Step right up, folks! to Circus World Museum!
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.
Step into the color, excitement and thrills of life under the Big Top at Circus World, which opened for its 64th season on Monday, March 20, 2023. Located at the original home of the Ringling Bros. Circus in Baraboo, this National Historic Landmark site examines the innovations and wonder of the American circus. Explore seven massive buildings that bring to life the fascinating heritage of the more than 100 circuses that made their home in Wisconsin. Experience the legendary lives and profound pageantry that fueled America’s most popular form of entertainment through engaging exhibits for all ages. Be mesmerized by the largest collection of authentic wood-carved parade wagons, remarkable rail equipment, captivating costuming and astonishing artistry.
Baraboo’s Annual Circus Parade & Celebration navigates the streets of downtown Baraboo in a spectacular procession featuring glorious gilded wagons from Circus World’s colossal collection. The event honors Baraboo’s rich Circus heritage as home to seven different circuses including the Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Shows and the Gollmar Bros. Circus. The festivities that surround the parade make up the Circus Celebration featuring multiple days of concerts, children’s activities, carnival games, live performances, a concert on the Square, food vendors and more.
The parade begins at 11 a..m., with circus performances at Circus World following at 1:15 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 24, 2023.
The Big Top Parade is free and open to the public. Some community-wide Circus Celebration events are free, and others charge admission. Regular Circus World admission rates will in effect for all Circus Celebration days and on parade day.
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.”
2022 Circus World Museum Update:
Lake Country Family Fun’s Erin and her children, visited Circus World Museum in July 2022 and it was amazing! The children were awed and engaged. They loved the Big Top Show. Definitely be sure to check the schedule to not miss this show!
View their fun on Instagram HERE.
- See the show at the Big Top Circus! It’s Captain Dave Saloutos’ last season, after 33 years!
- They loved the trapeze acts!
- Try the unicycle in the kids area. It is harder than it looks.
- Walk thru the side show to see the Bearded Woman, among other acts.
See the new website for Circus World Museum and plan your visit!