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Photo of an antique circus parade wagon, 1935
Cole Bros. "Asia" Tableau, 1935

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The Circus Parade (Circus World Museum)
A Local Legacy

Isn't the circus wagon in the photo beautiful? It dates from 1935 and it is part of the Circus Parade in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Every year in July more than 100 clowns, 1,000 musicians, 700 horses and lots of animals, including elephants and camels, take part in a re-creation of a circus street parade from the beginning of the 20th century. Before the days of radio and television, "Circus Day" was a time to escape the normal routine and enjoy the entertainment provided by the traveling performers.

The historic circus wagons have elaborate woodcarvings, mirrored surfaces, and colorful wheels. These wagons are brought on the Great Circus Train from the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin, which has a collection of more than 150 wagons. At one time Wisconsin was known as the "Mother of Circuses," and was the home or winter quarters for more than 100 traveling tent shows.

Today, the parade route starts near the shores of Lake Michigan. It winds its way through the streets of downtown Milwaukee. But a few changes must be made along the route. The open metal gratings on Milwaukee's bridges have to be covered so the animals won't be afraid to cross. And the oxen refuse to step on manhole covers. Don't ask why. No one knows.

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