Circuses: Everything You Never Knew

The circus is one of the greatest events of the past and today. But, you might not have known some of these horrible facts about the greatest show on Earth! These are the top facts about the circus, which will leave you stunned.

The Elephants Were Taken by Force

It’s no secret that elephants in the circus are treated horribly. But, you might not have known that elephants were stolen before they were even put into the hardships of circus life. Elephants that were going to be used for entertainment in the 18th century were taken from Sri Lanka and were brought to New York. During this time, transportation was not nearly large enough or stable enough to bring multiple elephants across the Atlantic ocean.

The Elephants Were Taken by Force

Elephants ended up being shoved into small containers on ships to make the journey, which affected their physical and mental wellbeing. The elephants were also tied up in nooses for the 12,000 mile journey from Sri Lanka to New York. The climate change these animals also experienced upon arriving in New York was also painful and harmed their health.

Other Countries Have Banned the Circus

The circus has become so bad in the United States, that other countries have decided to not allow this type of entertainment. Countries like, Bolivia, Peru, Greece, and the Netherlands have taken the plunge and decided to ban the use of live animals in forms of entertainment.

Other Countries Have Banned the Circus

Bolivia was actually the first country to do so, proving that other countries are more in favor of animal rights during these live action performances. The United States has yet to take real control over the use of animals in live entertainment, and circuses have only recently banned the use of elephant in live events. More people and organizations, such as PETA are calling for the United State’s government to get involved in large cases of animal abuse.

The Elephants Really Suffer

The suffering of circus elephants didn’t just end with their capture, but continued onto their entire stay with the circus. Elephants in the circus live only half the lifespan of elephants who live in the wild, which proves captivity is not a healthy option for animals. During their captivity, circus elephants spend most of their time in chains, and do not have any time to run due to their busy “training schedule.”

The Elephants Really Suffer

The elephants who live with the zoo are also kept in solitary confinement, which has a truly awful effect on their mental health. These elephants suffer from severe depression from lack of friendship, due to the way they are kept. Most of the elephants who are kept this way in the circus, either die from loneliness or from going crazy due to isolation. Elephants truly die from a broken heart.

What Even Is Wonder Dust?

One big secret behind trainers and performers at the circus is their reliance on “wonder dust.” You might think that Wonder Dust sounds like something magical and fun, but it is actually horrific. Wonder Dust is a charcoal based powder which is used to stop the bleeding and bruising on elephants caused by rigorous training.

What Even Is Wonder Dust?

The dust acts as a second skin for the elephants, and tries to stop the spread of infection. Wonder Dust is prone to create more damage than good and doesn’t stop the real problem. Rigorous training is hard for the elephants mainly because training includes beatings and whippings. These violent actions are said to teach the animals submission, but mentally breaks down the elephants. Instead of using Wonder Dust, trainers should not hurt and tear the animals.

What Are the Performers Paid?

It might surprise you that circus regulars and performers are paid relatively well. Featured performer, which include acrobats, and lion tamers almost make a shocking $40,000 to $70,000 a year. But, just a regular worker, such as a concession stand worker, is said to make only $300 a week.

What Are the Performers Paid?

This lack of payment for hands-on jobs is one of the many reasons why most people don’t want to jump onto the circus train. The job consists of constant traveling, with no rooted home, and pays around minimum wage. The circus’s lack of stable work is one of the main reasons why smaller circuses and fairs are disappearing.

Running Away With the Circus

You might have heard the iconic phrase, “Well, I’ll just run off with the circus!” This statement actually used to be possible. During the beginning of the circus in the late 19th century, children, especially orphans could easily run away with the circus, without being returned to their parents.

Running Away With the Circus

But, did you know you could still run away with them today? Many fairs and circuses, including Cirque du Soleil, hire people who are in need of work and who will take non-tech/non-performing jobs. People who work for the circus need to be able to keep up with the caravan and commit to the grueling hours. If you’re in need of a career change, you might consider being a ticket vendor or a peanut salesman in the circus.

More Government Agencies Are Needed

Even though circuses and other performing shows use live animals as entertainment, in the United States there is no government agency which overlooks them. The US Department of Agriculture looks over circuses but is not truly dedicated to preventing animal abuse because the agency is in charge of so many different aspects of American life.

