Complete index, 1940 to current year.
Order back issues.
Many early articles online! News & Views, the CHS Newsletter, information and index. Post questions or information on circuses, performers, staff, etc. here!
Help answer questions here. Convention news!
Read about past conventions. Visit our Circus History Library!
Information on circuses, staff, performers, acts, equipment.
Online books, route books, couriers.
Over 150 articles online.
Publications: New York Clipper excerpts, Billboard, Circus Scrap Book, Back Yard, Circus Report. Circus history and CHS merchandise available from CHS. Circus and circus-related books, magazines, newspapers, other.
Indexes to White Tops (CFA), Circus Fanfare (Windjammers).
Index to magazine articles, 1912-1972 Major collections in the USA.
State-by-state listing. Photos of shows, acts, wagons, animals. Interviews with and about circuses and circus showmen. Links to websites with early history, circuses, biograpies, museums and organizations.
Circus Historical Society
Founded in 1939, the Circus Historical Society, Inc. (CHS) is a tax-exempt, not-for-profit educational organization. The Society's mission is to preserve, promote and share though education, the history and cultural significance of the circus and allied arts, past and present. Membership includes people from all walks of life including historians, scholars, circus personnel, memorabilia collectors, Americana specialists and just folks who share both a love of the circus and a desire to preserve and disseminate its great and interesting heritage.
Officers and Trustees
President Deborah Walk is the Tibbals Curator of the Circus Museum at The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida. She led the team that oversaw the building and installing of exhibits in the Circus Museum's Tibbals Learning Center (Phase I & II). Her publications include the catalog The Amazing American Circus Poster: The Strobridge Lithographing Company (2011, co-curator & co-editor), Circus: The Photographs of Frederick W. Glasier (2009, co-editor) - winner of the American Association of Museum's Frances Smyth-Ravenel Prize for Excellence in Publication Design for 2010, The Circus in Miniature: The Howard Bros. Model Circus (2008, editor and contributor), Ca 'd'Zan: The Restoration of the Ringling Mansion (editor), A Guide to the Archives of The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, and The Letterbook of Frederick Wolcott Lyman, and two pocketbooks published by the Eakins Press Foundation as well as other articles on archives, conservation, and the circus. She is a member of the Sarasota County Historical Commission, on the Board of Friends of the Sarasota County History Center, and Secretary for the Board of Directors of Circus Sarasota. She is the Historian for the Founders Garden Club of Sarasota, Garden Club of America. She is a past president of the Society of Florida Archivists and is a past member of the Florida State Historical Records Advisory Board.
Vice-President Don Covington has been a lifelong circus enthusiast, as evidenced by the fact that he joined CHS and CFA while still in high school. Assignments as a carrier aviator in the US Navy provided him the opportunity to visit and study circuses worldwide. After retiring as a Navy captain, he began a second career as a circus executive, touring with Big Apple Circus for thirteen years, where he served in various capacities including Executive Assistant to Paul Binder and Company Manager. During the period that he was Administrative Director of San Diego's Fern Street Circus, he became active in the American Youth Circus Organization. He was the national president of Circus Fans Association of America in 2012 and 2013 and is a trustee of Windjammers Unlimited. His articles and photographs have been featured in Le Monde du Cirque (France), Planet Circus (Germany), King Pole (U.K.), Bandwagon, White Tops, Circus Fanfare, Circus Report and Amusement Business. His chronicle Life on the Road was included as a chapter in the book Big Apple Circus 25 Years. Don and his family live in Coronado, California which serves as his base as a circus consultant.
Secretary/Treasurer Robert Cline, started his circus career out as a Junior Circus Model Builder, then joined Circus Kirk in 1973. Bob remained there through 1975 while attending Ohio State University in the off season. He started the free interest course on clowning at OSU in 1975. He then handed it off to some of the Shriner Clowns and they made a huge success out of it for many years. He performed between 1973 and 1995 doing aerial cradle, comedy low wire and lion & tiger acts, eventually owning his own tiger act for a few years. He has authored an unpublished book on "America's Elephants" as well as several articles. He studies the history of non-zoological elephants all the time. He has finished a historical documentation of the Circus World Museum parade trains over the years including their loading lists, train orders, paint schemes, and histories. Bob is also a CHS webmaster and is responsible for CHS's Facebook page.
Trustee Chris Berry's two passions are broadcasting and the circus — though not necessarily in that order. Growing up just outside of Sarasota, at an early age Chris had the opportunity to meet some of the great circus stars of the 20th century and the fire was lit. By the time he was 14 Chris was a member of the Circus Historical Society and a regular volunteer at the old Circus Hall of Fame. His interest in circus history and expertise in the area of circus lithographs blossomed as he learned and was mentored by some of the most respected circus historians of the time. By the time he reached his 20s his knowlege of circus posters was significant, however Chris' professional career in broadcasting soon took a front seat and the collection – if not the interest – was temporarily shelved. After a career with CBS and ABC where he held executive positions in Los Angeles, Washington DC, New York and Chicago – Chris now is a Senior Vice President at Clear Channel Communications where he divides his time between gathering and distributing the news of today, and the history of the circus in America.
