By William “Skip” Deegans
Imagine the excitement of townsfolk when they watched 25 elephants and 400 horses step off the train in Ronceverte. In April 1898, the C&O Railroad locomotives pulled into Ronceverte the Ringling Brothers Circus train cars for a one-day performance between stops in Charleston and Washington, DC. The train consisted of 55 cars: 29 flatbed cars, 13 stock cars, 10 coaches and 3 cage cars. It was a three-ring circus with 300 performers and 100 acts in the largest tents ever constructed.
The Ringling Brothers Circus was founded in Wisconsin in 1884 by Albert, Otto, Alfred, Charles and John Ringling, sons of German immigrants. By 1900, they were one of the largest traveling shows in the United States. In 1907, the Ringlings bought their main competitor, Barnum and Bailey, but kept the two circuses separate. During World War I when attendance slacked, they combined the two into Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus.
After each tour, the Ringlings published an annual account of their season called the Red Book. In their comments about Ronceverte, they wrote, “Beautiful grounds here, situated in a picturesque valley and bordered by a pretty brook. Al. Ringling and Prof. Lockhart fished in the stream and on their return to supper Earnest Haley asked what luck they had. ‘Nil,’ replied Lockhart.” Presumably, the brook was the Greenbrier River.
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Sources: Illinois State University, Wisconsin Historical Society, The West Virginia News.
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