More Government Agencies Are Needed

The Department of Agriculture passed the Enforcement of Animal Welfare Act, which tries to help animals in live performance acts. The Animal Welfare Acts calls for minimal standards for treating animals which include, the treatment of animals in certain facilities. Even though this is a step in the right direction, this act does not even cover mice, rats, or birds, who make up some of the animals used in the circus and in treatment labs.

PETA Wants Them Stopped

PETA, or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has been trying for years to help abused animals who are being kept captive in circuses. PETA has called out to supporters in an effort to ban wild-animal acts, including elephants, tigers, and lions. The organization has also suggested for people to reach out to their local congressman or senator to try to enforce the Animal Welfare Act and to try to create even stricter laws for animal abuse prevention.

PETA Wants Them Stopped

Their most simple solution is to simply just not attend any performance which uses live animals. Performances people might think are cruelty-free and simple, might implement some of the harshest animal abuse tactics.

The Way They Travel Is Inhumane

Another harsh aspect of the circus is how performers, workers, and animals are transported. Workers who are not performers do not have their own room during the circuses tour, and often times their living situations are cramped. Traveling is even worse for animals. During travel, tigers, and lions are kept in only cage, and are not allowed to move their bodies.

The Way They Travel Is Inhumane

The animals lose their motivation to live due to their constant isolation and lack of movement. This makes the animals even more prone to laziness, which is not good for their mental or physical health. This is also dangerous for the trainers who will be more likely to anger the animals by trying to make them train after they were isolated for so long. Animals can even get different forms of arthritis and foot infections from lack of movement, which contributes to an animal’s long and painful death.

What Is A Freak Show?

Not only is a Freak Show a cruel and unusual form of entertainment but is also something which treats people with normal abnormalities like “freaks.” Freak shows were very popular during the beginning of the 20th century and featured male and female participants.

What Is A Freak Show?

The “freaks” were usually humans with diseases, physical features that are too large or small, and sometimes just people with a lot of tattoos. The idea behind this “exhibit” is disgusting and was cruel to people who were born with rare extremities. Women with beards or men with large muscles were put out on a stage to be made fun of by passer byes. Freak shows still exist today, but are not set up like freak shows of the past. Freak shows today show off more talent-based performers including, sword swallowers or daredevils.

Clowns Are Terrifying

Everyone seems to have a huge irrational fear of clowns. But, did you know it might not be that irrational? Clowns first originated in Ancient Egypt, where the act of clowning was to portray fools or small townspeople. Clowns were also thought to be a servant with a menacing past. This evil backstory is sometimes thought to be the reason why people are inherently scared of clowns.

Clowns Are Terrifying

The fear of clowns is called coulrophobia, and scientists believe this fear happens due to the exaggerated faces, which are painted on. These faces are sometimes sad, or happy, but both can induce fear. There have also been murderous clowns as well! Pogo the Clown, or John Wayne Gacy, was a murderer and rapist who worked several children’s parties. Yes, you read that right.

Royal Hanneford Circus

The oldest circus, which is still considered one that has modern day attractions is called Royal Hanneford Circus. The circus was located in London and dates all the way back to 1690. It was said to have been developed by a foot juggler named Edwin Hanneford, who started the circus in the middle of a London street.

Royal Hanneford Circus

The acts were taken on tour to the United States in the late 1800s when the Hanneford family decided to take the act abroad. The circus is still in production, even though most of the family has now passed on. The original Hanneford brother, Poodles Hanneford, formed the most modern circus group in 1965, but sadly passed away in 2008. He was awarded an induction into the Circus Hall of Fame for his work under the tent.

Gladiators Were Considered the First Performers

Some historians also believe and make the case for the fact that gladiators in their bloody arenas were early circus performers. Gladiators were considered rock stars in the days of Ancient Rome, but they were also not free men. These men were former soldiers of other places who were taken as slaves, and then given the option of death or fighting as a gladiator.

Gladiators Were Considered the First Performers

Most of these men gladly chose the chance to become a star in the arena, rather than die. In Ancient Rome, gladiators were also asked to fight wild animals, including lions, to the death. The arena was a place where people of any class or status could come together to watch a fight. Historians compare this act to a lion tamer and a lion of modern day circus life.

