Thursday, April 04, 2013

UPDATE: GIBSONTON RESPONDS! This Was Once a Foley & Burke Flat Car, Before the Circus World Museum Shamefully Defaced its True Identity

UPDATE TO POST, 7/22/13:  I was delighted to receive a new comment left on this post by "Doc" Rivera, curator of the International Independent Showmen's Museum in Gibsonton, Florida. For those interested, please link onto comments below.

Warning to those considering an artifact donation to Circus World Museum.  It could end up tossed aside into anonymous dust.  It could be walked off with by an employee seeking to enrich his or her personal collection.  It could be defaced  beyond recognition. Worse yet, converted into something other than what it is.  In other words, rather than preserved under ideal museum conditions,  your donation might be virtually lost forever.
Exhibit A: the above photo of a Foley & Burk flat car shipped to Circus World in 1971 by the late carnival owner Lloyd Hilliogsss.  This flat car, to the common eye, no longer exists.  Sometime around the year 1985, Mr Hilligoss's offering vanished completely out of sight, off the lot -- into the abyss of shameful museum meddling to feed its obsession for more wagons, more car train cars.  More more more no matter how bogus or how little of the original materials actually exist.

A Shameful Neglect of Carnival Items Offered in Good Faith

"Foley & Burk"  was removed from the flat car, to be replaced by the words "Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey."

Does anybody out there need more persuasive evidence that, at Circus World, traditional museum preservation ethics are trumped and trashed at the whim of reckless personal agendas? No wonder Circus World (as it now calls itself) was kicked out of the American Alliance of Museums back around 1999.  Perhaps that was why the powers that be decided to delete the word "museum" from the founding title.

Walking the grounds, you may find some old F&B wagons out there in the open air.  The circus wagons? They enjoy tony indoor quarters, possibly temperature controlled to protect and preserve their alleged authenticity.  I know one insider who refers to the formidable collection as "the world's largest full-scale model circus wagon exhibit."

Among the standards of conduct that must be adhered to by members of the museum association, one is that a collection must be made reasonably accessible to the public. Among the elements of acceptable “Collections Stewardship” specified by the association, there is this: “The museum provides public access to its collections while ensuring their preservation.”

The Tale of the Thimble Theatre Fun House

I was once informed by a previous library director that, in fact, the Foley & Burk Thimble Theatre fun house was at one time erected, but that it was too dangerous for people to walk through.  This rationale for its being confined, off site, to a shoddy wall-less barn, subjected to the harsh winter elements, was at the least disingenuous. Since when does a historical fun house have to be fully operational in order for it  merely to be set up and displayed?  Since when, for that matter, do museum officials allow the public to climb aboard and walk through any of their coveted "circus wagons"?

For Those Fans Who Care

This Foley and Burk photo, posted on Bob Cline's blog, Sawdust and Spangles, on August 4, 2010, was brought to my attention by an interested party, the latest in a series of interested parties who discover my posting about the history of Circus World (to find the posting: type "A Tale of Two Museums in the search box above), and, as a result, will e-mail me to share their own regrets and frustrations.  This person has contacted Baraboo, and also operatives at the Wisconsin State Historical Society, who technically own the entire Circus World, down to every last book and bolt.  What might be done, he asked each, for the fun house and other F&B wagons to be properly displayed?  To be handed over to a more appropriate facility for professional  preservation?  The answers he received were evasively bureaucratic. Can it be a secret to anybody that the folks who make a living at Circus World are driven to raise money so that they can preserve their jobs, period? 

Wrote Bob Cline on his post:

"Here's one of those rare, once in a lifetime shots of the Foley and Burk wagons and flatcar after they arrived at the Circus World Museum. They kept the Foley and Burk title on the flatcar for the first year they used it in 1972. They did change the number from Foley and Burk's #45 to the CWM #75. It remained the same for the 1973 parade.

By time they resurrected the train again in 1985, this car was now painted silver with the red letters and white outline using the classic Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Combined Circus title."

Anybody out there care to challenge or correct my thinking?  Am I getting it all wrong?  Do I fail to understand some deeper essence?

