By Thomas Palmer
Newspapers in Galion in late June of 1879 carried a rather sensational advertisement and article:
“Van Amburgh & Co’s Great Golden Menagerie, Roman Circus and Colosseum, the largest combined menagerie and circus now travelling, will visit Galion on Wednesday, July 2nd,” the headline read.
“This Golden Menagerie has the most extensive collection of wild animals, birds, and reptiles that has ever been brought together under one canvas in this or any other country, in the list of which will be found the greatest Behemoth of the Golden Writ, the only two-horned rhinoceros ever imported into this country, the largest elephant in America, and twenty-nine cages of other rare wild animals… A troop of nearly one hundred equestrians, gymnasts, acrobats, athletes, leapers, etc., all of whom have been selected for their peculiar specialty acts.”
The article continues by posing a series of rather bizarre questions:
“Who is there that dislikes seeing a good horse?… Who can listen to the quaint sayings of Mr. Merryman, the circus clown, without starting a button from his vest with involuntary laughter? What boy will hesitate to ride the mule when the ringmaster offers a five dollar gold piece to the lad who succeeds without getting his neck dislocated? “
We hesitate to guess what the boys who were unsuccessful received – in addition to broken bones.
The statements in the accompanying advertisement certainty promised that a wonderful event was taking place:
“The Mastodon is Coming! It contains the greatest Corps of Specialty Artists ever assembled, Fresh, Sparkling & Original, Conceived and perfected especially for this Grand Establishment, Super-Eminent in Station, Deservedly so from superiority in every department and achievement, IT IS UNEQUALED IN CHRISTENDOM.”
The circus’ stint in Galion included a street parade at 10 AM, with the doors then opening for two showings, one at 1 PM and one at 7 PM. Admission was 50 cents, and 25 cents for children under 9 years old. It was preceded by a visit to Mansfield the day before and one in Marion the day after.
The Van Amburgh Circus was started by and bore the name of Isaac A. Amburgh, who developed the first trained wild animal act in modern times. Despite the disapproval of some for his brutal treatment of animals, Van Amburgh remained very popular and successful, beginning his own menagerie which he took to Europe. Van Armbaugh died in 1865, and his circus closed in 1889.
Each Saturday, we share a post about local history. We call this series “Galion History Corner,” and we will be sharing not only stories about our shared heritage but also updates on history news here in southeast Crawford County.
This series is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Bernard M. Mansfield, whose “Your Historical Galion” was a fixture in weekend editions of the Galion Inquirer. Dr. Mansfield was a friend and family physician, and he inspired the current generation of Galion historians to continue his work.