History Bytes: The Circus

May 3, 2017

This week marks the final appearance of the Ringling Brothers Circus in Rhode Island, as it prepares to fade into the sunset nationally. Circuses have been coming to Newport for over two centuries, beginning with a performance of skilled horsemanship in 1774. On 24 May of that year,  equestrian Christopher H. Gardner attracted as many three thousand residents to watch his trick riding and comedic equestrian skits at an enclosure in the north end of Newport. Later, circuses traveled with menageries of exotic animals and birds (living natural curiosities). Over time the menageries were trained and incorporated into the circus performance. 

Image: Menagerie, featuring The Great Indian Elephant (Rhode Island Republican, 7 May 1828)