When the Circus Came to Town — 1886

by Paula Bosse

cole-circus_dallas-herald_101586-detI’m exhausted just looking at this…. (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

W. W. Cole brought his unbelievably jam-packed circus to Dallas at the end of October, 1886. That would have been big news all on its own, but also going on at the exact same time were two fairs. TWO! (This was when Dallas had competing state fairs battling each other across town.) I’m not sure how people handled all that entertainment. Circus attendance alone was reported at more than 16,000 for the Dallas engagement. That’s a lot.

One thing the Cole organization knew about was the power of adjectives. I can’t even begin to take apart this ad, so run your eyeballs over the intense, pop-eyed text and imagine what frontier Dallasites thought. Sit back and enjoy the “vast transcendental splendor” that was W. W. Cole’s extravaganza. (Click to see a larger image.)

ad_cole-circus_dallas-herald_101586Dallas Herald, Oct. 15, 1886

The circus appeared in Austin a few days later. This ad is also great.

cole-circus_austin-weekly-statesman_101486
Austin Weekly Statesman, Oct. 14, 1886

coles-circus_dmn_102486
Dallas Morning News, Oct. 24, 1886

circus_fairs_dallas-herald_102586
Dallas Herald, Oct. 25, 1886

The review:

coles-circus_dmn_102686
DMN, Oct. 26, 1886

Not everyone was impressed:

circus_dallas-herald_102686
Dallas Herald, Oct. 26, 1886

And then there was this weird little story. (I think the ending was tacked on by the writer as a joke. …I think.)

circus_somnambulist_dallas-herald_102686
Dallas Herald, Oct. 26, 1886

After all that excitement, it was probably a relief when the circus left town!

coles-circus-in-austin_dmn_110186DMN, Nov. 1, 1886

cole-circus_austin-weekly-statesman_101486_det

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Sources & Notes

W. W. Cole’s Circus lasted forever — up until, apparently, last year! More here.

I’m never sure how much weight to give to the estimates of the Inflation Calculator, but when you plug the numbers into it, a dollar ticket for adults and a fifty-cent ticket for children would today equal somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty-five and thirteen bucks, respectively. That can’t be right, can it? You can’t argue that there was a lot going on in those French waterproof tents, but I can’t imagine people forking over that much when penny-candy was considered extravagant! But apparently 16,000 people happily forked! (W. W. Cole died a very, very, very wealthy man: when he shuffled off his moral coil in 1915, he left an estate of more than five million dollars — or, per the Inflation Calculator, more than 120 million dollars in today’s money.)

Click clippings to see larger images.

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Copyright © 2017 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

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