Trustee Maureen Brunsdale is a graduate of St. Olaf College, the University of Iowa, and the University of South Dakota. Maureen has been a Special Collections and Rare Books Librarian at Illinois State University since 2009. It is there where her world first collided most delightfully with circus. She oversees four unique collections in her job at the Milner Library, none more fascinating (or alluring) as the Circus &
Allied Arts Collection!
Trustee Alan Campbell is a graduate of Pepperdine University in Los Angeles, and was an Air Force pilot during the Viet Nam war, attaining the rank of Lt. Colonel. From 1969 until his retirement in 2000 he flew for Delta Airlines. Alan lives in the Atlanta suburb of Johns Creek, GA. He joined CHS in 1998 and served as Secretary-Treasurer from 2003 to 2008.
Trustee Steve Flint is retired from the auto industry where he served as a consultant for General Motors. He's been a member of the CHS since 1979 and enjoys both collecting and researching circus history and building models. He also belongs to the CFA and the CMB where he served 2 terms as Supt. of Construction. He also belongs to CWM, Inc. and was quite active in volunteering at CWM Baraboo (mainly in the wagon restoration shop) for over 25 years.
Trustee Steve Gossard began to do circus research in 1984 because he was asked by the Museums Department at Illinois State University to curate an exhibit from the circus collection at Milner Library. He soon became aware that few people in the community knew anything about our local circus history. The few retired professionals who still lived in town seemed disappointed by the fact that the community had forgotten them. In fact, the local circus history was something of a mystery to everyone. His goal from the beginning was to make document this fascinating history in detail. As time went on he became more and more interested in the history of trapeze in general, and in 1991 he published A Reckless Era of Aerial Performance, the Evolution of Trapeze. That same year he was invited to take the position of Curator of Circus Collections at Milner Library, a job that he has had since then. Steve has a Bachelors Degree in Art and a Masters Degree in Art History.
Trustee, past president, Judith L. Griffin was only the second woman to serve as President of CHS, Bette Leonard was the first, 1947-1957. Judy joined CHS in 2000, after spending twenty years trying to track her family relative, James L. Hutchinson's connection with the circus. It is a familiar tale, her mother said that one of the family was connected to the circus. After a number of failed efforts to find much information on "Hutch" (part-owner, Barnum & London, 1881-1887), she developed a web page with a small amount of information. It was not too long afterwards that, as a result of the website, she heard from another relative, a Stuart Hicks from Australia, who was also looking for information on Hutch, and who had a suprising amount of additional information. When she learned about the Circus Historical Society and joined in 2000, she received research advice that resulted in a wealth of information. The result of the connection with the relative in Australia has resulted in collaboration on a biography of James L. Hutchinson, a work in progress. Another interest is the early aquatic acts performed on circuses before 1900 (water queen and man-fish). In 2001 the CHS asked her to develop a web site for CHS, which went on the web in May 2002. The website continues to be a 'labor of love,' growing from about four visits a day to over 1,000. Judy is a retired teacher/consultant for children with Autism and a past President of the Autism Society of Wisconsin. She has a BA from Lawrence University in Appleton, WI and a MSE from the University of Wisconsin.
Trustee Joe Parker, is a graduate of the University of Dallas (B.A., 1976), and the University of Portland (M.A., 1978), where he first discovered his fascination with the Circus. He works for a computer-software and services firm in Dallas, TX. He joined the CHS in 2000, and has been fortunate enough to attend every convention since, starting with 2001 (Baraboo). He became the treasurer of CHS on May 1, 2008.
Trustee Fred D. Pfening III is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan and holds a master's degree in economic history from Ohio State University. He has been a CHS member almost his entire life, having joined in 1961 when only twelve years old. He is a past President (1986-89), has bee a Trustee since CHS was reorganized in 1997, and has served as Managing Editor of Bandwagon. He is CEO of the Fred D. Pfening Company, manufacturers of bakery and allied machinery, Columbus, Ohio.
Trustee John F. Polacsek became interested in tracing the routes of early circuses after discovering an 1835 metal printing plate that a branch of the Zoological Institute used to advertise their menagerie while traveling through Ohio. John extended his research and in 1974 produced The History of the Circus and Menagerie in Ohio Prior to 1860, as his Masters Thesis at Bowling Green State University. By researching early circuses he has used newspapers, diaries and route cards, and route books to verify a number of circus routes. He has also provided numerous photographs for the route books, and advertising that has been issued by the Carson & Barnes Circus. In addition to being a Director of the CHS he served as the President of the organization.
