Last week I read Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen. I’d seen it on book stands for a while, and that red sequined coat called out to me. So I picked it up at the library and became totally wrapped up in the fascinating world of the fictional Benzini Brothers circus… which, as I deduced from pictures and the author’s note, was largely based on the actual train circuses of the 1930’s. Of course the fictional protagonist’s story was what drew me in, but what really interests me about those old circuses was how this whole culture of outsiders became a fixation in national pop culture. An air of exoticism surrounded everything from the equestrians to the menagerie and the side show. The transient nature of the shows added an element of danger. And yet, circuses were a relatively common, if hotly anticipated, event.

In order to find out more about real circuses (and to find some good reference photos) I looked around for the books Gruen cites in her author’s note. Although I didn’t find them, I ran across The Circus 1870s-1950s on the bargain rack at Barnes & Noble. I’ve scanned through and there are some great images. I look forward to reading more of the content.

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