A Better Home at the Right Musuem

There are, it appears, the makings of a fine carnival museum down in Gibsonton,  Florida (seen in the above renderings), to be known as the Museum of the American Carnival, spearheaded by the International Independent Showman's Association.  This would involve the University of South Florida.  I have written to them, asking if theoretically, they might be happy to take custody of the Thimble Theatre and other Foley and Burk items, should Circus World come to the plate and offer them for a transfer.  If I hear back, I will report it on this blog.

Here, from their website:

"The Museum of the American Carnival has been a dream held by historians, carnival enthusiasts, and those in the outdoor amusement business for the past decade.   With the generous support of the International Independent Showmen's Museum Corporation, Greater Sun City Center Community Foundation, International Independent Showmen's Association, members of the International Independent Showmen's Association, and University of South Florida Libraries Special Collections Department, the museum is near completion.  The museum currently features historical wagons from various carnivals and traveling shows, several rides, rare games, photographs, and other carnival related artifacts."  

Circus World Museum -- and/or Wisconsin Historical Society: Are you reading this?  Have you a conscience?  Or have you no shame?

Link onto  "Doc" Rivera's comment below.



Anonymous said...

David....You nailed the museum in Baraboo right on the head. It is obvious they have no conscience and no shame. I was duped by the Baraboo Museum in the early seventies. Unfortunately, I donated a King Bros Circus Bandwagon (the last Bandwagon built for a traveling tented circus giving daily performances). I was told the Bandwagon would be restored and brought back to its original glory. Instead, the Bandwagon was allowed to set outside in the harsh Wisconsin winters. Promises and more promises to no avail. Yet, the museum continued to accept other wagon donations. If only I had known, I could have kept the Bandwagon and done a better job of preserving. Sadly, I believed the wrong people. Charles L.Hansonbpu

Harry Kingston said...

Sure makes you think twice about donations.
I have heard but cannot prove it that there are boxes of donated circus items from years back still setting in a storage room.
What would some of the movers and shakers from the past say today?????
Harry in Texas

Doc said...

My name is "Doc" Rivera and I am currently the curator of the International Independent Showmen's Museum here in Gibsonton. We are a new museum in the chronological sense of the word.We have invested over 2 million dollars in our beautiful new building and have assembled many wonderful treasures under the roof. We will hopefully open to the public this fall. I won't speak to the Baraboo situation as I don't have command of all the facts. Here at the IISM, we are endeavouring to preserve ALL aspects of outdoor show business which includes primarily antique traveling carnival artifacts but is not limited to that aspect alone. We also wish to present exhibits that showcase wild west shows, circus memorabilia, patent medicine shows, minstrel shows and all other things pertaining to the rich and colorful history of American outdoor show business as a whole. I personally don't feel that any one single aspect of this great tradition of the American traveling show should be exclusive to the whole big picture for many reasons and try to treat each cherished item with the value of the historical significance it justly deserves. We get many items donated but we realize that historical value is relative. Some things are not the astounding treasure the donors sometimes think it is. We are,like all fledgling museums in 2013,underfunded and understaffed and overworked and although we are tirelessly trying to make this museum a worthwhile showcase of American history for the public to enjoy, I'm sure ocassionally things fall through the cracks here as well. I only wish we had the money and participation that Baraboo has enjoyed for so long but perhaps one day, if we can survive, we will. Until then we continue to pursue the collective dream of the members of the International Independent Showmen's Club as an historical repository for all the treasures that we can salvage for tomorrow while they are still available today.Visit our website at: or participate on our Facebook page. you may also find some interest in my personal web page: where I have assembled many photos, stories and video of the bygone days of this great industry that I have been privledged to be a part of for over half a century now.

A voice in the wilderness said...

Thank you for publishing the story. On a different topic, and I rather doubt anyone will even see this, there is another piece of Foley and Burk memorabilia that I would sure like to get my hands on, if it even exists anymore. I saw it once years ago at a different carnival, and regret not offering to buy it right then and there. My name is, or was, Crazy Starre, and I worked for Foley & Burk for many years. Our resident painter, a sweet man named Jonesy, was repainting the height requirement signs one year and painted one in my honor. It has a witch on it and it says, "Crazy Starre says you must be this tall to get on this ride." I know this is a longshot, but I would sure like to get my hands on that and would be willing to pay for it. If anyone has any information on it, please email me at lol, the English version of Crazy Starre was already taken, which surprised me because there is only one of me! Thanks!