Reminisce: ‘Turn Out Everybody!’ The circus came to town

Music from cornets filled the air on Auglaize Street in Wapakoneta on the morning of July 15, 1871, announcing the arrival of Joel E. Warner’s Great Pacific Combination Museum, Menagerie, Circus and Caravan. Onlookers lined the street several people deep as the group traveled through Wapakoneta from the west to east of town, where they set up their three tents at Jones’ woods. The Pacific Combination performed in St. Marys the previous day.

Capt. Joe Wither’s cornet band in a gilded carriage led the parade of wonders. The 11-foot 4-inch elephant Empress and camels followed. Next Adam Forepaugh, a proprietor of his own circus, traveled in an iron cage with lions. One mile of green, white and gold carriages, vans and dens under flags and banners carried animals from Africa, Asia and South America. Horses adorned with plumes pranced while carrying their elegantly dressed riders.

Performances took place twice each day. Doors opened at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m., and the circus show began at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. One ticket admitted the visitor into all three tents. Tickets cost 50 cents per adult and 25 cents per child under 10 years old. The circus could be expensive for a family. Ohio laborers earned on average $1.75 per day in 1871. Craftsmen could earn more; for example, blacksmiths earned on average $2.52 per day.

Warner advertised that the museum in the first tent had “a great many curiosities, monstrosities, freaks of nature, and works of art.” He marketed people’s differences as odd and alluring. The Wapak Courant reported that people, such as a woman with albinism; a few animals; and an Egyptian mummy were on display. The Lima Times Democrat published a message on behalf of Adam Forepaugh declaring Warner’s museum to be a “revolting side-show.” By that time, Forepaugh had separated from his proprietor, Warner, and worked to entice citizens to visit his circus.

The next larger tent featured the menagerie, a traveling zoo consisting of at least 10 animal cages. Warner had advertised that his double compartment dens held a total of 30 cages of reptiles, birds and mammals: ostriches, lions, tigers, leopards, bears, monkeys, zebras, hyenas and more. Circuses served as a source of both entertainment and education. “The knowledge and information thus gained enables us to read more intelligently,” Auglaize County Democrat said referring to the Pacific Combination’s menagerie.

The last large tent held the circus. Performers included bareback and trick horseback riders, gymnasts and acrobats, a cannon ball manipulator, a trapeze artist, clowns, equilibrists, jesters, and Professor Rogers and the infant prodigies. The $50,000 Empress, who performed alongside her dancing camel “attendants” clad in crimson and gold robes, was one of the most popular acts. For an additional 25 cents, the audience could stay for a concert.

As a part of Warner’s attraction, Adam Forepaugh performed tricks with three lions inside the street Palace Car daily. Despite Warner paying $19,000 for that display, the performance was free to the public.

Warner’s highly anticipated circus attracted thousands of people due to numerous advertisements: attractive handbills, large ads and supportive articles in newspapers, and word of mouth. On July 13, the evening prior to the first show in Auglaize County, both Warner’s and Forepaugh’s agents competed for attention on Wapakoneta’s streets. Each promoted their own circus and discouraged their opponents’. Due to the competition between circuses, their advertisements may have contained exaggerations and falsehoods. For example, Warner advertised the 130-year-old elephant Empress weighed 12,480 pounds. Meanwhile, Forepaugh advertised his 10,000-pound elephant Romeo was the largest in captivity.

Circuses did not bring only joy and wonder to town. They also attracted threats from pickpockets and swindlers who weaved amongst the crowds observing the processions and attending the exhibitions. Additionally, on the evening of July 16, three of Warner’s performers got into a fight with locals at a bar called Wehrman’s that resulted in injuries and significant property damage.

After finishing their performances in Auglaize County, J. E. Warner’s Great Pacific Combination went to Lima on July 16 to perform the following day.

Joseph E. “Joel” Warner started his traveling circus and menagerie around 1870, becoming the first circus to have three tents. The Great Pacific Combination wintered on an 80-acre property in Lansing, Michigan, where Warner served as alderman and later mayor.

Adam Forepaugh returned to Wapakoneta and Lima with his Grand Zoological and Equestrian Aggregation, a $500,000 circus and menagerie, two months later. The Auglaize County Democrat called to its readers: “Turn Out Everybody! An Army of Wild Animals. 400 Men and Horses Coming to Wapakoneta.” On September 15 the elaborate procession of 240 horses and 150 dens, vans, and carriages passed over the road between Sidney and Wapakoneta offering farmers a preview of the caravan and its animals for free. Forepaugh performed in Wapakoneta that day.

Forepaugh boasted that his menagerie was “the largest in the world.” The ticket, the same rate as Warner’s, allowed you to gain access to both the circus and menagerie. The Wapak Courant compared the grandeur of this two-tent entertainment versus the earlier circus: “Warner’s was rather a sickly affair compared to this magnificent show.”

One tent housed the animals. The menagerie of 32 cages included a hippopotamus; kangaroo; a young 400-pound elephant called Baby Annie; various types of bears including a polar bear and sun bear; big cats such as lions, cheetahs, leopards and several subspecies of tigers; several types of deer and caribou; zebra; monkeys; sloth; bison; buffalo; hyenas; tapir; fox; lynx; alpacas; llamas; armadillos; and many more.

The ornithological museum within the menagerie displayed many species of birds, including several types of parrots, macaws, ostriches, King Vulture Condor, emus, birds of paradise, swans, doves, various Chinese and Australian birds, and many others.

Professor Charles Richardson provided a lecture on natural history during each exhibition. The Wapak Courant advertised Forepaugh’s circus as a family-friendly, “instructive and innocent” form of entertainment.

Matching the first in size, the second 50,000-square-foot tent with a capacity to fit 5,000 people held the circus performance. Forepaugh advertised the talents of 25 male performers, 20 ring horses, eight trick ponies, two pantomimic elephants, three clowns, four female gymnasts, horse riders performing bareback and tricks, animals and their trainers, and other acrobats and gymnasts. The menagerie remained open during both the afternoon and evening circus performances.

Forepaugh’s show performed a procession every morning before their exhibitions. Two elephants wearing gold-lace-trimmed silk velvet led the parade. One of the elephants, Old Romeo, was said to have killed four of his previous handlers. Next, 20 Arabian horses pulled a golden chariot bearing Prof. Tony Frank’s military band. Eight camels followed as they pulled a cage containing an African Eland. Behind them, Shetland ponies pulled a wagon with birds. The rest of the one-mile-long procession featured decorated and plumed horses pulling 150 animal den vans. The circus and menagerie boasted a total of 240 horses and 300 “wild” animals. Forepaugh traveled in a maroon and black closed carriage drawn by gold-harnessed Arabian horses.

Adam Forepaugh’s Grand Zoological and Equestrian Aggregation, also known as 4 Paws, began touring around 1867. Two years later he became the first to use two tents, each with their own entrance and exits, while others used just one. His traveling show grew to rival P. T. Barnum’s circus.

Forepaugh performed in Lima on September 20. Both Warner’s and Forepaugh’s shows toured the Midwest during the summer of 1871 and drew large crowds at their many stops throughout Ohio.



This feature is a cooperative effort between the newspaper and the Auglaize County Museum and Historical Society.


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