For many years, the American circus mesmerized the public with its wild animals, its dazzling starlets, colorful clowns and breath-taking acts. Never before had the American public been so hooked and entranced by such a bizarre entertainment medium. Perhaps the best known circus was the Ringling Bros. Circus (who later merged with Barnum & Bailey Circus). The Ringling Bros. Circus put on its first performance in 1884 in Baraboo, Wisconsin, home of the five Ringling brothers. Today, the Ringling Bros. Circus is the largest surviving circus company.
In the 1950s, as the television began to gain popularity, the amount of circus-goers slowly started declining. John Kelly, personal attorney to the Ringling brothers, noticed this decline and proposed a museum that would be dedicated to preserving the golden era of circus and the Ringling legacy.
The museum first opened to the public in 1959 in Baraboo, Wisconsin at the original, winter circus headquarters. Over the years, the museum gained another 63 acres. Today the museum exhibits the history of the Ringling Bros. Circus as well as the history of circuses in general. Visitors can find a collection of curious circus artifacts including wagons, ads, posters, journals, oil paintings, hand bills, photographs and much, much more. And the best part? During the summer, the museum houses circus performances.