Roll up, roll up!

We love a great circus, and Yale University Press and the Bard Graduate Center would like to invite you all to the big top via their new, weighty tome that relates the stories behind the American circus.

Starting as a showcase of amazing horsemanship from former soldiers, developing through freak shows and displays of marginalized cultures, the American Circus has a long and fascinating history. This book shares the disturbing and the delightful through carefully researched text and some amazing archive images.

There’s also an exhibit currently on at Bard Graduate Center in New York on the history of the circus in New York City.

Here's a gallery of some of the more remarkable images from the book, including Barnum, some elephants and at least one bearded lady.

CAUTION: Contains clowns.

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  • Sverre O. Braathen. Lou Jacobs, August 12, 1941

    Photograph, Kodachrome. Illinois State University’s Special Collections, Milner Library, BSP0022.

  • Frederick Whitman Glasier. Equestrienne on horseback, ca. 1903. Photograph. Collection of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art Archives, Glasier Glass Plate Negative Collection, 0063.

  • Edward J. Kelty. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey (Combined) Circus. April, 1924

    Photograph. Collection of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Tibbals Collection, ht0004827.

  • Two circus elephants wearing giant clown costumes, 1941

    Photograph. Harold M. Lambert/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

  • Edward J. Kelty. Congress of Freaks at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus, 1924

    Photograph. Collection of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Tibbals Collection, ht0004824.

  • “Ballet of the Elephants” at Madison Square Garden, 1942

    Photograph. Circus World Museum, CWi-2300.

  • Frederick Whitman Glasier. Clown with 3 equestrians, ca. 1903

    Photograph. Collection of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Glasier Glass Plate Negative Collection, 1194.

  • Clown band, ca. 1920

    Photograph. Circus World Museum, CWi-2293.

  • “James Robinson the Champion Bareback Rider of the World,” 1882

    Poster, printed by the Courier Company, Buffalo. Circus World Museum, CWi-2334.

  • Louis Roth

    Photograph from Dave Robeson, Louis Roth, Forty Years with Jungle Killers (Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers, 1941). Illinois State University’s Special Collections, Milner Library.

  • Captain Jack Bonavita with his lions, ca. 1900

    Photograph. Circus World Museum, CWi-2303.

  • The Olympian Freaks, London.

    The Barnum & Bailey Circus, ca. 1897–98. Photograph. McCaddon Collection of the Barnum & Bailey Circus, box 27; Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.

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