Circus and the City: New York, 1793-2010
Published by the Bard Graduate Center, 2012
Distributed by Yale University Press
At the turn of the 20th century, the circus was the most popular form of entertainment in the United States, and New York City was the hub of circus-related activity. The first circus in New York opened in 1793, and the circus business’s subsequent growth paralleled the city’s rise as a cultural capital.
Featuring superb archival photography, Circus and the City documents a wide variety of ephemera, images, and artifacts relating to the history of the circus in New York City, from the seminal equestrian displays of the 18th century to the iconic American railroad circuses of the late-19th century. An essay by Matthew Wittmann offers a thorough history of the circus in New York City, including stories of P.T. Barnum’s (1810–1891) triumphant entry into the circus business, the famous dwarf General Tom Thumb, and Jumbo, the African elephant that arrived in New York Harbor in 1882 and touched off a craze known as “Jumbomania.” The histories of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the WPA Circus of the Great Depression, and the Big Apple Circus are testaments to the enduring popularity of this American diversion. Catalogue entries about a select group of exhibition objects further elucidate the distinct role of New York City in the emergence and development of the circus in the United States.