Trustee Al Stencell is a CHS Past President. Al is a Canadian and has been a trustee since the 1997 reorganization. A retired showman, he worked his way up through concessions, novelties and bill posting until becoming a showman. From 1973 to 1976 he was part owner of Royal Bros. He and his wife founded and operated Martin and Downs Circus from 1977 to 1983. In 1983 he built Super Circus International and toured it until 1992. A gifted raconteur, his knack for story telling led to writing two popular books, with a third soon to be published.
Trustee Lane Talburt has been a circus fan since Clyde Beatty and his caged lions and tigers visited McAlester, Oklahoma, in 1948. As a staff writer for the Abilene, TX, Reporter-News in the early 1960s, he interviewed clowns (Emmett Kelly was one), dare devils and side show artists while covering the annual West Texas Fair. After concluding a 26-year public relations career, Lane started his own video production firm in St. Louis. For the past 10 years, he has taken his video camera (now Hi-Def) into circus backyards, tents and arenas throughout the nation to capture the stories of active and retired performers, workers and owners/producers. From the transcribed interviews, he has written scores of articles published in Bandgagon, White Tops and Circus Report. Talburt received a B.A. degree in political science from Hardin-Simmons University. Lane and his wife, Martha, have lived in Stratford, CT, since 2006.
Trustee Matthew Wittmann is an academic historian and currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Bard Graduate Center in New York City. He has a B.A. and M.A. in History from the University of Colorado and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. His dissertation, entitled "Empire of Culture: U.S. Entertainers and the Making of the Pacific Circuit, 1850-1890," looks at the minstrels, magicians, circuses, and sundry other entertainers that toured through the Pacific in the wake of the California Gold Rush. Matt has given papers at several CHS conferences and is presently working on a forthcoming exhibition (January 2012) and edited collection about the history of the circus in America for the Bard Graduate Center.
Trustee Emeritus Richard J. Reynolds III of Atlanta, GA, holds undergraduate and law degrees from Emory University. He has been a CHS member since 1958, has served as President (1998-2001), and has been a Trustee since the 1997 reorganization, which he spearheaded. He practiced law in Atlanta for 33 years, until his retirement from the firm of Troutman-Sanders in 1991. He has written extensively for Bandwagon.
Trustee Emeritus Robert F. Sabia, a Connecticut product and a US Army veteran, spent adult life in business, much of it on the international circuit. An attorney by education (member of PA Bar), ran construction business on west coast, mass transit systems on east coast, telecommunication systems throughout Europe, Middle East, Asia and South America, extensive involvement in US chemical agent destruction program, and power plant construction. Life time avocation has been the study of the circus business of the past. Member of CHS for over forty years and a Past President of CHS. Retired in Williamsburg, VA some five years ago.
Trustee Emeritus William L. Slout has authored a number of books and articles on circuses and circus showmen. He is a Professor Emeritus of Theatre Arts, California State University, San Bernardino, and past editor of Clipper Studies in the Theatre for the Borgo Press. Having grown up as a family member of a dramatic tent show, he is a former actor and summer theatre producer turned educator. His publications have been mainly in the field of popular amusements. A premier book on tent shows, Theatre in a Tent (1972), is still available and continuously used in the research of that area of entertainment. Books compiled and edited by him include Life Upon the Wicked Stage, Popular Amusements in Horse and Buggy America. His research on the early American circus, culminated in Clowns and Cannons, Amphitheatres and Circuses, Ink From a Circus Press Agent, A Royal Coupling: The Historic Marriage of Barnum and Bailey, A Clown's Log, Grand Entrée (with Stuart Thayer), and Chilly Billy. A work of thirty years, Olympians of the Sawdust Circle, a biographical dictionary of the 19th century American circus, is a major resource for circus historians. In addition he has contributed a number of articles in the Circus Historical Society's publication, Bandwagon. He has a B.A. from Michigan State University, an M.A. from Utah State University, and a Ph.D. from UCLA.
According to Don Smith, founder of CHS, the idea for the society began in the early 1930s. An ex-showman and dealer in circus photographs, Charles Bernard and Smith corresponded on the possibility of the organization. In 1932 Bernard wrote an article for Billboard, mentioning the possibility, but there was little response. Smith continued to pursue the idea of a national group, and proposed it in his communications with fans and collectors.
Sources: Smith, Don F., "They Said It Couldn't Be Done - We Did It!," Bandwagon, July-August, 1959, pp. 9, 11. "Bandwagon Cycle," Bandwagon, Vol. 5, No. 6 (December), 1961. Dahlinger, Fred Jr., "Circus Historical Society's 1996 National Convention," Bandwagon July-August, 1996, pp. 38-39.
List of Presidents and dates and places of past conventions
Copyright © 2002-2010