musicians to art shows and theatre productions. Guided daily tours of the building are at 1:30 p.m. May through September. alringling.com
Tour the Al. Ringling Mansion at 623 Broadway Street between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. any day of the week. ringlingmansion.com
You can also view the home of Charles Ringling or, better yet, stay there! The Ringling House Bed & Breakfast, a colonial revival home built in 1901, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Ringling House offers six rooms named after couples with ties to the circus, including Charles and Edith Ringling. Tour the house on Sundays 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. or Wednesdays 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Cost is $10 per adult or $25 for a family (two adults plus related children). Tours are free to guests. ringlinghousebnb.com
Circus World hours are 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, April 3 through May 18. Cost is $9.95 for adults and $4.95 for children ages 5 to 11. Hours expand May 19, and ticket prices increase to $19.95 for adults and $9.95 for children ages 5 to 11. circusworldbaraboo.org
For a full list of family fun scheduled over the weekend and to countdown with us to parade day, please visit the Big Top Parade and Circus Celebration website, bigtopparade.com , or check out the Baraboo Chamber of Commerce website, baraboo.com , for a full calendar of things to do in Baraboo whenever you may choose to visit. Its always a great day in Baraboo!
Liz Wessel is the owner of Green Concierge Travel, which has information for honeymoons and other ecotravel at greenconciergetravel.com .