There are many strange facts about the circus. Simply put, the circus has a strange reputation. It’s out of the ordinary. We don’t often see clowns piled into cars or tigers swinging from a trapeze. This is part of its appeal. We chose to share facts about the circus’s history and legacy because there is so much “weird” about it.
Let’s start with the good news: The circus is still very popular. Feld Entertainment, which also owns Barnum & Bailey Circus and Ringling Bros. Circus, reported a $1 billion revenue in 2013. Cirque du Soleil’s owner is worth $1.8 billion [source Mac].
Let’s look at some bizarre facts about circuses that have made them what it is today.
Although we often think of elephants as circus stalwarts, they were more popular in an arena that was more sophisticated than the Big Top. While elephants have been performing in different tours and menageries for some time, they were a huge hit in the august theatre.
The play “The Elephant of Siam”, which was first performed in 1829 at the Adelphi, London, later went on tour across the country. Mademoiselle D’Jeck, a trained elephant who went by the rather humble name of Mademoiselle D’Jeck. Mlle. The deck was taught to perform various actions, such as ringing a bell, stealing a crown with her trunk and placing it on someone’s head [source: Speaight]. This theatre act became very popular, and other circus promoters started advertising elephants performing tricks in the ring.
It wasn’t only elephants that were used in the first spectacular productions. Trained lions were also used on the stage. Queen Victoria was present for some of them, which ignited public interest in performing cats [source Speaight].
While using too broad a brush is not fair, many have seen tightrope walkers and felt undiluted fear. This modern audience can be flooded with all the entertainment they want. In the early days, a woman wearing pants could make a man blush.
Imagine it: high-wire-walking women would be a spectacle if they wore skirts. The leg-baring doublet and hose women wire walkers wore let men look at women’s bodies in ways that were not socially acceptable [source: Victoria and Albert Museum]. A 1699 review describes how to wire walkers’ dexterity could translate well into the bedroom [source Speaight]. Watching a wire-walker was a great way to get your jollies.
Let’s look beyond the woman on the rope and learn more about the strange origins of the circus.