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Wisconsin Parent

Lions and Tigers and ... a Great Lesson in Circus History

Jun 09, 2016 03:01PM ● By Jessica Witkins

Tigers take main stage at this year’s Circus World Museum, a Wisconsin historic site, and you always have the best seat in the house when they're all just 30 feet or less from the stage. The 2016 Circus World Museum’s summer circus series will dazzle everyone in the family with aerialists, jugglers, clowns, canines, elephants, and unequaled balancing acts. Two Big Top Circus shows play each day through summer at the museum, seven days a week.

New this year, the museum welcomes Ryan Holder and his family of captive bred Bengal-Siberian tigers. In addition to performing, family members can learn about the preservation of these animals and see them interacting during non-show hours. 

There’s much more to the museum than a close-up view of tigers, so even if you skip the greatest show on earth, you’ll still be schooled in Wisconsin and circus history. In 1884, five of the seven Ringling brothers founded a small circus in Baraboo that would eventually travel the U.S. and merge with Barnum & Bailey.

Set on the grounds alongside the Baraboo River, the Circus World Museum is where the Ringling Brothers grew up, and also where they rested and repaired their acts during the winter. Eight out of 10 of the original winter quarter buildings remain part of the museum.

Its buildings and tents portray vintage show posters, Ringling Brothers history, an entire miniature circus model, a spectacular dress up area, funny photo opportunities, and over 200 circus wagons, the largest collection anywhere in the world.

Originally begun by the Ringling Brothers’ attorney, John M. Kelley, and then signed over to the state of Wisconsin, the museum has been open since 1959 and is now operated by the Wisconsin Historical Society.