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From the desk of Alison Gibson, Director
Last week the library was contacted for information on circuses that arrived on boats in Manchester. We thought a bit puzzling, as Manchester is a little way up river and not in Brown County, our usual location of requests. Not to be detoured, we started looking for something, and as in typical in a search, it led down several paths. The closest to meeting what we thought the person needed was a short notice that Robinson’s Circus was on its way to Manchester for a performance in 1874. In researching the Robinson Circus, who claimed Terrace Park as its winter home, they did use river boats for short time in the 1870s—previously, wagons, then after the river, trains. So, dates and name of circus worked out. But the real need was a description of the circus debarking off the boat and the excitement and chaos that a circus might have. Leave it to prolific writer Chambers Baird, in a reminiscence column in 1929, that beautifully described his memories of the John Robinson Circus more than 50 years ago at Ripley:
“a steamboat to house the people and a fleet of covered deck barges to hold the animals, wagons, tents and other portable property. You may guess it was a great event for every boy and many others to watch the outfit to disembark and transfer the shoe to the circus grounds, followed by the grand parade through town headed by the golden band-wagon, with the noisy calliope bringing un the rear with the clown on his small donkey and a trail of small boys, and say how proud you would be over the other boys if you engaged to carry a banner, and wearing a red coat.”
Of course, there are more Ripley tie-ins. The world famous Conklin brothers, Peter being a clown, George a lion tamer and John being a cannonball and balancing act performer have Ripley roots, although at this time we can’t be sure of all of the years they were here. Pete Conklin, in an article in the January 17, 1924 News Democrat is said to have lived in Ripley for years after he got married. He does show up in the 1880 census. Pete and George performed in many circuses, including John Robinsons and later Barnum and Bailey’s big top. George wrote a book in 1921, and we’ve ordered a copy to add to our collection–here’s hoping he mentions Ripley!
Our libraries will be closed on Monday, July 4th in observance of Independence Day.
FYI, we still have COVID test kits available for pick up–we ask that you call ahead so that we can have them out for you. Ripley 937-392-4871, Russellville 937-377-2700 and Aberdeen 937-795-2534