Step right up, folks!
Did you know? Wisconsin has deep-rooted connections with America’s traveling circus history.
Checkout Baraboo’s Circus World Museum and experience the excitement of the circus just as families did 100 years ago welcoming the wagons that rolled into town by train.
“This is where 5 brothers dreamed, created, and exported amazing wonders to eager audiences across America.” -www.circusworldbaraboo.org
At the museum, kids will enjoy the carousel, elephant and pony rides, big top circus performances (Memorial through Labor Day), plus fantastical costumes, wagons, and props. Adults are immersed in history through memorabilia and beautiful models of circus scenes that transport you back in time.
The shows are spectacular, but it was the logistics behind a traveling circus that was most astounding and memorable for my husband and me. We left with an itch to re-watch The Greatest Showman.
A Glimpse into Traveling Circus History
The Ringling Brothers started their traveling circus in Baraboo, WI in 1884 which quickly gained popularity and the business expanded into a massive railroad operation.
In 1907, they purchased Barnum and Bailey’s circus and continued to operate them as separate tours until WWI. At that time, they combined the two and marketed the performances as “The Greatest Show on Earth.” I can only imagine the energy and excitement in the air when the performers, elephants, gorillas, and props emerged from the trains.
During WWII business took a hit as railroad use was restricted due to government needs and a live show ended in a tragic fire in 1944.
Popularity of traveling circuses saw great decline in the 1950’s with the growing television and movie industry.
Attractions at the Circus World Museum
Spring and Fall have limited attractions and reduced ticket prices. See the schedule, here.
Spring, Summer, and Fall
- Dazzle at the artistry and variety of functions of the wagons in the Wagon Pavillion. Over 260 wagons are in their collection.
- Explore the buildings where animal performers were cared for over the winter months, now filled with captivating exhibits.
- View a documentary in the theater and hear first hand accounts from performers.
- Stroll the grounds of Ringlingville, where the show would spend winters restoring their equipment and designing shows for the next season.
- Overload your senses with the vast collection of circus memorabilia.
Memorial through Labor Day Special Programming
- Elephant and Pony Rides
- Big Top Performances
- Carousel Rides
- Guided tours of the Wagon Pavillion
Closed in the Winter
Getting to Circus World Museum:
Baraboo, WI is about 1 hour 45 minutes from Milwaukee. An added attraction on the way is the option to cross Lake Wisconsin by way of a free car ferry!
The Merrimac Ferry is Wisconsin’s only free ferry and it operates 24 hours a day. It was oh-so efficient and my son’s mind was blown as our whole car floated across the water.
“Children left unattended will be sold to the circus.”