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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Circus wagons coming to Lake Geneva

Among the many passions of Richard Driehaus, the part-time Lake Geneva area resident and local philanthropist, is the circus.

His 65th birthday party last year had a circus theme, and Driehaus is a major donor to the Circus World Museum in Baraboo.

Driehaus has his passions for the circus and Lake Geneva by arranging to bring a parade of vintage circus wagon's to Lake Geneva.

They began arriving today, and will be on display along Wrigley Drive through Sunday.

Contributing writer Margaret Plevak talked with Circus World Museum Executive Director Steve Freese for this week's Weekender story.

To read her story, click on the full post link below.

An up-close look at rare circus wagons

By Margaret Plevak

This weekend offers a rare chance to view up-close 20 dazzling and detailed circus wagons, including a 1940 steam calliope that plays music louder than a siren's song, but just as mesmerizing.

The steam calliope America is one of the historic circus wagons from the collection at the Circus World Museum in Baraboo on display along the city's downtown lakefront Sept. 19-22.

The exhibition is sponsored by the Richard Driehaus.

The calliope will be played on Saturday and Sunday, with its strains taking listeners back to a time when, holding onto mom or dad's hand, they nibbled cotton candy, watched clowns frolic, and dreamed of joining the circus.

"I think everybody, at some point in life as a child, went to the circus and saw its majestic nature," said Steve Freese, executive director of Circus World.

Seeing this collection of colorful wagons brings back memories people want to share with their own children, he said.

The wagons of Circus World have been on display around the country, at sites ranging from Arizona's Fiesta Bowl to CivicFest in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Several wagons will be in New York's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade this year.

Circus World's collection features 210 original wagons and vehicles once used by American, English and Irish circuses. Two-thirds of all known circus wagons in the world are housed at the 64-acre museum, according to Freeze.

The Lake Geneva exhibit will include bandwagons, parade wagons, vintage-era horse-drawn vehicles and the steam calliope.

The calliope, America, has been owned by Circus World since 1959, making it one of the museum's earliest acquisitions, Freese said. It was built in 1903 by the Sebastian Wagon Co. of New York for Barnum and Bailey. Originally a "telescoping tableau," it had wooden figures representing North, South and Central America that were elevated out of the wagon body for display.

The figures were removed in 1940 when the wagon was converted to a calliope for its new owners, the Cole Bros. Circus, but the wagon's sides still depict colorful, hand-carved faces of Americans.

That kind of artistry, dating from the early 20th and the late 19th centuries, is part circus wagon's appeal. "It's the largest hand-carved wooden object people will ever see, and they really like to watch it roll down the street and see the colors and the vibrancy of it," Freese said.

The exhibited wagons represent "the golden age of the circus," he said. It was a period when craftsmanship ruled, as evidenced in the Gavioli Band Organ wagon. Built in Paris around 1902, the wagon is as eye-catching today with its animated dancing figures and gold-edged paintings of angels playing music.

Some wagons, like the Asia Tableau, depict exotic lands long before world travel was common or the Internet brought foreign countries into people's homes.

Others show scenes from childhood stories like Mother Goose, The Old Woman Who Lives in a Shoe and Cinderella - part of a set of seven "pony floats" (small wagons drawn by ponies) created in the 1880s.

Only three of the seven still exist, all owned by Circus World. The three are included in the Lake Geneva exhibit.

The Cinderella float was restored in 2002 at Circus World to its original gleaming gold-leaf exterior.

"Wait until you see it outside in the sun," Freese said. "It's going to be unbelievable."


Blogger The Old Timer said...

You can see the Cole Bros. Calliope as it appered in 1946 at Pontiac, Michigan by clicking on:

10:28 AM  

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