Marshfield, May 1904: The circus comes to town
By Kris Leonhardt
As posters promoting the “Greatest Show on Earth” began to litter the city, excitement was building for the arrival of the Great Wallace Show. A first class venue for its time, the Great Wallace Show was created by Ben Wallace, a stable owner from Peru, Ind., who bought a circus with then partner James Anderson in 1884.
After buying out his partner, Wallace expanded the venue into a three-ring circus — including 12 elevated stages — of enormous size and grandeur that traveled across the United States by train.
In 1904 the circus was scheduled for hundreds of stops between the months of April and November, visiting the states of Indiana, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, and Wisconsin.
The show in Marshfield was sandwiched between stops in Menominee and Racine. As the morning of the circus arrived, a steady stream of horse-drawn buggies entered the city streets. Businesses were closed as children and adults alike waited in anticipation.
Eleven double-sized train cars entered Marshfield, and a multitude of staff members and animals made their way through the city streets by circus parade. Men, women, and children lined the streets while 128 Shetland ponies and numerous show animals passed by.
Acres of white canvas tents sprouted from the landscape while hundreds of staff members made preparations. Train loaders, canvas crew workers, wardrobe staff, candy stand workers, butchers, and dining staff all played their part.
At 1 p.m. the doors opened for the first of two shows with a performance by Professor Bronson’s Concert Band. Then came the thrills, laughs, and wonder of the circus acts. High jumping horses, acrobats, performing elephants, seals playing pingpong, a rolling globe, and vaudeville acts were joined by acclaimed circus performers the Four Great Nevaros, the Shirk family, the Happy Hooligan & Foxy Grandpa, the Three Nelson Comics, Little Buster Brown, and the Four Silvertons.
Defying gravity and doing the unexplained, the performers amazed the audiences for several hours during each show. Then, just as quickly as they breezed into town, they packed up and headed to their next performance.
Although the circus left Marshfield, Marshfield did not immediately leave the circus. The effects of the marvels and thrills from the temporary escape from reality would resonate in the city for weeks.
In 1907 Wallace purchased a second circus from Carl Hagenbeck and merged the two together, renaming it the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus. He would continue in the business until 1913, when he sold his interest in the circus.