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Ringling Brothers Ad, May 1913Photo Archivist's Selection of the Month:
December 2005

The Circus comes to Town and more…

elephant leading circus parade

The Oklahoma Wild West Parade
Circus Trains

The Ringling Brothers Circus Parade, May 20, 1913

Last month, when we searched in vain for photos of a Veterans Day Parade, we came across two downtown parades in the same month. Not in December, but nonetheless we thought it might add to the festive aspect of the season: The Ringling Brothers Circus Parade, preceded by about a week by the Oklahoma Wild West Parade, on May 20 and May 12 respectively of 1913. We had hoped to find ample reporting of these events in The Daily Advocate, but alas, only surrounding happenings were reported, as shown below, plus the sumptuous ad from the Ringling Brothers at left.

With the photos came the following note:

Flora May Downing, circa 15, out for a sailPARADE PICTURES

Photographed from a window in the Town Hall by Flora May Downing in the spring of 1913.

Miss Downing came to Stamford from Athol, Massachusetts in 1901, attended Stamford schools and graduated with the class of 1906. The following year she accepted a position as secretary to the Headmaster of Stamford High School. She held various secretarial positions with the Board of Education until her retirement in the late 1950's.

Thus, most of the aerial-style photos were probably taken by Miss Downing from the Town Hall.

It seems that the parades started on upper Bedford Street, see postscript, went to Broad & Atlantic Streets (Ferguson Library), continued on Atlantic, swung around Central Park, and at the corner of Main Street went back onto Atlantic Street past the Old Town Hall. Where the parades went beyond the Old Town Hall, we don't know. On some photos, Main Street can be seen in the background right, adjacent to Central Park. Much of the streetscape seen in those images has been replaced by the Stamford Town Center. Central Park itself was long gone by the time the Town Center was built, but part of its former site is now Veterans Park. Both parades took place during the week, and considering the crowds, a lot of folks probably played “hookey”…

Elephants leading the parade down Atlantic Street. The new Ferguson Library in the background.

elephants leading the parade, Ferguson Library in background more elephants
Chief Brennan proudly marching Chief William Brennan 1917, click here for more
Police Chief William Brennan marches with the parade.
The twin towers of the Union House Hotel, 176 Main Street, can be seen in the background.
Ringling Brothers Circus Parade at Central Park and Main Street Ringling Brothers Circus Parade at Central Park and Main Street
Ringling Brothers Circus Parade at Central Park and Main Street everyone going home

elephants going home?
a group of elephants, going back after the parade?

clipping from the Advocate

… and the Suffragettes took the occasion to promote their cause:

clipping from the Advocate clipping from the Advocate

(May 21, 2006)

Women's Suffrage in Connecticut

Postscript – Don Russell quoted on Circus Parades:

(Connecticut Newspapers Inc., Ridgeway, Wednesday, November 23, 1983)

Elephants, 1941
Elephants, 1941

“Long before the conception of a shopping center, the land where Ridgeway Center is located was filled with people coming and going…only with different activity. Children played, people picnicked, and at least one day a year, Stamford residents gathered between Summer, Bedford and Sixth Street. The great Ringling Brothers Circus came to town complete with three rings, two stages and dining tents set apart on Summer Street south of Sixth Street.

“The circus wagons were loaded downtown on Jefferson Street and came north on Bedford to enter the fu­ture Ridgeway land across from Urban and Chester Streets. In those days, Sixth Street was a private dirt road leading into the property of Joseph Rusticy*, who opened his road and land to the people of Stamford during Circus time. Don Russell, noted for his column in The Advocate and as a morning man for Radio Station WSTC, is the son of Joseph Rusticy and recalls the excitement as the wagons cane lumbering up Bedford Street. They always knew when it was going to happen because three red stakes had been driven into the ground for locating the three rings.

“According to Don, the Circus Parade always started at Ridgeway, went south on Bedford, through downtown and north on Summer. The streets were lined with vendors and people watching the horsedrawn wagons, cages and calliope. There were wild animals, clowns, acrobats, the fat lady, the man on stilts, midgets, trapeze artists, bare­back riders, elephants…and everything that intrigued a population without television or much live visual entertainment. Don reminisces about his Boy Scout troup [sic] setting up concessions to fund their activities, and some of the boys getting jobs with the circus, among them Frank Fuller, Lou Jackson, Bruce and Ralph Ward, Frank Schenk, Pat Nilan and others. The last three ring circus rolled into town before World War II began. After the big circus fire in Hartford the big tents became a liability and gradually faded out.

“Ridgeway land was bought by Alphons Bach and the gleam in Mr. Bach's eye about building a shopping place out­side downtown began to form. In 1947, Ridgeway Center became the second shopping center to be built in the United States, And Stamford continued to come to Ridgeway for a different kind of activity…midtown shopping.”

Editor's note: the name should read ‘Rustici’

A check back with Don Russell elicited the following: “The circuses, when they came to town, set up their tents where Ridgeway  now exists. They also set up the cook tents and eating tents on the west side of Summer Street between Second and Third Streets. The parade route was from the circus lot (as we called it) around the center of town, and when it passed the Old Town Hall, it made its way over to Summer Street, via Broad, and back up to the lot. Even in the ancient days, when the performances were done on the land that is now Scalzi Park, before it was a city park, they followed that route. But after the Ferris family sold what became Woodside Park to the town, the Ferris's rented the lot where Ridgeway is to all circuses. The only connection between Theodore Ferris—who everyone thought was an old curmudgeon—but he wasn't, and who was an old bachelor, and the circuses was purely business. He owned the land and that's where they wanted to be. The Ridgeway location was exactly where it now is: from Sixth Street north to about where the northernmost stores are, and between Summer and Bedford Streets. The circuses rented that land for the one-day performances starting in the mid-twenties.”

The Oklahoma Wild West Parade, May 12, 1913

All knowledge we have about the parade are our photos, and this brief note in The Daily Advocate of the same day:

a clipping from the Advocate

the parade begins at the Ferguson Library

Oklahoma Wild West Parade

Oklahoma Wild West Parade

Oklahoma Wild West Parade

Oklahoma Wild West Parade

Oklahoma Wild West Parade the coach that broke down?
this may be the coach that broke down
Oklahoma Wild West Parade

Circus Trains

Sells-Floto Circus Train, 1912
Sells-Floto Circus Train, 1912

Ringling Brothers train, 1934
Ringling Brothers Train, 1934

Sells-Floto Circus Train, 1936
Sells-Floto Circus Train, 1936

Photos © Stamford Historical Society

Circus Historical Society

Other Photo Archivist Selections of the Month
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