The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio


February 12, 2012

The Main legacy

Tragedy struck Walter L. Main’s Circus at its home base of Geneva in 1906

Last of a three-part series on the Walter L. Main Circus.

 Despite the devastating loss in the Tyrone, Pa., train wreck of May 30, 1893, Walter L. Main quickly rebuilt his circus and kept virtually all of its engagements beyond Tyrone.

Main’s 1893 season was to close at Conneaut on Oct. 14, but the show was canceled due to “high water” on the performance site. The circus was shipped to its headquarters in Geneva, and the great showman commenced making purchases for the next season.

The winter of 1893-94 was the first that Main stored his circus at his new buildings on what became known as Walter Main Road. On the west side of Geneva, the rural location was ideally situated between two east-west rail lines, which provided handy access for getting his show on and off the road.

The 1894 circus was stocked with an amazing variety of both featured and sideshow acts. Audiences could thrill to Nellie Ryland, the red-headed girl who rode a white horse, Joe Beris’ six performing Arabian stallions, a performing goat named Dick and a celebrated riding dog, Trask. In the sideshows, there was Amie the human fly, a rooster orchestra and a (living) two-head cow. The parade featured open animal dens, Arabs and an Indian band that did a war dance.

The Official Programme of the 1894 circus provides insight into not only what the audiences could expect, but the degree of advertising hype that built that expectation:

“Grand Tournament of Wild and Civilized Peoples. A Babel of humanity; all nations marching under the flags. A many-hued and glittering grand spectacle, unfolding in arenic and scenic  splendor on all the rings and stages, and around the entire area of the enormous amphitheatrical hippodrome course. At beat of drums and blare of band and bugle, a tremendous outpouring and outspreading of a vast bannered army and motley throng of mailed marching warriors, gladiators, charioteers, steel-clad knights, royal grandees, mounted cavaliers and ladies, helmeted spearmen, pontifical high priests and wandering Jews, turbaned Arabs on camels, Moors and Mamelukes, Grand Turks, Bedouins of the desert, outlaws, booted and spurred, wild west and wilder east, chariots of conquest, huge herds of swaying elephants, wild beasts, runners, couriers, guards of honor, postillions, out-riders, etc. Magnificent ostentation. The flash of sword and helmet, spear and shield, the glory of the pilgrimage to Mecca ...” And that’s just part of the first paragraph.

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