CIRCUS AND THE CITY, NEW YORK 1793-2010

Posted on October 30, 2012 by admin

The Bard Graduate Center is proud to present “Circus and the City: New York, 1793-2010”. Curator Matthew Wittmann has fleshed out in great detail, with over 200 items from more than 30 lenders. He traces the circus’s debut in New York to August 7, 1793, when an Irishman named John Bill Ricketts created an open-air arena on Greenwich Street and performed equestrian feats. The crowd, according to one newspaper, “expressed their approbation by frequent clapping of hands, and at the conclusion, by a general huzza!” Spectators and impresarios had a symbiotic relationship: the former were hungry for cheap entertainment , and the latter were eager to tap a market of 40,000 people and quickly expanding. A signal moment was January 1, 1842, when Phineas Taylor Barnum opened, at Broadway and Ann Street, Barnum’s American Museum. Previously, he was manager to an elderly African-American named Joice Heth, whom he billed as the 161-year-old nurse of George Washington. He thrived on the outlandish: an early hit was the Feejee Mermaid, a half-monkey, half-fish. Walt Whitman wrote in 1856, “The Circus is a national institution. Though originating elsewhere, and in ages long previous to the beginning of History, it has here reached a perfection attained nowhere else.”

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