Baraboo Getaway

A Baraboo Getaway

A midweek getaway with a friend took me to Baraboo, Wisconsin. Our first destination was Circus World Museum. This was a nostalgic return to a favorite place for me, as I had the opportunity to serve as webmaster for the Great Circus Parade website for four years in the early 2000s. During this period I also had the privilege to ride on the Great Circus Train twice. This train brought numerous antique circus wagons to Milwaukee for the spectacular Great Circus Parades, which attracted hundreds of thousands of spectators.

Circus World Museum

The main purpose for, and highlight of my trip to Baraboo was to visit Circus World Museum. A primary motivation was my simple desire to go to the circus, since I had not done so since childhood. Below is an overview of the many wonders available at Circus World.


This Wikipedia excerpt describes the origin of Circus World Museum.

Circus World Museum is located in Baraboo, Wisconsin, because Baraboo was home to the Ringling Brothers. It was from Baraboo in 1884 that the Ringling Brothers Circus began their first tour as a circus. Over six seasons, the circus expanded from a wagon show to a railroad show with 225 employees, touring cities across the United States each summer. Baraboo remained the circus’s headquarters and wintering grounds until 1918, when the Ringling Brothers Circus combined with the Barnum and Bailey Circus, which the Ringling Brothers had bought out in 1908. The combined entity, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, was successful until 2017 when it took its final bow on Sunday May 21, 2017, in Uniondale, New York.

In 1954, John M. Kelley, a former attorney for the Ringling Brothers, incorporated Circus World Museum with the intent of forming a museum of the Ringling Brothers Circus and circus history in general. By this time the popularity of circuses and other live shows was declining in favor of new media, such as television. After an initial period of organization and fundraising, the museum acquired a large site in Baraboo that included the former wintering grounds of the Ringling Brothers Circus. This site was deeded to the State Historical Society of Wisconsin (now called the Wisconsin Historical Society) to be used as the museum’s location, and Circus World Museum opened to the public on July 1, 1959.

Owned by the Wisconsin Historical Society, the museum sits on some of the land owned by the Ringlings, and includes eight of the ten remaining Ringling buildings on the grounds. Circus World Museum holds one of the largest collections of circus materials in the world, including circus wagons, posters, photography, and artifacts used by shows from all over the United States. 

Circus World Museum Grounds

We arrived at Circus World just in time for the first of two daily live circus performances in the Big Top Tent. Following the show, we toured the grounds, visited the Sideshow exhibit, and stopped for lunch at the Cookhouse Grill.

Circus World is a photographer’s paradise. Everywhere you look, vivid scenes present irresistible photo opportunities. Below are a few of the sights that found their way into my camera’s viewfinder.

Deppe Wagon Pavilion

Circus World Museum is home to one of the largest collections of antique horse-drawn circus wagons in the world. Over 260 wagons from circuses all over America and the U.K. comprise the collection. Dozens are on display in the Deppe Wagon Pavilion at Circus World.

The Circus World Museum website describes the scope and richness of the exquisite wagon collection. In addition to housing and displaying the antique wagons to visitors, complete restoration services are undertaken at the adjoining C.P. Fox Wagon Restoration Center.

Circus World’s pride and joy is the largest collection of authentic circus wagons on earth. This colossal congress contains over 260 wagons and vehicles from large, medium, and small shows as well as carnivals. They were gathered from places far and wide, across the United States and England, some in good shape, some neglected, and still others were basket cases… but each one has a story to tell. They are beautifully restored by the talented craftspeople of Circus World. The parade wagons are rolling masterpieces of the woodcarver’s art, while the baggage wagons carried all of the equipment used by the show. 

Note: Several years ago on a previous trip to Circus World, I extensively photographed the circus wagon collection in the Deppe Wagon Pavilion. Those images and many more may be viewed in the Antique Circus Wagons gallery on my sister site..

Once again, several of the wagons displayed in the Deppe Pavilion caught my eye. I was particularly drawn to these.

Museum Exhibits

A wide variety of historic circus posters, costumes, photos, and several antique circus wagons are displayed in the Feld Visitor Center at Circus World. Guests enter and exit the grounds through this building, which also contains a gift shop.


Exploring Baraboo

After wrapping up our Circus World visit, we were drawn to other Baraboo attractions. Two spots spoke to us, so we stopped at the Ringling House Bed & Breakfast and the Village Booksmith.

Ringling House B&B

The Village Booksmith

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.