The Cats Do All Their Business in the Same Place

The cats in the circus are wildly mistreated, but this one might just gross you out. Cats, including lions and tigers, are not allowed to leave their cage for multiple days on end. This means that circus cats eat, live, sleep, and do their business all in the same place.

The Cats Do All Their Business in the Same Place

These cats are forced to live in filth, which can infect their feet or worse get into their lungs. If the cats are extremely unlikely, they might be forced to share a cramped cage with another wild animal. Not only is this abuse, but the lack of sanitation is incredibly toxic for the animals. A shocking statistic states that some of these circus cats spend as little as four percent of their life outside of a cage.

The Cats Shouldn’t Be Performing At All

Not all animals are meant to be up during sunlight, and cats are one of those animals. It might shock you to know that lions, tigers, and cats are sometimes nocturnal. Nocturnal animals are meant to be asleep during sunlight and are wide awake during the night time. Performing cats in the circus are forced to work during daylight hours, which is clearly against their own specific biological clock.

The Cats Shouldn’t Be Performing At All

These somewhat nocturnal cats are driven mad during the day, performing exhausting routines during hours they should actually be resting. Their lack of sleep and backward schedule causes mental illness, including anxiety which can get violent.

The Coney Island Sideshow

Coney Island is as Americana and old-timey as it gets. The strip is filled with games, carnies, and rides which would make you think you traveled back in time to the 1950s. One of the biggest attractions at Coney Island is the Coney Island Sideshow, which is one of the oldest and longest running freak shows in the continental United States.

Colorful Wall

The Coney Island Sideshow features sword tricks, palm readers, and even a snake charmer. Even though Coney Island is losing its fan base, this Island Sideshow is still one of the most popular attractions in New York City. The company even offers classes, so that you too can become one of the freaks!

The Circus Leads to Animal Attacks

It might be dangerous to bring your children and your family to the circus these days. Many animal rights activists say that in recent years, animals have become more prone to attack humans in the audience due to their mental illness. The isolation of being left in a change for years and being beaten in training often leaves circus animals, particularly elephants anxious and confused.

The Circus Leads to Animal Attacks

This anxiety turns into a distrust for all humans, even though elephants are considered to be very caring creatures. These animal attacks have not only caused injury for audience members, but has cause deaths. The most famous circus attack was when Roy Horn, of Siegfried and Roy was attacked by one of his famous white tigers.

Tightrope Walkers Were Once Considered Scandalous

Tightrope walkers weren’t just this talented women back in the day but were considered to be very promiscuous. Tightrope walkers wore barely any clothes and were looked at in a romantic way because the tightrope was above the audience’s seat. Men would have to look up at tightrope walkers to see their act and in doing so, many men were able to look up the skirts of the walker.

High Wire

This trend was so bad, that soon after it caught on many women decided to wear shorts underneath their skirts so they would not be looked at in that way. Today, both men and women are tightrope walkers and neither of the two wear skirts.

Circus Parades Were HUGE

Without Wifi or Netflix, Circuses were one of the biggest things for entertainment back in the day. To announce that the circus was in town, a giant parade took place on the main street of the town or city where the event was happening.

Circus Parades Were HUGE

The parade was filled with all of the best acts that were going to take place during the circus, giving the audience a sneak peek of what was about to happen. These parades were actually a huge influence in modern day life and some historians suggest that they even influenced what we know to be the Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The Circus Used to Be a Death Trap

The circus during the early 20th century was not the safest place to be. Circuses were set up in very large tents because those tents were easily transportable. The only issue is that these tents were also not equipped with different exits or fire exits. During one July in 1944 at a circus performance in Hartford, Connecticut a small fire broke out in the tent, and soon engulfed the entire audience.

The Circus Used to Be a Death Trap

The crowd ran toward the single exit, causing many people to get trampled and trapped inside the burning arena. During this fire and escape, more than 167 people died, while over 700 people were injured. This fire is the reason why many fire safety and escape laws were put into place. The fire is often considered one of the worst fires in all of American history.